By Rev. L. Nishan Bakalian, coordinator of church relations of the Union of the Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East
On July 3, 2022, overseas visitors and local church members made their way to the north of Armenia, to the city of Stepanavan, to offer praises to God for his many blessings, particularly for a trio of observances: the dedication of the Armenian Missionary Association of America’s (AMAA) newly constructed building of Ministry Center, the dedication of the renovated Evangelical Church of Armenia (ECA) building, and the service of praise and thanksgiving to God on the 175th anniversary of the Armenian Evangelical Church.
All three events were to have taken place one year ago, upon completion of the construction and reconstruction work, but due to the global pandemic everything was postponed. Nonetheless, AMAA staff and volunteers from the church were on hand and prepared to welcome the busloads of people and guide them to the stairs of the Center. A group of young girls in traditional costumes from the AMAA center’s dance group performed a graceful Armenian dance to open the ceremony. Invoking Psalm 127:1, AMAA president Dr. Nazareth Darakjian offered words of challenge to keep God as the foundation of the Center’s work, while AMAA executive director Zaven Khanjian spoke words of gratitude toward the benefactors who wished to honor the memory of three generations of their forbears, all for the good of today’s Armenia. ECA Senior Pastor Rev. Mgrdich Melkonian offered a prayer of dedication for the work that already began and will continue in this facility. The ribbon was cut, and the dedicatory plaque was unveiled. The Center’s workers began taking visitors to tour the myriad facilities within the building, which serves the needs of Stepanavan’s children in school subjects, the arts, as well as social and psychological needs.
The group had to move across the grounds to the church sanctuary as the worship service was about to begin. The church’s pastor Rev. Hrant Badalyan opened the service with prayer and led the overall service, while the choir and pianist led the congregation in singing the Doxology, “Fairest Lord Jesus” and “The Church’s One Foundation.” Participants included pastors from all of the Armenian Evangelical Unions, beginning with Rev. Joel Mikaelian’s greetings to all in the congregation in the name of the Armenian Evangelical World Council (AEWC).
Dr. Nazareth Darakjian brought a special message to the service, reminding the church that God resides not in manmade structures, but in the hearts of the people who comprise the church. Khanjian exhorted the church to make their aim to develop Christian character in young and old and to bring those virtues to help guide the Armenian nation in the ways of God. Following these words, Rev. Dr. Haroutune Selimian gave a prayer of dedication for the 175th anniversary of the Armenian Evangelical Church and its mission.
Shifting the focus to the dedication of the refurbished church building, Rev. Albert Paytyan, ECA president, presented a historical narrative of the Armenian Evangelical community of Stepanavan, dating from over a century ago, and noting that the Stepanavan church was the first church structure to be built by the AMAA in Armenia. Rev. Dr. Paul Haidostian’s moving prayer of dedication for the church brought each aspect of the worship life of the Armenian Evangelical community of Stepanavan before God, asking for the Holy Spirit to be present at every moment in their corporate and individual lives.
In his sermon, Rev. Badalyan applied the message of “Where Is Christ?” (Rev. 3:20) to the special occasions being celebrated that day, as well as to the individual lives of believers any day. With humor as well as conviction, he spoke of the ways Christians keep Christ from entering into their inner world and exhorted all to be warm-hearted toward the Lord as the key to the vitality of the local as well as worldwide church.
In closing the service with the singing the Lord’s Prayer, the hundreds in attendance expressed their unity in Christ and their love for the Armenian nation. After the service ended, the enthusiastic interaction between worshipers continued, while tours resumed next door. A generous table was spread for visitors to enjoy lunch and fellowship, with singers presenting Armenian songs and bringing hosts and guests alike to their feet in Armenian dancing. After exchanging farewells and promises of meeting again in Armenia, the attendees began their long journey back to Yerevan and onward, with God’s praises in their hearts for these days of blessing.