St. Jude Parish in Hinesburg and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Charlotte are trying new things as they continue for form disciples among its children and youth.

In the past that has meant combining confirmation classes and adding new components to classroom lessons, and, most recently, the parishes have joined their religious education programs to enhance what is offered.

As of the current school year the parishes have combined and changed from a weekly religious education program to a monthly family faith formation program.

“We thought that putting classes of younger pupils from both churches together would create a better ‘critical mass’ of students in each grade going forward without resorting to other, more difficult and less effective measures like combining grades for one teacher,” explained Edmundite Father David Cray, pastor of both churches

At the same time the parishes were considering a move to a family-based religious education program. “Combining the programs at this point seemed to make sense,” and parents were open to the proposal, he added.

Enrollment in religious education has increased. “Some families have come back to church who had faded away,” Father Cray said. “We also have all of our parents attending the monthly family Masses and their ‘Sunday School’ sessions for tutoring on how to conduct their home schooling in between the church-and-classroom sessions. They are experiencing ongoing faith formation in a new way.”

According to Director of Religious Education Marie Cookson, one benefit of the combined programs is that students get to know their peers from the other parishes. “We have combined our Confirmation program for years; now students are getting to know each other in younger grades, and hopefully parents are feeling they have support from fellow parents in raising their children in the Catholic faith,” she said.

Kimberly Fry of St. Jude’s reaches seventh grade. As part of the curriculum, every middle-grade student interviewed an adult parishioner about how they live an active faith in their daily life. “This project encourages both the middle grades religious education students as well as all members of both parishes to reflect on how their faith informs their daily lives as disciples of Jesus Christ,” she said.

And Mary-Margaret Carroll of St. Jude’s offers a First Friday art class as part of the religious education program. “When the kids use their hands and eyes to create the art they are more engaged with the lesson, with the content, and they will remember it in a special way,” she said. “Learning more about our faith and about Christ helps us develop a relationship with Him, which is a critical step toward discipleship.”

Combining the religious education programs in the churches that already share a pastor has allowed the parishes to draw on teachers for both children and parents, and on their special talents, from both parishes. “And everybody gets a sense of the larger Church beyond their individual smaller communities, reaching out from the lake to the mountains and getting to know people in the whole micro-macrocosm of southern Chittenden and northern Addison counties,” Father Cray said.

—Originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.