An oral history of the Iona community

Outside the Safe Place: An oral history of the early years of the Iona Community.

Outside the Safe Place: An oral history of the early years of the Iona Community.

In 2004, the Iona Community became concerned that many of the people who could bear witness to its early days were by then in their 70s or 80s. As a result, they commissioned an oral history project, so that their testimonies would not be lost.

This book is based on the recordings of their stories – stories which I was fortunate to be allowed to collect.

Shortly after embarking on the series of interviews on which the book is based, I faced a challenging question-time at a meeting of Iona Community members in London. One questioner was particularly dismissive of the concept of oral history: ‘It’ll just be a bunch of stories, won’t it?’

He was partly right. This book is a bunch of stories. But to dismiss them as ‘just stories’, would be a great mistake.

In the event, far from downgrading the value of stories, the collecting of this history has powerfully reinforced for me the need to acknowledge that ‘stories’ are all we have.

In an often-quoted verse from 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul contrasts what we can know and understand in this world of time and space, with what we shall know and understand in the next world:

‘Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face’.

But the root of the Greek – en ainigmati – which is so often translated as ‘darkly’, translates literally as ‘stories’. ‘Now’, says Paul, ‘we see the world and the human condition reflected in metaphors – in stories.’

Some stories, of course, become more dominant over time, and they are the ones that get written up as the official histories. A book like this allows us to hear also the ‘lost’ stories and the ‘hidden’ stories which, in this context, are the stories of the islanders of Iona, the wives of early members of the Iona Community, their children, and the Community’s employees.

In the end, eighty-six women and men welcomed me into their homes, and allowed me to hear their stories. I found them to be people of keen intelligence and passionate concern. Many of them had encountered great difficulty – some had faced great danger – as they tried to live out their ‘Iona’ insights in the world. And, despite the fact that a large number of them were, by then, in their 70s or 80s, they were still open to new ideas and fresh visions. They were, quite simply, the most life-affirming people I have ever met, and I am is grateful to each and every one of them.

Anne Muir

Your story

This book, of course, is not the end of the story. The Iona Community continues to develop, in response to the changing needs of our world.

Nor is it the whole story of the Early Years. There will, inevitably, be voices and perspectives which have been missed.

If you have a story about the Early Years of the Community (1938-1969) which you would like to add to those of the interviewees, I would be glad to hear it.

You can e-mail your story to me at oralhistory@iona.org.uk.

Alternatively, you can mail it to me at:

Oral History Project
The Iona Community
4th Floor, Savoy House,
140 Sauchiehall Street,
Glasgow, Scotland, UK
G2 3DH