I would like to reflect on my recent Seven Mile Walk with Jesus (7MWWJ). This is a retreat style weekend which goes by many other names. Emmaus Walk was another common name, but recently the groups parted ways in Maryland. It also has many other names, Cursillo, Via de Christo, Christeo and Tres Dias. (The original movement, which started in Spain, also uses the phrase “De Colores” which means “many colors” as a reminder of the wonderful variety God created.”
Although I’m sure each version (and literally each weekend) is a little bit different, the primary idea is to get away for a retreat over a period of days and grow deeper in faith. For some the “secret” nature of the weekend holds them back. It’s not really secret, but as I read elsewhere online it’s like telling someone the full plot of a good movie. You miss the enjoyment of it unfolding. It doesn’t spoil anything, however, to say that there are a number of talks by clergy and lay people, worship, skits, presentations and small group time to talk and process. I say that every weekend is different because the talks would vary in how any person might share and the people who might attend with you. (I was particularly blessed to have an awesome group of men leading, attending and especially as part of my small group!)
I have to say my 7MWWJ was excellent! I was blessed! It wasn’t perfect and as a pastor, there would be some small changes that I would make, but that doesn’t diminish at all from the fact that a group of men (my retreat was all men) did their very, very best to create a weekend where I could experience and reflect on God’s love for me in Jesus. (Additionally, there were also lots more people helping behind the scenes.) Anytime anyone tries to do that for you, it’s only right to be grateful. I think for me the most touching part was the sense of authentic Christian community. A group of people encouraging, caring and trying to bless each other. In this sense, it’s like what every church tries to do at every worship service. A group of people try to craft an experience of God’s love to bless others. Just like every church, it’s done imperfectly, because it’s done by imperfect people, but you have to be thankful that someone made the effort!
It’s also appropriate to comment briefly that you may or may not like everything on your weekend. The group is very ecumenical and so some of the language or practices might be slightly different than your common experience. I think this is good. We so often gather into our more homogenous churches and then think this is the right or only way to do things. Did I like everything that was said or done on the retreat, not particularly . Do I think it’s part of the Christian experience and appropriate; absolutely! It stretched me and that’s always a good thing.
To go a little deeper, or to allay fears that anyone might have, let me comment on a few things. Some will say that it has a “cult” mentality. The whole “keep the presentations secret” as well as the intensity might have caused this charge to be leveled. However, I experienced nothing that was outside mainstream Christianity. Furthermore, where cults usually want to keep people focused inward, my weekend definitely focused on being more involved in the local church as well as changing the world around us. Another issue for some is the “rule” to leave your cell phone at home and don’t wear a watch. As someone who lives on my smart phone; this was difficult. The goal, however, wasn’t to be isolated from the “outside world” as much as it was, to give the time to God, uninterrupted. Let’s face it, we really all need to do this more.
It is true that the opportunity to sponsor a future “pilgrim” is offered along with the possibility of leading a future event for others. Although someone could easily make their “outward ministry” leading future retreats, that is a reality to any organization. Having spent many years in Boy Scouts as well as leading a church , I know that if no one feels the desire to provide the same experience for a future person, the organization dies. The trick, as with so much of life, is balance.
Another question that might be asked, especially since I’m a Lutheran pastor is whether a pastor should encourage a member to attend. I’d unreservedly say yes! They will have an experience of growing in faith in authentic Christian community. Some pastors would wonder if they would “lose” their member to the Emmaus community. My sense is that they might choose to pour some energy into Emmaus, but if this happens, it will come from an abundant rejuvenation of their faith.
At the very end of the retreat, they ask you to comment briefly on your experience. It doesn’t give away confidentiality to say that some men were literally transformed, or at least they want to be and with follow up, I believe they will. For others, they were lit on fire after being dormant for some time. This ran across a continuum of intensity, but all sixteen I attended with were blessed. For me, it was really authentic Christian community. You see this more rarely, maybe at a good small group, as part of a service experience or at a great worship experience. It’s much more rare to see it take place for 72 hours straight and that’s what I experienced! I hope if you would like to renew your faith, you’d give it some thought and prayer. And if you want to know more check out Seven Mile Walk With Jesus or email me at PastorStuart@StPaulsELC.org!