Modern Saints facing Modern Challenges
Yesterday I wrote about Archbishop William Temple, an important Christian writer and thinker of the 1920s and 1930s. Today I wish to share some reflections on another 20th Century Christian who felt called to engage with the social and economic issues of his day : George MacLeod, who is perhaps best known today as the founder of the Iona Community.
MacLeod was born in 1895, so he was a little younger than Temple – young enough to serve in the 1st World War. Like Temple, MacLeod went on to hold high office in his church, serving as Moderator in 1957. And, like Temple, he enjoyed a privileged upbringing. MacLeod’s father was a Conservative MP, and he was educated at Winchester College and Oxford. He served with distinction in the First World War, and then felt a call to ordained ministry in the Church of Scotland. In 1926 he was appointed to a fashionable church in Edinburgh, but in 1930 he swapped this for a tough slum parish in Glasgow. In the 1930s, he became a pacifist and in 1938 founded the Iona Community. This community was intended to express in social terms the theology of the Incarnation, and the community is still going strong. It lays particular emphasis on Christian engagement with political and economic issues, and it recent years it has produced a wide-range of worship materials which have captured the imagination of congregations up and down the land.
In many ways, MacLeod became a 20th Century embodiment of an Old Testament prophet : a man prepared to challenge his contemporaries in the name of the Living God. At the same time, he was very much part of the Establishment, being appointed a Chaplain to the Queen in 1956, and being elevated to the House of Lords in 1967 as Lord MacLeod of Fuinary. He died in 1991. He wrote several books during his lifetime, and I have one of them in front of me now, as I write these words. The book is entitled Only One Way Left (first printed in 1956). In this book, MacLeod looked at the Church of his day with sadness : “the great criticism of the Church to-day is that no one wants to persecute it : because there is nothing very much to persecute it about”. The future of the Church lay in the transformation of its local congregations, so that each congregation became a genuinely Christian community. MacLeod uttered these words back in the 1950s. Might they still be relevant for us today?