Emmaus Encounters: Building community on the road

Now, on that same day, two [disciples] were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 

He asked them, “What things?” [Jesus’ followers then told him the story of Jesus’ death, and reports of his resurrection; Jesus, not yet known to them, opened up scriptures to them, foretelling these events]. When he was at the table with them, [Jesus] took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. Luke 24: 13-19a, 30-31

Andover Newton Seminary at Yale Divinity School teaches future ministers how to build community. Like the two disoriented travelers on the road to Emmaus following Jesus’ crucifixion, students, churches, and other communities of faith find themselves disoriented today. The COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, as well as the impact of polarization in our society have drastically altered the academy and our churches. 
If one were to name the singular ministerial competency most needed in the world today, it would be building community. Andover Newton is uniquely situated to create and share new knowledge on how community is built and to enable its graduates to bring people together over the course of their careers in ministry. 
Rooted in the Christian faith that holds communities together, Andover Newton is discerning how best to address, learn about, and confront the disorientation of our times. Some learning happens in classrooms, yet even more can happen when the Andover Newton faculty and staff guide students in the creation of community-building initiatives, journeying with them as they learn-by-doing. The most innovative community-building program that Andover Newton Seminary will launch at Yale Divinity School will be Emmaus Encounters: Building Community on the Road.
Emmaus Encounters will become annual travel seminars for students enrolled in Andover Newton Seminary at Yale Divinity School’s diploma program. They will provide students with the opportunity to build community within groups, build bridges in previously unfamiliar contexts, and challenge students to reflect theologically on what they learn.

Through Emmaus Encounters: Building Community on the Road, future ministers will:

  • Learn how to “talk to strangers,” building meaningful relationships
  • Shift worldviews: “strangers” become “neighbors”
  • Develop language to make theological meaning out of building community
  • Adopt a pro-community attitude and develop skills to put that attitude into action
Andover Newton and other seminaries have engaged in travel seminars oriented toward service to the disadvantaged for decades in the past, but past models have their pitfalls, such as exoticization of the less-privileged, voyeurism perpetrated by the more-privileged, and perpetuation of imperial ways of being. Travel presents possibilities for transformation, making the case for transforming travel seminars rather than doing away with them, and Emmaus Encounters will embody a new, transformed way.

Andover Newton’s leaders are developing innovative practices for promoting a new and more life-giving way of crossing borders. What are some of those practices? Here are just a few:

  • Shared leadership within groups
  • Humility when entering new spaces, meeting new people
  • Hospitality when encountering opportunities for exchange
  • Multidisciplinary forms of engagement with new communities
  • Action balanced with deep reflection
  • Asking and answering questions; listening and sharing

For their first three years, Emmaus Encounters: Building Community on the Road will take students to Hawaii. Why Hawaii, you might ask?

First, Andover Seminary and Yale were the two institutions that educated the first missionaries sent from New England to Hawaii more than 200 years ago. The two schools share a connection with Henry Opukaha’ia, a Hawaiian who traveled with merchants from Hawaii to New Haven, and then Andover, seeding interest in sharing the Gospel in Hawaii.

Second, Andover Newton and Yale have partners on the ground in Hawaii, such as schools and churches founded by graduates. These partnerships open the possibility of ongoing, reciprocal relationships.

Third, those partner institutions share some of the same concerns about community-building that today’s Andover Newton community has:
  • How do we make sense of the history of missions, given that missionaries both did wonderful things but also paved the way for those who came for the purpose of exploitation?
  • How do we process the violence to which the American military subjected Hawaii, which one can now sense in a profound way when visiting Pearl Harbor?
  • How might our students learn from current Hawaiian movements, like the reclamation of the Hawaiian language among young people, ecological preservation, and the protection of land understood to be sacred?

In August 2022, a mixed group of stakeholders – Advisory Council members, staff, and students – participated in a pilot Emmaus Encounter to Oahu, Hawaii. The journey clearly demonstrated exciting promise for teaching and learning how to build community through Emmaus Encounters.

Andover Newton now seeks to raise $100K to fund the first two forays on the part of groups of 12 students, one coordinator, and two educators in 2023 and 2024This first infusion of funding will build momentum toward endowing Emmaus Encounters with $1 million, which might then expand to a wider range of destinations over the years to come. 

Would you like to support the Emmaus Encounters program?