The Walk to Emmaus is a lay-driven weekend experience that’s about spiritual renewal and formation, and Jeff Anderson and Dick Pipho are two of its biggest proponents within the Iowa Conference. “It’s an opportunity to meet Christ in a new way, as revealed through other voyagers,” says Dick, who explains that participants “spend three days with pilgrims who come through the walk, a series of talks, and group activities and so on.”
But first, it may help to recall what the Walk to Emmaus derives its name from. Jeff tells the story: “Cleopas and another gentleman are walking along the road to Emmaus when a third person joins them (this all happens on Resurrection Sunday). The third person asks ‘What’s going on?’ And they say, ‘Have you heard the news?’ They can’t believe this person doesn’t know, but they just feel a connection, and when they get to the town of Emmaus, this third person is going to walk on, but Cleopas and the other gentleman encourage him to stay for supper. And as the third gentleman breaks the bread, their eyes are opened and they see that it was Jesus that was walking with them all along.”
“And that is the purpose of our Walk to Emmaus. As we listen to the speakers and interact with other believers, we look at our own lives, and everyone is different, and our eyes are suddenly open to ‘Well, Jesus was walking with me all that time.’”
Jeff’s first experience with the Walk to Emmaus came when his pastor requested that he and his wife attend. At the time, Jeff had a long background in the church, and his wife did not. “We were at completely different planes in our spiritual journey. And when we went on the walk, not only did that change our marriage to a much stronger marriage, but it also put us on the same emotional plane of our spiritual journey. It was remarkable.”
The pair returned from their walk enlivened, and they sponsored other members of their congregation to go. “It just exploded through our church, and lives were changed in ways that we never dreamed of,” marvels Jeff. “So I have a heart and a passion for it, as does the entire community that’s been through. Dick, in particular.”
It didn’t start out that way for Dick. He first learned about the Walk to Emmaus about 15 years ago, when a number of fellow lay members at Grimes Methodist Church had gone through. “I saw a definite change in their outlook, their attitude, their cheerfulness, their spiritual growth, and I thought, gosh, something is going on here,” recalls Dick. Which is not to say that that was enough to get him enthralled about the idea himself. “Typically I’m kicking and dragging and saying ‘A three day weekend locked up in church? Gotta be the most boring thing ever. I’m a Christian, I know God, so I’m good, don’t need that.’ But I gave in. My wife encouraged me a bit too, so we both went through, and it was absolutely the greatest weekend ever.”
He found that it helped him reprioritize his life. “I was pretty resistant. I was okay with God in my own way, but there’s a better way—and I saw the better way. As my wife did. She had some experiences in her life that were a little bit of baggage, and she unloaded it. You leave that weekend a new person, and you can’t help but to,” says Dick.
Though the Walk to Emmaus is largely a lay effort, both men insist that clergy benefit greatly as well. “On so many walks, I have seen clergy who are overcome by the fact that now they have a second look at why they got into the ministry to begin with,” says Jeff. Dick adds that pastors also enjoy getting more committed congregants coming back from the walk who are ready to encourage the spiritual growth of others. “These pastors are building leaders, spiritual leaders, in their churches,” says Dick.
There’s no question that the Walk to Emmaus has already had an impact on numerous lay leaders. Jeff notes that he has often been on conference committees where someone asks the room who has experienced it. “Almost always the majority, the vast majority, have had this journey, this spiritual weekend that has affected them, that has stirred them to get involved in their local churches and get involved in the conference and districts,” he says. “And many, many have actually gone into the ministry because of their initial walk.”
The Walk to Emmaus is clearly a life-changing experience for most of those who do it. Dick explains that the weekend always ends on a contemplation of what’s next. “After you leave the three days, tomorrow morning is the fourth day – what are you going to do? You have a fourth day every day the rest of your life. So we’re called ‘fourth dayers,’ and we’re energized from those three days that, okay, our ministry doesn’t stop here. Jesus said to the disciples, ‘Go into the world,’ and that’s what we’re energized to do.”
For those who are interested in taking part in this experience themselves, there are several Emmaus communities in the Iowa area, with women’s and men’s walks scheduled for this February and later in July. To find out more and to get involved in the Walk to Emmaus, go to www.iowawalktoemmaus.org