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30 Years of Letting Our Light Shine

Photo: John Cook shares the mission and vision of L’Arche at the 2013 Heart of L’Arche breakfast. Photo by Brian A. Taylor Photography

This year is a special year for L’Arche here in Greater Washington. 2013 marks the 30th anniversary of when Michael Schaff moved into our first home and fulfilled the dream of a small group of people who wanted L’Arche for Washington.

At our heart, we are an interdenominational Christian community of people with and without intellectual disabilities who share our lives together. We are committed to supporting each person in his or her own spiritual journey, whether he or she subscribes to a religious faith or to another system of values and conscience.

L’Arche supports adults who have intellectual disabilities in creating fruitful lives – the “core people” around whom our life is centered. We develop an environment of love and trust where quality care is a matter of friendship, not just a job.

We advocate with people who have intellectual disabilities to create a world where each person’s light shines.

Over the years we have deepened our commitment, strengthened our leadership, and replicated our model. Today, we have grown to a vibrant community of four homes – two in Adams Morgan and two in Arlington – and 16 core people.

Though we may seem small, we are not alone. We are part of an international federation of 137 L’Arche communities around the globe – 18 of which are in the United States.

I remain in L’Arche because we practice what we believe: that each person brings light and that each person’s light is necessary to create a world living in love, a world where every person has enough and where every person has a place of honor.

Recently, Ellen Garcia passed. She was the beloved mom of L’Arche community member Linda Garcia. One evening during the weeks preceding her passing, Charles Clark and I were out for a walk. Charles asked, “Did you hear that Linda’s mom is dying?” “Yes,” I replied. After a few moments of silence, Charles said, “Well, she – meaning Linda’s mom Ellen – she won’t have to worry. We’ll take care of Linda.”

We’ll take care of Linda. Tears came to my eyes. Yes, Charles, we will take care of Linda.

When I entered the church on the day of Ellen’s funeral service, I was amazed to realize that about half of the people there were from L’Arche. I had expected to see community members who knew Ellen well, but there were others present who didn’t know her at all. Then I remembered what Charles had said, “We’ll take care of her.” And there we were, taking care of Linda in the most important way that we could in that moment – by being with her. Our light was shining.

A few weeks after the funeral, we held our annual variety show, where community members and friends sing, dance, perform magic tricks, and otherwise entertain. L’Arche community member Garrick Jordan and two other friends of Linda’s sang “Edelweiss” in honor of Linda’s mom. As they began, L’Arche community member Megan Hrdlicka encouraged Linda to join them singing on stage, and Linda did. As you can see in the photographs on the screen, it was a moment of pure joy for Linda, and for us who watched. Charles was right, and it was happening again. We were taking care of Linda, and her light was shining.

L’Arche succeeds to the extent that it does in keeping the kind of promise that Charles voiced, “We’ll take care of Linda,” only because of a huge number of people – assistants, board members, volunteers, donors, the Greater Washington community like you – support L’Arche’s vision and mission. It’s OUR light that’s shining.

So, with 30 fruitful years behind us, what’s next for L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C.?

I am happy to announce this morning three ways in which our community will grow. One is that we will open new homes in Greater Washington. We have heard from many of you who long to see L’Arche grow. Even more importantly, our community members who have intellectual disabilities have urged us to create new homes where more people can experience the love and light of L’Arche. We’ve already begun connecting with government officials and others in DC, Virginia, and Maryland as we explore where to expand next.

Also, L’Arche transforms human services by revealing each human as a bearer of gifts that are necessary for a better world. We have begun creating a curriculum for revealing the human through human services, with love as the motive, mutuality as the method, and integration as the aim. I believe the curriculum will be usable in any long-term care setting, from group homes to prisons. Some of you may be able to help us develop it, and, once it’s ready, we’ll need your help in persuading organizations to try it.

Those of you who’ve spent time in our homes know that something miraculous happens there. We believe it can happen elsewhere, so we are developing a curriculum for creating community centered on people who are marginalized and guided by people who are left behind. Here, the curriculum will focus on three “re’s”: “re-rooting” in prayer and trust; “re-centering” the common life in the lives of people who tend to be left out and left behind; and “re-uniting” through a covenant of love. I believe it will be usable by any faith-based group, from families to organized religious groups. When it’s ready, perhaps some of you will want to try it in your family or faith community.

There are three main challenges to our growth: enough people WHO LACK intellectual disabilities and who have made a promise to stay the course; enough able leaders; and enough money. We ask you to join us in meeting the challenges ahead by considering what promise you might make.

As we continue this thrilling journey into our 31st year as a people of promise and light, we ask for your prayers, we treasure your promises, and we look forward to more experiences of the light we share. Together, we can create a world where parents like Ellen Garcia can rest in peace because they know there will be people who love their children and treasure the light they bring.

John Cook is the Executive Director of L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C. He gave this talk at the annual Heart of L’Arche Breakfast at the Mayflower Hotel on April 9, 2013.

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