L'Arche and Ecumenism
'Trust in God and mutual relationships are at the heart of our journey together'. (Identity statement)
Our Charter states: "The communities of L'Arche recognise that they have an ecumenical vocation and a mission to work for unity" (III, 1,3).
L'Arche's roots are Roman Catholic, and to begin with there was no conscious choice to be ecumenical – but very soon after the first community in France , new L'Arche communities began in Britain, Canada and India, welcoming people with disabilities belonging to other churches, and other faiths. Respect for each person means respect for their deepest identity, including their faith tradition, and so 'L'Arche became ecumenical when it welcomed men and women with a disability who belonged to different denominations and different religions. L'Arche wants to help each person to grow and deepen in his or her faith, the one he or she has received from the family, and to be integrated into his or her specific tradition. That means that L'Arche does not want to create its own church, but accepts to walk humbly with the different traditions’. (Letters of L'Arche )
L'Arche is a federation of communities – all have an ecumenical vocation, and each community determines its own ecclesial and religious identity. Communities in UK are Christian, inter-denominational – and open to people of all faiths and none, always in the spirit of respect for one another. This vocation is linked to the love of God for the weakest . Communities of L'Arche find their centre and their inspiration both in the love of God and in the presence of the people with disabilities. These are the people, the poorest and the most suffering among them in particular, who are the source of life and unity. Our ecumenical vocation flows from our fundamental spirituality: the presence of Jesus in the weakest ("who ever welcomes one of these little ones in my name welcomes me" Luke 9). (International Council of L'Arche )
In practice this means learning to know and to understand one another, building relationships, sharing life, especially meals together, and praying together in simple ways – both as a community and within households. Growing and journeying ecumenically is but one aspect of growing in unity. We live in a divided world and peace and reconciliation begin in relationships of forgiveness.
Growing in faith and respecting one another's faith traditions also means actively sharing in the life of local churches and communities of worship. Enabling people with learning disabilities to share in their local church life introduces many assistants to different expressions of faith, and communities are committed to nourishing each member – assistants and people with disabilities – in their own faith.
Such diversity brings contradictions, and pain at times. We need the understanding and support of local and national church leaders and so engage in regular meetings to listen to one another. Groups of church leaders, each appointed by their own tradition, meet in Scotland and in England and Wales. And the Pastoral Ecumenical Committee brings together representatives from each UK L'Arche community to reflect on the questions we live with, together with others with theological experience, and seeks to provide resources to support communities in nourishing the faith life of their members.