L’Arche London concluded its 40thanniversary celebrations on Saturday with an inclusive service of thanksgiving at Westminster Cathedral. 

More than two hundred people with and without learning disabilities came together for a joyful and vibrant celebration, led by the Movement in Worship dancers and drummers.

Friends of L’Arche London, some of whom have been involved since the community began forty years ago, were there to celebrate four decades of shared life.

Community members from over the years were remembered, and the gifts of people with learning disabilities celebrated. As members of the community drummed and danced in celebration, multicoloured flags were waved high over the heads of those in attendance. 

Richard Keagan-Bull, a community member with a learning disability who has been part of L’Arche London for twelve years, gave the opening welcome alongside L’Arche London Community Leader, Lucy Winter.

Speaking before the celebration, Richard said: ‘I like being a part of L’Arche London. It is a nice, friendly community of people who care for you and want the best for you. No matter what your ability, everyone is treated equally and with respect; we all sit on one table and the door is always open. Having a learning disability isn’t a disease. It is just something that happens and people don’t need to be afraid of it.’

Saturday’s service of thanksgiving was jointly led by Bishop Nicholas Hudson and Revd David Stephenson. Stephan Posner, International Leader of L’Arche, gave an address saying: ‘We still live in a world where power fascinates. The greatness [of what L’Arche offers] is hidden in the daily life that is lived here. The stone that is rejected can find itself becoming the cornerstone.’

The community was founded in 1977 by Therésè Vanier. Based in West Norwood in South London, more than one hundred people - with and without learning disabilities - share life together.

Some thirty-five adults with learning disabilities are supported through L’Arche London, which provides registered care, supported housing, and specialist day services. Assistants support community members with learning disabilities in their everyday living and model a vision of a society where people are inherently valued and celebrated for who they are, and not just what they do.

Lucy Winter, Director and Community Leader of L’Arche London, said: ‘In a city like London, where so many people feel lonely and pushed to the margins, L’Arche London offers a radically hopeful and counter-cultural vision for our world.’ 

Therésè Vanier (Jean Vanier’s sister) co-founded L’Arche UK, and established the L’Arche London community in 1977 with Jean Bell and Michelle Antia – both of whom have learning disabilities. Therésè, the first female consultant at St Thomas’ Hospital in South London, and a pioneer in palliative care, lived in South London until her death in 2014.  

Speaking during the service about his own experience visiting L’Arche London, Bishop Nicholas Hudson, said: ‘The community gave me one of the loveliest gifts you can give a person; the gift of welcome.’

You can learn more about L’Arche London by listening to this interview with Richard Keagan-Bull and Lucy Winter on UCB Radio.