Spirituality at L’Arche


Since L’Arche Syracuse started in 1974, spirituality has been at the center of our community. It is why we are here. Current research now makes clear what we have experienced since our beginning, that spirituality is a significant dimension of human experience, providing meaning, purpose, value, hope, a sense of belonging, and community.1 For many, this includes a search for and experience of God and the sacred. Most members of L’Arche Syracuse self-identify as Christian (Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Baptist, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, etc.) with others identifying as Muslim or non-religious. We are an interdenominational Christian community which welcomes those of all faith traditions and of no faith tradition and encourages each member to discover and deepen their spiritual life. We are all drawn together by our mission and core members as we celebrate the unique value of every person and recognize that we need each other.  

People with learning disabilities recognize the importance of the spiritual dimension. They describe it as relating to value, acceptance, love, care, and relationships with God, family, and friends. Grief, loss and a sense of relational disconnection are a common phenomenon for our core members but a focus on spirituality enables them to recover, reaffirm their value, and move on. The idea that spirituality makes a person feel special is particularly significant bearing in mind the level of exclusion, loneliness and depersonalization that people with learning disabilities often encounter in their daily lives. In the face of such challenges, faith communities can be powerful sources of friendship and support.2  

Government and social service agencies focus on ensuring that basic functional needs are met. Although those are vital, for services to be genuinely person-centered, there needs to be an attentiveness to the unique needs of each core member and a deep understanding of what it means to be human and to live humanly. This includes the spiritual dimension which manifests itself not only in relationships with God and others, but for many, in a sense of awe and wonder, a sense of responsibility that extends beyond oneself, a sense of compassion for the world, and a sense of connectedness with the past, present and future.  

The spirituality of L’Arche is articulated in a variety of documents, books, movies, etc. at the international, national and community levels. The best-known document at the international level is the Charter.

1. Very little research has been done on the role of spirituality in the lives of people with learning disabilities. However this is changing and the online searchable database Disability and Theology and Spirituality on this website is an effort to promote the research and work in this field.

2. Why are we here? Meeting the spiritual needs of people with learning disabilities, John Swinton and Elaine Carnegie, January 2004, The Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities, ISBN: 1-903645 52 2.