Friday, September 20, 2013

English L'Abri

From where I sit I can see eight human beings sprawled out around the property as if flung out like peas around the highchair of a toddler. One man is in a tree. Two trees shelter the Dutch and American underneath them. In another corner, a conversation is occurring. Succulent life.

Then, two girls, well, more so women, emerge with a two-tier table tray. On the top are pots of freshly brewed tea, a pitcher of milk, and a bowl of sugar. Underneath are rows of mismatched mugs baring an assortment of designs – the Queen of England, bugs, plaid, and navy blue.

As soon as the table is set, humans gather from around the Manor House. We pour ourselves mugs of tea and start to group up in conversations, slowly migrating towards the sun – evidence of at least a day's worth of the Indian summer we were promised.

The next thirty to forty-five minutes will be devoted to spending time with each other. The yard is alive with families and single travellers who have all come to this place with the general intention of finding community and asking questions with hopes of finding answers.

This is L'Abri Fellowship in England – a place I've called home this past week.

I first heard of L'Abri (say LAH-bree with your thickest French accent - it means "the shelter") back in January 2008 while living in Switzerland. My friend Tasha was going to be staying at the original Swiss L'Abri and I was eager to see an American friend here across the ocean. I wasn't entirely sure what it was, but found myself soon comfortable at a table being served a delicious homemade meal and getting to know the folks around me.

Tasha, Suzanne, her mom, and the other folks did their best to explain L'Abri to me. I slowly began to understand it as an intentional community that people could come take part of. Much of the explanation has to do with the daily schedule which involves devoting a few hours a day to studying books and listening to lectures that interest you or relate to a topic you're interested in and a few other hours towards working towards the community around the house and property.

L'Abri was founded by Francis and Edith Schaffer. They welcomed in travellers with questions and questionable travellers like me. It's grown to different branches around the globe. While it has grown, the organization is loose and they do nothing to ensure that a branch will stay open. These communities run on faith and are deliberately set up that it is only by faith that they can continue, not by our own effort. They don't even advertise to get students.

Almost all meals are eaten together. One of my favourite meals is lunch time where someone will ask a question and we'll spend the next hour and a half developing it and beating it back and forth like a badminton birdy. We rarely come up with any conclusions, but I sort of look at it like being handed a bag of trail mix for a journey. It preps you and sets you up to go down new paths and gives you a bit of nourishment, but only a little bit.

In 2009 I returned to the Swiss L'Abri for a short time, just to visit.

Fall 2011, I decided it was my time to do what they call a “term” at L'Abri. There are usually three terms in a year, Spring, Summer, and Fall, and the temporary residents are called students. There are helpers who were previous students who now take a more active role in making sure things run smoothly. Then there are the workers who permanently call L'Abri home. After a few weeks thought, I decided to spend three months at the Canadian L'Abri on Bowen Island. I went back to visit in 2011 (I spent all December housesitting on Bowen Island), 2012 (for an afternoon), and 2013. During my travels this year, I've been able to visit a few of my L'Abri friends.

Now, two years later, I'm back at a L'Abri. This time, I'm in Greatham, England and I've been here for just about a week.

Regardless of the branch, going to a L'Abri is like coming home. The smells may be different, the people different (although there are crossovers and joyous reunions), the homes different, but it still feels like home.

One thing I love about L'Abri is that the people here actually care. I've spent months wondering if they just pretend they do, but I've come to realize that the people here actually care about you. Feel the love, yo.

Even though I'm one of  over a hundred students that will pass through L'Abri this year, the workers still take the time to not only ask my name, but learn it and use it each time they see me. People take time through-out the day to check up on me and ask how I'm doing. And, the thing is, this isn't always just a passing question. If there's something on my mind, we can take the time to talk about it.

People are intentional, here. They are intentional about how they treat others and how to keep the community going smoothly. There aren't many rules here at all so it takes a lot of awareness to keep this many people (39ish in totality, maybe) living peacefully. Folks are prepared to work hard and, with all of us working together, the work is almost always enjoyable. Communication is open (usually) and we're all here (most of us, I assume) looking to become better human beings.

They put us to work in the garden, cleaning house, picking, apples, packaging apples for the winter, cooking, taking care of the workers' children, and anything else that needs to be done to keep the Manor House running.

In my time here, I've felt loved. I've felt inspired. I've felt challenged. I've felt a whole lot of emotions and done a lot of dreaming. I've felt like questioning my beliefs. I've felt joy as I'm surrounded by a whole lot of beautiful.

Tomorrow I leave and, were it not for the fact that I've been changing locations every few days for most of this year, I'd be getting out my tissues. I'm going to miss this place. It's assuring to feel a part of something swell in such a short amount of time. In this one week, I've satisfied the craving I've had for deeper connections that you don't always get when you bounce about from place to place.

I'm going to miss sharing a room with eight other girls and a bathroom with sixteen (it works, it really does). I'm going to miss lugging a hot water bottle around the lofty, frigid rooms of the manor. I'm going to miss Laura playing the guitar while I read about the history of hospitality and its role in Christianity. I'm going to miss Samuel's never-failing-enthusiastic greeting each time we spot each other. I'm going to miss people saying, “Hi Mägi, each time they pass me by.” I'm going to miss running up and down the giant staircase that spirals around the center of our home. I'm going to miss the constant incoming flux of humans from around the world, knowing that I'll get the chance to know each of them. I'm going to miss the collaboration of accents. I'm going to miss the box of wellies in the mudroom. I'm going to miss tea time twice a day. I'm going to miss people greeting me with just as much enthusiasm as I feel when I see them. I'm going to miss getting existed about things like apple-day. These people know me as me and, for some crazy reason, they still love me.

But I'm not going to miss it all too much because, great thing about this place is it'll always be here. Well, not always and forever, but for a great while. You can always come back to L'Abri. I can leave and in a year, come back, and I'll feel at home again.

I'm not going to miss it much because, peculiarly, this year has been such a rhythm of letting go of things every few weeks that I've gotten rawther used to it. Guess that's not really peculiar at all.

Love this place.
Love these people.
I'm grateful.

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