Sharing home life together is at the heart of L'Arche
L'Arche communities consist of a small number of households integrated into a local neighbourhood. Homes usually consist of six to eight people, with and without developmental disabilities. These people live in a family-like environment where each person contributes as he or she is able, helping with chores or cooking or perhaps bringing the gift of helping others to slow down and be more present to the moment. The core members, as the people who have disabilities are called, are at the heart of the home. The assistants represent diverse cultural and religious traditions and may come from various countries.
Often, L'Arche communities also have some supported independent living settings. Those who live in these settings still participate in the life of the L'Arche community and may have a special relationship with one of the homes.
The Importance of Relationships
Relationships are central in L'Arche. A L'Arche home is a place of growth, where each person is supported to attain his or her full potential. In the sharing of life together, each one also grows in self-understanding and understanding of others.
Decisions concerning home life are made as much as possible at a weekly house meeting. While provincial government ministry standards are fully adhered to, much effort goes into encouraging mutuality in relationships. There is a sense of shared ownership for the life and spirit of welcome that is typical of L'Arche homes.
Mealtimes and Celebration
In Canadian L'Arche communities, meals are often times of laughter and celebration. The main meal of the day is almost always the evening meal and is usually delicious and carefully prepared, with attention to each person's needs. The table is set attractively. Attention is given to seating so that those who need support have someone near them, and assistance is given with dignity and without undue attention. Conversation includes everyone. Each person has an opportunity to participate as they are able, perhaps helping pass various items, and to share about their day.
The spiritual dimension is important: Grace is said or sung at the beginning of a meal and after the meal there is usually a simple time of prayer. A candle may be lit, someone may offer a brief reading, and people take time in silence or, if they wish, may pray aloud, giving thanks or mentioning those whom they carry in their heart. Such simple times of prayer, done in an ecumenical or interfaith manner depending on who is present are, like the mealtimes, foundational to life in a L'Arche home.
A Typical Day
A typical day in a L'Arche home may begin with breakfast together or in little groupings depending on the schedule of each individual's daytime activity or work. Usually, some people need assistance with bathing, dressing and grooming and perhaps with eating. During the morning while others are at work or day activities, house assistants may attend meetings, do needed paper work and household maintenance and accompany core members to appointments. Assistants usually take personal time in the afternoons so they can be fresh to welcome the core members home when they return. After dinner, some core members and assistants may participate together in recreational activities or courses in the locale where they live, or meet to plan L'Arche events and celebrations, while others relax at home.
Long-term stable relationships are important to any person's growth and happiness. While L'Arche welcomes many assistants who come for a shorter experience of community, it also nurtures a body of long-term assistants and friends and former assistants who bring stability.
L'Arche homes are open and welcoming of the world around them and usually have a number of friends and volunteers. In addition, core members are helped to develop and maintain friendships outside L'Arche and to stay in touch with their family.