December 31, 2017
Sing: “Holy spirit come, make my eyes to see, make my ears to hear, make my mouth to speak.
Make my heart to sing and my hands to reach out and touch the world with Your love”.
This is a favorite song in the L’Arche Community and it is sung at the opening of prayer night every other Tuesday evening. Many people who are not directly involved in L’Arche, join us because it is always inspiring. Seekers Church has been a generous supporter of L’Arche for many years and I want to thank the community for that faithful support.
I preached a sermon on L’Arche at 2025 in January 2004 and I titled it The Gift of Brokeness. The theme how I came to be a part of L’Arche, my 7-1/2 years working as an accompanier and head of house in the Euclid Street home in D.C., and what a life changing experience that was for me. I retired in 2003. I’m only tangentially involved now, but it continues to be a part of who I am, particularly since my son Fritz now lives in the Arlington L’Arche home. I’ll get back to that story. .
First, a little history about this amazing worldwide organization that truly is a Sign of Hope in the world, not only for the mentally challenged people who are at the heart of L’Arche but also all those who share their lives with them and, indeed, those who are inspired by the palpable love in the homes. L’Arche was founded in 1964 in France when Jean Vanier, together with a priest, Pere Tomas, in answer to a call of God, became aware of the plight of developmentally challenged people housed in large institutions. They invited two men from a nearby institution to come and share their lives with them in their home. They named the home L’Arche which is French for “the ark”. Vanier then envisioned places where mentally challenged people would live in homes where they would be valued as God’s beloved, where they would be respected, encouraged, cared for and loved. And Vanier’s life and writings sparked an international movement that has grown to become the International Federation of L’Arche Communities, a worldwide interfaith organization of more than 140 independent communities on six continents, including more than 14 in the United States. In a divided world, L’Arche seeks to be a sign of hope. Its communities are founded on covenant relationships between people of differing intellectual capacities, social origins, sexual orientations, religions and cultures, and seek to be a sign of unity, faithfulness and reconciliation. Enough of history.
Let me talk about my son, Fritz Schloss, whom most of you know – he comes to our Christmas Eve dinners and worship. He is 56 years old and has Down’s Syndrome. Fritz lived in a foster home for 8 years, then in 3 different group homes in Arlington. The quality of his life in the group homes varied a great deal with shortages and quality of staff. And because Fritz was – and is –an easy going fellow he was often overlooked when more challenging “clients” (yes, that’s what the residents were called “clients”) got more attention, he became withdrawn. I worried a lot and tried to find a better place for him. It would be another 9 years before he was welcomed into the L’Arche community on Highland Street in Arlington as a charter member. He continued to wash police cars, retiring after 25 years.
Then, in 1995 L’Arche came into my life in a life changing way. I had little money, my insurance job was down to 3 days a week. I had left the Potter’s House Church and the Potter’s House Players where I had been very involved. I was living in quiet desperation. Then my friend Dottie Bockstiegel (God rest her soul) who was an important part of L’Arche, told me there was an opening for an assistant in one of the D.C. homes and urged me to apply. I was 72 years old. I was offered room and board and a small stipend. I took it because I need a job. No spiritual calling here.
Little did I know. I thought I could maintain my independence my mask of “having it all together”. These folks, who are called “core members” wouldn’t see my brokenness would they? Oh, how I resisted the intimacy of daily life with 7 other people. Letting down and revealing my own brokenness wasn’t part of my job. So I thought. To quote Dick Wesley, “What keeps me from being open enough to learn the lessons of community? It is the unwillingness to appear flawed and broken in the eyes of others. We are present only in the ways that allow no one into our real self, and we remain content to present to the world only a public persona, a mask that hides the contradictions we experience in our centers. We think we’re the only one who experience such things”. Perfect description of me at that time.
As I began to see the inner beauty in these “broken people”, how open they are and willing to accept and trust others, especially those who share their lives and help them with their special needs, I began to understand that I didn’t need my mask anymore. I discovered the freedom and enjoyment there is in sharing the simplest things, like making supper with Mo the accomplished salad chef, or going to McDonalds (Me? McDonalds?)for Friday night coffee or taking Gene’s cat, Joseph, to the vet, or playing pool with Glen (he always won) or consoling Melanie who couldn’t go see her mother again. There is genuine love, compassion, celebration and consolation in every L’Arche community, wherever you go. Truly, a Sign of Hope for the world.
And salvation for Fritz and me.
Before closing, I just have to tell you about a big and lively event. The DC/Va L’Arche celebrated its 25th Anniversary. About 180 people, many from the other 5 communities in our eastern region, as well as former assistants and community leaders and our own folks, came to town for two days of celebration. One former assistant came all the way from Hawaii, another from Germany and she brought her 3 year old son. It was a high old time, beginning with a picnic in Rock Creek Park. There was much re-unioning, hugging, singing, with hot dogs and music. Then the out-of-towners headed off to the Open Houses at the Adams Morgan homes. That evening there was a sumptuous banquet at the Blessed Sacrament Church in Chevy Chase with everybody dressed for the occasion. Again, much music, sharing of memories, speeches, awards. My friend Dottie got an award -she’d been with L’Arche since the beginning 25 years ago. And then the tables were cleared, the d.j. started the music and the dancing erupted. My, the place was jumpin’.
On Sunday morning, Highland House in Arlington served breakfast and we all moved on to Marymount University for the closing worship service. The local folks enacted the parable of the great banquet while I narrated it. The whole community ended up on stage, waving scarves and carrying on enthusiastically. Deborah, one of the core members who knows practically every show tune written, joined me in singing, “It’s a Wonderful World”. After the following reception, people piled into their vans and headed home. Isn’t this a wonderful example of Jesus’ instruction in today’s gospel – “love your neighbor as yourself”.
So I am doubly blessed – my son is where I longed for him to be so many years ago – and from my own experience in L’Arche I have learned more about being beloved and loving that I ever thought possible.
Will you join me in one verse of one of L’Arche’s favorite songs “This Little Light of Mine”?
And these “little lights” surely do shine. AMEN! And thank you.