On May 7, 2019 L’Arche founder Jean Vanier passed away in Paris, France. He was 90 years old. Around the world, people shared stories of how they have seen and experienced the impact of Jean’s life in their own.
“Jean has left an extraordinary legacy,” said L’Arche International Leader Stephan Posner. “His community of Trosly, the communities of L’Arche, Faith and Light, many other movements, and countless thousands of people have cherished his words and benefited from his vision.”
Jean founded L’Arche in 1964 when he invited two men, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, to come live with him in Trosly-Breuil, a small town in France located approximately 80 miles north of Paris. This invitation began with the intention to “do something for” Raphael and Philippe, but transformed into what L’Arche is today, a community of people living together in mutually transforming relationship. Today there are over 150 L’Arche communities in 38 countries across 5 continents. Jean continued living and sharing life in the L’Arche Trosly community until the final few months of his life, even after he stepped down as L’Arche’s leader over a decade ago.
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.
Our effort to “Create L’Arche Now” is a recognition that relationships, not buildings, are at the heart of L’Arche.
While our long-term goal continues to include opening homes for people with and without intellectual disabilities to live and share life together, why wait to share a meal, pray together, and celebrate one another?
That’s why we’re starting regular Monthly Gatherings for people of all abilities to come build relationships with one another and celebrate the ways we are better together.
To kick-off these regular gatherings, we’re going to be hosting a Community BBQ and Dessert Potluck at Spring Canyon Park in Fort Collins, CO.