Apigian-Kessel: St. Sarkis Ladies Guild: Serving with Distinction

While the calendar said January 6th, and the hustle and bustle of what is known as “American Christmas” was now a memory filed away, Armenians were still marching to their own tune in accordance with their ecclesiastical tradition, by celebrating the birth of Jesus on the exact date, January 6th.

They were celebrating the Feast of the Nativity and the Theophany of Our Lord Jesus Christ on January 5th, Christmas Eve, with Evening Service and Scroll Reading. On Christmas Day, January 6th, Morning Service was followed by the Divine Liturgy and Water Blessing performed by Rev. Fr. Daron Stepanian to a full sanctuary of worshippers.

A multitude of poinsettias filled the church and added to the splendor of the joyous occasion of this, the birth of the King of Kings, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As is customary, religious services were followed by a donations-only luncheon sponsored by the Ladies Guild, a backbone group well known for being one of the largest supporters of the church. by means of the sheer number of work hours they donate to see the welfare and financial support of the church. You may also think of them as the worker bees in constant motion, manufacturing the honey it takes to help keep the hive running.

According to Rose Kehetian, now completing her sixth year as chairlady of the Ladies Guild, “The 45-member strong Ladies Guild’s main purpose is to serve the Board of Trustees whenever needed.” If this sounds like the Ladies Guild is subordinate to the male-dominated board of trustees, it is not. It is an established fact that Armenian women have always played an important role in supporting the church and every-day Armenian political and cultural life.

The Christmas luncheon was generously underwritten by Ladies Guild member Rosalie Baghdoian in memory of her late husband Antranik Baghdoian, a fine gentleman to be respected for his kind nature, generosity, and business acumen. Antranik Baghdoian was an outstanding human being who strongly supported the St. Sarkis community. Although his passing was many years ago, a feeling of loss remains for both his family and community.

Over 170 people dined on an exceptionally tasty menu of rice and bulgur pilaf, chicken and lulu kebab, green beans geragour, salad, and dessert.

Rev. Fr. Stepanian spoke briefly about the importance of the Ladies Guild’s year-long efforts to strengthen the church with its many projects involving dedication and sacrifice of personal time. As pastor of St. Sarkis, he also serves as president of the Ladies Guild.

The St. Sarkis Ladies Guild is part of the National Association of Ladies Guilds, with member Rose Gerjekian acting as vice-president of the association. The St. Sarkis Guild is one of the oldest and most successful in the Prelacy family.

Kehetian outlined some of the other duties accomplished by the Ladies Guild, including preparing the maas for after-church services, sponsoring two orphans through the Prelacy, preparing the Lenten luncheon, sponsoring the Palm Sunday dinner where members of ten-years service are honored, prepare the April 24th Martyrs Day lamb madagh, and holding weekly bake sessions in preparation for the November bazaar.

This bazaar is hugely successful in part due to the mountains of Armenian pastries the Ladies Guild and community volunteers bake to laden the tables where the products of their toil are on display for sale to the public. The community volunteers are not to be forgotten for the important role they play in donating baked goods.

Long lines snake around the substantial perimeter of the church, with many hoping to take home the katahs, boeregs, kuftas, sarmas, trays of souboeregs, and other Armenian goodies. It is tradition at its finest. Preparing these delicacies is tedious and time-consuming, but mastering the art is gratifying. The immigrant generation, our parents and grandparents, were experts at this baking process, handing down the tradition to those who followed.

Unfortunately, fewer members of the succeeding generations seldom take the time to prepare these intricate recipes, and the baked goods are rare commodities quickly snapped up in their desire to sate their ethnic palate, bringing back the memory of what Mama used to say: “Ger, vor medznas (Eat so you will grow).”

The St. Sarkis Ladies Guild welcomes new members to join them in this fulfilling task of enriching the church. The genocide survivors left us a precious legacy of churches and community centers built with the sweat of their hard-earned dollars to assure the survival of Armenian culture. It was their way of combating what the Turks tried to destroy.

Volunteers are also needed to help at their baking sessions. There is something very gratifying in learning how to use a long, thin dowel to roll open a 36-inch diameter of thin dough and buttering it just as Armenian women had done for generations. Try it. You will enjoy it, and the camaraderie of being part of the noble Ladies Guild group will help continue the tradition.

Der Daron has for the 10th year declared the last Sunday in September as Ladies Guild Sunday, when members sit together in the sanctuary and take communion as a group. Five of them do readings. A Hokehankisd is said for deceased members. On this day they sponsor the after-church coffee hour.

The next time you see a Ladies Guild member, remember to give them a pat on the back and a special “thank you” for their hard work and for carrying on the Armenian tradition.

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Betty Apigian-Kessel

Betty (Serpouhie) Apigian Kessel was born in Pontiac, Mich. Together with her husband, Robert Kessel, she was the proprietor of Woodward Market in Pontiac and has two sons, Bradley and Brant Kessel. She belonged to the St. Sarkis Ladies Guild for 12 years, serving as secretary for many of those years. During the aftermath of the earthquake in Armenia in 1988, the Detroit community selected her to be the English-language secretary and she happily dedicated her efforts to help the earthquake victims. She has a column in the Armenian Weekly entitled “Michigan High Beat.”

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