A Vote, A Community of Welcome – From the National Assembly

At the end of the second day of L’Arche USA’s 2018 National Assembly and Western Regional Gathering, Lisa Shiltz, a L’Arche USA Board Member reflects upon her experience of welcoming as part of L’Arche. 

I was nervous flying to Tacoma for my first National Assembly.  I was travelling by myself from my home in Minnesota, to a far-away state where I hardly knew anyone.  I’ve only been a member of the Board of L’Arche USA for one year.  In that time, I’ve met wonderful people – mostly other board members and L’Arche USA team members – and I feel like I’m making some great new friends.  I’ve been reading and writing about the world-wide L’Arche movement for decades.  I feel like I know a lot about L’Arche, but I have never lived in a L’Arche community. So at the beginning of my time here, I still felt like I was an outsider, a “fake”, who really had no business crashing a National Assembly of “real” L’Arche members.

But I should have known better, right? Come on, everyone knows that L’Arche’s greatest gift is welcome; making everyone feel like they belong is what we do best!  The scariest thing was heading into that cafeteria all alone for the first meal.  But right away I saw a couple of people I knew, and sat with them.  We could barely eat, because so many other people we didn’t know came by, introducing themselves, giving us gifts of beautiful hand-made necklaces and bookmarks.  All around me, people were hugging and joking, and if I caught anyone’s eye, they would include me in the joke. And at the talent show, it seemed like someone sang or played just about every single one of my all-time favorite songs, or told one of my very favorite jokes!  By the time I went to sleep last night, I felt like I was at a sleepover with 100 of my best friends.

This morning, we spent a lot of time talking about what happens next, now that we’ve voted in a new Constitution, and Bylaws, and have to sign these new membership agreements.  I sensed in a lot of people the same kind of nervousness I felt flying to Tacoma – a feeling like they were now somehow “outsiders” of some strange “new” thing that they were now trying to figure out.  But as we kept talking, I heard people from one community share ideas with other communities about how to reach board members without burying them in pages of reading.  I heard about videos Inclusion Teams had made to help everyone understand what was going on.  I heard people from L’Arche USA leadership explain how they were going to help individual communities come up with lists of “next steps.”  I realized that what I was hearing was all the different ways the loving and generous people all around me were planning on sharing their gifts and talents for welcome, reminding us all that we belong to one beautiful community.

-Lisa Shiltz
L’Arche USA Board Member