Creating meaningful community

Vision for Emmaus House student residence inspired by Anabaptist-Mennonite faith

March 12, 2014 | Young Voices
Aaron Epp | Young Voices Co-editor

When Rod and Susan Reynar tell people they are inviting 10 university students to live with them and form an intentional community, they are typically met with one of two responses: “Oh, that’s neat,” is the first. The second is, “Oh, that’s interesting,” which the couple says usually translates to, “You’re crazy.”

 “Both of us felt excited by the idea and thought it was interesting,” Susan says. “We have lived in community in the past, so we know the lows and highs.”

The Reynars are currently renovating their 102-year-old home, located in Winnipeg’s West End, not far from downtown.

Inspired by their Anabaptist-Mennonite faith, the Reynars have developed Emmaus House as a place where university students will find support academically and spiritually in lives of service, healthy living and relationship.

For a fee comparable to what they would pay if they lived in dormitory on campus, students attending the University of Winnipeg, the University of Manitoba or one of the colleges in Winnipeg will be able to live at Emmaus House. The Reynars are encouraging students enrolled at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) to consider living in residence there, so that they can become a part of the on-campus commu-nity that institution offers.

But more than simply pay rent for a place to lay their head, residents commit to sharing common spaces, preparing and eating meals together and participating in bi-weekly small group Bible studies, as well as service projects and social activities as determined by the community, and agree to live by behavioural guidelines the Reynars have developed in order to uphold the Christian community they envision for Emmaus House.

The Reynars will live on site as house coordinators, facilitating and participating in the life of the community. They were inspired to start Emmaus House in part by the Menno Simons Centre residence in Vancouver as well as from discussions in Mennonite Church Alberta about intentional communities for students.

For the Reynars, Emmaus House is a way to work together as a couple to use their gifts to guide young students at a time when those students are, for the first time, experiencing life away from the home they grew up in.

Rod has arachnoiditis, a neuropathic disease caused by inflammation of membranes around the spinal cord. He lives with excruciating pain daily. Since 2000, Rod has spent 10.5 years of his life in bed—a story detailed in the May 27, 2013, issue of Canadian Mennonite. Two years ago, he underwent an experimental treatment in the Netherlands and received an implant to manage the pain. While his pain used to be at 9.3 on a scale of 10, it is now typically at 5. It has left Rod, who earned a doctorate in agricultural education at Penn State University, on long-term-disability leave from work.

He is currently teaching at CMU on a volunteer basis. Emmaus House will allow him to further mentor students.

“Rod loves mentoring academically,” Susan says. “He loves university students and digging deeper into their areas of interest because he’s so widely read. The idea of being in a community of students and supporting them connects to Rod’s gifts.”

Rod lives well with pain, she adds. He does not take it out on others. “It’s easy to walk with Rod in his pain, because he still offers from his own giftedness,” she says.

Susan has a background as a home economist and has worked for Mennonite Central Committee in Alberta and Manitoba. She loves to create special moments and a high quality of life for people, Rod says, adding, “Susan creates a great quality of life without a lot of money.”

“Quality of life in your living space is important to me,” Susan says. “The question we have with Emmaus House is: How can we create a good quality of life together and extend that to others?”

The Reynars add that Emmaus House is a way for them to reflect the kindness they have been shown by family, friends and their church community as they have journeyed through life with Rod’s chronic pain.

“We’ve been incredibly blessed, and this is a way of paying forward the way people have provided meaningful community for us,” Rod says.

As they have developed Emmaus House, the Reynars have shared their vision with friends, family, leadership from MC Manitoba, the Mennonite chaplain at the University of Manitoba and others. All have been supportive.

“That means a lot,” Rod says. “When you’re venturing out onto the thin limb of the tree . . . you wonder what you’re doing sometimes.”

Susan acknowledges that “it’s kind of a crazy endeavour,” but it’s one the couple is excited about. “Living at Emmaus House is an invitation to students to see their lives as more than just their studies, and to explore what the implications their studies have for who they are becoming in the moment.”

The Reynars are currently accepting applications for this September’s semester. Visit for details.

--Posted March 12, 2014

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