Parishioners Share Emmaus Moments

On the Sundays during Easter this year, Holy Cross, Weare, members shared “Emmaus Moments” with the congregation. The project, which was received with warm appreciation, grew out of Holy Cross’s experience in recent years with “Ministry Minutes” during the fall pledge season. Like Ministry Minutes, Emmaus Moments were about 3-5 minutes long, offered right before the Peace. Where Ministry Minutes deal with people’s feelings about the parish and what it means to them, Emmaus Moments have a broader focus.

The name comes from the passage in Luke 24:13-35, in which two dejected disciples are walking away from Jerusalem on the afternoon of the first Easter. As they go, they are joined by a stranger, who explains how Scripture anticipated the crucifixion of Jesus. Inviting this stranger to dine with them when they reach their destination, the village of Emmaus, they realize “in the breaking of bread” that he is Jesus himself. So Emmaus Moments are accounts of times in people’s lives when the God of Jesus Christ seemed to break through and be particularly close to them.

The participants in the Emmaus Moments project chose very different moments to share with the congregation. Marge Burke led off with the feeling of Christ’s intimate closeness and reassurance she had received on learning of her mother’s terminal illness. Her husband Donald shared his experience of overcoming fear while sailing through a hurricane on a Navy LST. Will Townsend talked about the new understanding he’d gained of the presence of God in Scripture after reading a book by Bishop John Spong, which had opened his eyes to a non-literalist way of receiving biblical authority. High school senior Abbie Stehno talked about the trip she made with classmates during spring break to work with Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans, where in nailing siding next to people who would be occupying the house they were working with, she realized that she was not just building a house, but a home. Her spiritual reflections on the trip were consolidated as she sat for three hours by the roadside in New Jersey on the trip home after the bus broke down! Tina Compagna talked about how God was revealed to her through the suffering of her mother from chronic illness. Laura Starr-Houghton’s Moment had to do with the birth of her son, suffering from a serious birth defect; it was particularly poignant because Connor, now a healthy 6 foot 4 inch high school junior, was being confirmed that afternoon.

Those who gave Emmaus Moments, like those every year who give Ministry Minutes, were a mix of volunteers and people gently coaxed by the vicar. Holy Cross tries to get a mix of genders and ages for these presentations, but what people have to say is entirely their own. Though Emmaus Moments were a new experiment, it was not surprising that they worked out so well. The Ministry Minutes have become so popular at Holy Cross that there had been suggestions for several years that they be done more often than just at stewardship time. It was the vestry’s feeling, however, that this might wear out their welcome; the different twist with the Emmaus Moments avoided this problem.

One of the other things behind the Emmaus Moment experiment was something that Holy Cross vicar John McCausland had read, citing a study that an opportunity for parishioners to offer personal testimony was one of the things often found in growing congregations. As we’ve learned from presentations at the diocesan Spring Event, many people today want to participate actively in church, not just sit in pews. Whether Ministry Minutes, Emmaus Moments, or any of a variety of other participatory worship vehicles, people want a chance to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences. They also like getting to know others in the congregation through such sharings. For Jesus, there was only one Emmaus moment. For Holy Cross, we look forward to many others in the years to come.

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