WATERTOWN, Mass.—Armenian Memorial Church marked the end of an era on Sunday morning as congregants and members of the community witnessed their beloved minister of almost 19 years lead his final worship service.
“May God bless you and keep you,” proclaimed Rev. Dr. Avedis Boynerian in Armenian following a singing of the “Hayr Mer” and a Liturgy of Farewell and Release. “May God shine his blessings upon you and bring you peace.”
And with that final prayer, Reverend Boynerian made his way down from the pulpit of Armenian Memorial Church for the last time. He looked to his proud sons Antranig and Arek in the first pew and his tearful wife Dr. Arpi Boynerian, who followed her husband to the entrance of the church where they would await a lineup of parishioners and well-wishers, eager to embrace and shake hands with their longtime community leaders.
“Let’s see where God will lead us,” said Reverend Boynerian during an interview with the Weekly in an empty sanctuary weeks ahead of this bittersweet ending. “It is only fair for the church, and it is only fair for us to hear a new voice, and as for me, seed a new congregation.”
While Reverend Boynerian remains undecided about his new field of ministry following his resignation from Armenian Memorial Church, he says this decision was not taken lightly. He and his family are prayerfully and patiently planning their next steps and awaiting God’s new purpose for their lives. During this time, they will be visiting family in Dubai and celebrating the once-postponed 175th anniversary of the Armenian Evangelical Church in Armenia. Reverend Boynerian says he is also exploring opportunities to preach in Armenian Evangelical communities in Beirut, Lebanon.
“Ministry is a calling,” said Reverend Boynerian. “We try to discern God’s calling, God’s voice through the Scriptures, through prayer, through colleagues, through friends and family.”
Reverend Boynerian, who is 64 years old, was born in Aleppo, Syria and moved with his family to Beirut, Lebanon in 1966. A talented soccer player, Reverend Boynerian recalls racing from the pitch to the pew on Sunday mornings to hear the pastor’s message before heading home. When civil war broke out, Reverend Boynerian said he experienced a spiritual awakening during the shellings in October 1978. “I said to God, ‘If I come out of this mess alive, I will do two things: I will commit my life to Jesus, and I will become a minister.’” He said his mother Azniv, a devout Christian and loving mother of eight children who indeed lived up to her gentle and noble name, was the first person to understand her son’s earnest desires to live a life of service to God.
After graduating Beirut’s Near East School of Theology (1986) and Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey (1987), Reverend Boynerian returned to his home country of Syria where he became a notable figure in the Armenian Protestant community, pastoring the Armenian Evangelical Martyrs’ Church in Aleppo for 16 years. As newlyweds, he and his wife Arpi shared a love for the youth and spent quality time with young members and growing families within the Syrian Armenian community, organizing excursions and Christian camps, hosting dinners and soccer games, as well as leading a couples ministry.
In 2003, the Boynerians, now a young family of four, took heed of God’s call and moved to the United States to shepherd the faithful of Watertown’s Armenian Memorial Church, incorporated in 1915 by a small group of Armenian Protestants from Marash.
“We left our family, and that was a sacrifice, and then we found another family here in this church,” recalled Reverend Boynerian. “We always felt they loved us from day one, and we loved them too.”
A soft-spoken, reserved and compassionate man of faith, Reverend Boynerian has always been a phone call away, offering his time and wisdom in nurturing prayerful relationships with members of this small and loving church. Faithfully serving by his side for almost 35 years has been his loving wife and his spirited counterpart Digin Arpi—the backbone of Reverend Boynerian’s ministry—whose steadfast faith and limitless and uplifting words of encouragement have always reminded congregants and community members alike about the goodness, the power and presence of God.
Together, they helped propel the church’s spiritually robust offerings, while continuously mentoring the youth and married couples, just as they did in Aleppo. “I feel it is the church’s responsibility to keep an eye on these families as they go along. Marriage is a commitment, and it is the church’s responsibility to help and teach couples to stand firm on their commitment,” explained Dr. Arpi Boynerian. “The love of Christ always brings people together.”
One of the many defining qualities of Armenian Memorial Church is the generations of families that have kept its legacy alive and supported the church wholeheartedly. Maral Orchanian and her family have been longtime members and dear friends of the Boynerians since their days in Aleppo. She was overjoyed when the young family moved from Syria to the United States 19 years ago. “Our children grew up together, and we grew closer over the years,” shared an emotional Orchanian in her comments to the Weekly. Digin Arpi’s fellowship ministry with the women in the church left a lasting impression on Orchanian. “Arpi led by example to show us what it means to have God’s love in our lives. And Badveli Boynerian kept the Armenian language alive in our church. He is a man of integrity and faith—a testament to our church, our people and our families.”
A transition plan is in place for Armenian Memorial Church. In July, its congregants will travel to neighboring Belmont, Massachusetts for Sunday services at their sister church First Armenian Church, where New Jersey’s Rev. Dikran Youmshakian has been serving as a visiting pastor since August 2019. “You served boldly and joyfully within many different ministries through your church, as well as in collaboration with us, to bring [the] glory and light of the Lord into the hearts of many,” read a social media statement from First Armenian Church, “You will be deeply missed.”
Then beginning in August, the United Church of Christ and the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America arranged for guest preachers and worship team lay leaders to deliver Sunday sermons at Armenian Memorial Church until the end of the year. A search committee has also been tasked to secure a permanent replacement in Watertown.
“We loved our church. I loved them dearly. I loved them faithfully. I served them wholeheartedly,” expressed Dr. Arpi Boynerian. “But we know that as the Lord calls us to come, He calls us to leave.”
Reverend Boynerian says that while this transition may present its challenges, he believes he is leaving the church in capable hands. “The ministry is done by the members,” he explained. “Because the church is congregational, they already have the training. They have the experience. They have the zeal. I am confident that they will do their best to carry on.”
In helping close a significant chapter of his life on Sunday morning, Reverend Boynerian invited his congregants to share in the singing of his favorite hymn “Great is Thy faithfulness.” “Morning by morning, new mercies I see,” they sang. “All I have needed, thy hand hath provided. Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”