Sunjay is a volunteer in the L’Arche London community. A financial analyst and former lawyer in the City of London, Sunjay reflects on how his experiences with L’Arche have changed his experience of relationships, fostered a sense of belonging, and deepened his faith.

 'I can remember the first time I arrived at L’Arche London. I walked into the craft studio and people were making candles. After being introduced to everyone I quickly wondered what I was doing there:  I’d never made a candle before, and the candle-making seemed slow and in stark contrast to the intensity of the corporate culture to which I had become accustomed. On that first day at L’Arche I didn’t know how to react to, or engage with, people with learning disabilities. I just remember thinking to myself ‘Okay, if we are making candles then how many candles are we making in an hour?’, ‘Will any of these candles be completed in this session?’ (I was proved wrong and there was an array of finished candles) and ‘Are we maximising the profit on the sale of each candle?’ I couldn’t comprehend making candles just for the sake of making candles.

I am an extrovert, so I could chat to volunteers and employees with ease, but I didn’t know how to communicate with people with learning disabilities. It took time and I realised it was about getting to know people individually; learning about each person’s personality. I remember Donna, a woman with a learning disability, whose face would light up when I encouraged her as we jointly made decorative flower baskets. I came to realise, through Donna, that in order to know a person deeply one needs to take the time to be together and in different contexts, for example, over a meal in one of the houses, sharing an activity or at a social gathering. Over time, as I spent more time with people on a regular basis in the community and engaged with their lives, friendships started to develop.

To me, relationships in the corporate world can seem very conditional. At L’Arche, people are accepted for who they are. The welcome I received was, and still is, very impressive. At L’Arche each person, and their uniqueness, is truly valued. People genuinely care.

L'Arche has taught me that it is okay for me to lower my 'mask' of self-sufficiency sometimes to display my weaknesses and vulnerability, and still feel safe and accepted. For me, it’s taken time to breakdown the mindset that attaches too much of my value to what I do and how well I perform.

If somebody had told me when I started volunteering that I would belong at L’Arche, I would not have thought that possible. Yet I do, I feel at home, and increasingly so. L’Arche is changing me. My values are changing at a deep level. There is a sense of belonging that I experience here and, as such, I feel my current priorities in life are changing.

I really believe in what L’Arche facilitates. There is a sense within L’Arche communities of growing mutuality between its members – both those people with, and without, learning disabilities. I think this is truly unique in today’s world and a signpost to a different and potentially transformative way of life.

Being at L’Arche has broadened and deepened my Christian faith. L’Arche has enabled a more personal engagement and expression of faith in God for me, with space for contemplation and reflection. I also see and experience God through the community of people here. I am not suggesting that L’Arche is utopia but, for me, it’s a place where I experience God in the reality of the relationships, the genuinely-selfless and caring nature of the people (those with and without learning disabilities), and the acknowledgement of a truly loving God that is countercultural in an increasingly secular and fragmented society.

L’Arche helps me to feel hopeful - by its very nature and by what it seeks to be.'