GLENVIEW, Ill.—The National Representative Assembly (NRA) of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America convened earlier this month at All Saints Armenian Apostolic Church in Glenview, Ill. The clergy conference began on Wed., May 5, and the full Assembly convened on Thurs., May 7, concluding on Sat., May 9.
Elected to serve as co-chairmen of the NRA were Artin Deirmenjian (Glenview) and Steve Hagopian (Granite City). Elected to serve as Armenian recording secretary was Rouben Surenian (Watertown, Mass.) and as English recording secretary Jeanette Nazarian (Philadelphia, Pa.).
Before the proceedings of the NRA began, a video message from His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, was shown. His Holiness expressed his best wishes for a successful Assembly and spoke about the significance and importance of the Year of the Youth.
Prelate’s Keynote Address
Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate, presented his keynote address to the full Assembly on Thursday afternoon. The Prelate’s address focused primarily on the activities of the past year and the challenges for the coming years, especially the strengthening of the Armenian Church and Armenian identity. His Eminence also spoke about the youth, especially young adults, and their special needs.
The year 2009 was declared as the Year of the Youth by His Holiness Aram I, said the Prelate. “In his message, His Holiness clearly expresses his expectations from the Armenian youth hoping that the youth will demonstrate their Armenianness by the healthy formation of their spiritual and intellectual life, harmonizing and balancing the national and international, and considering to remain Armenian as an everyday struggle.”
Archbishop Oshagan told the delegates: “It is clear that we want the young and lively faithful to carry on a role and show vitality in their work, but at the same time being careful not to hurt, for the sake of practicality and modernity, our national and ecclesiastical understanding, traditions, and way of work, which have a foundation centuries old and which have put a definitive seal on the Armenian identity and sense of belonging. We commend highly the ambitions of our young generation and congratulate them every time when they brighten our ecclesiastical and organizational Armenian life in general through their useful and constructive thoughts, planning, and work, in this blessed land of America.”
Year of the Youth Presentations
Two special presentations for the Year of the Youth were made to set the stage for the panel discussions to be held the next day. The first presentation was made by Nayiri Baljian Bell and the second by Levon Barsoumian. Both speakers are from Watertown and both were instrumental in the organization of the Prelacy’s successful “Linked In” conference held last year.
Baljian Bell, drawing on her four years of experience as a college chaplain and on her master’s studies in religious education, presented three challenges and three opportunities with youth in the current U.S. social and cultural context. She emphasized the importance of understanding the nuanced needs and experiences of people under 40, highlighting in her presentation that young people have a gamut of socio-developmental needs and have been shaped differently by varying social and generational influences. She encouraged efforts towards a targeted youth ministry in the Armenian Church but also called attention to the idea of cross-generational modeling, (i.e. “the handing down of the faith,” as described in Scripture), which has been the church’s historical model for the spiritual formation of younger generations. She called upon the Prelacy to focus attention equally, if not more, on the spiritual development of parents and current church leadership in order to facilitate sustained success with the youth.
Barsoumian’s presentation drew from his experiences at his church as a parishioner and trustee, as well as from having evaluated various Armenian churches. His presentation’s focus was on the premise that improving spiritual health and developing a community for the church has to be the first step in attracting youth to the church. The spiritual health of the entire congregation has a direct correlation with the spiritual health of the youth and their commitment to the church, he said. The second theme of the presentation was the need for the church to invest in creating and nurturing youth groups. A long-term commitment is needed by churches to support youth groups and to start acknowledging and treating youth groups as one of the foundations to a healthy church, he told the delegates.
Break-out discussions took place on topics that included proposed bylaw changes, auditing and budget, the board of trustees, the youth, and religious and Armenian education through the Prelacy’s Armenian Religious Education Council and the Armenian National Education Committee. The lively discussions resulted in many valid and worthy recommendations. The chairpersons of the boards of trustees met with the Prelate and shared problems of mutual concern and exchanged ideas and solutions. Many of the solutions discussed consisted of measures to strengthen communities and generate excitement in parishes. The panel on the youth and the religious and Armenian education panel explored similar opportunities and identified numerous projects and parish strengthening program that would engage, educate, and nourish our parish members and the community at large.
Web Page and Forum Series
Karen Jehanian, a member of the Executive Council, gave the delegates a preview of the new Prelacy webpage that will be launched in the coming weeks. The delegates were quite enthusiastic about the new design and had the opportunity to ask questions and offer suggestions.
Jehanian also introduced a seven-minute video from the latest of the Quarterly Forum series that took place on April 16 and featured Yeretsgeen Joanna Baghsarian and 13 of her Youth Bible Studies students from Providence’s Sts Vartanantz Church. The students have been immersed in a project to remember the clergymen who were martyred during the Armenian Genocide and the Stalin era purges. The short clip was received with high praise. It was noted that this type of project is educational as well as good leadership training. Jehanian noted that the entire presentation would be professionally recorded and made available to the parishes.
Delegates and community members attended the NRA banquet Friday evening, during which a number of awards were presented.
Jack Mardoian, chairman of the Executive Council, was honored by His Holiness Aram I with the Knight of Cilicia medal. His Eminence read the Catholicos’ encyclical before presenting Mardoian with the distinguished award. In making the presentation, Archbishop Oshagan praised the devoted service that Mardoian has given to the Prelacy for many years. The Prelate emphatically said, “This honor is not an ending, but a reminder of the greater work and involvement that faces you now and in the future.”
Congressman Mark Steven Kirk was presented with the “Spirit of Armenia” award. Congressman Kirk, who represents Illinois’s 10th district, is co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues. The Congressman thanked His Eminence and expressed his wish to work with the Armenian community toward the passing of the genocide resolution. “We will eventually reach our goal,” he told the gathering.
Andranik Ovassapian, honored as the 2009 “Man of the Year,” was described as an individual who is completely devoted to the Armenian Church and community. “He is a very humble person,” the Prelate said, “who is devoted to the values of the Armenian nation and a believer in family values. And he has raised his children and grandchildren with these values in mind.”
In keeping with the 2009 Year of the Youth, the Executive Council collectively honored the community’s youth organizations with the Youth Leadership Award. Representatives from the local AYF, Hamazkayin, and Homenetmen were on hand to accept the awards. Archbishop Oshagan praised these organizations, which he said kept the youth within the community, and instilled in them the rich history and culture of their ancestors.
Jack Mardoian was re-elected to the Executive Council and John Daghlian and Raffi Manjikian were elected as two new members of the Executive Council. Rev. Fr. Aram Stepanian and Rev. Fr. Sarkis Aktavoukian were re-elected to the Religious Council.
Heartfelt thanks were expressed for the services of two outgoing members of the Council, Noubar Megerian and Bedros Givelekian.
Twelve individuals were elected as delegates to the World General Assembly, which convenes every four years at the Catholicate in Antelias, Lebanon. Elected were: Jack Mardoian, Stephen Hagopian, Richard Sarajian, Dertad Manguikian, Michael Hagopian, Hagop Khatchadourian, John Jerikian, Sarkis Ohanessian, Noubar Megerian, John Daghlian, Karen Jehanian, and Raffi Ourlian.
In his closing remarks, Oshagan Srpazan expressed his admiration of the commitment, love, and respect that the Executive Council members have for each other. He told the NRA delegates that they are the ambassadors of the Prelacy and should give a full report to their respective parishes. He discussed the richness of our church, its history, traditions, and mission, suggesting that new ways and methods for conducting the business of the church must complement, not contradict, the core of our mission. He expressed joy about the role of our young people, and looked forward to their growing numbers and their desire to serve the church according to its traditions and national values.
To view the major addresses and presentations, as well as photographs, visit the Prelacy’s website at www.armenianprelacy.org.