Parker Davis has been a member of L’Arche since 2016 and currently works as the Digital Communications Manager for L’Arche USA. An audio recording of this piece can be found at the bottom of this page.
I would need hours to explain how L’Arche has impacted my life. I learned so much from my years living in community. Some of the things I learned are simple—like how to cook a carrot pie or fold up a wheelchair. Some of them are more complex—like how to build a friendship with someone who is nonverbal or how to advocate for changes in medication with a very stubborn doctor. And some of what I learned is near impossible to explain—like how to comfort someone close to death, or just how much single moments can change the course of your life.
Many people ask me why I care about L’Arche so much. They want to know why I have stayed involved with the organization since I first learned about it almost five years ago. I have thought about this a lot, especially when I become frustrated with L’Arche. Why am I still here? My answer is simple.
L’Arche was one of the first places where I truly felt at home.
I grew up in a small town in Missouri. And though this town might be lacking in things like diversity, stoplights, and places to go on a Friday night, it is not lacking in helpful people, a strong faith community, and winding backroads that are perfect for long evening drives. For the most part, I enjoyed my early years. But as I grew up, I began to understand things about my own identity that slowly drove an invisible wedge between myself and the community around me. I navigated over and around this wedge for a while, but keeping it a secret meant gradually dissolving any sense of authenticity in my relationships. When you are hiding parts of yourself to feel safe, it is very difficult to feel at home.
I came out in college. It was a journey with many ups and downs—and a lot of questions. For me, one of the most important questions was understanding how my sexuality coexisted with my spirituality. After being raised with more traditional theologies, this was a tough one. I needed to discover how my sexuality and spirituality could feel at home in who I was and in a faith community. I slowly began to learn and accept more about myself, and amidst this self–discovery, I also discovered L’Arche.
After attending a week–long visit to L’Arche Mobile in in the Spring of 2016, a series of chances led me toward a summer internship with L’Arche Portland just months later. It is safe to say that this summer changed the course of my life. I was 21 years old and the youngest person living in a house with eight other people, the oldest being 86. It was my first experience living in intentional community, sharing life with adults with intellectual disabilities, and living on the west coast. Needless to say, there are many reasons why I will never forget that summer, but there is one moment in particular that has seared itself into my mind. And unfortunately, it is quite heavy. (TW: Gun violence.)
I woke up on June 12, 2016 to learn that 49 people had been killed and 53 more were injured during a mass shooting inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
I was shocked, horrified, angry, and terribly sad all at once. I didn’t quite know how to process the information, and I also couldn’t pinpoint why this news felt especially distressing. I got up, changed clothes, and walked into the kitchen where two other assistants were already preparing for the day. One of them, Michael, immediately stopped what he was doing when he saw me. He walked over and gave me a long hug, reassuring me, “I am so sorry that this has happened to your community. We are here for you. You are safe here.”
All at once I understood why the news had hurt so much. All at once I grasped the notion of community. All at once I was reminded what it meant to be fully known, welcomed, and safe around people of faith—to feel at home.
With this gesture, Michael he helped me accept that I was hurting in a unique way because my own LGBTQ+ community was hurting, a community I had spent years afraid to claim as my own. He also helped me understand that in L’Arche and in any true intentional community, when one person is hurting, it affects the rest. Community is about rejoicing together when it is time to rejoice and lamenting together when it is time to lament. And this rejoicing and lamenting is only possible when each member of the community feels fully known, welcomed, and safe.
Shortly after this moment, Rodney Gabriel, a late-core member of the L’Arche Portland community, motioned me toward the kitchen table as he often did saying, “Come here, sweetheart. Sit down. Sit down.” This invitation from Rodney reminds me of one of the other most important lessons L’Arche has taught me about building community: There is always room at the table.
That summer was the start of many meals shared at L’Arche—as a volunteer for L’Arche St. Louis, as an international assistant for L’Arche in India, and as a live-in assistant for L’Arche Portland. Over the course of four years I shared at least one (if not the majority) of my meals each week with a group of people who held incredibly different identities and past-narratives from my own. Now I do not want to completely glorify those meals. They were full of laughter, tenderness, and sacredness as much as they were full of awkward moments, confusion, and frustration. But underneath the surface, these meals held a sense of communion I wish the entire world could experience. I began to recognize something very important. True communion is only possible when we understand our differences as cause for celebration, not tolerance or fear.
Adam, a good friend and old housemate at L’Arche Portland, used to stop me on the random evenings when I happened to be heading out the door instead of staying home for dinner. He would ask, “Parker, where are you going?” I would respond sharing perhaps I was going out for an evening run or to visit a friend. And Adam would always say, “Fine. You’re going to miss dinner!”
Adam could not have been more right. I miss those dinners at L’Arche more than I ever knew I would. Because of unexpected life-events and the current COVID-19 pandemic, it has been almost a year since I have shared a meal with Adam and my other friends at L’Arche. But I am comforted by the ways I continue to feel connected and welcomed to the community, and by the lessons from those years that walk with me almost every day. Rejoicing and lamenting as a community and celebrating differences are themes I now try to emulate in my own home. I live in a small apartment with a small dining table. But as soon as the pandemic allows, I hope this table begins to feel like it has an endless amount of seats.
What might a society with a collective spirit of rejoicing and lamenting look like? Is it possible to create a system where everyone feels welcomed and safe? How can we extend the complex tables of our communities, instead of shortening them? These are some questions
from L’Arche that now inform how I exist as a person of faith, a citizen, and a friend.
Let me close by acknowledging that L’Arche is not perfect. We have a lot of work to do as we deepen our commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion. But it is L’Arche’s awareness of the need for change and dedication to growth that gives me hope for this organization. As we grow together, I hope we will only build a stronger, more inclusive federation. I hope it is one that says, “Come here, sweetheart. Sit down. Sit down.” to anyone looking for a place to call home.