Rebekah is the wife of Ben, house leader at Abbey house. When Ben and Rebekah got engaged, they decided that they wanted to live in community once they got married. Ben and Rebekah have lived at Abbey house since 2019.
Living At L’Arche
The first time I walked into the L’Arche Abbey house was on an early date with Ben, the house leader. We had met almost by accident at “Climb Cleveland” – a Rock Gym on Cleveland’s West Side and had already been on one or two dates. Although I didn’t know Ben very well yet, I knew how important L’Arche was to him. So much so that when Ben invited me over for dinner one evening, it felt like I was meeting family.
When I entered Abbey house I was greeted by Ben at the door and ushered into the living room. Here I encountered Dave, sitting in a very well loved arm chair playing a game of Wii bowling on the TV. It wasn’t until Ben and I got married and I moved into Abbey house 8 months later that I learned Dave’s nickname across the L’Arche community was “King Pin.” An avid bowler, I’ve since watched Dave throw strike after spare after strike, both on Wii bowling and the bowling alley. I’ve learned what a split is, how to twist your wrist when you bowl, and where Dave keeps his personal bowling ball. I’ve congratulated Dave weekly on his bowling scores that he victoriously shares when he returns back from a bowling excursion. Sadly, Greg (the assistant who bowls with Dave) never bowls quite as well. A man of few words, Dave simply responds “gutter balls” when I ask him how Greg did. (I’ve quickly learned that Dave is also a big jokester and loves poking fun!)
After greeting Dave in the living room, I entered the Abbey House dining room next. A long table was set with red, green, blue, and purple glasses and mismatched dishes. A fabric banner that had hearts, initials, and handprints sewn onto it and hung under a high window. Under it, a set of shelves was cluttered with paper, paints, and other art supplies. Framed pictures of smiling faces and people arm in arm clustered together inside a corner built-in shelf. The opposite wall was decorated with handmade art pieces – framed and colorful. I could sense the feeling of home and togetherness in this house and I loved it from the start.
I met Paulina and Diane Jones in the kitchen. Diane Jones was folding napkins to prepare for dinner and Paulina (a German Exchange student who was living at L’Arche as an assistant) was helping to prepare last minute items. They were both very welcoming and easy to talk to. Diane told me about how she works at McDonalds and I helped her fold napkins. I never got to live with Diane or Paulina unfortunately as both of them moved out shortly before I moved into Abbey house in September of 2019. Paulina moved back to Germany to pursue higher education and Diane moved to a different L’Arche home in Cleveland. Although I missed out on living with Diane, I still got to see her at big group L’Arche events where all of the houses come together for parties, prayers, or sharing a meal. Diane occasionally calls Ben on the phone as well and we both get to talk to her. I like to ask Diane about her fish “Tingo,” and just ask her about life since she always has so much to share.
When Diane moved out of Abbey house, she traded places with Pat Gornik and her old room quickly took on a new theme. Once the proud owner of Brandy, “the best dog ever,” Pat is a dog fanatic. Pat shares his bed with a whole pack of stuffed animal puppies. He particularly loves golden retrievers. He has a golden retriever calendar on the wall, golden retriever knick-knacks on his bureau, and he even has a golden retriever dish towel which we keep in the kitchen. Speaking of the kitchen, Pat is an adamant fan of his mom’s cooking and baking. And this is putting it lightly. Every meal, every mention of cooking, every potential opening in a conversation, Pat reminds us that “Mom’s still the best cook and baker!” If you know Pat, you know that he is mom’s biggest fan.
I had brought a batch of homemade muffins with me to contribute to that first Abbey house meal. Unfortunately these muffins were a dismal failure. It was a sad outcome for someone who considers herself a pretty good baker. Ben managed to swallow one cheerfully but Dave dispelled my embarrassment by happily eating muffin after muffin and confidently pronouncing them “amazing.” Dave soon became my cooking buddy after I moved in. Our favorite dessert to bake is apple pie. Dave is in charge of using the apple peeler and between the two of us we bake a mean pie.
When dinner was called, the first person to the table was Adam. Newcomers are often intimidated by Adam because he can be unpredictable. When he gets anxious he may yell at inanimate objects or do other unexpected behaviors. What I didn’t know at this first dinner at Abbey house is that Adam has the biggest, most affectionate and gentle heart that was ever known. Adam is quick to greet me every morning in the kitchen with a big smile and the question “How you doin’ Sis?” Of course, if I ask him the same question, he generally gives the wall his middle finger and replies with “Shit the fart!” (Which generally means he’s fine and doing just great.) Trains, buses, trucks, and planes are all parts of life that Adam finds very exhilarating. When he gets excited he chatters on for a quarter hour or more, going over and over how cool it was.
Settling Into Community
Living at Abbey house has been such a blessing to me and also to Ben and I in our young marriage. Throughout the difficult months of COVID we had a community of friends to talk to, laugh with, care for. We set up our “honeymoon suite” on the third floor of Abbey house. It has been wonderful for us to have some private space to ourselves but also be able to join in “family” events with the house – playing games, movie nights, dinner together and prayer together after dinner. Dave, Pat, and Adam are like brothers, uncles, and grandfathers all rolled into one. Perhaps we are similar to them since Dave periodically calls me “grandma” and Pat has to remind him, logically, that how could I be a grandma if I don’t even have any children yet?
Tom, Tracy, and so many assistants that work or have worked in out house have become like family as well and I’ve learned so much from each of them. It’s been a joy to meet so many people at L’Arche and to live life alongside them inside Abbey house. I feel rich in the friendships I have made with assistants and people on staff as well as Core members from other houses.
Ben and I recently discovered that we are expecting our first child at the end of this year. We are thrilled and beyond excited by this long-hoped news but we also know that it comes along with many changes. One of these changes is that Ben is transitioning out of his role at Abbey house and L’Arche and into a new role at W.F. Hann & Sons (a Heating and Cooling company in Cleveland.) Although Ben will no longer be working within L’Arche and we will no longer be living with Dave, Pat, and Adam, we hope to “be around” and continue to be part of the L’Arche community.
Living at Abbey house was certainly an unconventional way to begin our married life, however being a part of this community has helped both Ben and I grow individually and as a couple. I treasure the Ben I have come to know through seeing him interact with Dave, Pat and Adam. We have given a lot but have received so much back in the form of new friends, laughter, advice, shoulders to lean on and cry on, learning by watching, good stories, delicious meals, prayers and singing, new recipes, and … well, love. Little did I know on that first day that I met Ben’s unofficial “family” at L’Arche that they would also become a dear family to me as well.