Gilbert Owens has been in the ministry for many years, but he did not experience the real church until he took a special walk.
He wants others to experience it too.
In October, Owens will participate in The Walk to Emmaus, a United Methodist Church program open to any member of a Christan denomination or non-denominational institution.
“The sole focus is developing a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ,” Owens said about the four-day activity.
It’s based on the Bible verse, Luke 24:13-35, which relates the story of two of Jesus’ disciples traveling along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. After meeting a stranger and sharing bread, the disciples eyes were opened and they recognized the risen Christ. Next, they rushed to Jerusalem to share the news.
Cell phones are a necessity for many people, but it was not, nor will it be, allowed during the walk. Those who go on the walk are called “pilgrims.”
“Your only communication will be with the Lord,” Owens said. “It will change your life. It is the most spiritual activity I have ever participated in.”
His journey to Emmaus began about three years ago after the Rev. Bobby Herring asked him to teach Bible study at Andrew’s Chapel United Methodist Church, which resulted in Owens teaching at other locations in Sampson County. During that period, he was introduced and sponsored by Herring.
“If you ever want to see the real church, you’ll see it on The Walk to Emmaus,” Owens said.
A special occasion called the “Fourth Day,” represents the remainder of life. As a result, Owens said participants will be a better disciple for Christ, encouraging more people to participate and continue fellowship with other walkers.
“It’s just a phenomenal event that I think every believer should participant in,” he said. “It’s an experience which has really changed my life and helped me with some personal demons.”
During his first walk, Owens was surrounded by strangers, but by the end they became lifelong friends, he acknowledged.
“It’s truly a family atmosphere,” he said.
Owens said people that participate are from all walks of life, different races and churches.
“Once you finish the walk, you will go back to your local church on fire, to do great things within your own local church,” he said.
He is currently a member of the board of directors for the Cape Fear region. Voters from various Cape Fear churches select members for the Emmaus organization. After members serve a one-year term, the next one is for three years. But the second comes with an election.
Owens was elected in 2013 and served one year. When his term was over in November, he lost and came in second place for a three-year term. The person who defeated him was reassigned to another conference within the United Methodist Church. He was asked to fill in for the position in the summer.
He thanks God for leading him to Roseboro United Methodist Church and Herring, who treated him like a brother.
As he continues his work with Emmaus, one of his goals is to get local people involved, especially minorities. Currently, Owens is the only African-American member of the Cape Fear board.
“That’s not by design, but because of a lack of communication,” he said. “I did not know about this three years ago.”
As the pastor of the Kingdom of God Ministries Church, Owens said he wants to help break down the walls which exist between predominately black and white churches. He believes churchgoers have preconceived ideas about other religious institutions.
It’s been a growing process.
“Like everyone else, I had my own personal hang-ups about the white church,” he said. “I found that my hang-ups about them were completely false. I think those who have been associated with us on the other side, their traditional hang-ups have been found to be false too.
“We never know who that other side is until we fellowship and communicate,” he said. “That’s kind of like the Emmaus Walk, because we have different organizations, churches and races that participate. In the end, we come to the same conclusion that we’re all part of the same body.”
Anyone who wants to participate has to be sponsored by a former Emmaus walker or a church. The cost is more than $100, which is paid by the sponsor.
Walks for men and women are scheduled for late mid- and late-October. There are currently no vacancies, but the registration process for future pilgrims will begin next year.
“It’s an experience that I thank God that I’m a part of,” he said.
For more information about The Walk to Emmaus or to become involved, Owens said he can be contacted at 910-379-4562 or 910-525-4393. Leaders and pastors of any United Methodist Church may be contacted as well.