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The community began as a project led by George MacLeod, a minister of the Church of Scotland in Govan, Glasgow, to close the gap which he perceived between the church and working people. He took a group of ministers and working men to Iona to rebuild the ruined medieval Iona Abbey together. The community which grew out of this was initially under the supervision of an Iona Community Board reporting to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, but later the formal links with the Church of Scotland were loosened to allow the community more scope for ecumenical involvement.
The community appealed for funds to renovate the abbey leading to its re-opening, attended by Princess Anne, patron of the appeal, after a three-year closure in June 2021. The project was blessed by the "Miracle in May", when fundraising in May obtained the £300,000 needed to keep contractors working. The re-opening was featured in Songs of Praise. 24 June 2021
Community life and activities
The Iona Community is a dispersed community. It has members who work and live throughout the world. There are 270 Full Members, around 1,800 Associate Members and 1,600 Friends of the Community. Among them are Presbyterians, Anglicans, Lutherans, Quakers, Roman Catholics and people of no denominational allegiance. The community has a strong commitment to ecumenism and to peace and justice issues.
The Iona Community runs three residential centres: Iona Abbey and the MacLeod Centre on the island of Iona, and Camas Tuath on Mull. Weeks at the centres often follow a programme related to the concerns of the Iona Community, and people are invited to come and share the life. A regular feature of a visit to Iona is a pilgrimage around the island which includes meditations on discipleship; when the pilgrims reach the disused marble quarry or the machair, the common ground where the crofters once grazed sheep, for example, they stop for reflection on work and faithfulness.
The community has its own ecumenical liturgy which is used daily in the abbey and elsewhere.
Speaking about the visitor experience, Ruth Harvey, leader of the community, said: "This is not a hotel or a conference centre. People come for reflection and inspiration, and to explore issues of importance – the environment, poverty, migration, equality – in the context of a Christian community and in a beautiful, rugged landscape."
Amongst the most widely known song and liturgical material from the Iona Community is the experimental worship developed by the Wild Goose Resource Group, based in Glasgow. The Group exists to enable and equip congregations and clergy in the shaping and creation of new forms of relevant and participative worship, particularly concerned with enabling John Bell, Graham Maule and Jo Love supported by a small administrative team led by Gail Ullrich.
Bell and Maule, with their collaborators, the Wild Goose Worship Group and more recently, the Wild Goose Collective, have produced around 50 published books and CDs since the mid-1980s. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Wild Goose Worship Group was influential in introducing songs from other cultures (particularly those from South Africa) to the repertoire of churches in the UK and elsewhere.
The approaches and practices of the Wild Goose Resource Group have been widely imitated and written about. Collections of Wild Goose Resource Group songs and texts have been published internationally, including translations into Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Japanese, Dutch, West Frisian, Danish and German.
Leaders and notable members
The leader of the community is elected by the members. The leaders to date are:
- George MacLeod 1938-1967
- Ian Reid 1967-1974
- Graeme Brown 1974-1981
- Ron Ferguson 1982-1988
- John Harvey 1988-1995
- Norman Shanks 1995-2002
- Kathy Galloway 2002-2009
- Peter MacDonald 2009-2017
- Michael Marten 2017
- Kathy Galloway and Caro Smyth 2017-2018
- Kathy Galloway and Christian MacLean 2018-2020
- Ruth Harvey, since 2020
Miles Christi was a name given to the members of the Iona Community by its founder George MacLeod. The origin of this image of being a Soldier for Christ may have its roots in Martin of Tours who as a former Roman soldier applied similar discipline to Christian life and was a great inspiration to the early Church in Scotland. St Martin's Cross, a high Celtic Cross carved in stone, stands to this day outside the entrance to the Church of Iona Abbey. The image also reflects a tradition of someone remaining on watch. The early Christian Community on Iona founded by St Columba sent members out to evangelise mainland Scotland and beyond, with some members remaining behind. George MacLeod had been a decorated soldier in the First World War. He founded the Iona Community just before the outbreak of the Second World War.
The community's publishing group, Wild Goose Publications, produces books on social justice, political and peace issues, holistic spirituality, healing, and innovative approaches to worship, including music (books, tapes, CDs), short drama scripts and material for personal reflection and group discussion. Many of these are the work of John L. Bell and the Wild Goose Resource Group.
- New Monasticism related Communities
- Servants to Asia's Urban Poor
- Madonna House Apostolate
- Catholic Worker Movement
- Bose Monastic Community
- Taizé Community
- Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem
- "Wild Goose Publications - Publisher for the Iona Community".
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- Sherwood, Harriet (6 June 2021). "Scotland's 'cradle of Christianity' on Iona is saved by small mercies". Observer. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
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- Iona Abbey Worship Book, 2007, pg. 164)|date=November 2009
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- Rudebark, Victoria, Den Genomskinliga Platsen, Verbum Forlag, Stockholm, 2002, ISBN 91-526-2867-1
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- Ron Ferguson, George MacLeod: Founder of the Iona Community — A Biography Wild Goose Publications, 1990. ISBN 1-901557-53-7
- Ron Ferguson, Chasing the Wild Goose: The Story of the Iona Community Wild Goose Publications, new revised edition 1998. ISBN 1-901557-00-6
- Norman Shanks, Iona - God's Energy: The Vision and Spirituality of the Iona Community Wild Goose Publications, new revised edition 2009. ISBN 978-1-905010-58-5
- Anne Muir, Outside the Safe Place: An oral history of the early years of the Iona Community Wild Goose Publications, 2011. ISBN 978-1-84952-079-9