Being an Iona Community Volunteer

by Stella Cranwell

stella march 2013
Landing on Iona I started to feel ‘at home’ almost immediately (lots of welcoming people, being shown round and introduced to the island) and somewhat daunted as I realised how serious the commitment I had made for the next 10 weeks of my life was (without volunteers the Island Centres couldn ‘t operate). It’s such a short time – but even looking back, so much happened that it still seems much longer.


Here is a short summary of the 10 weeks I spent as a volunteer :

  • Communal living – My fellow volunteers were a variety of ages, nationalities and backgrounds – an ever-changing random group who accepted each other with amazing generosity and kindness. I thought I would find living in this way very challenging – but the accommodation was comfortable, my 12 fellow volunteers found ways of living together peacefully and I discovered that I am more tolerant than I thought (provided people don’t make noise late at night!).
  • Work and Play – the 2 often interwove. There was time and space to experiment and play, even within ones work –it seemed an important part of being welcoming and hospitable to guests not to take yourself too seriously.
  • Hospitality – all are welcome here – this applies to volunteers as well as guests. Celebrations – any excuse for these! Birthdays, arrivals, leavings, anniversaries, National days. Always a cake , often cards. If you think you will lose weight while here, then that is very unlikely to happen. The food is much too good and plentiful.
  • Encouragement – to use any gifts you have – within the Communal life I led a couple of morning services, chaired quite a few meals, helped out with after service coffees – following my personal interests I led 6 weekly sessions of the Aramaic Lords Prayer and found a broken bicycle which the maintenance team repaired to provide a bike for all to share – named the ‘bike of Tranquillity’
  • Worship – many volunteers are Christian of course, but not all – and the option to attend the services is left to the individual. I chose to attend most services, although my background is of a wider spiritual journey.
  • Holding lightly – I found my time on Iona provided wonderful practice in learning to hold things ‘lightly’ – letting people, emotions, events, flow through me – to experience as fully as I could and then ‘let go’.
  • Weather – 10am – heavy rain, waterproofs on; 10.15am – hot and sunny – strip to t-shirt and shorts, put sunglasses on; 10.30am – suddenly cold wind – put jumper on; 10.45am – raining again but wind dropped – take jumper off, put waterproofs back on; 11am – sun’s out …. and so it goes. Island weather in all its majesty and unpredictableness. Wonderful wildness and chaos within the greater rhythm of the season, the tides and the moon.

The 10 weeks passed – as chaotic at times as the weather – but overall an intensely interesting, satisfying and enjoyable experience. And yes, I would do it again.


Past volunteers

Anatoli Trifonov – Bulgaria

Before my time on Iona, volunteering for me was an excellent and affordable way to travel and experience different lifestyle or cultures. During my stay with the Iona community I also realized that being a volunteer gives you a unique chance to build true connections with other people through common life, teamwork and sharing. Iona is a small island with an enormous cultural heritage that offers you an unforgettable experience and spiritual journey.

Emily Hedrick – USA

I was aware when I came to Iona as a volunteer that the majority of the Iona Community members do not live on the island itself. However, as I lived and worked there it came to my attention that there IS an Iona Community that lives on the island: the resident staff and volunteers that run the centres there. Iona attracts an assortment of people of all ages from around the world who willingly spend their time in the kitchen, doing laundry, painting fences, lighting candles, unloading boxes, and any other odds and ends that need to be done.

It was through working with these people, interacting with them, and sharing stories, that I experienced community – one of the most powerful expressions of combining sacred and secular. It was through living this simple life of worship through work that I was able to experience God in a fresh and inspiring way.

Lorna Bowry – Scotland

Being a volunteer gave me the opportunity to experience something completely different to anything I had been involved in before. After leaving school and the security that gives you, it gave me the chance to meet people from around the world of different ages, cultures and life experiences. It allowed me to feel free to be who I wanted to be, and gave me the worship based life I was looking for. Living and working with so many people has its ups and its downs and is a way of life not to miss out on! I’m glad I jumped at the opportunity when I could and am even more glad that I have come out the other end with new skills, lots of tea in my system, a God I can relate to, work experience and, more than anything, great friendships around the world.

11 Responses to Volunteering experiences

  1. I wish to know more on voluntary work I wish to work in a Christian community. I belong to a methodist church. Thank you Tim dowling

  2. Marilynn Markham says:

    I am interested in volunteering for at least 10 weeks in the Abbey. I have many years of volunteer experience in various positions including working with persons with disabilities in a pool at Pearson Hospital in Vancouver, BC, kitchen and serving assistance for a local church, and short-term for the Salvation Army. I have also done office co-ordinator as a volunteer twice weekly for a Sports Club in the city, which covered tasks with aspects of the tourism industry. I am a single female and am now a senior, but thankfully I am still healthy and active. Can you provide further details? Dates when you would require volunteers would be helpful. I have visited the Island and the Abbey of St. Columbo when I toured Scotland about seven years ago. It was so peaceful and beautiful. Perhaps, I could return once again and help out?

  3. James says:

    Hi, I am interested in volunteering and would like to know more. Please can you supply details of any available opportunities?

    • Pat Bennett says:

      Hi James, Our centres on Iona are closed next year in the middle of a large upgrade and refurbishment project at the Abbey Centre (see for more information on what we are doing and why) so we currently have no plans for taking on volunteers in 2019. We will announce via the website and on our social media platforms once we are in a position to start taking volunteers again so the best thing to do is keep an eye either here on the website or on out Community Facebook page at or our Twitter account B However we will still be looking for volunteers to work at our Centre on Mull so you might want to check out the Camas page on the website. Best Wishes, Pat

  4. charles scott says:

    My wife and I are interested to know if there is any possibility of coming over to the community as volunteers for up to ten weeks in the first months of next year. We know a little about Iona, and we would hope that we could join in well.Both of us are recently retired teachers of children and adults who have been involved in our local church in different ways – as a lay Reader and as a worship leader.
    We would like to know about the financial terms on which volunteers join.

    Thank you,
    Charles Scott

  5. Janis Small says:

    I am interested in being a volunteer at Iona in 2020. Will the facility be open then and what volunteer needs will you have? Are you open all year long or when are you looking for volunteers?

    • Pat Bennett says:

      Hi Janis, thanks for the enquiry. We will post information about volunteering for 2020 once we know when the Abbey Centre will be re-opening for guests and what our staff requirements will be. If you keep an eye on the relevant page on the website and/or on our social media platforms, we will make sure that all the details will be shared via these.

  6. Carol Hefner says:

    My experiences as a residential volunteer at Heifer International were enriching and challenging, and I would like to help next at Iona. I’m an energetic and healthy 71 year old American retired teacher. Would my age preclude me from being accepted as a volunteer in the next year or two?

    • Pat Bennett says:

      Hi Carol – thanks for your enquiry and no – age is definitely not a bar to applying as a volunteer! We are not currently recruiting as our Abbey Centre is closed until some time next year whilst we do an extensive upgrade and refurbishment. However once we do start looking for vollies for 2020 and beyond, we will advertise the fact on the website and across our social media platforms so keep an eye on those. There will be information about requirements and how to apply available with the adverts. Best Wishes, Pat

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