Rowland is an Animator at The Cornerstone. His encounter with L'Arche in Chennai, India, was a turning point in his life and led him to discover more about the meaning of community, which he continues to explore with L'Arche Ipswich, where he's been living for nearly 3 years.

Four years ago, I was living on my own in London, recently divorced, surrounded by neighbours I hardly knew. I was teaching in a highly hierarchical school. I had been a member of a local church for 30 years where the congregation were half black and half white but the two, more-or-less, sat on different sides. I felt an ache for a deeper connection to those around me and a profound dissatisfaction with the self-centred, individualistic society I was intractably a part of. 

One Saturday, I was eating a curry and watching the cricket on TV with a family I shared very little with up to that moment, when I realised that we had a deep friendship despite our differences. Profound relationship was possible with the ‘other’. We started a conversation that led directly to me leaving London 6 months later to live in a community on the other side of the world in Delhi.

But that community-an Anglican monastery, was far from ideal. The routine of daily worship had pretty much broken down. I was literally chased out after 4 months for attempting to (sensitively) tackle the issue of corporal punishment of children in the community. What was I missing? What made community a life-giving environment? What was community, really?

4 months later, I walked through a green iron gate off a busy city street in Chennai into an oasis of palm trees, flowers and small well-kept homes and workshops. A falling coconut missed me by inches and provided the ice breaker for the warmest welcome I’d had for a long, long time. This was l’Arche Chennai, known as ‘Asha Niketan’ (House of Hope). And here I am, still part of l’Arche, now in Ipswich since May 2017. Why? Because I feel that my questions about the nature of community are honestly addressed here and I love being part of these questions and, hopefully, the answer…

Community comes down to friendship and l’Arche is a real friendship college. In my house, we have 6 professors teaching us a variety of courses such as humour, paying attention, acceptance, appreciation and patience. I am doing a PHD in not taking myself too seriously. The studies are mostly practical modules with one-to-one seminars and group work. I am happy that my lecturers are very relaxed about deadlines and that I can take as long as I like to finish.

I thoroughly recommend it here and am so glad to have found community right back on my doorstep!