Above: Patrick (left) smiles with Denise (right) at our Songs From the Back Deck concert in August this year.
I started volunteering with L’Arche Saint John in 2014, the year that L'Arche International celebrated its 50th anniversary. Locally, there was a variety show at the Imperial Theatre and the community was invited. It was a dreary, rainy afternoon, and I am so glad I overcame my hesitation and decided to go. I left the theatre feeling uplifted and joyful, with an application form in my hand. Eight years later, my involvement with L’Arche continues to enrich my life.
I recently read a reflection from the Center for Action and Contemplation, founded by Franciscan Father Richard Rohr, entitled Discerning What is Ours to Do. This passage resonated with me:
There is a prison near you. A hospital. A park or a bridge or an alley where homeless people sleep…There’s a country in great need or social problem that few people notice. If you listen to the Spirit, you will be drawn toward an opportunity to serve. At first, the thought will frighten or repel you. But when you let the Spirit guide you, it will be a source of great joy - one of the richest blessings of your life.
(Brian D McLaren. We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation and Activation)
I grew up in a Catholic family and my parents were role models when it came to volunteering and being of service in the community. My mother had a lifelong admiration for Jean Vanier so I grew up aware of him and of the community he founded, L’Arche. I moved to Saint John in 2010, and it was the first time I'd lived in a community that had a L’Arche home. I noticed their ads in local media over the years, yet something prevented me from reaching out. As stated in the passage above, I could sense that the Spirit was drawing me towards this opportunity to serve, yet the thought frightened me. The variety show at the Imperial offered me a chance to dip my toe in without making an immediate commitment.
My 'interview' took place in the living room at McKim House, with then Community Leader Jocelyn and members Debbie and Kristina. I was struck by the warm and respectful relationship Jocelyn had with each woman. Debbie showed me her room and introduced me to her special friend Ricky. Despite my initial misgivings, I trusted my intuition and told Jocelyn that I definitely wanted to volunteer my time directly with the core members, rather than on a committee.
I am a dietitian and a foodie. My happy place is the kitchen, and so I accepted Jocelyn’s invitation to start cooking supper with a core member every Friday evening. I was often tired at the end of a demanding work week, yet I always left McKim House with a smile on my face, and a light heart. Living alone, I really appreciated having a meal with the community once a week. It was also an opportunity to spend time with young people, the assistants, and to hear what was on their minds and hearts. They work hard, and it was a pleasure to give them a night off from meal prep.
Patrick and I became chef and sous chef, and over the years became friends. We chose recipes together, cooked family favourites and enjoyed each other's company. Pat is a very smart, funny and talented man. I can't help but laugh at his quirky and often corny puns!
Once while prepping veggies for salad, I asked him what his favourite salad ingredient was. His unexpected response made me laugh: "Bacon bits and croutons!" Pat loves basketball, scoreboards and stop watches. He was often excited to show me his latest acquisition; I’ve lost count of how many watches he’s picked up over the years. The timers came in handy when cooking!
Being part of the L’Arche community has been a rich blessing in my life. I continue to be enriched by the love, respect, creativity and fun I witness and experience there.