It’s been quite the year for us in L’Arche Manchester, with a lot of unexpected changes and a global pandemic on top of that. We’ve had to work out how to be a Community who can’t physically be together. We’ve needed to move to a virtual office, virtual Boogie Nights and prayer nights over Zoom. We’ve had to temporarily close our beloved Hive cafe. We’ve needed to learn how to safely put on and take off PPE and then wether it in the hot, sweaty days and now as the dark nights draw in. We’ve learnt the intricacies of Zoom and the gift of our back gardens. We’ve had to say goodbye to Andrea, a core member at Bluebell, who unexpectedly died. We’re broken hearted and sad and the world feels like a strange place. We know that all of this is true for lots of you too.

A few months back I said goodbye to one of our beloved live-in assistants. After telling her how wonderful she’d been and the impact she had had on our Community, Laura turned to me and said,

This has been the best year of my life.

It was one of those moments that made me stop. It made me weepy and glad because I remember saying the same about my first year in L’Arche. With all its complexities, uncomfortable growth and the things I had to learn about myself, that year changed me and shaped me forever. And it still does. It was important to be reminded that the L’Arche experience - a simple model of living life together - continues to transform us.

It also made me think about how, despite the litany of trials and tribulations, this has been a precious year. We have been learning together what it is to live with uncertainty; how to love each other in the midst of change and challenge. How to be gentler and more patient. The ways in which we can cultivate creativity and choose joy in the simple things. It has not been easy, but it has been rich. It’s perhaps a strange thing to say but I know I will look back on this last year with real fondness and tenderness.

As we move through Advent we are pondering the story of Jesus. That the Incarnation means “the Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood”. This strange, hard year has somehow been revealing these things more fully to all of us. The fundamental truth that we belong to each other and that the Divine is to be found right where we are, in each other.

From all of us at L’Arche Manchester, we wish you a very blessed Christmas.

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