Kept by The Rule
reflections on living by a Rule of Life with the Iona Community

by Ruth Harvey

There are many ways that people of faith make an intentional commitment. I write during Ramadan, and just after Lent. The former, a powerful witness to the dedication of Muslims to a life of peace and prayer. The latter a commitment to simplicity and reflective practice held by Christians across the globe. Public vows of ‘poverty, chastity and obedience’ signal to the world a particular priestly vocation. The words affirmed at baptism, on joining the church, at a wedding, an ordination, an induction, a dedication – any vow made before God and in the presence of a beloved community signals an intentional response to the call of God. John Paul Lederach calls this ‘voice-walking’[i].

Spring each year is the time when Members of the Iona Community (we are around 270) and many of our Associate Members (around 2,000) re-commit ourselves to a four-fold Rule of Life. We talk about ‘keeping the Rule’. In truth, the Rule keeps us. It keeps us focussed, strong, clear, connected and humble in faith and life. It’s also tough.

Rooted in, and evolved from the early days of the rebuilding of Iona Abbey, we commit ourselves to:

  1. daily prayer, worship with others and regular engagement with the Bible and other material which nourishes us;
  2. working for justice and peace, wholeness and reconciliation in our localities, society and the whole creation;
  3. supporting one another in prayer and by meeting, communicating, and accounting with one another for the use of our gifts, money and time, our use of the earth’s resources and our keeping of all aspects of the Rule;
  4. sharing in the corporate life and organisation of the Community.

The words of the Rule speak for themselves. Beyond the words is the process of accountability. This is less a time to judge one another, and more a time to listen, to understand the choices and challenges each of us face when it comes to our finances, our carbon footprint, what we do with our time, our commitment to the ‘commonweal’, our life of prayer and action, our work for justice, peace and reconciliation: our faith and our doubts.

Crucial to this process of accountability is the commitment to meeting together in local groups which, in the Iona Community, we call Family Groups. It is within these groups of deep and tender relationship that our accounting with one another comes alive. It is also within these local groups that we share our struggles in keeping the Rule.

Because we are a human, ecumenical community, and because we talk honestly and openly with one another about our doubts as well as about our faith, then you won’t be surprised to know that some of our struggles to love include: Am I giving away enough of my time and my money? Do I believe enough in God/Jesus to call myself a Christian? What does it actually mean to belong together in community? How can I belong within this particular group if I don’t get on with everyone? How effectively am I living a life of both contemplation and action?

Richard Holloway[ii], Barbara Brown Taylor[iii] and others talk eloquently about how doubt is integral to faith. And so, within our local Family Groups we recognise that faith is less about certainty, but more about walking, in hope, with mystery.

[i] The Moral Imagination: the Art and Soul of Building Peace, by John Paul Lederach

[ii] Leaving Alexandria: a memoir of faith and doubt by Richard Holloway

[iii] Leaving Church: a Memoir of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor



Ruth Harvey is Leader of the Iona Community. She is a minister in the Church of Scotland and a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker).