L’Arche is an organization that supports communities of people with and without intellectual disabilities who learn and grow together. Core members (adults with intellectual disabilities) and assistants (adults without intellectual disabilities) build meaningful relationships while supporting one another in community.
An audio file of the following text can be found at the bottom of the page.
The other day, I was reminded that 2020 is a leap year. “How fitting,” I thought to myself. “We should have just leaped over the entire year.” What if we could take one big leap and skip over all the challenges, the pandemic, the massive recession, the insecurity and disruption, the divisiveness and the conflict? Well, if we did, we would also pass by the beauty of this year. The large and small moments that give us hope.
As an example, I offer this little glimpse into Deborah’s life: Several years ago, Deborah was inspired to join a L’Arche community. After a short time at L’Arche Syracuse, she decided to apply to be an assistant at L’Arche Cleveland.
She wanted to be closer to her family but was also nervous about the change. The all-day drive up to Cleveland to attend dinner at Agape House felt long. But she had no reason to worry. Upon arriving, she received a gregarious welcome from the core members. Before dinner, each core member in Agape House took turns saying a prayer from their own faith. That night, Deborah witnessed a Greek Orthodox prayer, a Jewish prayer and a Baptist prayer. The vegan vegetable soup was even more delicious when she learned that the “total carnivores” of the house had gone out of their way to accommodate her dietary needs. To conclude the evening, everybody was invited to choose a song to sing. Nobody in the Cleveland community is quite sure when these traditions started. Who figured out how to deepen the authenticity of each faith and denomination while opening the ritual up to a multitude of backgrounds? Who knew and suggested that the core members might be the appropriate leaders of these daily practices? How had this diverse group of people managed to agree on matters that are often so divisive?
I have been a member of this L’Arche movement for two decades and don’t exactly know how to answer these questions. We are still learning about ourselves, about how values are shaped and passed on, about how characters mature and develop, and about how conflict and hardship helps build community.
What I know is that the evening left a lasting impression on Deborah, who of course has become a beloved member of the Cleveland community. I know that Deborah and the 1000 members of L’Arche in the United States have been welcomed and introduced into this big web of relationships across differences and geographies. Throughout their journey, they have lived encounters that call them to recognize people with intellectual disabilities as valuable and to lean in to hear their voices, sometimes as friends, sometimes as teachers.
Deborah’s particular interest in L’Arche, birthed during that first dinner in Cleveland, is still alive. She is keen to support core members as they actively participate in each other’s religious celebrations and make space for each other’s beliefs. This September, they will together celebrate Rosh Hashanah and hold multiple festivities, including, of course, prayers and songs.
Deborah’s story fills me with hope, particularly in this time of physical isolation and divisiveness. L’Arche, even after 20 years, fills me with hope. Particularly in 2020, a year that we all might be tempted to leap over.
With gratitude for you, our partners and friends,
National Leader, L’Arche USA