In L’Arche communities around the world, Gospel message and Gospel action are woven seamlessly together. Wendy Lywood describes how as an Anglican priest she met Jesus in a new way at L’Arche , and how she now witnesses others having the same experience.
I first got involved in L’Arche because I was feeling burned out in parish ministry. I really longed to find a place where I could live in an intentional Christian community. I started by visiting the L’Arche community in Calgary because it was one of the most visible options for Christian community in Canada.
I arrived for supper on a Tuesday evening. I was seated across the table from a man named Darryl, and I have to say that my initial reaction to Darryl was one of complete repulsion. I just wanted to get up and run away. He didn’t have any teeth, so his food was all pureed, but as he ate, food dripped down from his mouth. Then at one point during the meal, Darryl gave a big smile to Dave, the helper who was sitting next to him. His hands dropped into his food, and he turned to this fellow and gave him a big hug, and, as he did so, his hands touched the man’s hair and shirt. I just thought, “Ugh. Now I know this is not for me.” At the same time, what got to me was that Dave simply received the hug for what it was. I thought, “What is this? What does he know about love that I don’t?” I had never seen that kind of love in action and it’s really what hooked me.
After that we went for Eucharist, and found I was deeply moved by the prayer of the core members. It just came directly from their hearts. Again I thought, “What is this place?” I was profoundly touched by something, and I felt it was the presence of God. I wanted to know more.
I find that this is often people’s experience when they come to L’Arche. There is a quality in our life together that makes it easy for people to access the presence of the Spirit of God. We have people come for a meal and, though I may think the food is terrible, people go away saying, “Oh, that was so wonderful.” This has happened enough now that I have come to trust that God really is with us. And when people are searching, they discover that.
We have a lot of young people who are attracted to L’Arche because of the social justice aspect of the ministry, and who have often rejected their own faith tradition. One of the things we say to them is, “You’re welcome to come and experience our life. But you need to know we are a community of faith. And you need to know that we are a community that is really rooted in the Beatitudes.” Evangelism happens through the liturgies, through the teaching, and through individual conversations.
Everybody who visits is given a “spiritual accompanier.” We ask visitors where they are at spiritually, and what their desires are. We are pretty direct about those things, even though it may be a long time before people are able to make that more concrete for themselves. So in all those ways, we present people with the Gospel message.