When Stuart Harrell D’09 told people he was going to spend last summer as an assistant at the L’Arche Daybreak community in Toronto, they often assumed he was going with the mindset of a “servant.” But in his time at L’Arche, the categories “servant” and “served” began to blur. Instead of doing things for the community’s core members, he found himself doing things with them.
“In our community life the core members have particular limitations that all do not share,” Harrell wrote in an essay about his experience. “But what I have discovered is that we do all share in the limitedness of being human. In the limitations of others, I have discovered my own limitations.”
Harrell is the most recent in a series of divinity students who have served as assistants at Daybreak under a Teaching Communities internship program jointly sponsored by the Center for Reconciliation and the Office of Field Education.
In reflections written about their internships, students report the kind of life-changing experiences that are a hallmark of being in a L’Arche community.
For Amey Adkins D’09, who served at Daybreak in the summer of 2007, L’Arche was a place that created “intimate and authentic community with those whom the world easily ignores.” Living with the core members, she learned to trust more deeply in the “leading of the Spirit.”
“L’Arche reminds me of my own dependency upon God to be my daily sustenance; it is the only way I can live and love abundantly,” she wrote in her reflection.
Bethel Lee D’08, who also spent the summer of 2007 at Daybreak, initially worried if she would have the patience to deal with Peter, a core member who asked the same few questions again and again, 40 or more times a day, questions for which he already knew the answers.
But after only a week, Lee realized that Peter’s persistent questions were simply the way he communicated. They were a source of comfort for him and, soon, for her as well. Before long, she realized that he was basically asking the same question that Jesus asked three times of another Peter in John 21: “Do you love me?”
“I get to give Peter the exact thing he wants—the very answer he’s looking for—and that’s a source of great fulfillment for both of us,” she wrote.
The field education experiences, like November’s Teaching Communities events featuring L’Arche founder Jean Vanier and Duke theologian Stanley Hauerwas, are part of a growing web of relationships between the L’Arche communities and Duke Divinity School, according to Chris Rice, co-director of the Duke Center for Reconciliation.
“This whole thing has just snowballed,” Rice says. “Over the past six years, the Divinity School has developed a whole set of Friendships with L’Arche.”
In addition to the internships at Daybreak, the Divinity School has enrolled several students in recent years who had worked previously as assistants at L’Arche communities, including Christi Dye D’08; Jillian Van Essen D’10; and Heather Bixler D’11. Amy Laura Hall, associate professor of theological ethics, spent two weeks in 2007 visiting the Daybreak community, where she presented the talk “The Surprising Gift of Fragility in Community.”
L’Arche officials, in turn, were among 70 Christian leaders who attended the U.S. Leaders Gathering held last May by the Center for Reconciliation.