Coming to the Isle of Iona and participating in the life of the Iona Community is not a retreat. They tell you that in advance, whether you are coming as a guest or a volunteer. As a guest you will join in the life of the community, through a series of sessions that you will participate in, and through tasks that you will be given. You will help serve and clean up after meals. You will do some light housekeeping, some dishwashing and maybe even some vegetable chopping. While you will be given time on your own to do with as you please, this is certainly not a place of retreat, meditation and navel gazing. As a volunteer we work about seven and half hours a day, with one and half days off a week. And to paraphrase a wonderful country singer "we work hard, we play harder."
At our staff meetings on Friday a good part of the time is spent making announcements about social activities that will be taking place on the island. These may be open to all the people on the island, or smaller groups on the island. Those of us working here may also have social events that we have planned, for example a game night or a leaving celebration. Sometimes the events are even smaller, for example, people with shared days off may plan events. A volunteer in the Abbey Kitchen and I share the same day off, and we both like to walk, so we take hikes together.
After a particularly busy week, those of us living in the same centre decided to have a picnic. All of those who wanted to join in and were not working met for a time of fellowship and feasting. We ate in the Nunnery which is a ruin where a Benedictine nunnery was built centuries ago. We spread out two sleeping bags, and shared the bounty of bizarre foods we had purchased at the grocery (turns out most of us were into cheese and olives, with bread and smoked salmon pate). And we sat and laughed. It was very simple, but shared community. There was very little planning, it wasn't a big event, but many of us agreed that it may have been one of the most significant gatherings we had participated in.