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Walk to Emmaus to deepen spiritual involvement

When two of Jesus’ followers left Jerusalem in despair after his crucifixion, he appeared to them on the road as a stranger. He joined them and enlightened them as they walked to the village of Emmaus. Only later did they recognise him as the risen Christ.

This event is the inspiration behind the spiritual renewal programme Walk to Emmaus. Through three-day ‘Walks’ that feature presentations, reflection, prayer, and worship the Walk to Emmaus aims to strengthen local churches and develop Christian leaders.

Auckland is home to the only Emmaus community in New Zealand. It runs four walks a year – two for women and two for men.

Methodist Evangelical Network superintendent Rev Marion Peterson says the Walk to Emmaus programme uses the model of Christ’s servant hood and encourages his disciples to find ways to be a servant to all.

“I was first involved several years ago when I attended as a pilgrim. It was a life changing experience for me,” Marion says.

“Each Walk begins on Thursday night and finishes Sunday afternoon. Themes in the teaching slots include God’s grace, Christian discipleship, and what it means to be church.

“I have now been back on the Walk three times as a leader and each one has had its own particular highlights. It is a great place for spiritual renewal and refreshment.

“The Walk is very ecumenical and it is a great example of Christian unity at its very best. One gift it has given me is a safe place to interact with people who have left the Methodist Church of NZ.”

Walk to Emmaus is a modified form of the Roman Catholic Cursillo programme that helps empower people to transform their living and working environments into Christian environments. Walk to Emmaus is grounded theologically and institutionally in The Upper Room ministry unit of the United Methodist Church in the US, which encourages prayer, piety, and Bible reading.

Emmaus communities are now present in more than 30 countries. The programme is popular in Australia.

Marion says a number of lay and ordained people from her congregation in Meadlowlands have been involved with the Walk as pilgrims and leaders.

They include Dennis and Shirley Peat who first did the Walk when it began in New Zealand in 1998. They have been involved in six walks since then, and Dennis has served as lay director of one. He says it is a challenging but encouraging spiritual experience.

“The Walks build up Christian leaders. They give people the skills to stand up front of others, get involved in things, and speak out a bit more,” Dennis says.

“The whole Walk covers a lot of ground. During the Walk itself people experience spiritual learning and growth. It also helps people decide what to do afterwards. There is a lot of on-going development after the Walk through spiritual groups.

“Though the walks are structured, there is lots of flexibility so each one has its own character. One of the things the walk gives is an awareness of the wider Christian community. Prayer every day focuses on other Christian groups and around the world people pray for each Walk.”

Rev Norman Brookes and the Manukau synod of the Methodist Church of NZ had the vision to bring the Walk to New Zealand. The Manukau synod initially sponsored the Auckland Emmaus community. Sponsorship is now with the Wesleyan Methodist Church of NZ.

Each Emmaus community has its own logo. Auckland’s depicts stylized yacht on the harbour.

Each community must be initiated by leaders who have been on the walk previously. There are hopes to start an Emmaus chapter in the South Island.

Overseas there is a Cairos Emmaus programme for prison ministry and the Chrysalis programme for young adults and teenagers. Neither of these is yet in NZ.

Lloyd Rigby incoming lay director of the Auckland Emmaus community. He says the Walk is a once in a lifetime journey through Christian experience that shouldn’t be missed.

The theme for the Auckland community’s next Walk is agape. The men’s Walk takes place Thursday May 18th to Sunday 21st and the women’s Walk is June 8th to Sunday 11th.

To register call Lloyd Rigby at 09 537 3332 or email secretary@walktoemmaus.org.nz. For more information visit www.walktoemmaus.org.nz.