Online Bazaar Raises Funds for L’Arche International

As part of an international federation of 147 communities in 35 countries, L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C. is committed to building awareness about and raise funds for L’Arche communities in developing countries. These communities receive little or no funding from their governments, often leaving them struggling to pay for basic necessities like food, housing, medicine, and assistant salaries.

According to L’Arche International’s web site, “Solidarity means to network with other international organizations, to contribute to conferences and public forums in order to influence society to bridge the gap between a society that neglects its weakest members and one that invites them to actively participate in public life.”

At L’Arche, those at the margins find love at the center

from the Washington Post:

by Michael Gerson, opinion writer, The Washington Post

In an older, gentrifying, suburban Virginia neighborhood — the kind with porch flags and pumpkins on the front steps — I am welcomed at an indistinguishable door to an exceptional little community called L’Arche. Here, intellectually disabled “core members” are paired with often young and intensely idealistic “assistants” who share their lives, normally for a year or two. (L’Arche has more than 140 such group homes in 35 countries.)

Hazel, who uses a wheelchair and communicates mainly with a shy smile, has helped prepare dinner. Before the meal, she shows me photographs she has taken during a recent riverside vacation. (Her more typical photographic subjects, I’m told, are babies at church.) Fritz, a middle-aged man with Down syndrome, watches videos of the rock group Queen on a computer in the living room. Before we eat, he offers an extended, emotionally intense prayer, only occasionally intelligible to listeners in the room but certainly (if there is any justice) intelligible to God.

There is a method in L’Arche’s work. Routine and consistency are important. Core members have chores and, when possible, jobs. (Fritz takes out the trash and washes cars at a city facility.) L’Arche is big on rituals of personal affirmation. When any member of the community has a birthday, the others take turns recounting his or her talents and gifts. While L’Arche is not sectarian, the atmosphere is strongly religious. After dessert, a candle is handed around, with each person expressing a prayer request as they hold it.

The assistants are given months of training before they start. But L’Arche’s goal is not primarily the provision of services. The prevailing professional model of social services involves the setting of emotional boundaries. L’Arche exists to cross those boundaries — to strive for a friendship of equals. The saintly founder of L’Arche, Jean Vanier, argues that generosity is offered from a position of power. True communion, in contrast, involves the loss of power and a willingness to be “transformed by weakness.” Assistants approach core members as teachers.

The result is a deeper, riskier relationship. The challenges of dealing with the intellectually disabled should not be sentimentalized. A core member at a L’Arche home recently became threatening and needed to be hospitalized. (“God holds that person,” says John Cook, the executive director of L’Arche in the Washington area, “but we can’t.”) Some volunteers burn out. More typically, however, assistants report being stripped down to emotional essentials and opened to something larger. “My job, what I make, meant nothing to her,” says one assistant of her core member. “She loved me, without any accomplishments, without anything I thought made me lovable. It is how God loves me.

There is a human tendency to recoil from fragility. But we are humanized by closer acquaintance with the intellectually disabled. Cook speaks of his friend Fritz with admiration: “He has the gift of companionship. He is very attuned to distress and overtly comforting. He gives people a blessing by putting his forehead against their forehead. And people come away feeling moved, like something powerful has happened to them.” At church, Hazel sits at the front by the aisle. During Communion, she greets each congregant as they come forward, receiving a kiss on the cheek, as much a part of the service as the bread and wine.

Those interested in the most efficient provision of social services would probably not design L’Arche — a program that lavishly invests a single life in a single life. Whether this is viewed as wasteful depends upon your ultimate goal. “It is a matter of ends,” says Cook. “If your end is the greatest good at the least financial cost, then some get favored and some discarded. If your end is a place where everyone has a place of honor, and where everyone lives in love, then L’Arche is experiencing it. People who get pushed to the margins are intentionally placed at the center.”

This small community accomplishes many outsize things. It vindicates the ideal of human dignity, which does not depend on normal measures of human accomplishment. It lays bare the illusion that ability means superiority. It displays the lavishness of grace, which, in Christian theology, is needed by and granted to us all. And it shows — amazingly, inspiringly, accusingly — that the beloved community might be created on any suburban street.

Published in The Washington Post October 27, 2014.


L’Arche GWDC Hosts Traveling Ark

from their site: ”

Walton Schofield shows off one of the five arks traveling the world in celebration of L’Arche’s 50th anniversary. Photo ©Brian A Taylor

Shortly after Jean Vanier, Philippe Seux, and Rappahël Simi moved in to a small home in Trosly-Breuil, France, Jean asked his friend Jacqueline d’Halluin help him name the house.

“She suggested about a hundred names,” Jean writes in his book An Ark for the Poor. “When she said ‘L’Arche,’ I knew without any hesitation that that was it.”

Only later did Jean realize the symbolism of the word, which means the ark in French. The story of Noah’s ark – a boat of salvation for God’s people – appears in Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu scripture as well as they mythology of other early cultures, and aptly symbolizes a place where people can find safety from life’s raging storms.

Today, there are L’Arche 146 communities in 39 countries where people with and without intellectual disabilities share their lives together. Born in 1964 out of the Roman Catholic tradition, communities today focus their spirituality around Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and inter-faith traditions. While each has its own unique characteristics, they share common core values of dignity, relationship, spirituality, sharing life in community, and solidarity with one another.

This year the International Federation is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of that first small home by passing five wooden arks from community to community. Each ark can be opened to reveal three levels in which pictures, signatures, and inscriptions are being collected.

L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C. hosted one of the traveling arks July 1-11. During its stay, the community re-enacted the story of Noah’s ark with founding core member Michael Schaff playing the leading role.

When asked how the L’Arche community is like Noah’s ark, members responded, “It’s a safe place,” “God is with us,” and “We’re a family.”

Once the arks have traveled to the all the communities they will land in France for a final celebration. Each country will also send a pair of representatives, symbolic of the animals going two-by-two into the safety of the ark.”

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L’Arche – Holy Thursday: This I Understand

Eileen Schofield washes Kara Downey's feet. Photo by Brian A. Taylor Photography

“I loved that this was a part of the faith that I really thought I understood.

Do this.  Wash each other’s feet.

And then I moved into L’Arche.  And it made even more sense to me.  We literally wash each other’s feet.  That is a part of my job.

Footwashing is also significant part of L’Arche’s spiritual life.  About once a year, we have a footwashing liturgy where we love, affirm, and pray over each other, washing each other’s feet.

This past summer at our footwashing liturgy, D. was sitting next to our housemate W., with whom she has lived for about ten years.  W. speaks Spanish and uses wheelchair, and needs the most physical assistance of the core people in our home.

Just to paint a picture for you, W. demands that he never leave the house without a hat and a shirt with at least two pockets, in order store the pens that don’t fit in the bag of pens he carries around with him.  He will always ask new people the same two questions:  “How many siblings do you have?” and “Do you speak Spanish?”

As opposed to words, he will most often “purr” – a noise specific to W. that we have come to understand as his way of communicating contentment.  W.’s room, where he listens classical music and plays with his wooden blocks for hours, is the most peaceful place in our home.

We put the basin on W.’s lap and helped D. to get her feet up there.  And W., a friend who we help through every step of care throughout the day, washed and dried D.’s feet.

It was a little clumsy, his hands are not the most agile.  But it was so tender. And then D., whose hands shake a lot of the time but is one of the most faith-filled women that I know, leaned over and held his hands and prayed with him, asking God for W.’s health and happiness.

This I understand.”

Names of the core people are shortened to initials in this story to protect their privacy.

Sarah Ruszkowski is the home-life leader at Ontario House in D.C. Photo by Brian A. Taylor Photography

L’Arche: Bazaar, Talent Show to Raise Solidarity Funds – March 8, 2014

L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C. is committed to sharing financial gifts with communities around the world that have limited resources. While some L’Arche communities are supported by both generous friends and government funding, other communities are dependent on the donations received by communities like ours.

Dollars raised at this event will help our sister communities pay for basic necessities like housing, food and medicine, and assistant stipends. 100% of your tax-deductible gift goes directly to solidarity to be used where needed most. Can’t make it on March 8? Give a gift online, making sure to note “solidarity” in the comments.

Please join L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C.

Saturday, March 8, 2014
2:30 – Bazaar
(cash or check)

3:30-5:30 Talent Show

5:30 Pizza Party 
(RSVP appreciated*)

$10 suggested donation
(cash, credit card, check)

Marymount University
Reinsch Library Auditorium
4626 North 26th Street
Arlington, VA 22207

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