Iona Community’s newly-elected leader hopes he can ‘find new ways to touch the hearts of all’
DR MICHAEL Marten, 48, was voted the next leader of the Iona Community by a membership of just over 280. Dr Marten, who identifies himself as a Presbyterian- Quaker, is the first lay person in the seven-year role, but has been a member of the community since 1993.
‘I feel very excited, somewhat daunted,’ he told The Oban Times. ‘ There’s a line of eight illustrious predecessors, and I am following in the footsteps of people I hold in very high regard.
‘I view this as a great opportunity to do something for the community which has been a home for me for a quarter of a century, and I hope I can give something back.’
Dr Marten married Sigrid in 1994, who shortly thereafter became a Church of Scotland minister, and then completed a PhD in church history and interfaith theology in 2003, before teaching Middle East politics at the University of London and religion at Stirling University from 2008-15. Most recently he has been employed by the Iona Community as its support services manager.
Marlene Finlayson, convener of the council of the Iona Community, said: ‘ Members can look forward to a dynamic and energetic leadership. Michael brings to the leadership not only wide experience of a variety of roles within the community, but an active commitment to justice, peace and environmental issues, and ongoing involvement in development and campaigning issues, especially related to the wider Middle East and Christian- Jewish- Muslim relations.’
Outlining his vision, Dr Marten said: ‘ We face a radically different landscape to when I joined the community a quarter of a century ago, never mind compared to when George MacLeod founded it in 1938.
‘ We now live in a postChristendom and even post- church context: churches are no longer the default for engaging with Christian spirituality.
‘ While many members are still very involved in churches, others are just holding on by their fingertips, have left altogether or have adopted multiple identities – and I’d include myself in these latter groups.
‘ These apparent contradictions are to be embraced, not shunned, for they offer us new insights into what Christian life in the 21st century could be.
‘George MacLeod wrote a prayer in which he urged that we be taken “outside holiness, out to where soldiers curse and nations clash at the crossroads of the world”. The community has always encouraged exploration of what being “outside holiness” means, including new models of community living on Iona and Mull, the creation of new worship resources, new ways of engagement with the global church, and experiments in local activism.
‘As we face a resurgent populist right and the increasingly hostile impacts of individualised neo-liberalism, the Iona Community can offer an alternative model of human interaction, centred on meaningful relationships where all are welcomed, all are valued, and the crossroads of the world becomes a meeting place, rather than a place of conflict.
‘ That, I am convinced, is where we need to be, in Scotland and the UK, in a wider European context, and globally.’
The Rev Peter Macdonald continues as leader until the summer, when Dr Marten succeeds him.