Emmaus initiative takes small-group approach to discipleship

Tasha Havercamp
Luke Ebener, youth minister for St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport, views a video from the Vision 20/20 initiative called “Emmaus.” The initiative invites Catholics to participate in small-group faith sharing to grow in their faith, and in their relationship with Christ and others.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Welcome to Emmaus, an initiative of Vision 20/20 inviting Catholics in our diocese to embark on a journey of faith in small groups of around four people. Emmaus turns a pandemic into an opportunity for adults to grow as missionary disciples, confident and capable of going out to share the Good News of Christ with others.

“In many respects, our lives are somewhat on hold during the pandemic, but the Vision 20/20 initiative is too important for a year or whatever of inactivity,” Bishop Thomas Zinkula says. “Although it is more difficult right now to evangelize in person, we can take advantage of this opportunity to grow in discipleship, to deepen our personal faith, and to strengthen our foundation for sharing the joy of the Gospel. These small faith-sharing groups will help us become more comfortable talking about our faith with others, which is something Catholics in general are not very good at. As a diocesan-wide activity, it will help unify our local church.”

Deacon candidate Ryan Burchett of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport explained the Emmaus initiative to Vision 20/20 mentors at their Sept. 26 Zoom meeting. Burchett describes himself as a “worker bee” on the Emmaus initiative, which he earlier presented to the Vision 20/20 Steering Committee.

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Burchett developed a project this year for small-group dialogue on discipleship as part of his studies for the diaconate. The project called for groups to participate in prayer, education, faith formation and discussion. He said he brainstormed with Bishop Zinkula, which led to the diocesan-wide Emmaus initiative for Vision 20/20.

Road to Emmaus

The Emmaus initiative takes its name from Luke’s Gospel in which two, distraught disciples encounter but do not initially recognize Christ on their journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus. That encounter reinvigorates their faith; they feel their hearts burning within them to share the Good News. Bishop Zinkula, Burchett and the Vision 20/20 Steering Committee hope Catholics throughout the diocese will experience such an encounter on their Emmaus journey.

To help foster the encounters, the Vision 20/20 Steering Committee chose to share materials, without charge, from “The Discipleship Quads” developed by Franciscan University at Steubenville, Ohio. The quads provide a framework for meaningful engagement of a small group based on sound Catholic teaching. Groups meet weekly for 60 to 90 minutes (in-person or online) for one year. Concrete assignments following each meeting help participants delve into their faith between sessions and to feed discussion for the following session. “The true content of the program is the experience of the groups themselves,” Burchett said.

The Discipleship Quad “is one example, a primary example, of what people can do through the Emmaus initiative,” said Dan Ebener, the Vision 20/20 Steering Committee facilitator. However, “the options for how to do a faith-sharing group are unlimited.” Bishop Zinkula said the ideal is four men or women meeting every week for 90 minutes. “As someone once said, ‘the perfect is the enemy of the good.’ It would be good if a group of six people met once a month for 60 minutes. Maybe it would be so good that after a while they would choose to meet longer and more often. The diocesan materials speak to this flexible approach.”

Personal testimony

Michael Havercamp, who co-chairs the Vision 20/20 Steering Committee, said the pandemic made him feel a lot like the disciples on the way to Emmaus. “So much has been taken away from me, like my hopes, my rhythms, and everything that I was used to; everything that was familiar was all of a sudden gone. Like them, I was feeling a bit dejected and in need of companionship.” For Havercamp, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish, Emmaus groups represent an awesome opportunity to gather with two or three other people “who I can really entrust my life to, my hopes, frustrations and challenges, and grow in my faith.”

Joan Byrne of St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf has been meeting in a Discipleship Quad with three other women, friends, who previously participated in faith-building experiences. “I think having a process is good and a commitment on a weekly basis. We all learned things about each other during the first couple of sessions of faith sharing, even though we’ve known each other for years and years.” The Vision 20/20 Convocation last year emphasized “going forward with sharing your faith story.” The time commitment is doable, she said, and she appreciates the scriptural aspect “… when I’m speaking with people about the church and about my faith, I can use God words instead of just my own.”

Byrne encourages others to participate in an Emmaus group. “People are disconnected from other people. This is a chance for you to reconnect. Meet some new people. Invite some people you maybe wanted to get to know or who are struggling with their faith or someone that you’d like to invite to or back into the faith. Why wait? There are lots of stories in the Bible where people didn’t feel worthy, ready or wanted, but God calls everybody when least expected. I think this is a good opportunity to just have some structure, to gathering and really have a chance to grow in faith and share it with others.”

Starting or joining a Discipleship Quad

Parishes, schools and other diocesan entities as well as individuals are being encouraged to participate in a “close walk with Jesus and a few other people” through the Emmaus initiative of Vision 20/20. It is an opportunity to experience the love of Christ through a handful of other people. Anyone can start a “Discipleship Quad,” a small group for faith sharing and learning.

All of the materials are free for download on the Diocese of Davenport website. Go to www.davenportdiocese.org/emmaus.

Please fill out the quick form on the diocesan website

www.davenaportdiocese.org/emmaus-form to let the diocese now you are getting started.


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