By Mandi Stoll
At the beginning of June, I traveled to Spokane, WA for the L’Arche USA Western Regional Gathering. I immediately felt at home by how much this gathering, despite the abundance of new and unfamiliar faces, reminded me of my time at the Eastern Regional Gathering back in 2017 when I was ending my time as a member of the L’Arche community in Washington, DC. It seemed all too appropriate when Stacy Cates-Carney, Vice Leader of L’Arche International, opened the weekend with a reminder of our connectedness with L’Arche around the world stating, “We are connected, we belong together, and we need each other.”
Throughout the weekend, community members from the established communities in Washington (Spokane, Seattle, and Tacoma communities), Oregon (Portland community), and California (Wavecrest community) told the stories of their individual communities and led times of reflection and prayer around our theme “Journeying Together: The Way of the Heart.” One of my favorite reflections was when we did the “Hokey-Pokey” together and talked about how entering into community is like doing the Hokey-Pokey. We put part of our selves in and then retreat, and then over and over with different parts of ourselves until we find the freedom of putting our whole selves in and “shaking it all about.”
As representatives from one of the three emerging communities in the region, Brian and I had the opportunity to eat lunch with community leaders and representatives from other emerging communities to ask questions and share about the life of our little seedling of a community here in Colorado. They reminded us not to lose sight of what is important — the relationships. It’s easy, they said, to get caught up in our efforts to reach our long-term goals of establishing housing and residential supports, and lose sight of the relationships that are at the heart of L’Arche. They encouraged us to remember that when we focus on relationships, the rest of the process comes more naturally because people love and care for the community and want to see it succeed!
As I participated in the reflections, watched the community story presentations, and shared meals with community members from across the region, I listened for experiences that appeared to be shared across L’Arche. What are those things that bind us together across our different locations and experiences?
What stood out to me are the ways in which simple, everyday tasks are filled with joy and play. L’Arche is a place of celebration no matter the location, be it at a shared dinner table, on the dance floor, a community farm, driving a van across town, a foot-washing ceremony, or just sitting and being present with one another.
L’Arche is celebrating one another and the time we get to spend together.