Lincoln’s Emmaus Institute offers deep dive into Scripture
July 23, 2020
Mike Huber had been to Bible studies before, but he wanted something different.
Less group discussion and personal sharing. More of a classroom atmosphere, led by a knowledgeable teacher who could speak with knowledge and authority.
Then last fall a friend invited Huber to join him for a class at the Emmaus Institute for Biblical Studies in Lincoln.
And Huber, a member of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Omaha, found exactly what he’d been looking for.
“I learn a lot more by listening to someone rather than listening to myself,” he said in a telephone interview. Every time the class met and examined the Scriptures passages he’d heard all his life, he found himself thinking, “Gosh, I’ve never really looked at it that way,” he said.
He credits Vern Steiner, president of Emmaus Institute, and a handful of other instructors there for deepening his understanding. The institute will embark on its second year of classes this fall, and Huber will again be counted among the students, he said.
Steiner – a former evangelical Protestant and pastor, who along with other members of his family converted to Catholicism five years ago – is fluent in the biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek (as well as German and French) and is a former college instructor with master’s degrees in pastoral ministry and biblical literature and a doctorate in exegetical theology.
“I’ve never met anyone like Vern,” Huber said. “His depth of knowledge is so deep. … The Bible is his whole life.”
A few years ago, shortly after Steiner became Catholic, Bishop James D. Conley of the Diocese of Lincoln approached him about forming an institute for Scripture study. He was thinking about something like the Augustine Institute in Denver, which offers courses led by theologians and Bible experts who help people deepen their relationship with God and share their faith.
When he was a Protestant, Steiner had offered a similar Bible study program in Lincoln aimed mostly at lay people. Even then, his students included many Catholics. Among them was Jim Jansen, then a missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) who is now director of Pastoral Services for the Archdiocese of Omaha.
Jansen is on the board of directors for the Emmaus Institute, his way of lending his full support, he said.
“I don’t think I can endorse it more than that,” Jansen said.
“The Emmaus Institute for Biblical Studies is still an undiscovered treasure in Nebraska,” he said. “If you hunger to know the Word of God more deeply, there’s no better place I can send you.
“I’ve taken courses from Vern, and they’re wonderful.”
Steiner’s son, Chad, also has studied advanced biblical studies and teaches at the institute, located at 3901 Normal Blvd. in Lincoln, Suite 101.
Both men studied their way into the Catholic Church, Steiner said in a phone interview. Their father-son conversion story was featured last September on EWTN’s “The Journey Home” program hosted by Marcus Grodi.
The elder Steiner was 65 when he was confirmed and thought that perhaps God would ask him to live quietly the rest of his life.
“Maybe I will mow the church lawn or clean restrooms, not reluctantly but joyfully,” Steiner said he thought at the time. But the Lord was still tugging at him to teach lay people.
Just two months after his reception into the faith, in June 2015, Steiner got a phone call from Bishop Conley.
After the request, Steiner said he prayed, pondered, dreamed and planned, coordinating with the bishop and others from the Diocese of Lincoln. Gradually the pieces fell into place and a small staff was formed.
“It’s been a faith venture,” Steiner said of the institute. “Very much a faith venture.”
Other staff members include Seth Odgaard, director of operations, who had worked in administration in the Lincoln diocese; and Joshua Burks, associate teacher, who’s a former FOCUS leader with a master’s degree in theology from the Augustine Institute.
GOD OPENING DOORS
When classes were beginning last fall, Steiner said, he asked God for 40 initial students for the institute. Instead, 92 signed up for once-a-week, two-hour classes that stretched out over 10 weeks.
Students have ranged in age from 20s to 80s and have included lay people, priests and religious.
The institute also conducts seminars that meet once a quarter and delve into biblical topics for three and a half hours. Staff members occasionally give retreats to groups like Catholic school teachers or religious congregations.
“God’s opening all kinds of wonderful doors,” Steiner said. “We just feel humbled and blessed and excited. … And we’re just in our infancy.”
Earlier this year, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the institute to transition more quickly into online learning.
Plans for the fall are to offer both in-person and online formation. Plans for in-person classes will be revised if health conditions warrant it.
SECOND YEAR PLANS
As the institute enters its second year, Steiner said, it aims to serve more people, including reaching out to those outside the Lincoln diocese.
The institute is an apostolate and is not funded by the Diocese of Lincoln, but with grants, donations and tuition. Each 10-week class costs $150. That cost is reduced to $100 for priests and religious.
The institute’s signature program is “Creation to New Creation,” which studies the Bible thoroughly over three years. There’s also a shorter crash course, “The Whole in One: A Fast-Paced Journey Through the Whole Bible in One Quarter.”
Other offerings have delved into topics such as the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Eucharist, Nicene Creed and Church doctors.
The institute is “dedicated to Scripture study for all people who want to grow in love with Christ,” Steiner said. The hope is to offer a “life-giving, transforming and refreshing” experience.
Fall 2020 Offerings
– Courses, taught once a week, Sept. 8 to Nov. 16, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
- “The Letter of James: Living Our Faith in the Real World,” Mondays, taught by Burks
- “Leviticus-Deuteronomy: Creation to New Creation Track,” Tuesdays, taught by Vern Steiner
- “Foundations in Biblical Study Part II: Interpreting the Bible,” Wednesdays, in-person only, taught by Vern Steiner
- “Job: Suffering Servant, Sign of Christ,” Wednesdays, taught by Chad Steiner
- “Reading With the Doctors: The Saints and the Scriptures,” Thursdays, taught by Burks and Chad Steiner
Class sizes are limited, so early registration is encouraged. Online courses are available the day after the in-person class. In-person enrollment includes free access to the online course.
– Half-day seminar on Oct. 24, details to be announced later
“Are You Saved?: The Fullness of Salvation in Catholic Teaching”
For more information, see emmausinstitute.net.