It’s the end of the semester for Eastern Mennonite Seminary students. For first-year students, it means one thing – “Christian Tradition” timelines.

Christian Tradition is a seven-credit-hour course that stretches over two semesters. Students study the history of the Christian church from New Testament times to present day.

The course includes elements of theology, worship and history in each church era. At the end of each semester, students must create a timeline that includes the significant people, events, theological ideas and worship movements within the portion of history studied that semester.

The timeline assignment began in 2000 when students wanted a more interactive way to engage the material. Each year some students choose to create dramas, jeopardy games or even films for their timelines. Some go the standard paper route, but more often than not, students try something more creative.

This year’s timelines include a quilt, a variety show, a clay model, an online calendar and a video news report.

Brian Gumm, part of a group that created a parody news show, said, “In order for parody to be effective and funny, you really have to know your source material well. If you don’t, the humor doesn’t work, people won’t laugh.”

Barbara Seward, part of a group that created an online calendar, said, “During this process I saw a clearer connection between what one believes and how that belief is practiced in worship.”

“Doing collaborative scriptwriting helped cement the material into our heads,” Gumm said. “What one of us may have missed in preparing to write the script, other members picked up and added, making the piece better. We learned more by working together,” he added.

For Seward, the project “helped bring the material into sharper focus and bring the sometimes elusive elements of lectures and reading together.

“What was most interesting was the debate over who could administer communion and baptism,” said Seward, “and if one could be saved without partaking in these sacraments. In certain denominations, these questions are still prevalent today.”

Christian Tradition is among the core courses required for all masters degree recipients at EMS. It is team taught by Sara Wenger Shenk, associate professor of church practices; Nathan D. (Nate) Yoder, associate professor of church history; and Mark Thiessen Nation, professor of theology.


– Story by Laura Lehman Amstutz

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