Walk to Emmaus and NGWTE History

The Walk to Emmaus Movement has its source in the Catholic Cursillo (pronounced “ker-see-oh”) movement which started after the Spanish Civil War in the area of Majorca, Spain. It was a lay movement supported by the clergy of the Catholic Church that began courses to facilitate apostolic action in the laity. Groups of young men met over several years formulating courses on the various aspects of Christianity that were essential to being churchmen. The Cursillo weekend did not just come about, but is the result of prayer, study, application, and review of results by dedicated laity and clergy. Earlier Cursillos were longer than three days.

Cursillo began on the island of Majorca, Spain, some 170 miles southwest of the mainland, sometime in the late 1940s. Spain was involved in a bitter Civil War from 1936 to 1939 and unsettled conditions of World War II followed this strife. The desire for church renewal and inspiration for the life of the Apostolate grew out of these years of strife. A movement was made by the Young Men’s Branch of the Catholic Action (similar to our Methodist MYF) to take a pilgrimage to the Shrine of St. James de Carapostela at Santiago, Spain. To prepare for this, the Catholic Action leader on Majorca formed Leader’s Schools in which they gave short courses to prepare for this pilgrimage.

The leaders of the Catholic Action group called the courses Cursillos, in part because this term is not essentially a religious one, and in Spain and Majorca there was a strong laity, of militant independence almost to the point of being anti-clerical. Therefore, these courses were designed not to be overly “pious”.

As the leaders of these early Cursillos refined their courses, which were designed for small groups, they found that they were attracting young men who were not active in Catholic Action, and had no desire to be. They wanted to be part of the Cursillo and pilgrimage. The early Cursillos were 6-7 days long and were held during special occasions (festivals or Saint weeks), but gradually they were shortened to 3-4 days. The talks were “Youth of Catholic Action”, “Leaders Profile,” and included clerical talks like “The Church” and “The Mystical Body of Christ.” In time, these Cursillos evolved into Cursillos de Christianidad – short courses in Christianity, somewhat as they are known today.

In 1956, Cursillo was brought to the United States by two Spanish Air Cadets who were studying at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. The format of the three days and the talks were translated into English in Texas in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. The Roman Catholic English Cursillos started the Cursillo with their brothers and sisters in Christ – Episcopal, Lutheran, and with the United Methodist Church in Peoria, Illinois, and Nashville, Tennessee. The United Methodist Church began its expression of Cursillo in about 1977 and called it The Upper Room Cursillo.

Atlanta Area Movements

The growth of the Cursillo Movement from the San Antonio base was to the east and north. The Protestant movement into the Atlanta area began with the Lutherans. The Lutherans of the Atlanta area wanted to have a Cursillo here and through the efforts of one of the early Lutheran Cursillo communities in Miami, they had their first weekend in 1972. The Atlanta Lutheran Cursillo movement was based at Cross and Crown Lutheran Church in Decatur. The original policy and intent of the Lutherans was to invite Lutherans for the weekends. However, it was shown that they could not get enough to fill their rosters from the Lutheran community. As a result, 5-10 non-Lutheran candidates were invited to attend their weekends, which were held at the Catholic monastery in Conyers. Some of the first non-Lutheran candidates to attend came from Kingswood United Methodist Church. One of the early candidates from Kingswood was Milt Morgan, who attended Lutheran #4 in the fall of 1974 and was a driving influence to starting the Emmaus Community in the North Georgia Conference.

Milt Morgan worked on several Lutheran Cursillo teams and became concerned that only 5-10 non-Lutherans could attend the Lutheran Cursillos. In the fall of 1977, a meeting was held at Milt Morgan’s home to discuss the possibility of a movement that would be open to Christians of all denominations. The Lutherans agreed to assist in the formation of a new movement and furnished much assistance in the inception of the Atlanta Christian Cursillo Movement. The first weekend of the new movement was held in July 1978 at Indian Springs State Park. About the same time frame the Episcopal Cursillo began in the Atlanta area.

The Atlanta Christian Cursillo Movement extended its call for candidates to all Christians in the area, except that the Episcopal and Catholic Cursillos kept their candidacy closed to their communities. The weekend dynamics were patterned after the Lutheran Cursillo movement.

Both the Atlanta Christian and Lutheran Cursillos had difficulty in obtaining sufficient clergy to participate in the weekends. In 1980 Milt Morgan considered the possibility of obtaining assistance from the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church to encourage pastors to participate. It was felt that if Conference endorsement was not obtained the pastors would feel intimidated by this “new” non-conference type of lay renewal. Although the Cursillo Movement had made its way into the Methodist Church it was only local in Peoria, Illinois and the Upper Room Cursillo in Nashville.

The Atlanta Christian Cursillo Movement grew in the Atlanta area, holding four week-ends a year at Indian Springs State Park. In 1983 the Movement had grown to where weekends needed to be added to provide opportunities to the area. Two new movements were started at the close of 1983 in the Atlanta area to serve the area. Early in 1983 Milt Morgan and Rev. Ron Brown signed an agreement with The Upper Room Emmaus Community to start an Emmaus Community in the Atlanta Area using Emmaus material for the weekends. Members of the Atlanta Area Christian Cursillo who were affiliated principally with Mt. Paran Church of God, sought out the weekend structure of the Tres Dias Movement, which was a Presbyterian layman’s approach to the Cursillo material and in use in the Northeastern part of the United States where Protestants were not ecumenically invited into the Catholic Cursillo Movement. During 1983, the Catholic Cursillo Secretariat was making a move to restrict the usage of their material to those communities that would keep their candidates to within the local church or denominational areas.

In the fall of 1983, the first North Georgia Walk to Emmaus weekend was conducted within the guidelines of the Nashville model at Northside United Methodist Church. One of the suggested guidelines in the Nashville model was to hold the weekends in a church facility with the supporting community providing the weekend support. The first Emmaus Walk was a small one with only eight pilgrims but also successful in that the need for a sequestered area for the weekend was clearly indicated. The first women’s weekend was postponed until after the second men’s Walk so that a larger number of women pilgrims would be in attendance. The second men’s Walk was held at Indian Springs Campgrounds as was the first women’s Walk. Beginning with the third men’s weekend, Walks were held at Camp Wesley, a Methodist Camp in Fairburn that was rustic and isolated from the city and provided a sequestered atmosphere. The growing North Georgia Walk to Emmaus community in the Atlanta and North Georgia Conference area drew on the Atlanta Christian Cursillo community for its leadership and borrowed some of its traditions. However with the passage of time, the North Georgia Emmaus Community developed its own traditions and focused its format on the Emmaus model from Nashville. The Emmaus model changed some of the talks, particularly the clergy talks, to incorporate the Wesley tradition of grace and the dogma of the Methodist Church.

From the eight pilgrims of the first weekend, the North Georgia Walk to Emmaus weekends increased in numbers of pilgrims until the suggested number of 36 pilgrims was standard. The facilities at Camp Wesley, although desirable for its primitive surroundings, became a limiting factor in conducting the weekends. The facility could only hold approximately a total of 80 people. With 36 pilgrims, this limited the team size. The camp was also a little more primitive than the women were willing to deal with, especially in the late fall or early spring where it could become rather cool. Therefore, it became necessary to find another location to hold the weekends. The Lutheran Cursillo Community was holding their weekends at Camp Fortson in Hampton. The Emmaus Board reviewed the facilities and decided that it was large enough to permit large team participation along with a full roster of pilgrims. The North Georgia Emmaus weekends moved to Camp Fortson in the fall of 1986 with men’s Walk number 9 and by 1991 had grown from 4 weekends a year to 11 weekends a year, a roster of 42 pilgrims for the weekends, and a waiting list that has almost a full roster. In 1992, North Georgia Walk to Emmaus purchased what had been a former schoolhouse and then catfish restaurant outside of Dallas Georgia, repaired and remodeled it, and gave it the name “King’s Retreat”. The first Walks held there were Men’s Walk #27 and Women’s #31 in October of 1992 and this is where current North Georgia Walk to Emmaus and Chrysalis weekends are held.

Walk to Emmaus

A review must also be taken of other independent events of the time that happened in the Christian community in the Atlanta area to understand the basic structure of the Walk to Emmaus Movement. In 1976, Danny Morris, Director of Developing Ministries for the Upper Room, participated in a Lutheran Cursillo in Florida and recognized the need for Cursillo to be offered ecumenically. In 1977, Maxie Dunnam, then World Editor of The Upper Room, participated in a Cursillo weekend and, together with Danny Morris, began to take steps toward including Cursillo as an Upper Room program. The Upper Room’s first two model weekends were held in Peoria, Illinois in 1977. They involved the leadership of the Reverend Bob Wood, who then came to the staff of The Upper Room to launch the Upper Room Cursillo.

In 1981, by mutual agreement with the National Secretariat of the Roman Catholic Cursillo who held copyrights to the Cursillo program, The Upper Room Cursillo became The Upper Room Walk to Emmaus. The primary issue involved in this action was the Upper Room’s commitment to being ecumenical. The National Cursillo Secretariat had established a policy that each denomination expression of Cursillo must be limited to sponsoring persons of their own denomination. An agreement was struck with the National Cursillo Secretariat for the Upper Room to develop a new program based on Cursillo, but with distinctive leadership resources. Further, the Upper Room agreed not to use the traditional Cursillo language carried over from its Spanish origins. The Upper Room then developed the Walk to Emmaus design, talk outlines, and leadership manuals for use by an ecumenical, largely protestant audience.

The Walk to Emmaus has grown from one community in 1978 to over 100 in 1989. The Walk to Emmaus is not only active throughout the United States, but also continues to grow in Australia where it was introduced in 1984 and our own Milt Morgan was a part of the first team, in Brazil where it was established in 1988, and in Mexico where it was introduced in 1989. In 2018 the Upper Room website lists Emmaus communities in 44 countries with 265 communities in the United States.  A version of Emmaus was developed for high school youth in 1984, under the title of Chrysalis. The Reverend Eugene Blair, the Dean of the Upper Room Chapel, became the Director of Chrysalis in 1988. Chrysalis was later expanded to include college age individuals holding weekends separate from the high schoolers under the name Young Adult Chrysalis or “YAC”. In 2015 a version of Emmaus for senior adults under the name Face to Face was begun by the Upper Room under the direction of Hess B. “Doc” Hall, Jr. In that same year North Georgia Walk to Emmaus decided they wanted to offer Face to Face to the North Georgia community and in March 2016 held their first Encounter at Mt. Pisgah United Methodist Church in Johns Creek. Face to Face is not held at the King’s Retreat as are the Walk to Emmaus and Chrysalis weekends but is held at various local churches around North Georgia and without overnight stays in order to make attendance more convenient for senior citizens.

Related Movements

Out of the beginnings of the Cursillo Movement as introduced into the United States in the early 1950s by the Spanish Air Cadets, the movement has grown into several movements some strictly denominational such as the Roman Catholics, Lutherans in some areas, and the Episcopalians. The Protestant have taken up the movement and transformed it into Walk to Emmaus, Tres Dias, variations such as Atlanta Christian Cursillo, and the Lutherans of Florida Via de Christo. The movement not only has grown in the adult community but has had its growth in the formation of youth Cursillos such as Teens Encounter Christ (TEC) in the local Lutheran community, Chrysalis supported by the Walk to Emmaus community, and Vida Nueva supported by the Tres Dias community. Young Adult Chrysalis (YAC) was later created for College age young persons who found themselves too old to attend Chrysalis but not feeling ready to attend a Walk to Emmaus with the older adults.

Within the Walk to Emmaus beginnings in the North Georgia Conference, the members of the North Georgia Emmaus community were participants in the beginnings of the South Georgia Conference first walks, the South Georgia Conference satellite community the Coastal Walk, the Augusta area Georgia-Lina first walks, and the Northwest Georgia first walks. The North Georgia Community in the Atlanta area divided the area into two areas, to promote Gatherings in North and South Atlanta areas. The Gatherings not only hosted the Emmaus community but also the Chrysalis community. Eventually the Chrysalis community began holding their own gatherings. South Atlanta later split off into its own community. A later split-off in which the North Georgia community participated was Pathway East Georgia in 2001. The North Georgia community was also instrumental in bringing the walk to Emmaus to Estonia and Romania.

Purpose of the Movement

The stated purpose of the Cursillo Movement is to make Christian community possible in neighborhoods, parishes, work situations and the other places where people live a greater part of their lives. It attempts to make it possible for anyone in the world to live a Christian life in a natural way.

The ultimate goal of Cursillo in Christianity is that on the Day of Judgement there may be more saints. Its immediate purpose is to provide an understanding and conviction concerning what is fundamental for being a Christian and to strengthen individuals to live out that understanding supported by Christian community life.

The movement is a method of Christian formation that sets into motion a process for the building up of a backbone for Christian living wherever it gains a foothold.

In like manner the purpose of Emmaus is the renewal of the Church as the body of the risen Christ in the world though the renewal of church members as faithful and committed disciples of Jesus Christ. Emmaus expands participants’ spiritual lives, deepens their discipleship, and rekindles their gifts as Christian leaders in their churches and communities. These aims are accomplished not only during the three day Emmaus Walk, but also through participation in group reunions and community Gatherings, sponsorship and support of Walks, and service on teams. Persons whose spiritual lives are renewed and strengthened through Emmaus are called to share the grace they received in their community and to be leavening influences in their local churches. The purpose of Emmaus is not fully realized during the three days of the event itself, but, rather, in the Fourth Day.


*This history of Emmaus was originally published in 1991 by founding members of the North Georgia Emmaus community and was updated in 2018.