Whitinsville Honors Its Retiring (?) Pastor

WHITINSVILLE, Mass.—He was a carpenter, electrician, mechanic, and an astute businessman. He could get the stains out of a deacon’s vestment, replumb a Baptismal font he had designed, and be your best friend and caretaker in time of need.

Rev. Archpriest Aram Stepanian celebrates his last ‘Badarak’ Sunday at Soorp Asdvadzadzin Church in Whitinsville. (Tom Vartabedian photo)
Rev. Archpriest Aram Stepanian celebrates his last ‘Badarak’ Sunday at Soorp Asdvadzadzin Church in Whitinsville. (Tom Vartabedian photo)

But most of all, Rev. Archpriest Aram Stepanian was the beloved pastor of Soorp Asdvadzadzin Church of Whitinsville, where he so dutifully served for the past 16 years.

As he took the podium to deliver his final sermon in retirement, he gazed upon his flock and smiled.

“I don’t know whether it’s Christmas or Easter,” he quipped, admiring the overflow crowd. “Perhaps I should have retired several times before to fill my church.”

At the close of the sermon, Der Aram offered another pearl of wisdom: “We can go a lot further together than to travel the path alone.”

It was a day of reckoning and nostalgia in this small community, led by his Eminence Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, who once delivered Badarak here regularly when the parish was without a pastor.

Along came Der Aram and turned this once dormant church into a burgeoning community with the help of his devoted Yeretskin Margaret. They’ll be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in conjunction with his retirement.

But there seems to be no rest for the weary in this case.

As gifts were being bestowed upon the 77-year-old cleric and words of admiration filled the Pleasant Valley Country Club during the dinner that followed, Srpazan Oshagan had one of his own to give Der Aram, his cousin.

“I don’t know why he was given a watch,” the Prelate smiled. “He’s very known for his punctuality. But I, too, have a gift to present.” And with that, he took his faithful colleague out of retirement and presented him with St. Stephen’s Church in New Britain, Conn.—to be its interim pastor, until a replacement can be found.

It was simply a changing of the guard here. The new Whitinsville pastor is recently ordained Rev. Fr. Mikael DerKosrofian, a home-grown boy who started here as a deacon.

“The impact he’s had on me during my transition was extremely beneficial,” said Der Mikael. “He may be retiring but will always be embraced here. Both he and Margaret have been the embodiment of church and community.”

One only has to attend a picnic here to see the hordes gather in spirit and conviviality. A half-mile walk from your car to the grounds is typical fare.

At an age when most Americans were looking forward to a Social Security check, Der Aram was being called to serve as pastor—a determined call that was constantly reiterated by Srpazan. Since then, he’s been a “guiding light” that never dimmed.

“Yes, there was talk of closing our doors [then] and selling the church,” Der Mikael revealed. “But God had other plans. Many felt that since this was a small community, it was a dying community without a future. Der Aram had an army before him that was willing to make the crucial sacrifices needed to move forward. The pulse was weak but the heartbeat remained strong.”

One can point to Der Aram’s spiritual work locally. Looking beyond his church, there has been the mission work he and Margaret have perpetuated over the years in Armenia and other parts of the globe. The orphan children he’s adopted under his wing and the elderly indigent he’s fed provided his own sustenance.

Of all the gifts received this afternoon, nothing was more special than looking out onto the dance floor and watching his six-year-old granddaughter Gracie twirl up a storm with the Siroonig Dancers, under the direction of Kristi Markarian. The youngster never stopped dancing.

Another tender moment came when Ara Stepanian took the microphone and lauded his parents for all the support they have rendered through the years. Just recently, he was ordained a deacon in the church where his father will now be interim pastor.

A welcoming address was offered by Peter Bedrosian, chairman of the board of trustees, followed by remarks from Jeffrey Kalousdian, master of ceremonies, trustee Peter Bedigian, and Priscilla Altoonian, vice-chairwoman of the Ladies’ Guild.

“They laughed with us, cried with us, ate with us, led us in worship, sat on our decks, played with our kids, and earned a lasting place in our hearts,” said one parishioner. “His sermons were broadcast on local community television and remained etched in our minds. Never short of words, Der Aram was like a ‘Sermonator’ with all due respect to Arnold Schwarzenegger and his ‘Terminator’ film.”

A delightful musical interlude was offered by singers Marina Merian and Sonya Merian, accompanied by Nancy Moscofian.

The program ended with the singing of “Giligia.”

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
Tom Vartabedian

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1 Comment

  1. Der Aram was my first Sunday School teacher who focused on teaching the words of Christ and Christianity. Many years later my family had the privilege to join Der Aram and Yeretskin Margaret and go to Armenia to work on building a house for a family there. While in Armenia we saw first hand how they, at a grass roots level, are dedicated to spread the word of Christianity while helping the people of our ancestral homeland. It was a life changing, memorable experience for our family. While many ‘talk the talk’ Der Aram and Yeretskin Margaret absolutely ‘walk the walk’.

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