“I wanted to see an alternative to living life in the ‘middle class 2.5 children’ sort of set up,” says Jessica Lyons, a friend of the L’Arche community in Sydney.
Jess stumbled across L’Arche when she was looking for an intentional Christian community to research for her university Master’s thesis.
L’Arche (French for ‘The Ark’) was founded in a small house in Trosly-Breuil in France by Catholic humanitarian and author Jean Vanier in 1964, when he invited Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux to leave the institution they’d been left in and live with him for mutual support and friendship.
Jess already had some understanding of the difficulties that people with intellectual disabilities and their families face in finding supportive networks.
Her uncle, Peter Lyons, has an intellectual disability and the two of them now form part of the vibrant L’Arche Sydney community.
The ecumenical movement has 147 live-in communities in 35 countries, and there is a related organisation, Faith and Light.
Its charism centres on the dignity of each person and the transformative power of relationships between people with and without intellectual disabilities.
With three houses in Sydney (Burwood, Merrylands, and Campsie) there are plenty of opportunities for people to become involved with this very welcoming community.
Each household consists of a small number of core members and live-in assistants, plus a network of others who are committed to form lasting friendships with them.
The community comes together every month for its Spiritual Soup nights, which involve a light meal, prayer, hymns, and sometimes dancing.
The Catholic Weekly was invited recently and found that music is huge in L’Arche; with Jess’ saxophone, a couple of guitars, tambourines, maracas, and enthusiastic singing adding to the already uplifting vibe in the Burwood house.
Jess’ uncle has a good friendship with Bruce Ewin, who lives at Burwood. Both men are fierce rugby league fans with Pete’s team being the Canterbury Bulldogs, and Bruce’s the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles.
“I think so much of the world today is so caught up on success and careers,” says Jess.
“It’s wonderful to be part of a community that focuses on the human in front of them rather than what they can offer a company.”
Everyone is expected to participate in the running of their L’Arche household.
Kathleen, a core member, likes to help out by, “folding up [clothes] and helping with cooking”.
Her house-mate Joanne Taylor likes the gardening chores and taking garbage bags out.
Luke Formosa, volunteer, says that the Sydney L’Arche community is seeking professionals in the field as well as volunteers who are interested in a diverse community which reflects the Gospel in action.
Many live-in assistants come from overseas. They are grateful for the opportunity to travel and experience different cultures, while making a genuine contribution to the lives of others. One challenge they face is the tightening of working visa restrictions which means that visitors must not work for an organisation for more than six months.
“We want more Australian assistants,” Joanne says.
Speak to anyone at L’Arche and the message is clear: It is a school of life and an invitation to slow down one’s pace, enter a way of way of living where the person in front of us matters greatly, where we have real human connection, and where we respect the dignity of every human person.
Alexander Gavazzi described a shopping trip with core member Gabriel who “revealed just how moving slowly you can still get things done.”
“I should’ve thanked Gabriel for helping me to slow down today because if I had gone on my own it would’ve been at a different pace, and it wouldn’t be a life-giving moment together.
“I think that L’Arche is a realisation and a revelation that self-sufficiency and independence have no place here and they have no place in life generally.
“This community reveals that in almost a daily manner.”
Luke agrees: “L’Arche is a community with a rich Christian culture, encompassing social justice and prayer. It allows you to embrace the faith … welcoming the Holy Spirit and the presence of God (in the other person).”
For details on community events or how to become involved email [email protected]