Assembly Delegates focus on many issues

Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern)
630 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10016
Contact: Jake Goshert, Coordinator of Information Services
Tel: (212) 686-0710 Ext. 60; Fax: (212) 779-3558
E-mail: [email protected]

May 11, 2006


By Jake Goshert

The 140 delegates at the 2006 Diocesan Assembly, hosted by the St. Leon
Church of Fair Lawn, NJ, tackled a number of business items during the
three-day gathering, which ran from May 4 to 6. The business of the
Assembly included reports from the Diocesan Council and various affiliated


Michael Haratunian, a member of the Legate Committee, told the delegates
that it was important to note that Bishop Vicken Aykazian, legate, was
elected president-elect of the National Council of Churches (NCC). He was
recently elected to the executive committee of the World Council of

“To show the breadth and depth of the activities,” he outlined the
activities of the Legate’s Office this year, which included a high profile
Episcopalian trip to Armenia with the Presiding Bishop, activities with
Habitat for Humanity, and efforts to build a larger ecumenical organization
in the United States, “Christian Churches Together.”

Bishop Aykazian welcomed leaders from Habitat for Humanity, including Dr.
Rev. Ken Bensen, president of Habitat for Humanity in Michigan. Bishop
Aykzaian and Rev. Bensen recently returned from Armenia where they met with
the Catholicos to discuss the new His Holiness Karekin II Work Project,
which will be an annual drive to build homes in Armenia for needy families.
The first one will be this fall.

So far Habitat has helped build homes for 1,000 Armenians. The Habitat
representatives told the Delegates that 500,000 people could use better

“He sees the opportunity to help the people in Armenia who have been living
in these trailer trucks,” Rev. Bensen said of the Catholicos. “We have come
here today to ask for your help, this is going to be an annual event.”

He told delegates that if they cannot make it to Armenia to work on a
construction project, they should try to raise the $7,000 it costs to build
a house in Armenia. “You can make a difference for a family’s entire
lifetime if your churches can put up $7,000,” he said. He also encouraged
the delegates to go to Armenia and work on a build.


In the report of the Ararat Center, the Diocesan-owned conference center
facility in upstate New York State, leadership stressed the on-going success
of the facility.

Karnig Durgarian, treasurer of the Ararat Center board, spoke about the
revenues and income of the Center. In 2005, the Center saw income grow to
$167,000. Losses have also dropped off drastically, with the Ararat Center
projected to basically break even in 2006.

In the spring of 2007 the Ararat Center plans to begin construction of a
pavilion to greatly expand its usability. The board also praised the recent
donation of $30,000 from the Guleserian family’s Sheraton Commander Hotel in
Cambridge, MA.

“These rooms are really very, very nice. They’re Sheraton level and it
gives us a much wider opportunity to use these facilities for different
folks,” Durgarian said.

Board members highlighted the fact that each building on the property is
named not after donors, but after regions in historic Armenia. The names
were done geographically, overlaying a map of historic Armenia with the
aerial view of the center.

“We have set in motion a plan that incorporates elements of Armenia in every
corner,” said Yn. Paulette Doudoukjian, a board member, noting that when the
Primate blessed the grounds he used soil from Armenia.

The Ararat Center will also host a Father and Son retreat in June, details
are available at


Following the Ararat Center, delegates heard a report from the Fund for
Armenian Relief (FAR), the Diocesan-affiliated international aid
organization. Since it was created 17 years ago, FAR has managed $265
million in humanitarian assistance and helped millions of people through 221

The programs operated by FAR have covered a wide area of need, from
agricultural programs to career developing, supporting children at-risk and

“We will always continue to provide assistance to those who need it in
Armenia. But what if we can start to think about creating programs that
transcend what we are doing now, programs where we think about life stage
continuity, where we build relationships with families from neonatal
programs until they become seniors,” said FAR’s Chairman Randy Sapah-Gulian.

“Our programs have to teach the people of Armenia how to fish,” he added,
using the saying that if you give a man a fish he eats for a day but if you
teach him to fish he will eat for a lifetime. To achieve this goal, FAR has
developed a formula to prioritize programs to achieve meaningful,
coordinated benefits.

FAR is funded through loyal, committed individual donors throughout the U.S.
and the Armenian Diaspora. It has also earned grants from the U.S.
government to implement major infrastructural projects in Armenia and
Karabagh. FAR uses almost 90% of its income for programs, rather than
administrative fees, a high percentage in the world of non-profit

Delegates were then introduced to some of the beneficiaries of donor
support, the faces of ordinary citizens in Armenia, Karabagh and Javakhk
whose lives have improved through FAR’s programs. Details of those programs
can be found at


Another report presented to delegates on Thursday came from the Armenian
Church Endowment Fund (ACEF). Individuals and parishes can put money into
ACEF, which is then invested with the help of professional advisors, to
benefit any non-profit organization affiliated with the church. Each year,
ACEF distributes funds from the income earned by the investments to the
beneficiaries, allowing organizations to receive a steady annual income.

ACEF recently became a separately incorporated entity.

“The function of ACEF is that of a money manager, that is here to invest
money the Diocese, individual parishes, and donors have invested through
it,” said ACEF Chairman Mark Gabrellian. “The role of an endowment is to
help provide long-term financial health for the beneficiaries of the funds
we are managing.”

Endowments can be designated to specific organizations, and also to specific
activities, such as choir training or renovations. ACEF maintains a diverse
portfolio in order to survive the ups and downs of the market. Because of
its size (more than 1,000 funds with a value of $75 million) and
professional advisors, ACEF is also able to get access to money managers and
investments that are closed to individual parish investments or others.

“For donors the interesting aspect of an endowment is they have the ability
to create a fund that will last in perpetuity and to designate a specific
purpose for which the income from that fund can be used,” Gabrellian added,
speaking of the importance of parishes tying the raising of ACEF endowment
funds into their stewardship drives.

Each year beneficiaries receive 4.5% of realized gains, over a trailing
12-quarter period. ACEF is hoping to grow investments to allow distribution
in lean years, grow distributions when returns allow, and grow the
endowments to keep up with inflation. This year ACEF will distribute $3.25
million to its beneficiaries.

“We have provided a steady, predicable, stream of income you can count on,”
said ACEF Treasurer Greg Zorthian said. “ACEF presents a real opportunity if
you’re looking to get more professional management of your funds and it
provides an opportunity to relieve yourself of a headache if you’re doing
that type of things yourself.”


Delegates also heard from Fr. Daniel Findikyan, dean of St. Nersess
Seminary, which this year has its largest freshman class: six new students.
There are now 11 seminarians, eight full-time. In two weeks, one seminarian
will graduate, and another is scheduled to graduate in December.

“Most of them are the direct fruit of St. Nersess Summer Conferences. Our
youth programs are now achieving their most important purpose, leading young
Armenian Americans to a sense of belonging through the doors of the Armenian
Church,” he said.

Answering calls for increased accessibility of the St. Nersess programs, Fr.
Findikyan said the Seminary is exploring the possibility of setting up
distance learning programs to deliver its educational programs into the
entire Diocese.

To improve the education of the seminarians, Fr. Findikyan said there will
soon be an effort to provide increased education of inter-personal skills
along with theological studies.

“To train our students to be good pastors, we need to hone what might be
called pastoral arts,” he said, noting interpersonal communications and
counseling as well as preaching as such skills.

After discussing the seminary’s youth programs, youth director Fr. Stepanos
Doudoukjian said even with all the programs offered by St. Nersess, it was
the parishioners who build future clergy.

“We are all responsible for the cultivation of clergy and other leaders in
our church. Never underestimate the power you possess for helping us
recruit the future clergy of our Diocese,” he said.

Planned expansion of St. Nersess was delayed this year by excessive costs
and stringent zoning requirements. A committee formed by the board studied
the situation and decided relocation of the seminary was the only solution.

“The board of St. Nersess is well aware of the seriousness of the proposal
being made, and due diligence will be made as we move forward,” said board
member Dr. Raffy Hovanessian.

“We are in the midst of a critical review of every aspect of the seminary’s
actions and our goal is to decide what we need St. Nersess to become and to
spell out the actions we need to make to achieve that goal,” Fr. Findikyan


Delegates also heard reports from the Diocesan Council and staff in a
presentation headed by Oscar Tatosian, vice chairman of the Council. The
presentations focused on the successes of the past year, as well as a look
at future plans.

“We’re looking to a trend toward an integrated, whole-parish approach to
Christian education,” said Elise Antreassian, coordinator of Christian
education for the Diocese. “We also want to have a hands-on, one-by-one
focus on improving our schools, with a focus on our mission parishes.”

“As far as our web-based programs, we’re working on a modular web-based
approach to language and culture appreciation,” said Gilda
Buchakjian-Kupelian, coordinator of Armenian studies. “We are rethinking
our teaching approach so it is more student-centered, and we’d like to teach
the foundational basics to equip our students without compromising the
integrity of the language.”

“We need to show our students that we are there, or we will lose them or not
reach them when they go to college,” said Jason Demerjian, the Diocese’s
college ministry facilitator. “For me, it is a time where I’m going to move
on and continue with my long-time goal to prepare for priesthood and will
soon be transitioning out of my work with college ministry, but it will
continue strong.”

After starting in her position last year, Jennifer Morris, coordinator of
youth outreach, asked parishes to help her by providing contact information
for youth workers and youth themselves.

“This continues to be an area I request your support in, so we can continue
to reach out to our ACYOA Jrs.,” she said, detailing the monthly HYE-mail
e-newsletter for young Armenians. She also urged the delegates to promote
the Diocesan summer camps to their young parishioners. “The ACYOA and summer
camp programs continue to be the main vehicle in which the Diocese reaches
out to our youth with ministry, by creating and implementing Christ-centered

“I am working very hard with the Central Council of the Choir Association.
We have two big programs that are a good investment in our future,” said
Khoren Mekanejian, coordinator of music ministry at the Diocese. “The first
is our junior choirs, working to have them in every parish. The second is
the junior choir leadership program. The choir’s average age is up, and we
need young people. Today, with these programs, 500 young people can sing
the badarak.”

He added that young singers were to perform at the Divine Liturgy on Sunday
at the host parish of St. Leon Church in Fair Lawn, NJ.

“We must bring our support of mission parishes to the next level. Not only
providing clergymen, but building leaders for all aspect of parish life,”
said Fr. Untzag Nalbandian, director of the mission parish program, as he
spoke about efforts to conduct a survey of mission parishes and to create an
action plan to strengthen them. “I am happy to inform you that only
recently two of our parishes – St. Sahag of St. Paul, MN, and St. Sarkis in
Charlotte, NC – became full parishes and their delegates are sitting here at
their first Assembly. And St. Garabed in Baton Rouge, LA, will be
consecrated this month by the Primate.”

“We would encourage you to donate any books or periodicals you have
concerning Armenia,” said Aram Arkun, coordinator of the Zohrab Information
Center. “It’s a great responsibility you have as leaders of the Armenian
Church. And part of that responsibility is preserving and promoting our
heritage, and we at the Zohrab Center are ready to work with you.”


Under a series of photos of young Armenians, ACYOA Central Council Chair
Maria Derderian spoke in Armenian, then English, about the importance of a
strong ACYOA. She noted that this year marks the 60th anniversary of ACYOA.

“Rather than speak about our accomplishments, I’d like to talk to you about
what ACYOA needs,” she said, noting the strong commitment to ACYOA from the
Primate and Diocesan Council. “The ACYOA is at an important crossroads we
are doing well on so many levels, but an important part of the puzzle is
missing. We must now focus on the parish level. The Central Council has
tried to ensure every parish has the tools needed to have active ACYOA
groups. Yet somehow we have not been able to make the ACYOA part of the
life of every parish.”

“The matter at hand is not one of general assembly delegates or ACYOA
budget, for those are by-products of the ACYOA and the Armenian Church as a
whole. The ACYOA needs your witness. It needs you to share you feeling of
God’s love to those in your life. It is God’s will for us to be active
members in the body of Christ, we must do everything in our power to allow
that will to be done,” she added, acknowledging that it is a difficult task
for some.

“But it is a simple task, and it is what we need. The parishes with active
ACYOA groups are not a result of funding, but are a result of personal
relationships. Show your youth you need them right now, because they are as
essential to the life of the church today as they ever will be. Our youth
need Christ, and our youth need you to show them who Christ is.”

She asked delegates to make a list of young people in their parishes, to
provide updated contact information for the ACYOA mailing list, and to
nominate someone for one of the ACYOA leadership awards. She also encouraged
the delegates to attend the ACYOA General Assembly and Sports Weekend to
provide examples of successful Christian Armenians.

“We must own our faith and teach it to our youth so they can own it
themselves. People take care of what they own,” she added. “This must be
happening daily, from each one of us, between all of our faithful in our
churches. This is the only way to make a lasting impact.”


Through the Saintly Women’s Day celebration, the Women’s Guild Central
Council provided $10,000 to the Diocese to buy vestments for clergy, said
WGCC Chairman Lucy Murad, who also spoke about the guild’s School Bag
program and its Children of Armenian Sponsorship Program, which provides
financial assistance to children in Armenia.

“Being a member of the guild means being a part of a group of women that
have a shared interest and follow the teachings of Jesus Christ,” she said.
“All the projects sponsored by the WGCC were developed with a passionate
open heart.”


Arpie Kouzouian, chairman of the choir association, spoke about the several
recent accomplishments of the AACCA, such as the junior choir badarak book
and its junior choir leadership development program, which trains future
choir directors.

“If our worship services are to continue in the manner we’re accustomed to,
such training is necessary,” she said of the two-year-old program, before
introducing a video detailing the program and its students. “They have made
a decision to serve the Armenian Church by using their talents to strengthen
worship in the Armenian Church.”

“If you share in our mission and believe in the value of our mission, I
encourage you to support our efforts this year,” she said, detailing the
upcoming trip of the young musicians to Armenia this summer.


At the request of last year’s Assembly, the Diocese began a sociological
study of Armenians in the eastern United States. The Diocesan Council hired
sociologist Dr. Sara Terian to conduct the study, and she spoke to the
delegates about the initial findings of her qualitative study.

She focused her qualitative study on three general research questions: What
do people think about the church? Is there a disconnect between what people
expect and the church provides? And what could the church do to appeal to
more Armenians?

Delegates asked many questions in an extensive dialogue with Dr. Terian.
The final report will be drafted by September. Regional focus groups will
then be held to study the results. The final report with additional notes
will be turned into concrete implementation recommendations by February


During the Assembly, Delegates approved a 2007 Diocesan budget. In looking
at the proposed 2007 budget, Diocesan Council Treasurer James Kalustian
discussed the proposed rapid growth.

“It is an investment budget,” Kalustian said. “We would like to move the
Diocese to be investing even more in the future of our children.”

The Council’s budget for 2007 would see five new programs and ministries
positions based in each of the five regions of the Diocese, to work directly
with parishes on ministry efforts and youth outreach.

The budget also includes the creation of a three-person development office.
One staffer would be devoted to annual giving through the Archbishop’s
Annual Appeal, one to major donors, and a third person to planned giving and
endowments, which would be underwritten by support from the Armenian Church
Endowment Fund (ACEF).

“We feel we can generate substantial growth in the Archbishop’s Annual
Appeal and bring in major gifts from our major donors,” Kalustian said. “We
could continue with small incremental growth. But, if we really want to
drive the growth in investment in our youth programs, we need to take the
next step.”

Further details of the Diocesan Assembly sessions can be found on the
Diocese’s web-log:

— 5/11/06

E-mail photos available on request. Photos also viewable in the News and
Events section of the Eastern Diocese’s website,

PHOTO CAPTION (1): Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate, talks with Rev.
Ken Bensen, president of Habitat for Humanity-Michigan, during the 2006
Diocesan Assembly, hosted by the St. Leon Church of Fair Lawn, NJ.

PHOTO CAPTION (2): Fr. Garabed Kochakian, pastor of the St. John Church of
Southfield, MI, speaks to the delegates of the 104th Diocesan Assembly at
the Woodcliff Lake, NJ, Hilton.

PHOTO CAPTION (3): Dr. Sara Terian speaks about the sociological survey
commissioned by the Diocese. Behind her are the chair and vice chair of the
Assembly, Dr. Garo Garibian, right, and Michael Yapchaian.

PHOTO CAPTION (4): Dn. Nubar Kasaryan, from the St. Leon Church of Fair
Lawn, NJ, reads a portion of a worship service during the Diocesan Assembly,
May 4 through 6, 2006.