L’Arche International, a federation of over 130 L’Arche communities celebrates together twice each decade with delegates attending from each community. This year over 500 participants took part in a wonderful jam-packed week together in Decatur Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. Patrick Fontain and Eileen Glass, were confirmed as the new International Leader and International Vice-Leader and began their new mandate.
Here is a summary from their talk to the delatates around the new mandate – Living our mission, Developing leadership, Involvement in our cultures and societies, and shaping the Federation.
“Living our mission – The mandate calls us to deepen our understanding of our Identity and foster commitment to the Mission. We share our lives in communities, by choice members of the International Federation of L’Arche. This choice and this belonging link us to a worldwide reality. As ambassadors of this Assembly, what can we do in our communities so that they remain open to and involved in the life of the Federation? Our mission statement calls us to make known the gifts of people with intellectual disabilities, revealed through mutually transforming relationships. It is important that communities continue to create moments of celebration which include all of their members. The mission invites us to work together in partnership, listening to each person and making decisions together.
Developing leadership – The second point of the mandate is about responsibility and the desire to develop leadership; training leaders to be competent and encouraging the growth of fraternal and spiritual life, individually and in our communities. Two ways to do this: open the doors of the community – at the right moment, to people who can change things. This means spotting people with a prophetic voice, and recognizing the cry of the poor and listening to it. It means opening the door to those who can inspire us to new ways of living L’Arche…new community models adapted to the challenges of our times. Developing the “fraternal” dimension is also a question of letting seeds grow. To be responsible is to trust the seeds being sown, leaving the initiative to the community body which wants to participate in the decision-making process (e.g., Commitment and Belonging Process). A leadership of service consists of following afterwards, of letting the initiative come first. Finding this balance takes work. We need to foster an environment in community which responds to the changing needs of our members, while being faithful to the core values of our founding story. Our needs evolve. We have periods where we become more autonomous, and others where we become more dependant and more vulnerable as we grow older. Putting into action the conclusions from the Commitment and Belonging Process will help us to answer these needs, establish training programs and find new ways to organize our community structures.
Involvement in our cultures and societies – The mandate invites us to go out of the garden and involve ourselves in culture and society, letting ourselves be transformed by other cultures. This is the challenge of enculturation. It also means reaching out to people of different faiths and moving towards a greater religious plurality in L’Arche, with the promise of being mutually enriched. Moreover, it means reaching out to those who surround us. We have as a mission to respond to a need, but especially to be a sign, to announce the beneficial gift of relationships with people with intellectual disabilities. There is also communication – through news communiqués, through speaking of L’Arche, through announcing our vision of humankind…and through learning from and being inspired by other organizations with similar goals. There are also our lives as citizens, our right to vote, our contributions to conversations at a broader level.
Shaping the Federation – And, lastly, the mandate calls us to Shape the Federation. Mutual relationships and trust in God are at the heart of our commitment. L’Arche was founded in answer to a call from God. How do we hear the call today? The international work group on the Covenant is reflecting on our spiritual journey, to define and renovate it. We also accepted in this mandate to encourage International solidarity and efficiency. Let us start be recognizing the importance of praying for each other each day. We should also respond to the call to deepen our ecumenical and inter-religious relationships, and to share the fruit of those encounters.
To live this mandate Patrick and Eileen need structures and support, notably from the Stewardship Council.
The mandate is therefore an open mandate, defining the sort of garden that L’Arche should be, a garden of sustainable development which encourages new ways of gardening and is open to other gardens.
In Atlanta today we have the dream that our communities be places of trust which find joy in brother and sisterhood; that they accompany weakness and communicate the surprise of mutual transformations; and that they be places of communion in God. This is our common desire and our future to be fulfilled together!”
~ Patrick and Eileen