L’Arche gathering is a bonding experience

Members of L’Arche communities sing and dance with the band 1 of 12 July 5 in Christ the King Chapel at St. Ambrose University, Davenport.

By Barb Arland-Fye

DAVENPORT — Christian band “1 of 12” temporarily became one of many during a lively concert July 5 in which adults with intellectual disabilities joined the group as it performed at Christ the King Chapel.

The spontaneous concert-goers are core members of L’Arche, an international organization of communities in which people with and without intellectual disabilities live together in faith and friendship.

About 70 adults — core members and assistants — attended the concert and other activities in the Quad-Cities as part of a biennial get-together July 3-5 hosted by L’Arche’s central region and based at St. Ambrose University in Davenport. Attendees came from L’Arche communities in Clinton, St. Louis, Kansas City, Kan., Chicago, Jacksonville, Fla., and Mobile, Ala., said Jo Anne Horstmann, a regional coordinator for L’Arche’s Central U.S. Region.

The weekend featured speakers, a baseball game, boat ride, Sunday Mass in Christ the King Chapel, the concert and a dance, among other activities.

Father Chuck Adam, chaplain and director of campus ministry at St. Ambrose, presided at the Mass — which L’Arche members participated in fully.  “Many people who came to Mass that day were moved by it,” he said. The lack of inhibition of the core members was wonderful, he added. One of the core  members got up after Mass to sing “Be Not Afraid” and everyone in the congregation joined in.

“It’s a wonderful weekend!” exclaimed Sister Vicky Arndorfer, RSM, during the dance at St. Ambrose’s “Beehive.” She’s a live-in assistant with The Arch in Clinton. “It shows how L’Arche lives community. It shows how everyone is loved no matter who they are … it’s an example of how you can get together and enjoy one another.”

Alexandra Conroy, community leader for L’Arche in Chicago, felt uplifted by the gathering. “L’Arche is the most inclusive place I’ve ever lived, ever been involved with. With these meetings it’s even more evident than just within our community that each person is welcomed as part of the group.”

It’s a weekend with a lot of hugging and spontaneity, which is why some core members got out of the pews and started dancing in the aisles or joined the band and sang alongside the performers.

“I’m sure they’ve (1 of 12) had young, enthusiastic audiences,” Conroy said; “I’m not sure they’ve had an audience that comes up and almost takes over the stage!”

For Michael Omode, an assistant with L’Arche in Mobile, the best part of the weekend was being able to talk with members of other communities. The core member he accompanied, Eddie Schoen, “Is having a good time. Usually he goes to bed at 9 p.m. But he wants to do everything here.”

Core member Dan Jensen of Clinton said he liked the boat ride and the ball game, the concert and the fact that there were no problems. Core member Darren Dreher, also of Clinton, liked everything about the weekend. “Great concert,” he added.

Carolyn Luebe, apartment coordinator for The Arch in Clinton who helped plan the gathering, appreciated building on the connection with St. Ambrose. During the past year, St. Ambrose students visited the Clinton community on a monthly basis to volunteer and spend time with core members.

“What God started with Jean Vanier (founder of L’Arche) you can see how it continues to blossom and grow,” Luebe said. “People come together and there’s a real spirit of unity. New relationships are formed, friendships and people having a good time!”

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