8 ways one youth program has brought together an entire church

by Kali DiMarco, St. Philip Church in Norwalk, CT on February 24, 2017

Students at St. Philip Church in Norwalk, CT gather every year to do the 30 Hour Famine.

I don’t know what it is about World Vision’s 30 Hour Famine, an event where students fast for 30 hours to raise money for kids around the world who are hungry. It is an incredible vehicle for the Holy Spirit to do its thing.
The combination of prayer and activity and stewardship and service and laughter and tears and silly and serious… it is simply the perfect environment for teens to shine and show others the amazing gifts they have – and it is contagious. It has been wonderful for our teens and our youth program, but it is what it has done for the greater parish that has been the most surprising – and rewarding.
Our medium-sized Roman Catholic Parish has become a “Famine” parish. Every year, sometime around January you can feel the buzz. We have found creative ways to involve almost every group in our community – even our elderly shut-ins! Our first Famine in 2004 consisted of just 29 kids and just a handful of adults. We now count 150-200 youth – and, amazingly, over 100 adults volunteers!

Here are 8 ways we involve our greater church and community:

  1. We invite them to pray
    Every participant is assigned a “Prayer Partner” for the event. Every age you can imagine participates – families with very young children will pray for their partner together, and our elderly who are either “shut-ins” or in nursing homes are included.
  2. We invite them to walk
    We begin our event with a two-mile walk from another parish to our parish. The mayor and our state senator even join us. It is amazing how many parishioners now walk with the teens – from several different parishes.
  3. We invite them to learn
    We try every year to have a great speaker to kick off the event and motivate the students, and we invite the greater community to come. Over the past 14 years we have had a local doctor who traveled with Americares, Austin Gutwein (a young boy who founded Hoops for Hope), Christine Leronimo (Author of Drinking from Puddles), Gabriel Bol Deng (one of the Lost Boys of the Sudan), Julie Coyne (Founder of Education and Hope), Dale Williams (Director of Midnight Run), and Justin Zeigler from BuildOn!. There are people in our area who look every year for our opening kickoff speaker – all because we publish it in the local newspapers and on Facebook.
  4. We involve younger students
    When we held our first two Famine events, we only invited kids who were in 8th grade and high school. We started hearing some grumbling from our younger students, and so began our “Mini Famine”. Sixth and seventh graders participate for 11 hours, and then have a closing celebration, break their fast, and go home. They return in the morning for our closing Mass. As you can imagine, our 5th graders felt that they needed something, so now we have a “Micro-Mini Famine” for 4-5 hours. We joke that we will one day have a Famine for infants. But all joking aside – by including these younger children, we have also opened up a whole other volunteer pool with parents, grandparents, and participants.
  5. We involve Famine alumni
    When you “grow up” with the Famine, it is never far from your heart. Our college students (and now college graduates) come home for Famine Weekend and our honored and welcomed by the entire parish. One of the most special ways we do this is on the dark walk from the hall to the church for our evening prayer service. We have adults standing on the steps of the church singing an African call to worship – and the college students are spaced out along the dark walk with candles to guide the path. Some of our students have told me they come home for this moment.
  6. We serve our community
    An important part of our event is going out to serve the greater community for two hours. We send 150 teens on buses to numerous projects – with more than 30 adult volunteers of all ages. This has strengthened our relationship with local nursing homes, our city shelter, other parishes and congregations, and businesses.
  7. We invite them to worship
    Our Evening Prayer Service is opened to the public and parishioners, parents, clergy – all are encouraged to attend. This service is incredible and beautiful and difficult to describe. There is usually music, readings, and a visual element based on the theme. But the part that everyone looks forward to is the candle lighting at the end. We have 10-15 rows of teens and a long candle is passed down the row – one person to the next. We ask the students to take their time and really reflect on the light in their hands, on the work they are doing, and the lives they are impacting. When they are ready, the person on the end stands up and carries the light to the sanctuary where they light a candle. This goes on for a half hour or more, until everyone has lit a candle. It is a flurry of soft music and light – candles moving and lighting. By the end, the church is aglow and it is hearts that are on fire.
  8. We invite them to celebrate
    All of this comes together in celebration in our closing Mass on Sunday morning. People of all ages – every ministry, group, and nationality represented. We have tons of clergy – all wearing stoles made out of the 14+ years of Famine shirts. The choir, the men’s ministry, the mom’s ministry, the local nursing home that sends a van of residents, our micro, mini, high school, college and beyond – parents, grandparents, people from other parishes in town and from the Diocese – all come together for the most amazing worship. It is a shared pride by hundreds of people who all take part and take ownership of the 30 Hour Famine. Adults and children, side-by-side, ushering, singing in the choir, sharing the sign of Christ’s peace, praying and honoring those who we serve.

Kali DiMarco is newly "retired" from almost 18 years of youth ministry. She was the Coordinator of Youth Ministry and Faith Formation at St. Philip Church in Norwalk, CT. She is a mother of three and she and her husband, along with a dog and three cats, live in Norwalk.

Bring the 30 Hour Famine to your church and help your youth and your church live out Jesus' call in Matthew 25 to care for the "least of these."

Help Syrian Children Refugees /pastor-resources/small-groups/m25-group-guide.html
Help Syrian Children Refugees https://www.worldvision.org/lp/m25-activate-your-church?campaign=400040480