Manchester University
Oak Leaves

October 4, 2019

MU Hosts Open House at Koinonia Retreat Center to Raise Awareness for Revitalization

Chloe Leckrone


Tina Rieman, the administrative assistant to the College of Arts and Humanities at Manchester University, grew up going to family reunions at the Koinonia Retreat Center. Generations of her family would get together and take hikes, make fires, row boats on the pond and play music all night long. “I feel excited that it’s still here and hopeful that someday we’ll get back there for another family reunion,” Rieman said. “I feel a little sad that it isn’t used more.”

Rieman is one of many people in the Manchester community with ties to the historic Koinonia Retreat Center. According to “The Story of the Natural Sciences at Manchester College” by William R. Eberly, Koinonia officially came into being in 1961 when a group of families known as the “twelve apostles,” including Rieman’s grandparents, came together to purchase a tiny, neglected farm area. Originally, they bought the land in hope that the Manchester Church of the Brethren could find a use for it. A few years later, when members of the Koinonia board decided they could no longer manage the space themselves, they approached Eberly, an environmental studies professor at Manchester, to see if Koinonia could benefit his program in any way.

Since then, Koinonia has been a space used by the biology and environmental studies departments. Dr. Suzanne Beyeler, assistant professor of biology and environmental studies, enjoys taking classes to Koinonia, especially her intro level classes that are often made up of first-years. It is a tradition that has been going on for decades for students in the sciences to spend time at Koinonia. “To get to know that space and to do coursework in it is part of their first year in the fall,” Beyeler said. “So they’re always more aware of the property.” 

Beyler believes it is a shame that so few people and departments on campus are familiar with Koinonia. She hopes that someday Koinonia can become the space it once was, but she has run into problems involving funding. Up until 2007, there was a director of Koinonia at Manchester, but the position has not been replaced since then. In years past, directors were given grants and funding to help keep the space alive. “In its glory days it used to bring in students from everywhere,” Beyeler said. However, that money has recently run out and the area has become somewhat neglected. Beyeler is now trying to raise money and generate more awareness for the retreat center.

On Oct. 20, an open house will be held at Koinonia from 3:30 to 7:30. Students, faculty, staff and community members are all welcome to attend and become more acquainted with, or rediscover, the space. People can take nature hikes, kids can fish on the dock, and the discovery room on the top floor--a fascinating room full of taxidermy animals native to the area--will be open. Environmental studies club members will also be there to discuss the resources available at Koinonia. This open house is one of several initiatives to generate more excitement for the beloved space.

According to Beyeler, there are many reasons why students who are not in the biology or environmental studies programs should get to know Koinonia. It does not always have to serve an academic purpose; there are dorms and a kitchen that can be used by clubs and organizations for meetings and overnights. Students are also able to go to Koinonia any day of the week and take walks or use it as a reflective space. “Students can use it; it’s their resource,” Beyeler said. “It’s part of their Manchester experience.”

Beyeler believes Koinonia is a core part of Manchester University. “The mission of the university, and the word Koinonia almost mean the same thing,” Beyeler said. “The Greek meaning of it is fellowship or community . . . It’s saying we want to be part of the global community and Koinonia is a place that represents that physically.”

Looking to the future, one of Beyeler’s goals is to bring back a full-time Director of Koinonia who could not only teach courses for elementary and high school age students, but for university students as well. She also thinks a day, much like the annual Camp Mack Day, held at Koinonia could help expand awareness and appreciation for the space.

Knowing how much the space can mean to people, Rieman also hopes that Koinonia can be reinvigorated so that people can continue to connect with it for years to come. “I’d love to see it get used more because it’s a great space for making memories, connecting with nature, and just enjoying being together,” Rieman said.