In 1965 Father Bernard Aye was working as chaplain to a French organisation that offered language courses in England. He came to realise that most young French people staying in England were left to their own devices. It was this discovery that led him, with the help of some students from northern France, to inquire into the needs and expectations of these young people. In response to his findings, he set up communities of students, accompanied by a priest, that would ensure a Christian presence in locations as diverse as Poole, London and Brighton.
In the summer of 1977 a group of French students were sent to Canterbury Cathedral to welcome tourists and give them guided tours in French. This community in Canterbury returned the next year and the next, and if at first it was made up entirely of French and English students, it was soon to become international, offering a welcome in several languages. This would accentuate the ecumenical character of the communities, which would gather together young people of all Christian denominations. It was in 1977 that the first statutes of an organisation called Accueil, Rencontre, Communauté were laid down in Paris. ARC, at that point a uniquely French organisation, was thus officially born that year. Today ARC UK is a branch of the network of ARC organisations which exist in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain.
The letters in the name ARC stand for the three key concepts it promotes:
ARC currently facilitates over twenty projects in places such as St. Paul's Cathedral in London, the Duomo in Florence and Toledo Cathedral. For two to four weeks, participants are provided with accommodation and living expenses, in return for providing free tours in their own language to visitors of famous churches. The tours are designed to draw together the historical, artistic and religious aspects of the church, thereby placing it in its spiritual context.
ARC also aims to further understanding between young people of different nationalities and Christian traditions. By living and working together, and taking time each day to reflect on their shared experiences, the volunteers gain a greater understanding and appreciation of other cultures and make valuable and lasting friendships.
As the UK branch we send English-speaking guides to churches across Europe every summer and we welcome applications from anyone aged 18-30. No previous experience or specific expertise are required as full training is provided, although an interest in such fields as art, architecture, history or theology might be useful. It is advantageous, but not always essential, to have at least a basic knowledge of a European language.
ARC is an ecumenical Christian organisation. Although participants do not need to be deeply religious or even regular churchgoers, we do ask that they have an active interest in the sources and expressions of religious faith as exhibited in Europe's great church buildings.
As well as welcoming visitors to a church, every project provides an opportunity to explore the city and surrounding area, meet a wide variety of people and take part in a range of activities.
We are very proud to have as our patron the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark.
ARC UK, in very practical ways, brings communities of young people together to celebrate the rich linguistic and cultural inheritance of Europe and to engage with those who come as visitors to our great cathedrals. I am very glad to support ARC UK as Patron