Stack of books

The Society for Ecumenical Studies Book Review

Muir, Anne (2011). Outside the Safe Place: An Oral History of the Early Years of the Iona Community. Glasgow:Wild Goose. £12.50.

Like Taizé, the Iona Community was stabled by Reformed Church people on Medieval Catholic foundations to become increasingly ecumenical and a spiritual resource for people from all over the world who venture to this beautiful island off the coast of Mull in Western Scotland. This book tells the story of the early years. It is based on interviews with eighty-six women and men connected in different ways with Iona. They are described by the author as ‘quite simply the most life-affirming people I have ever met’. Doesn’t that make you want to read more!

Just as Taizé will for long be associated with one its founders, Brother Roget, for Iona it is George MacLeod, later Lord MacLeod. I was on Iona the day he died, Ian Fraser who was associated with Iona from the start tells how an encounter with a man who died of malnutrition because he gave most of his earnings to the family when times were hard changed MacLeod’s thinking. How could the Church be so irrelevant to such desperate need. Iona was intended as a training ground to help people discover how to minister to people where they are, such as in the shipyard of Govan.

Many of the comments are about worship at Iona. How everyone feels included and a participant and how the experience of Iona has helped transform the congregations to which visitors to Iona belong. Some of those interviewed are well known. Kathy Galloway is one, Ian Fraser another and of course John Bell, famous for his many hymns and ‘Thoughts for the Day’ on Radio 4. And there is a fine comment from Richard Holloway, one time Bishop of Edinburgh; ‘You will find the “Iona approach” has influenced worldwide Christianity’. As I say, just like Taizé but with a Scottish accent.

Donald W Norwood, Associate Member of the Iona Community. From January 2012 newsletter.