Delivered at the Annual General Member-ship Meeting of Saint Gregory Church
Your Board of Trustees worked very hard throughout the year to provide guidance and leadership to support the operation of our beloved St. Gregory Church.
The four Pillars which we have focused on in the past remain our priority: Spiritual Growth, Uniting the Community, Church Growth and Financial Stability.
Even though we faced lingering headwinds from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in the early part of the year, we were encouraged to see our church attendance increase and our Sunday and Armenian Schools finally open for in person classes in the fall. Nevertheless, there are still some faithful who have chosen not to return yet. We understand that the past two years have been transformative for all of us in one way or another, but rest assured, St. Gregory wants you to know that no matter what has changed, our church will always be here for you to come home to.
One area we can be thankful for is the renewal of in person fellowship which helped to UNITE THE COMMUNITY. We were all spiritually and socially reunited through the long awaited, in person fellowship with church events including Coffee Hour, the Annual Picnic, the 52nd Anniversary Dinner, Men’s Club Cigar Night, Fall Fair and Thanksgiving Family Night to name a few. These events helped to bring back our sense of church family and community. This coming year is sure to be another exciting and fulfilling year with many events contemplated and planned, including His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, who will make a pontifical visit to the Eastern United States which will include a visit here at our beloved St. Gregory on November 1.
The Church continued its OUTREACH through our parishioner’s charitable giving where food drives were conducted for The Lazarus House in Lawrence, providing help for our neighbors who are less fortunate.
St. Gregory continued the sponsorship of 11 orphans in Armenia through the Prelacy Orphan Program. We are proud of all our church bodies, the Sunday School, Ladies Guild and Men’s Club, for their continued dedication to this important outreach program.
The church also supported the Prelacy’s Lebanon disaster relief program through financial contributions funded by second plate collections and Sunday School donations.
FINANCIAL STABILITY and a balanced budget are always at the forefront of the Board of Trustees concerns. In 2022 we faced rising costs in all phases of our church’s operation and had to make certain decisions to hold very tight to control our spending which ultimately resulted in a slight net positive for the year. However, it should be noted that in 2022 and for the past few years, we had the benefit of several one-time events like the gas explosion reimbursements, PPP loan forgiveness and funeral donations which have provided us with much needed financial relief. We should recognize that this is not a sustainable financial model for which we can plan for in our budget process. The church must work to keep our regular fund-raising events successful while looking for new ways to improve our financial stability.
In addition to the need for regular church events, we must also look inward at how our individual families can financially commit to St. Gregory. This is an area which deserves our attention. I call on each of you to take a heartfelt look of how you give to the church. Be thankful for what God has provided to you and your family and look at how you can give back to His house. It’s our collective responsibility to sustain what we have through the giving of both our financial support and our time.
On the topic of CHURCH GROWTH, this past year did bless us several new members and families for which we are thankful and who we warmly welcome to our church community! This is not a new story, but it bears repeating; increasing membership remains the key to our success. Therefore we urge each of you to communicate to others the benefits and importance of becoming involved at St. Gregory and tell them what makes our spiritual home so special.
In conclusion I would like to thank the many people who have made this year a success:
The deacons, choir members and choir director who dedicate every Sunday to making our Badarak so special.
Our Men’s Club and Ladies Guild members who work tirelessly at church events to make them as successful as possible.
The director and teachers of the Armenian and Sunday schools who bring the Armenian language and Christian education to our children.
The maintenance crew for keeping our grounds beautiful and our facility operational and safe.
My fellow Board of Trustee members who worked very hard throughout the year to keep our church vibrant and alive. A special thanks to outgoing members Sylvia Mahlebjian and Treasurer Susan Parigian who tirelessly worked to keep our finances stable during these unprecedented times.
And of course, many, many thanks to Der Stephan for his spiritual leadership and guidance. May God’s blessings give him and his family much love, happiness, and good health throughout the coming year.
I am happy to serve and proud of our church’s 52 year history, but now more than ever, we ALL need to work together to foster new growth so that we can preserve this spiritual house we call God’s home.
Joe Almasian, Chairman Board of Trustees
Annual General Membership Meeting
March 5, 2023
Delivered at the Annual General Member-ship Meeting of Saint Gregory Church
Reverend Deacons, Esteemed Trustees, Distinguished NRA & NALG Delegates, Beloved Members of St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church,
As always, we begin by praising God Almighty, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for sustaining us through the successes and challenges of the past year.
On behalf of our entire church community, I would like to thank our beloved Prelate, Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian, for his care and guidance throughout the year.
Our Prelate’s fatherly care, as well as the guidance and support of the Religious and Executive Councils of the Prelacy throughout the past three years continue to be much appreciated. One of the highlights of my week continues to be the weekly “Prayer with the People” program that is broadcast through the Prelacy’s Facebook page. In the first part of the year, these sessions were recorded every Monday evening and broadcast twice weekly on Tuesday (Armenian) and Thursday (English). Starting in the Fall, they were reduced to a single language broadcast on Tuesday evenings. Starting this year, the format has changed slightly and is now aimed at praying for the blockaded men and women of the Republic of Artsakh.
Srpazan Hayr visited our community last year on the weekend of October 1-2, when he came to help us celebrate our parish’s 52nd anniversary. Both the Prelate’s visit and the anniversary banquet, along with the Bike-a-thon, were truly one of the highlights of the year. During the Divine Liturgy that he celebrated, he ordained Michael Bulbulian, Cameron Afarian and Andrew Movsessian as acolytes. Srpazan Hayr also presented our church with a portion of the newly prepared Holy Chrism (Muron), which had been blessed in Antelias, Lebanon, by His Holiness Catholicos Aram I on July 1. Following the Divine Liturgy and Ordination services, during the reception that followed in Jaffarian Hall in commemoration of the 52nd Anniversary of St. Gregory Church, our beloved long-time member Armena Bizios was honored with an official citation from the Prelacy, in appreciation of her years of dedication and service to Saint Gregory Church.
I am thankful to our choir, altar staff, Board of Trustees and active parishioners who serve in any capacity in the church and continue to use their time and talent to bless our community.
I would like to publicly thank the Board of Trustees and its executive for all their hard work and devotion throughout this past year, led by our chairman, Joe Almasian. While the previous Board was tasked with handling the aftermath of the pandemic (“Recovery Mode”), the current Board is presented with the difficult task of overseeing a plan of strengthening of our parish (“Growth Mode”) in a post-pandemic setting.
Two of our Trustees have come to the end of their three consecutive terms in office: Sylvia Mahlebjian and Susan Parigian. Both have served faithfully and have brought their unique expertise and skills to the table. On behalf of the Board of Trustees and the entire parish, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Sylvia and Susan for their service on the Board of Trustees for the past six years. May God continue to bless them and their future service to their church and nation.
My thanks also goes out to the following: the Ladies’ Guild, the Men’s Club, their Executives and the Cigar Night Committee the Maintenance/ Groundskeeping Crew, Sunday/Armenian School staff, Deacons/Altar Staff, Church Choir (with director Knarik Nerkararyan) and the (currently disbanded) 50th Anniversary Steering Committee. There continued to be some challenges once again awaiting all these bodies and committees this past year, but I am very appreciative to the dedicated men and women who comprise them, for their leadership, resolve and “can do” attitude in the wake of all the setbacks to our religious, financial, communal and social operations we have endured here at Saint Gregory Church.
With all this in mind, I give thanks to God for those who went above and beyond to help our church and her pastor with time, talent and treasure. Even though we have mostly completed our process of “returning to normal,” I cannot emphasize enough how much you are STILL wanted, STILL needed and STILL appreciated for your faithfulness and dedication to our church and community. The work of stabilizing and growing our church community are just beginning to resume.
At the start of 2022, another flare up of the Covid-19 worldwide pandemic was awaiting us, this time with the milder, but more contagious “Omicron” variant. Fortunately for us, while it did whisk its way through our community members, it died down just as quickly as it started up, leaving us by mid-February cautiously ready to take the step of lifting the masking/social distancing requirements we had reemployed in August 2021 (due to the outbreak of the “Delta” variant). Fortunately, this remains the most recent (and hopefully last) usage of any kind of alterations to our normal operations. While our parishioners (including myself and my family) contracted the virus here and there at different times throughout the year, it seems that the immediate concern of Covid-19 is under control and mostly behind us, meaning that we finally can begin forging ahead with our church and community life in the future.
Thankfully, 2022 saw the return of most, if not all of our regular annual events, with the exception of the Armenian Christmas Avak Luncheon (that was right at the peak of the Omicron variant). We welcomed back the unaltered General Membership Meeting, Poon Paregentan, Lenten Dinners, Holy Week, Sunday/Armenian School commencement/hantes, Men’s Club Cigar Night and Annual Picnic. In the Fall, the “full version” yearly anniversary celebration made its triumphant return, as well as the Prelate’s Bike-a-thon, Annual Dinner-Dance of the Armenian-Friends of America and our Fall Bazaar. Weekly Bible Study resumed from September through December. Avak Luncheon for our seniors returned in December, while Family Nights for our entire community returned in November with the much-loved Thanksgiving Dinner hosted by the Ladies’ Guild. In September, we also entered the first academic year of Sunday School that was not only completely in person, but also was not “scaled back” in any way, which included the first Christmas pageant/party on Sunday, December 18, the most recent Christmas celebration having been in 2019.
The 2022 National Representative Assembly also returned in person in Philadelphia, May 11-14 of this year. Our National Representatives Greg Minasian, John Kulungian and Greg Afarian all represented us there and participated in the re-election of our Prelate, Archbishop Anoushavan for a second four-year term.
Additionally, I travelled away from the community two other times: for the Prelacy’s annual St. Gregory of Datev Institute in Pennsylvania (June 26-July 2) and for the Annual Clergy Conference in Huntington, NY (Oct 3-5).
This past year also saw the pastoral ministry of the church further return to normal, as we worked and prayed together to the best of our abilities. Regular liturgical services were offered for the participation of the faithful both on Sundays and on many other special occasions (including Great Lent, Holy Week and the feasts of the Presentation and Holy Ascension of our Lord).
Much care and effort continue to go into the preparation of weekly sermons and other messages on special occasions. An extended preaching/teaching session on Poon Paregentan (called “Educational Seminar”) was conducted as in past years and was very well received by the participants. All this is done so that we can reach our people with the important message of the Word of God.
In addition to in person services and preaching/teaching, we continued to offer live stream broadcasting of our these and other events over Facebook Live, keeping our parishioners who not attend church engaged in the life of the church and informed about the latest goings on. We also added our weekly Bible study to the list of what is available via live stream.
Weekly communications through our E-newsletter “Aghavn-E Weekly” were sent out by email. Our helpful Sunday bulletin was prepared dutifully every week and also sent out prior to each Sunday service via the above mentioned E-Newsletter. In addition, news stories, pastor’s messages and photo galleries were posted to our website’s news blog. At the beginning of the year, a periodical publication, “Aghavn-E Quarterly,” containing all of the weblog content from the previous year was published and distributed electronically. Along with this, we also included an e-book entitled “From the Pastor’s Lectern: A Collection of the Best Sermons From 2021.”
Also, acting on a directive from the Prelacy, our entire baptismal registry (1970-present) was digitized and updated. Work is in progress on wedding and funeral entries as well. Last year, there was also significant progress made on an updated version of the church’s telephone directory, complete with a new and updated format. This should be ready and distributed to our parishioners in a very short time.
We bid a sad farewell to the following parishioners and friends during 2022:
Sandy (Asoian) Goldman
Rose Marie Pellicio
As for happier occasions, there were two baptisms performed throughout the year. We congratulate the newly baptized and their families.
Participation in Holy Week & Easter were affected slightly by the tail end of the Omicron spike, however those who could attend services, did, while many children of our Sunday School participated in the Services of the Ten Bridesmaids and Washing of the Feet. The breakfast and church clean-up day we had on Great Saturday once again brought us together in the spirit of teamwork and community effort. Another maintenance and beautification day took place on August 20, organized by our Board of Trustees, with the participation of much of our community. A special “thank you” to all who participated in these important events.
Last year also saw the return of our fully in person Annual Picnic, once again under the leadership of Mr. John Arzigian. The 2022 Annual Picnic proved to be our most successful one yet, which brought together friends of church from near and far for a day of joyful celebration. During the picnic, which took place on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, we conducted the Great Procession of the Holy Cross around the church’s premises, with the participation of guest clergy Rev. Fr. Vart Gyozalyan and Very Rev. Fr. Leonard Faris.
Speaking about our church’s financial health, I wrote the following statement in last year’s report: “A financially solvent and healthy church that is crafted by the love and generosity of her parishioners is not an unaffordable luxury – it is a necessity, especially if we want our beloved Saint Gregory Church to continue to play a meaningful and central role in our personal and collective lives.” The past few years we have banded together to make it through the financial and moral challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s time we get serious about making sure that we all are continuously supporting our church financially – to the best of our ability, going forward into the coming years and decades.
Our church needs to be tended to and taken care of. I have often said, and it is worth repeating here again, “The church has to be the responsibility of all its members. If we want the church to be there for us when we need it – for spiritual guidance, for refuge from the world’s turmoils, for comfort and solace when we lose a loved one, for the joyous occasions of weddings and baptisms – we have an obligation to support her at all times, to make sure she will be there.”
On a personal note, I wanted to state how grateful I am to God for all the ways you supported me, Yeretsgin Alice, Nishan, Hovig and Mariam. Your help and generosity never go unnoticed nor unappreciated. Whether it has been sending Christmas gifts and baskets, feeding us at church functions, sending hand-me-down clothes or other types of gifts, or inviting us to share in events that mark big moments in your family life, we continue to be in awe of the grace and love you have shown to us. We are grateful to be considered part of your greater family, as we consider all of you part of ours.
In closing, I would like to leave you all with a very special passage from Paul’s letter to the Colossians. It gives us a beautiful insight as to how we as a church should be governed and in what manner we should serve our Lord as one body.
“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:12-17)
Practice kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Forgive each other, just as the Lord has forgiven you. Clothe yourselves with love. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. Let his word dwell in you richly. Teach it to each other in wisdom. With gratitude in your hearts, sing songs to God. Give thanks to God our Father through Jesus.
If we can live by these precepts, we can become truly one body, the Body of Christ as we have been called to be through our baptism. Our church is not a club, a weekend activity, not a cultural museum or a heritage preservation society. Our church is us, anchored in deep faith in Jesus Christ and hope in his resurrection, practicing love towards each other and the entire world. Let’s build up our church spiritually and thereby strengthen our spiritual lives, for the glory of the all-Holy Trinity and the honor of our Holy Mother Armenian Apostolic Church.
May God bless you all and may he bless Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church of Merrimack Valley.
Fr. Stephan Baljian, Pastor
Annual General Membership Meeting
March 5, 2023
by P. Richard Shahtanian, Esq.
Olga Sarkisian’s life is an incredible story of dedication, faith, and devotion to her church. She lives at the same family house in which she was born and raised. Her home remains closely surrounded by the homes of her loving family.
She started working at the Andover Companies at the age of 18 in their accounting department and remained there for her entire career which spanned 60 years before retiring at the age of 78. Nobody was more committed or worked longer at the company than her.
Olga’s commitment to St. Gregory Church is no different. She’s the perfect example of devotion to her church and to the parishioners it serves. She was one of its founding members and worked tirelessly as a member of the Armenian Church Committee Fund of Merrimack Valley which was organized for the sole purpose of going door to door raising funds and finding an appropriate place for an Armenian church in the Merrimack Valley. Olga recalls the following: “We would meet at Arev Kasparian’s house near the North Andover Library up the street. At first, we were just looking to move the Armenian Club from Newbury Street in Lawrence to another location. We then decided our community really needed a church first and foremost so we purchased our church from the Methodists who turned down far more lucrative offers because they wanted to sell to another religious organization and not a gas station or any other business.”
Since our church doors opened in 1970, she has served as St. Gregory’s bookkeeper. Prior to the purchase of the church, Olga was also the bookkeeper at the Armenian Club in Lawrence which operated as an extension of the ARF and ARS organizations. Everyone just assumed that Olga would take on the same role as bookkeeper after the move was made from the club to the church. She agreed to do so and has never looked back. Her job involves, among other things, keeping track of income and expenses, paying bills, bringing deposits to the bank, as well as working hand in hand with the church’s treasurer.
Although many think of her as our bookkeeper and a numbers person, Olga truly enjoys people and making them feel welcome. In many ways, she also serves as an ambassador for the church. When asked what makes St. Gregory so special and why it has been her spiritual home for over 53 years, she quickly replies: “It’s the people. I consider all the parishioners my extended family. Also, I love to greet and welcome people at our picnics, bazaars or when they walk through our doors on Sunday morning. My family has always been very warm and welcoming and that’s who I am as well.” Simply put, nobody knows more people and keeps track of all our parishioners and friends better than Olga. If you are not well or have been missing from church for a while, you can expect a call from Olga. If there’s a person you do not know or recognize, just ask Olga. If somebody mails in a donation and they haven’t been seen in a while, that person can be sure to receive a handwritten note or telephone call from her. If there’s somebody in a nursing home or an assisted living facility who is connected to our church in some way, that person will get a visit from Olga, always with choreg or another special treat in her hands (“Loyalty” is her middle name).
For many years while working full time and safeguarding the church’s finances, Olga was also taking care of her ailing mother, Satenig, whose losh kebab and other recipes are still used to this day at church events. Like with other things in her life, Olga never wavered and remained steadfast to her church and family. When asked about that difficult time in her life, she answered: “I never really thought about it. You just do it.”
Olga’s strong Christian faith is an inspiration for all of us to follow. Christine Kourkounian, a longtime dedicated parishioner who has held several positions in our church, is Olga’s niece and had this to say: “… if there was ever an angel on earth, it is my aunt ! She is always there for everyone, always so giving of her time… she’s just one of the kindest people I know and not just to us in her family, but to everyone she encounters. She is truly an inspiration for us all to be kind, loving and cheerful even during times when it may be difficult to do so.”
Our parish priest, Rev. Fr. Stephan Baljian, echoed Christine: “Olga has shown herself to be an exemplary parishioner and true Christian, always keeping up with elderly members of the community, visiting the ill and confined and reaching out to new families… she has taken me on countless visits to those in need. I can always rely on her tips that someone has been hospitalized or is otherwise in need of a pastoral visit. For me personally, Olga has been a guiding light since I first arrived in the North Andover community and has been very benevolent toward me and my family.”
Ann and Jim Apovian have known Olga for many years. In fact, Jim used to work at Olga’s family farm in West Andover when he was a teenager. Ann first met Olga when Ann got married and later worked with Olga for several years at the Andover Companies. Olga was Ann’s supervisor. When asked about Olga’s contributions and dedication to the church, Ann couldn’t say enough: “There has been no greater asset to our church than Olga Sarkisian. Whether it’s been keeping our books to the penny, helping with the ladies’ guild or so many other things, Olga never complains… she always works with a smile on her face because she loves the church and its people.” Ann continued: “I’ve never met anyone like her. Her mind is just incredible. You can ask her about something that happened decades ago or just this morning, it doesn’t matter, she knows the answer. She’s just as sharp today as when I first met her. I remember the executives at the Andover Companies coming up to her all the time and asking her questions.”
Today, Olga is looking forward to handing in her calculator and turning over the bookkeeping position to somebody else in the very near future. However, she has no intention of slowing down. For the first time, she will be able to attend Badarak from beginning to end and not have to be in the office on Sundays collecting donations and performing the job that she enjoyed for all those years. Most of all, she will continue doing what she enjoys most, which is making people feel loved and welcomed when they come to St. Gregory.
(Olga’s story is written in loving memory of Tom Vartabedian, who was a dear friend, mentor, and teacher to many in our community.)