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Church communities united in Christ

Parishioners of churches joined by the ministry of one priest are making their way toward greater unity by collaborating on outreach projects.
 
In Essex, for example, members of Holy Family/St. Lawrence and St. Pius X parishes came together as the Essex Catholic Community to help their neighbors — both parishioners and non parishioners — through Serve Our Neighbor Day.
 
The project, begun by Holy Family/St. Lawrence parishioners, takes place in the fall and spring to help people with chores like small home repairs, window washing, raking and gutter cleaning. Most recently about 125 volunteers spent a day on 24 projects.
 
“An event like this brings us all together,” said John McMahon, a project coordinator who is also the Holy Family/St. Lawrence faith formation director.
 
Teams for the projects are made up of members from the difference churches so parishioners get to know one another. “It’s a lovely expression and breaks down barriers,” he said. “It’s part of the process of bring the churches together … mobilizing the parishes to joyfully serve people in need.”
 
It can be challenging to bring two distinct parish communities together, each having its own identity and traditions.
 
“When I arrived at my two parishes they had their own distinct way of putting God’s call to us ‘to love thy neighbor’ into practice,” noted Father Yvon Royer, pastor of St. Peter Church in Vergennes and St. Ambrose Church in Bristol. Though much of that distinctiveness remains, the parishes do offer free community meals once a month, open to both communities. “We are feeding on average 275 people per month between the two of them,” Father Royer said.
 
Edmundite Father Charles Ranges is pastor of the three Essex churches, two in Essex Junction and one in Essex Center. “Essex is really one community and all of the students go to the same high school,” he said. “The churches are close together and people attend all three of the churches.”
 
The parishioners served on “Serve Our Neighbor Day” are generally elderly and unable to do this work themselves. The day begins and ends with prayer and reflection and the work is done in the name of Jesus. 
 
“The work has been enhanced by joining forces and is advertised as an event of the Essex Catholic Community,” Father Ranges said.
 
Other activities on which the Essex Catholic parishes work together are “Essex Eats out,” a monthly community dinner, collecting food for Heavenly Pantry in Essex Junction and the Essex Jericho Underhill Food Shelf. 
 
And as they prepared for Christmas, all three churches had "giving trees" and baskets with food that was given to needy families. "The attempt is to have a unified message at all churches so we are united in our charitable activities,” the pastor said. “Bringing the good works of both parishes together is a ‘work in progress,’ but I know that we are going in the right direction since when united we can accomplish more.”
 
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Essex Catholic Community’s Vacation Bible School

Imagine going back in time to the ancient city of Ephesus in what is now Turkey where Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is believed to have lived, to learn about her life and mission. 
 
This was the journey taken by 60 youngsters who recently attended the Essex Catholic Community’s Vacation Bible School focused on the holy woman, Mary, the Mother of God. 
 
Each day of the program introduced kindergarten through fifth-graders to themes like “Mary served others” or “Mary said ‘yes’ to God” as well as to some of the modern appearances or apparitions of Mary in Fatima, Spain; Lourdes, France; and Banneux, Belgium. 
 
“I hope the children have learned that Mary was the first and most courageous of Jesus’ disciples,” said John McMahon, faith formation director at Holy Family-St. Lawrence Parish and vacation Bible school creator. “What made her so special was her total faith and trust in God and that she always leads us to Jesus.”
 
The week-long camp, a collaboration between Holy Family–St. Lawrence and St. Pius X parishes, concluded with a sacred Mary Procession, followed by a traditional water balloon fight.
 
The equal mix of fun and substantive learning about an aspect of the Christian faith follows a hands-on model of learning where youngsters, for example, can create icons and rosaries while contemplating what Mary’s “thy will be done” means in their own lives. 
 
A team of 35 volunteers, from former campers to retired parishioners, guide participants in the catechesis or direct craft activities, such as making rose-filled mantles like the one impressed with Mary’s image at Guadalupe, Mexico.
 
“This program tries to model active discipleship,” said McMahon, who has directed the 15-year effort.  “Our entire staff grows together in faith alongside the children they are serving. The volunteers are wonderful role models; and the youngsters witness the teens and adults practicing their own faith.”
 
Other themes through the years have included Jesus’ early years of ministry, Holy Week leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection and Catholic saints through the centuries. The program aims to give the youngest Catholics access to the history, vocabulary and spiritual learning of the holy men and women who walked and witnessed before them.


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By Marybeth Christie Redmond


 

Essex faithful provide healthy meals, fine company, that strengthen community bonds

The word "hunger" most often brings to mind a need for food, but many people hunger for something other than a meal: They hunger for companionship, community and connections.

When Essex clergy and community leaders got together to discuss how best to address those hungers, they came up with Essex Eats Out, a program that provides healthy, free meals in a warm, safe and inclusive atmosphere. With the support of a grant from Heart and Soul, Essex Eats Out began in 2014.

Edmundite Father Charles Ranges, pastor of Holy Family/St. Lawrence Parish in Essex Junction and St. Pius X Parish in Essex Center, was one of the founding clergy members. "People come because they like the food and they like the company," he said. "It's great food, great conversation, great people who make you feel at home."

And, he added, "It's a great ecumenical effort."

The meals take place on Fridays from 5:30-7 p.m. On the first Friday the meal is at First Congregational Church; on the second Friday at Holy Family/St. Lawrence Parish Hall and on the third Friday at St. James Episcopal Church. On the fourth Friday the meal takes place at Essex Methodist Church, and on the fifth Friday at St. Pius X Church.

Father Ranges attends the meals at the churches he serves, and he greets people, begins the meal with a blessing and spends time visiting with guests.

"It's an opportunity to spread the good news," Ranges said.

On Dec. 11 the meal at Holy Family Church featured ham, rum-raisin sauce, mashed potatoes, succotash, roll and dessert.

Church members provide and serve the food when the meal is at their church; some food is purchased with donated funds.

The meals are open to everyone; some people are socially isolated and enjoy the company of others, some are "nutritionally deprived," and some are poor, Father Ranges explained. "It's serving a real need in the area . . . . People are coming out for it."

Rides can be arranged for those who do not have transportation.

"It's a great ecumenical ministry that reaches out into the community to offer a free meal to people who need it in any way," said Monica Morano, a parishioner of Holy Family/St. Lawrence Parish and a volunteer with Essex Eats Out since it began. "It's not meant to just feed people who are hungry."

She noted that it's a way for elderly parents to eat out with their children, for seniors who would otherwise be alone to share a meal with others, for families who want to dine out together without a large expense. And of course it is for people who are homeless or "on the edge for food."

"I get a lot of joy" being a part of Essex Eats Out, she said. "I love working with other churches and being part of a ministry that reaches out to other people."

According to Jennifer Knowles of St. James Episcopal Church in Essex Junction, the Essex Eats Out administrative assistant, on average there are 100 guests at each dinner.

"The program has been highly successful and continues to grow," she said. "More community members, civic and school groups have stepped up to volunteer as well as church members" who set up, serve and clean up.

John McMahon of Holy Family/St. Lawrence Parish is a co-coordinator with Morano for the parish, which provides when it is their parish's turn.

Volunteer chef Michael Kiessling does the menu planning and initial preparation for the St. Lawrence/Holy Family meals.

"This is one way I can volunteer my time to the community, for the lonely and needy amongst us," McMahon said. "It's an incredibly important social justice work to be doing with a wonderful tie-in to the parish."

He recalled one meal attended by four "clearly homeless" people. They thanked the volunteers for the meal and left with some leftovers.

"I can assure you of the need for these meals for the lonely or those on the streets," McMahon said. "They really need this meal."

Essex Eats Out provides a model that other communities could use to meet the needs of those in the community who are not only in need of food, but community connections, Knowles said.

For more information, go to www.essexeatsout.org.

Article written by Cori Fugere Urban, Vermont Catholic staff writer

 
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