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Kelly DeRoy | John O’ConnorDecember 22, 2022
Community members at L’Arche GWDC. John O’Connor and Kelly DeRoy are in the middle of the back row. (Courtesy of Sarah Moore)

L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C. is a community of people with and without intellectual disabilities sharing life together. We are an interdenominational Christian community, where we celebrate the unique value of every person, recognizing and accepting our need for one another and building relationships that transform all of us.

L’Arche GWDC provides housing and support services to adults with intellectual disabilities and serves hundreds of people in the wider community, of many different backgrounds, by offering a place of belonging and growth. Our community life centers on relationships, led by “core members,” the adults with intellectual disabilities who live in L’Arche homes. People come from all over the country and the world to visit L’Arche and learn from core members, our mission and our model.

Kelly DeRoy, a core member, and John O’Connor, an assistant who has acted as a caretaker at L’Arche GWDC, share their insights about the community’s unique Christmas traditions.

Kelly DeRoy: Christmas for me at L’Arche is about giving and caroling and giving presents. I sang on Zoom and in the neighborhood. I sing carols every day at dinner with my friend Fritz. My favorite song is “Good King Wenceslas” by Bing Crosby.

I’m excited to spend Christmas with my parents this year. I couldn’t do it last year because of this virus!

I have watched “Home Alone,” “Home Alone 2” and “Home Alone 3.” I also watched “The Santa Clause.”

Christmas, for me, is about giving. It’s time for giving. Jesus is kind to us. God is with us. Peace is good.

In L’Arche we have Advent groups. We meet once a week. We have done a lot of different stuff, like praying and sharing whatever brings us hope, joy and peace. One thing that brings me hope is going on walks and caroling and listening to music, watching TV, doing word searches and seeing Christmas lights. Like praying for people and doing that silently or out loud.

Christmas, for me, is about giving. It’s time for giving. Jesus is kind to us. God is with us. Peace is good.

John O’Connor: Kelly points to the Christmas cards we are signing. “This one.” I sign my name. “And this one.” I pass the card to Eric. He signs. Eric passes the card to Fritz. Fritz signs.

Kelly moderates us for two and a half hours around the dining room table while the Highland House boys sign our hundreds of Christmas cards. While we sign our names, we talk about all the names we recognize. Old friends. New friends. Family. Soon it’s 10:00 p.m., and I need to administer bed-time medications. Thankfully, Kelly moderates the autograph merry-go-round. Ink stains all of our hands. Time for bed.

Signing each card is a prayer of acknowledgement, and of gratitude. Sending our love to whomever receives it and needs it. Our way of saying, “We are with you.” We can say that because as we know that “Christ is with us!”

At L’Arche, it feels like Christmas starts when we decorate for Halloween. Maybe even earlier. Santa is placed next to the spiders, cobwebs next to the Advent calendars. Fritz has been adamant about the decorations and has been singing Christmas carols at dinner since the middle of September. I take my place at the dinner table and try to not get overwhelmed by the sense of home I feel within these walls. This will be my fifth Christmas in L’Arche.

In a world, secular and spiritual, that constantly pushes a mindset that we have to achieve perfection before we are accepted, L’Arche is a sign that God is with us.

I’m excited to see what Christmas holds for us this year. It’s going to look different. I’m still hopeful. Community looks different than when I first moved in. Fewer people live in the home. Yet, we still have love. The core members (adults with disabilities) make sure we assistants know how to do that. We still show up and drive in, stay and remain. We’ll make mulled wine and hot chocolate. We’ll wear our masks inside and sit to watch “Home Alone.” Kelly will remind us to not talk like Kevin. “Don’t call people cheapskates!” she’ll say to me, beaming.

Eric will count down the days until Christmas, and Hazel will help decorate the tree that will find a home in our dining room. The angels will sing with us around our dining room table as we anticipate the day we say with joy, “Christ is with us!”

In a world that lives in stress. In a world filled with grief. In a world where caregivers can be hard to find. In a world, secular and spiritual, that constantly pushes a mindset that we have to achieve perfection before we are accepted, L’Arche is a sign that God is with us. That doesn’t mean everything is perfect. Far from it. But it shows me that good is possible. It’s possible to slow down and wake up to the realization that Jesus Christ is born. When I get to sit and be in the hard work of relationship and of love, I can be a part of the work of God. The core members show me how to put that work into action. Everytime Kelly smiles at me. Hazel holds my hand. Fritz hugs me, and Eric forgives me. That is showing me that Christ is born. Here. Now. Every day. When I show that back to anyone, I am a part of Christmas.

Kelly, when we pray the “Our Father,” says “Now is the Kingdom, The Power and The Glory.” To me, that is the meaning of Christmas. It is the Incarnation. Christ is incarnate in the world, and I just need to find the ways to recognize it around me. The Kingdom of God is still present to me even as I feel sad, lonely, loved or joyful while celebrating at L’Arche. On Christmas Day, I will smile and be filled with joy as Kelly and I pray: “Now is the Kingdom, the Power and The Glory.”

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