Interview by Mary Ellen Dingley | Sue Bodner has been a L’Arche GWDC friend and community member for over four decades! We recently caught up with her to hear her L’Arche story.
On coming to and living in L’Arche–for 43 years:
I grew up in Baltimore. And I went to college at Virginia Tech, which isn’t too far away. And then my first job was in Georgia. And while I was in Georgia, I met a couple who were reading and learning about Church of the Savior here in DC. And they were, you know, very excited about it and we began to meet and they moved and a year later I followed them here. Very interesting and you know, progressive church.
Church of the Savior – this was in 1979 that I moved and started going to services at Eighth Day. And you may know that, you know, in 1976, the church split into seven sister communities and they each had their own worship life. I got hooked at Eighth Day and it was my church.
It was such an exciting time. You know, I still have friends from that era, and we just feel like it was magical, really, because so many of the ministries that are still in existence were started during that time, and the whole concept of the inward outward journey, like you would have a mission to be serving the poor, helping the world be a better place, and then there would also be this serious devotional life. And, boy, we took it seriously and lots of young people came. I was 26 when I started getting involved. It was a growing, transformational kind of place, I would say for both individuals who were involved and the effect that they were having on the community.
Well, here I am at Eighth Day learning about all these missions that are being created. I just thought it [L’Arche] was part of Church of the Savior. I never made a distinction in my mind.
What I have clear memories of is working on stripping wallpaper! And I was involved in that and, you know, just getting that first house ready. And all of the things that had to be put in place before they could open and the whole time I thought it was Eighth Day and they were just calling the house L’Arche or something. So at some point along there, I think I got set straight and realized that, you know, it was a separate organization.
It was all part of the church community and the four men that ended up living at Ontario House [L’Arche’s first home in Adams Morgan, D.C.] first were all coming to Eighth Day, and we were having group house parties and going to the beach and they came with us. It was kind of a special time. I feel very grateful for it.
[Somewhere between 1979 and 1989] I started accompanying one of the assistants at Euclid [House, L’Arche’s second home in Adams Morgan], because Euclid had opened by then too.
And what my best memories are – my kids (and this my daughter, my son’s memories aren’t as clear because they were really little like, you know, two and three or three and four) – we went over to the L’Arche house a lot. [I have] gratitude for that. My kids began a journey of growing up living L’Arche, seeing people with different abilities from them, loving them and being affectionate with them and having fun playing checkers, watching TV, you know, all of that over those years.
Then we moved out to Arlington in 1995. But I must have said, probably to John Cook, ‘I need a way that’s going to bring me into the city because now I don’t have that organic you know, like living a block away thing.” And it made me nervous. So I became the accompanier for Euclid house. And I did that for 10 years from 1995 to 2005. I was going in once a month to do those meetings. And then I also did some individual accompaniment along the way.
It was about 15 years ago that [the first] Arlington house opened and I also have a degree in home economics. I’m like the ultra homemaker. I like things simple, but I love creating home. And so I made curtains and helped pick out furniture for the house. I had been there when Ontario [House] opened, and now I happened to be in the right place at the right time for the community to expand into Arlington.
So I would say that’s where I am with L’Arche. The Smith family have adopted me and I them – I’m the local grandma. That family saved me during COVID. Caitlin and the boys would come here and the boys would play in the yard, she would sit on the steps, I’d be on the porch, rain, snow, sleet.
That’s been a huge gift that has come in this current era of my life, and when I think about, well what am I doing for L’Arche? Well now I can say I give money so that’s always nice and then you know I have a nurturing connection with Luke and Caitlin and the boys. What else is out there for me? I don’t know, at this point, but it’s been 43 years. Wow. Yeah. Isn’t that amazing?
Reasons she doesn’t leave L’Arche
These are my mantras about L’Arche and I must say them in this interview. There’s two reasons that it never crosses my mind to leave L’Arche. One of them is that I get an unending funnel of young people – it never ends and I look at my peers, but honey, they don’t have that. And there’s no way that you can avoid the traditional stereotypes of aging and getting set in your ways and, you know, complaining about technology all the time and, you know, just not being willing to move on with the times unless you have young people in your life.
And then there’s the spiritual slash faith piece. When I was still quite young, at one of the services that we had planned for Eighth Day, we had Sunday school, and Mo and Glen [founding core members of L’Arche GWDC] they came into the service for the sermon that day, they had done pictures and we were going to have them share their pictures and just say whatever they could about the paintings.
The question was, if you were gonna get in a boat, and you didn’t know what was going to happen or where you were going to end up, what’s one thing you would take with you? And I’ve never been able to remember what the other story said but Mo held up his picture and he said, God, gotta have God in my boat – maybe not even that much of a sentence. And I thought, you know, that’s it. That’s my theology.
So that when, when, if I ever get asked just the question about well, what would you say you really believe… I’ll often say, Well, I pretty much believe in L’Arche and then I’ll say something like that: God in my boat.
On leaning into her values in L’Arche
So I was always, you know, very content to measure my value by how I was using my gifts, not how society tended… and that’s huge, you know, and I have both my experience in Church of the Savior and L’Arche validating that all the time.
On change in L’Arche
I just continue to marvel at how it [L’Arche] hasn’t changed. Back when my kids were little… [we would go to] the L’Arche house, we walk in the door…and you know, it’s just like walking into happiness. I know there are times that things get stressful but I feel that way now still about any time I’m at a L’Arche event… there’s no pretense, there’s no hidden agendas, and just a bunch of exceptional people that you get to rub shoulders with.
On L’Arche as family
I forget what the question was, but it’s also the case that L’Arche has truly been family to me. I don’t have an extended family. “What are you doing for the holidays?” Going to L’Arche. I mean we went for Thanksgiving and Christmas at John’s house right. You know, when you use the word family, it doesn’t necessarily raise warm fuzzies for everybody. But if you want a sense of connection and have people that are going to be there for you like family would be I haven’t seen anything that does it better than L’Arche.
Pictures starting left and moving clockwise: Sue and Kelly laughing together on the couch, Sue with the Smith Family boys at the beach, Sue co-leading a transition accompaniment for GWDC’s former executive director as he retired, Sue speaking at the 2017 Heart of L’Arche Fundraiser