What is the Walk to Emmaus®?
The Walk to Emmaus® is a spiritual renewal program intended to strengthen the local church through the development of Christian disciples and leaders. The Walk to Emmaus® experience begins with a 72-hour short course in Christianity, comprised of fifteen talks by lay and clergy on the themes of God’s grace, disciplines of Christian discipleship, and what it means to be the church. The course is wrapped in prayer and meditation, special times of worship and daily celebration of Holy Communion. The “Emmaus® community,” made up of those who have attended an Emmaus® weekend, support the 72-hour experience with a prayer vigil, by preparing and serving meals, and other acts of love and self-giving. The Emmaus® Walk usually begins Thursday evening and concludes Sunday evening. Men and women attend separate weekends.
During and after the three days, Emmaus® leaders encourage participants to meet regularly in small groups. The members of the small groups challenge and support one another in faithful living. Participants seek to Christianize their environments of family, job, and community through the ministry of their congregations.
The Upper Room® of The United Methodist Church sponsors the Walk to Emmaus® and offers it through local Emmaus® groups around the world. The three-day Emmaus® experience and the follow-up groups strengthen and renew Christian people as disciples of Jesus Christ and as active members of the body of Christ in mission to the world.
Many church leaders acclaim Emmaus® as much more than a program. It is a powerful movement of spiritual renewal that is making a difference for countless individuals and many congregations. Between 1978 and 1995, nearly half a million persons participated in Emmaus®. During this same period, the Emmaus® movement has taken hold in 300 sites around the world, including the U.S.A., Australia, Brazil, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Germany, and India.
Emmaus® is an experience in which growing Christians of all sorts come together in common affirmation of the essentials of the Christian faith. Bishop Adriel de Souza Maia of Brazil worked to take Emmaus® to his homeland because, as he put it, “We need a church renewal movement which brings together the two sides of the Christian life: prayer and action, personal spiritual growth and social concern. Emmaus® holds together these two sides of the coin.”
What is the aim of Emmaus®?
The difference Emmaus® makes is seen in the sixty-year-old man who, after his weekend, decides to give up his antique business and enter seminary. Or the woman who was inspired to write a song, praising God in her many local performances. Another example is the doctor who took to adding Bible verses to his prescription sheets to reinforce Christ as the “best medicine.” Laywoman from Ohio
The aim of Emmaus® is to inspire, challenge, and equip local church members for Christian action-in their homes, churches, workplaces, and communities. Several important components of the Emmaus® program work together to accomplish this aim.
The three-day Emmaus® course in Christianity moves church members to new levels of openness and commitment as disciples of Christ. People re-experience the gift of God’s love and emerge from the Emmaus® weekend with a desire to pass that love on to others. The three-day course strengthens persons’ conscious union with Jesus Christ as the embodiment of God’s grace, truth, and compassion.
A layman from Tennessee wrote, “I learned the importance of a life of piety, study, and service and their interrelationship in providing a life in grace. I felt the immense power of God’s love and grace and new insights into ways of sustaining and increasing my openness to that grace. I developed a new longing to share my experience of Christ with others with hopes that they too can feel what I feel. Although my Christian journey started a long time ago, the progress and growth due to my Emmaus® experience is invaluable to me.”
The Emmaus® weekend gives participants an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of their faith in God, to receive the transforming grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, to relate closely with other persons who are seeking a deeper faith, and to rededicate their lives as members of the body of Christ called to ministry in the world.
The Emmaus® follow-up groups build on what begins during the three-day experience. These little discipleship groups of two to six persons meet weekly for an hour. Members review their weekly spiritual practices, their awareness of Christ’s presence and call, and their plans for the week to come. The accountability group’s purpose is to provide ongoing support for one another’s commitment to live wholly in the grace of God and to grow in the self-giving spirit of Jesus Christ. In addition to undergirding personal Christian growth, the follow-up groups serve as excellent bases for Christian action and outreach in the local community.
Teams in servanthood make a difference. Many who participate in Emmaus® also grow in the servant spirit of Jesus Christ through their subsequent involvement in making Emmaus® possible for others. By serving in the kitchen, setting up the rooms, cleaning the bathrooms, preparing the worship center, praying for the pilgrims and teams from behind the scenes, or committing to weeks of team preparation, these persons learn the joy and discipline of humble servanthood. By serving as team members and committing to several weeks of team preparation, persons learn to lead faith-sharing in small groups, to express their faith and speak before groups, and to use their unique gifts in concert with the gifts of others as members of one body.
Local church involvement is an outgrowth of Emmaus®. Though involvement in Emmaus® activities can be fun and satisfying, Emmaus achieves its aim only when local churches gain strength; and people become active members of the body of Christ, sharing the love of God in homes, workplaces, and communities around the world. Participation and service in all aspects of Emmaus®-the three-day short course, follow-up groups, team and background support-are designed to empower and equip Christians to effectively be Christ’s hands and feet in the world.
What happens during the Three-Day Emmaus® Experience?
My growing did flourish as I listened to several talks given by laity and clergy on such theologically significant themes as grace, priesthood of all believers, justifying grace, growth through study, Christian action, discipleship, body of Christ, changing our world, and others. I learned from each speaker and concluded that I would be pleased to have any one of the laity give the Sunday sermon in all of the churches I have served. Clergyperson after Walk to Emmaus®
In small table groups, we listened, took notes, and discussed each theme. What an experience it was to listen as my fellow pilgrims-United Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, Lutherans, and Baptists, wrestled with how to apply each topic to life. We demonstrated our insights with posters, charts, skits, songs, and poems. -Clergyman from Indiana
The Emmaus® Weekend Schedule that follows is a bare outline of the Walk to Emmaus® weekend. This two-dimensional overview of the weekend, which lists activities and topics, cannot adequately communicate what really happens in and among the people as a result of being together for three days, focused on the love of God. Nevertheless, this outline gives a picture of what goes on among the pilgrims in the conference room and chapel. This outline also shows why we describe the Walk to Emmaus® as a short course in Christianity, not a relaxing retreat. While the Emmaus® Walk is fun and rejuvenating, it is also concentrated and full.
The three days have distinct phases and reflect a Trinitarian framework. The focus of Day One is God and the relationship God offers. The focus of Day Two is Jesus Christ and each disciple’s response to the grace of God in the context of Christian community. The focus of Day Three is the Holy Spirit and the call to live as an active member of the body of Christ through service in church and community. All three days point to the Fourth Day-living every day as a walk with Christ in the company of one another, through a lifestyle of regular prayer, study, and service.
A moment of silent reflection, then discussion and creative responses follow each of the fifteen talks. The services of worship and daily prayer are thematic and are designed especially for the Emmaus® Walk. Each day includes break times and snacks. The three days as a whole are embraced by prayer and signs of the sacrificial service on the part of many who help make each Walk happen.
What should I know before attending?
Emmaus® is for church persons. Emmaus® is designed for active church members and their leaders who want to rekindle their faith or renew their vision. Less active church members who are seeking to renew a relationship with God, to grow spiritually, or to discover firmer foundations for their lives may benefit from Emmaus® also. However, Emmaus® is not an evangelistic outreach to non-Christians. The content of the Walk assumes a certain familiarity with the basics of the Christian faith and tries to build on each person’s positive relationship with the church.
Emmaus® is for people who want to grow spiritually and mature as disciples of Jesus Christ. Emmaus® is for persons who want to build up the church in love and to contribute to its ministry.
The Emmaus® Walk is mainstream in theological outlook. Emmaus® has room for a great variety of Christians who seek to grow, share, and give themselves to a three-day walk with Christ. Emmaus® is a common meeting ground for the great diversity of Christians in our churches who celebrate their unity in Christ and feel they can learn from one another, be they traditionalists, evangelicals, liberals, conservatives, activists, charismatics, and especially all those who seek to follow Christ without regard to labels and camps.
Emmaus® is for building faith and discipleship, not for working through grief or psychological problems. Emmaus® teams are not trained for counseling or group therapy. If you tend toward preoccupation with working through personal dilemmas, consider waiting to go to Emmaus® when you feel freer to focus on the message of the Walk.
Emmaus® is for fostering unity in Christ, not for theological debate and arguments about denominations. Emmaus® tries to foster appreciation and openness to the different faith-perspectives of the participants. Bring a spirit of Christian tolerance and charity toward others, including members of other denominations. If you cannot affirm your unity with other kinds of Christians, if you tend to define Christianity narrowly and legalistically or are intolerant of those who see things differently, then Emmaus® is probably not for you.
Emmaus® is a concentrated three-day course in Christianity, not a relaxing retreat. Don’t bring work from the office or have hopes of taking an afternoon off to read. Except for break times, Emmaus® is a very full experience. Come with empty hands and open hearts, planning to give yourself completely to the Emmaus® Walk.