Living in L'Arche
Our involvement with L’Arche started about eleven years ago, shortly after I (Michael) retired from work. I read a letter in a magazine from a lady called Margaret Ford, who was a friend of L’Arche, telling of her experience with the Sydney community. Margaret said she had just been to a prayer night in one of the Sydney houses and had been “lifted into the presence of God” by the singing of the core members. This sparked something in me and I made enquiries about getting involved.
The involvement started with having a meal at one of the houses, and then Pat and I started looking after the garden at the house in Burwood. We soon got to know the core members and assistants and this led to being invited to numerous meals and community events, and also being asked to do relief sleepovers when there were staff shortages. All this continued for about a year when, quite independently, on the same day, Pat and I decided we could do this work full time. We offered our services, were accepted, and worked as live in assistants for just over twelve months when we needed to leave to give more support to our elderly parents.
Although we no longer live in, we are still part of the community and continue to support and be enriched by it. This enrichment comes in ways too numerous to tell, but two events come to mind that illustrate something of its beauty.
The first happened some years ago when one of the core members, Pat, became quite ill and eventually died. The care Pat received from the community and her wonderfully supportive family, was amazing to observe, but what remains in our memory is her funeral. This lady, who had little speech, needed help with most activities of daily living, and by most of the world’s standards had little to contribute, filled a church with people who loved her and mourned her passing. After the service, as the cortege filled the street outside the church, somebody observed that outsiders would assume somebody “important” had died. And of course they would have been correct.
The other event happened on Christmas Day 2013. It has been our practice over recent years to invite to our house, for Christmas lunch, those core members and assistants who have nowhere else to go. On this occasion, after the meal had started, Pat noticed that two of the assistants and Geoffrey, one of the core members, were not eating, although their meals had been served and were on the table in front of them. It turned out that Geoffrey had to take some medication an hour before he ate, and because of some misunderstanding that hadn’t happened, so he had to wait a while before he could start. What was moving was to see the two young assistants, acting in solidarity with Geoffrey, and without complaining, waiting with him and allowing their meals to get cold too. Naturally once all this was known, their meals were re-heated and the meal progressed.
In our experience, being part of the L’Arche community is not something that comes to an end, but, even as personal circumstances change, goes on being an important part of our lives in one way or another.
Pat and Michael Slinn