Every Monday evening, a small group of guys gets together at Matt Bono’s house in south St. Louis. Equipped with books and beverages, the men dive right into a discussion about their current reading — “Introduction to the Devout Life,” by St. Francis de Sales.
Reflecting on a section in which St. Francis de Sales detailed the “respect due to others,” the men discussed what that might look like in a modern culture, such as using foul language or sarcasm.
Sometimes men have a tendency to engage in good-humored “ribbing” among friends, but when does it cross a line into something that might be seen as mean-spirited, Bono asked.
“I know I’d get comfortable with a group when the others started feeling comfortable enough to give me a hard time about stuff,” said Lucas Whitehead of Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis Parish.
The conversation transitioned into describing examples of healthy relationships, looking at examples in the workplace and personally. “We certainly need to examine our actions,” said Kevin Peck, who attends the Oratory of Sts. Gregory and Augustine. “When can we say in good conscience that something was only meant to be good-humored?”
Their weekly ritual has all of the elements of a small faith-sharing community: prayer, walking together on a journey of faith and sharing how that’s lived out in the real world. It’s a model for living out the Church’s call to be missionary disciples.
Bono, a member of St. Joan of Arc Parish, said it’s an opportunity to “talk about personal stuff. We hang out, share prayer intentions. We’re there to encourage each other and pray for each other — and to let down the gauntlet if necessary and it’s in our brothers’ best interest.”
The archdiocesan Office of Young Adult Ministry has offered Emmaus Groups such as Bono’s for the past five years, and they’re growing. The small groups are based largely on the way in which Christ spent the majority of His public ministry on earth — investing in a few at a time and teaching them the Gospel message, said Shane Van Diest, director of Young Adult Ministry.
The name Emmaus references the Gospel of Luke, in which two disciples on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus on the day that Jesus rose from the dead, encountered the resurrected Jesus, although they did not recognize Him.
“It’s a great microcosm of what small group discipleship should look like,” Van Diest said. “Jesus encounters them, and then He invites the disciples to enter in and then reveals Himself to them.”
Emmaus Groups are an in-depth investment in people, Van Diest added. Starting with six groups in 2015, the program has expanded to more than 40 throughout the St. Louis area, with about half a dozen more launching soon. The majority include post-college, single young adults in their 20s and 30s; Van Diest said that a couple of groups for married couples have formed in the past six months.
Young Adult Ministry offers training for group leaders, giving them a framework, best practices and practical advice for leading a group. A website also includes resources, including a five-week Bible study that most groups begin with. After the initial Bible study, groups are free to use whatever spiritual reading they wish.
Van Diest said these groups aren’t meant to be a parallel experience of the Church, but to encourage young adults to be incorporated into the bigger life of the Church. Often young adults who join are looking to fill a void of community that they once experienced in college, such as through a Catholic Newman Center, as they transition into parish life.
“Each group has grown organically and takes on their own flavor,” he said. “Some are very Scripture-based, where others have done book studies. And some groups do things beyond formal study,” he added, such as service projects, or social activities.
The men who meet at Bono’s house were once part of a larger group of young adult men that split into two groups, with the larger group keeping in touch via online messages and participating in occasional service projects or social get-togethers.
“The end goal is Christian friendship,” Van Diest said.
Emmaus Groups are a program offered to
young adults in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Each group is a small,
faith-sharing community where young adults walk together on the journey
of faith, dive into Scripture and share life with one another. Groups
consist of 5-10 members and meet at the convenience of each group.
Groups provide opportunities for young adults who often experience
transition and newness in a parish setting. It invites them to connect
in a deeper way with other young adults.
To learn more about Emmaus Groups and how to become involved, visit stlyoungadults.com/programs/emmaus-groups.