THANK YOU for considering joining the Volunteer Team on Iona supporting the ministry of the Iona Community in Iona Abbey. We are grateful because we simply could not manage without our volunteers. They come from all over the world and from all walks of life. They span all adult age groups and all church traditions. They are enthusiastic and passionate, and they contribute hugely to our common tasks: offering Christian hospitality, modelling inclusive and creative worship, building community, and supporting the advancement of peace and social justice.
Volunteering on Iona could be one of the most enriching experiences that you have in life – this is certainly what many of our past volunteers tell us. It is demanding, though, and not for everyone. We would therefore like to encourage you to think carefully before applying as to whether it is the right move for you.
In this spirit of discernment, here is an outline of some of the joys and challenges of living and working as a volunteer on Iona.
The Common Task
You would be joining a constantly changing, inclusive community of volunteers and resident staff as they work and worship together, and share in the Iona Community’s exploration of Christian common life. By living in community, you will have opportunities for deep sharing and learning – learning about yourself, about human nature and your relationships with fellow human beings, and about God. You will form many friendships, some of which may well be for life. You will have many opportunities to explore your own spiritual journey and grow in your faith. You will also learn new skills and develop existing ones – for example helping to lead worship, working at the till in the shop, or baking bread. You will experience human encounters of a depth and variety that could prove profoundly enriching, and even life-changing.
The experience of living in community on Iona will in many ways be made even richer because the island is so small and has few of the amenities and distractions that one might find elsewhere. On Iona, people get to know and rely on each other a lot more quickly and more deeply than in other settings.
It is also a very challenging way of life.
You will be with other people nearly all the time, be they colleagues or guests. You may have to share a bedroom with one other person (if permissible under Covid). You will nearly always eat with other people. You will get on very well with some, and not so well with others. If you are someone who needs a lot of personal space or peace and quiet or has specific health needs, then please consider carefully whether volunteering for the Community on Iona is the right choice for you.
It is also very full on, both physically and relationally. You will be allocated to a team – typically housekeeping, kitchen, maintenance, sacristan, admin or shop – and be expected to be on duty five days a week. This includes carrying out specific work tasks and eating with guests. In addition, if you so wish, you are encouraged to attend morning and/or evening worship. This is an intense experience, and it requires both physical and mental resilience.
Living on Iona
Iona is undoubtedly a beautiful place: an island which, in spite of its small size, offers an extraordinary range of landscapes – including some lovely sandy beaches suitable for swimming (beware, though, the water is very cold…). There is a huge variety of wild flowers, bird life and sea animals to enjoy. The quality of the light can be extraordinary, no matter the weather, and it has drawn numerous artists to Iona over the centuries.
The island can be very crowded in season, but it is not difficult to leave the crowds behind and find yourself alone in settings so beautiful that it makes your heart sing. And of course the sea is ever present, bringing its own rhythm to life.
Iona is also an iconic place in the development of Christianity in the Western world, and the whole island is steeped in history. It attracts, every year, tens of thousands of visitors and pilgrims from all over the world, and many comment that Iona has a unique feel that they have not experienced anywhere else.
It is also a challenging place. It is remote: the nearest town is three hours away and two ferry rides away. Once the last ferry of the day has left (6.30pm), there is no way of leaving the island before the next morning except by private boat or emergency helicopter. In effect, there is no ‘escape’ – which some people find difficult. As for the local amenities, outside the few specialist shops serving the tourist trade, there is only one small food shop, one small café and two hotels with bars.
There is also no permanent medical presence and no pharmacy, which is why having general good health is so important to everyone who lives on Iona.
We find that some potential volunteers who have never been to Iona have a rather romantic idea of what it would be like to live and work on such an iconic island.
The reality is that volunteering for the Iona Community on Iona can be hugely rewarding if you have the right temperament, are resilient and are willing to embrace the experience with all your heart. Many of our past volunteers say their lives have been greatly enriched, and at times transformed, by their experience.
Equally, the considerable challenges of living and working on Iona could mean this is not the right place for you.
This is why we are asking you to think very carefully before you decide whether to apply. If you are not sure and would like to talk it through with someone, feel free to email the Operations Manager at [email protected].
IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN PURSUING FURTHER THE POSSIBILITY OF VOLUNTEERING ON IONA, HERE IS SOME PRACTICAL INFORMATION WHICH YOU MIGHT FIND HELPFUL:
- Travel expenses are paid for from whatever point you set off from the UK mainland. We ask that you travel as economically as you can.
- Volunteers are provided with free board and lodging (inclusive of all facilities such as electricity, heating and broadband).
- Volunteers receive an allowance of £30 a week.
- Volunteers live in Iona Community premises on the island, typically Cul Shuna and the Macleod Centre.
- There is a strict NO ALCOHOL and NO DRUGS policy in all IC premises’. If you would like a drink, you can visit the pub or the hotels, or buy alcohol from the local SPAR to drink outdoors.
- There is also a strict NO SMOKING policy on all premises.
IF YOU DECIDE TO APPLY
Please note that you must be over 18 years old by the time you would like to start your volunteering on Iona. Please also note that we require a commitment of a minimum of one month, and preferably several months. Preference will usually be given to applicants who can stay for at least three months.
If you live outside the UK: following the UK leaving the European Union on 1 January 2021, Ii you are not a UK national and do not have the right to work in the UK, in most cases, it will be necessary for you to obtain right to work under the Skilled Worker – Tier 2 (Minister of Religion) category. The Iona Community is an ‘A-level’ sponsor. This enables the organisation to attain Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) under Tier 2 of the Points Based System (PBS). you will need to apply for a work visa.
We will help you do this but the application costs at your end (around £250 at the moment) will need to be met by you. It also requires form-filling and a trip to the nearest British consulate registered for visa processing.
Please also note that there is no guarantee that a visa will be granted once you apply (and have paid the money). It is unfortunately entirely out of our hands.