By Lauren Palmer
Take a moment to think about your life, your story. How has your understanding of who you are changed over time? What have you discovered about yourself that you needed and wanted to share with others?
Similarly to our individual stories, the stories of communities and organizations deepen with time.
L’Arche is no different in this regard. Our collective understanding of the essence of L’Arche has grown over the years and we find ourselves as a federation in need of more clearly naming what we believe and what unites us. Enter: The Charter.
Charters are fundamental documents to any group. L’Arche’s current charter was written in 1993 by assistants (people without disabilities). In 2008, L’Arche revised our identity and mission statement. This process helped us deepen our understanding of who we are; including naming that mutual relationship—between people with and without disabilities—is at the center of L’Arche. Our charter now needs to catch up to that re-centering, as well as other developments in who we are and in our understanding of L’Arche.
Embarking on a 3-year journey, L’Arche communities all over the world – all 154 of them and our 21 projects—will work together to develop our new charter. We are entering a period of individual and communal reflection. The people and communities at the margin, whose voices weren’t always taken into account in the past, are leading us as a body in this process. For example, we are starting the charter process in June, a typical time to launch projects in the southern hemisphere, where communities like L’Arche Zimbabwe are located.
This new charter will be written by community members: core members, volunteers, friends of L’Arche, assistants, chief financial officers… anyone finding belonging in L’Arche who is willing to share their story. Using tools for accessible communication, everyone will have a chance to lend their voice and their story!
As Rachel Wangui, a member of the charter process team puts it, “I liken the charter process to making a necklace; beautiful but fragile. In a Kenyan Samburu necklace, different colors symbolize the diversity of our federation. The fragility of the necklace is that it’s joined by a single thread. As a necklace maker, I listen to all voices (beads) and bring them together (thread), supporting the thread where it’s weakest” (L’Arche International Charter Process Website).
The first year of our charter process (May 2019-April 2020) involves surfacing our stories. Whose stories? Yours! Mine! Everyone is invited to share together about our experiences. What gives life? What doesn’t give life? We as L’Arche GWDC will decide together what insights of the ones we surface need to be shared with L’Arche International. Communities all over the world will go through this process in a manner that best suits them.
Whether we have known each other for 12 years or 12 days, we invite you to share your L’Arche story. We recognize the busyness of our lives here and hope that you can share your experiences in ways accessible to you: casual conversations when you’re over for dinner, regular meeting times, a phone call or e-mail to your local charter resource person (see below!).
“…my hope for the charter process is that it is a time when we get to hear stories of truth,” writes Pádraig Ó Tuama, facilitator to the charter process team. “That truth will include pain and promise, harm and hope, and our deepest hope is that the charter can be a document that is more fit to hold the love that L’Arche practices and yearns for” (L’Arche International Charter Process Website).
How can we honor the past and welcome the new? We will discover together.
L’Arche GWDC’s charter resource person is Lauren Palmer and she can be reached at email@example.com.