“Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”
(Isaiah 58:12, NIV)
The restoration of the old mill had been a success, but MacLeod believed a new undertaking was needed. He continued to wrestle with the Church’s irrelevance in the lives of his struggling parishioners, and he wanted to try something new. He wanted to undertake an experiment in Christian community; to live out the faith in intentional community. Familiar with the island of Iona, he knew of its ancient buildings. The abbey church had been rebuilt at the turn of the 20th century, but the monastic quarters and outbuildings were still in ruins. So MacLeod gathered a team of ministers in training and skilled craftsmen and set about the task of rebuilding the monastery of Iona. MacLeod recruited the ministers; Bill Amos, a master mason, recruited the craftsmen. Once the whole team had been assembled, a regular rhythm of work and worship was established.
“Initially, it was a scheme to train young ministers through worship, work and sharing the whole of life, and to enable working men to realize that they had a vital part to play, and were needed by, and in, the Church.”
The ministers in training spent part of their day in Bible study and theological reflection. The remainder was devoted to working alongside the craftsmen as unskilled labor – helping in whatever ways they were able and “learning a little about how the workers of the world saw themselves.” The men of the early Iona Community (and they were only men) lived together, ate together, worked together, worshiped together, played football in their free time, and engaged in rigorous discussions about the role of the Church in society.
Ministers in training who participated in the early Iona community agreed to a two year apprenticeship. Their summers would be spent on the island; the rest of the year they would serve parishes willing to accept them – often in areas of social deprivation. But not all parishes were willing to accept an “Iona man.” Some of these ministers couldn’t get jobs. They had stepped out of the normal path of ministry and found themselves identified by the mainstream Church as “a slightly dodgy, heterodox, rabble-rousing group…”
The craftsmen who participated in the Iona community made their own sacrifices. While MacLeod’s original vision included putting the unemployed back to work, none of the craftsmen who worked on the abbey were drawn from the unemployed. Rather, the men who labored to restore the 13th century monastery gave up their jobs in the city in June, knowing that they would be out of work when they returned in September.
One of the principles of the Iona Community – at its founding and still today – is that, ‘work is worship: labor is holy.’ The Benedictines, who believe the same thing, had another way of putting it 1500 years ago: Ora et labora (pray and work).
 From an interview with Uist Macdonald, Outside the Safe Place: An oral history of the early years of the Iona Community, by Anne Muir, (Glasgow: Wild Goose Publications, 2011), 15.
 From an interview with Douglas Trotter, Outside the Safe Place: An oral history of the early years of the Iona Community, by Anne Muir, (Glasgow: Wild Goose Publications, 2011), 27-28.
 From an interview with Richard Holloway, Outside the Safe Place: An oral history of the early years of the Iona Community, by Anne Muir, (Glasgow: Wild Goose Publications, 2011), 26.