Bill Gaventa
New Brunswich, NJ, USA

The first time I heard Jean Vanier was in 1975 at the first national conference of the AAMD (now American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities) in Portland, Oregon. It was a conference where I was giving my first presentation as a young chaplain who had gotten unexpectedly hooked/called into this area of ministry two years before through an assignment to evaluation center connected to North Carolina Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill. It was also the first time I had flown west of the Mississippi. Burton Blatt, the legendary educator at the University of Syracuse, invited Jean to do one of the keynotes. I will never forget it. He was introduced, came on stage without a note, and talked for an hour about the L'Arche communities which were, at that point, much fewer in number. The theme of the talk was about their vision of "creating communities of celebration that re-awaken desire," using a number of his stories about the ways individuals who had been so wounded had been transformed. He also talked about the ways L'Arche utilized other professionals such as psychiatrists to help them understand those wounds. Part of the impact was helping me to realize in my next job, as a Protestant chaplain of a large, old, hell-hole of an institution in upstate New York, that the two key building blocks of minstry there, and elsewhere, were celebration and belonging. But the moment I will not forget was right after his talk, and two behavioral management specialists, sitting behind me, said, "He did not leave any room for us." Despite what he had said, their methodology for knowing and helping depended so much on "objective," "scientific" methodologies that they could not hear or understand someone talking out the depths of the human soul. So there was born another challenge in my own work, to help articulate the power of spirituality and true community to a world of professional disciplines where spirituality and faith supposedly did not fit in.