Wednesday, May 25, 2016

24 May: Life in Community

I've been on Iona almost a week now, and immediately I've been thrown into a new community, one in which sometimes I feel like I've lived for three hours and at other times three weeks. Community as a concept pervades every aspect of my life on Iona. I am working for a community - the Iona Community - whose members are dispersed throughout the world, with only one member in residence on the island at a time. I live in a community - the community of resident and volunteer staff who work for the Iona Community in its two centers and run the daily operations of programs, hospitality, and pilgrimage on the island.

Living in community is a real joy, and the joy and happiness that comes from such a life is evident to me after only one week. A sign reading "How good it is, how wonderful to live together in community," a slight alteration of the 133rd Psalm, hangs in the volunteer common room in the MacLeod Centre, my residence and place of work. I live and work with people from Sweden, Germany, Japan, Scotland, the Czech Republic, the USA, England, Australia, Uganda, Canada, Finland, and South Africa, and the diversity of the group extends far beyond nationality and native language. Differing world views, ages, political persuasions, diets, and global perspectives abound. We are all in different places on our journey through faith, and we all bring a unique story of how we came to this remote island in the Scottish Hebrides to work without pay for eight or more weeks and pray twice a day in a restored 13th century abbey. 

Despite all of that difference, living in community gives us a common purpose and identity that binds us into a whole. Through a life of common prayer and work, through hikes, late night conversations, CĂ©ilidhs (traditional Scottish dances) in the village hall, bonfires on the beach, and pints in the pub, we learn others' unique stories and make ourselves vulnerable enough to share our own. We grow close, and we say goodbye. This community is not permanent, nor its membership static over the summer. The volunteers ("vollies" for short) said goodbye to one member the morning they welcomed me and six others. Tomorrow we will say goodbye to two members who have come to the end of their short time here, one of whom I am grateful to have met for a brief while and sad to see go. 

This is what community is about to me, after only one week here - the giving and taking of ourselves and others as we form a united whole out of many. E pluribus unum, this American might say. And I fully expect that understanding of community to change and mold over the next nine weeks. What a great time this will be.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Sam: It is wonderful to read your post. I'm struck by the diversity of your compatriots and reminded of the Day of Pentecost when each could understand the other, regardless of native language. A common purpose can help us see the larger whole.
    I'm also struck by the saying goodbye even as you also say hello. Iona is a time apart and yet a time that will always be with you. I'm reminded of our dismissal: Send us now into the world to love and serve God. May your time at Iona continue to strengthen you to do the work that God has set before you. Best wishes from St. John's.