Eastern Prelacy Embraces “Year of Renewal” with Assignment of Youth Ministry Coordinator
By Sossi Essajanian
NEW YORK, NY—In his yearly message, Catholicos Aram I announced 2017 as the Year of Renewal, highlighting renewal as one of the goals of the Bible and a foundational idea in the church’s mission. He also poses both a Christian and national view on the topic, turning to the youth as key players in this renewal. The Catholicos notes, “The standard-bearers of this very important task of renewal must be the Armenian youth, because they are intimately knowledgeable of the current conditions, concerns, and challenges of the world. And, therefore, they feel the actual need for renewal and they can also bring important help to the collective effort of renewal with their expertise and new ideas.” The Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church recently focused their efforts on these words, creating new structures and platforms through which the youth can engage. At the 2016 National Representative Assembly delegates passed a resolution initiating the creation of a new Youth Ministry Coordinator. Aimed at engaging youth to be active parish members, the new coordinator will be working toward establishing youth ministers within each parish and coordinating with other church and community leaders to address the needs of the youth. Efforts will be aimed toward maximizing opportunities so that the ministry grows in participants, Armenian Apostolic Church faith, and spiritual leadership within each parish. With the task and parameters set, the Prelacy began a search for a candidate to fulfill this mission. They found the motivation and qualities needed in Annie Ovanessian. In a recent interview, she shared what excites her about the position. “As Armenian Christians we all have been blessed with having a legacy of faith and perseverance from which we continue to benefit,” she says. For Ovanessian, those who served faithfully in the church are living examples of being Christian and particularly Armenian Christians. From these foundations, she says, “I am excited to lay the next stones down to help honor the efforts of all those that came before me and hopefully help ensure that by doing so the legacy not only lasts but thrives in the generations to come.” Her new role will allow her the opportunity to do just that by working with others to plan and carry out ministry by, with, and for the youth in programs that include worship, study, fellowship, service and retreats. Archbishop Oshagan, the Prelate, warmly welcomed the new initiative and Ovanessian who will lead the effort to establish youth ministers in Prelacy parishes. “We envision this to be, at the least, a four-year plan to serve Christian education for the youth,” the Prelate says and then adds, “When we say ‘youth’ it is not necessarily just a matter of age. It could include anyone who does not know about Christianity and the faith and history of the Armenian Church.” Ovanessian’s inspiration for working as a youth minister comes from her personal faith journey as a young middle school student growing up in New Jersey. She notes that it was in her Sts. Vartanantz Sunday School class where she explored what faith meant to her personally. Her teachers, she notes, “…helped guide me to want to learn more about the Armenian Apostolic Church and how I could take ownership of the faith it professed.” Thus, the church and community played a vital role in her life growing up and being a young adult, says Ovanessian. She later went on to teach Sunday School to middle and high school students. Her passion took her all the way to graduating from the Nareg Saturday School, Siamanto Academy, and St. Gregory of Datev Summer Institute and later becoming an advisory board member of the Armenian Religious Education Council (AREC). As an engaged youth herself, Ovanessian hopes to inspire youth ministers to “…model what it means to be followers of Christ in the context of our faith expression.” It is her hope that youth ministers will encourage youth to engage with their faith, church, and community. Engaged youth bring renewed energy and inspiration to the life of the church. Ovanessian sees engaged youth as contributing willingly and whole-headedly. She notes, “Youth within our church will participate and collaborate most effectively when we provide opportunities for them to explore how the church, its doctrine and teachings pertain to their daily lives; that our faith is a way of life not just something we do once a week.” Youth ministers, Ovanessian says, are in a prime position to inspire others. Her hope for youth ministers revolves the satisfaction of “…empowering adolescents in our churches to grow in the knowledge of what it means to be followers of Christ through the expression of the Armenian Apostolic Church tradition.” Youth ministers, says Ovanessian, bring a special kind of service, one in which they can “…help shape lives and the further success of our churches.” These are some of the qualities of youth that Ovanessian says inspires her to work with them as youth ministers. For her, the youth contribute a unique outlook, one characterized by “energy, drive and unencumbered perspective….” Through mentoring and guidance, Ovanessian notes, one can inspire innovative thinking in the youth. Her work with the youth will also connect to other Prelacy departments. Specifically, Ovanessian is enthusiastic to work with the director of AREC, Deacon Shant Kazanjian, and collaborate to support initiatives. This will also give her the opportunity to understand the early religious development of children, as the target group for the youth ministry will be middle and high school students. Ovanessian hopes that as the program grows, “… we may want to expand the ministry to include college age young adults as well.” Her background in sociology primed her for this role in understanding social structures. She notes that for her, “Sociology provided the language and explanations for so many of the informal observations I had made as a young adult in regards to culture and why certain peoples do what they do.” Her later work in sales and customer service for Fortune 500 and direct sales companies also provided platforms and models for communication that Ovanessian can utilize in her new role. As Ovanessian embraces her new role in the Prelacy, she strives to provide to her three children the kind of family and community experience she had. She and her husband Simon make space in their “on the move” lives to take the children to Nareg Saturday Armenian School in New Jersey. On Sundays, her husband serves as a deacon while she co-teaches the 9th and 10th grade Sunday School class. The Ovanessian children attend Sunday School, serve on the altar, and participate in junior choir and other youth-related activities at their parish, St. Gregory the Enlightener Church in White Plains, New York. The fact that they live in Brookfield, Connecticut, does not stop the Ovanessians from making sure they and their children have the opportunity to foster a strong relation with their faith and the Armenian Church. As the Year of Renewal continues, Ovanessian feels prepared to begin building bridges between the concerns, hopes, and needs of the youth and the congregation and community. She will work to help the youth explore an understanding of God’s call for all Armenian Apostolic Christians while empowering them to be active members of their church and community. This will prepare the youth to answer Catholicos Aram’s call for them to be leaders of this renewal.