Annual Report of Rev. Fr. Stephan Baljian, Delivered to the General Membership Meeting of Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church of Merrimack Valley, March 11, 2018
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 All-holy Trinity for sustaining us through the successes and challenges of the past year.
I would also like to, on behalf of our entire church community, thank our beloved Prelate, Archbishop Oshagan for his fatherly care and guidance throughout the year. Last year, Srpazan Hayr visited us during a very busy time of year, on May 21, to celebrate our church’s 47th Anniversary and dedicate the new Vartabedian Memorial Library. Srpazan also presided over our year end activities for our Sunday/Armenian School. We also extend our appreciation to His Grace Bishop Anoushavan Tanielian for his fatherly guidance throughout the year as well as to the Religious and Executive Councils of the Prelacy, offering our gratitude for all the ways they assisted us as well.
I would also like to publicly thank the Board of Trustees and its executive for all their hard work and devotion throughout this past year, and especially Chairman Greg Afarian, who carries out his responsibilities with great faith and devotion to God.
My thanks also goes out to the following: the Ladies’ Guild, the Men’s Club, the Maintenance/ Groundskeeping Crew, Building Committee, Sunday/Armenian School staff, Deacons/Altar Staff, Church Choir, with director Knarik Nerkararyan and organist Anthony Alexander, and in general ALL who have gone out of their way to help our church and its pastor with time, talent and treasure in the last year.
Once again, throughout the year 2017, the hand of the Lord was upon us as we went about our pastoral mission to the Armenians of the Merrimack Valley. 2017 saw the dedication of a new library, the vision of our late beloved parishioner, Tom Vartabedian. We also continued with our plan to reconstruct the steeple for the front of the church, which has now moved to the final stages before construction begins. We received an additional generous donation (on top of the one we had received in 2016) to our Endowment Fund from the estate of Elizabeth Koorkanian. In total, the Koorkanian Estate donation enriched our Endowment Fund by more than $109,000, something for which we are exceedingly grateful.
By the grace of God, the pastoral ministry of the Church, in its liturgical, social, educational, humanitarian and administrative aspects was carried out by me and by you, working and praying 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 and Holy Week). This year, we welcomed Anthony Alexander to our church family as our paid organist. Thus far, Anthony has proven to be a gifted musician, mature beyond his years and sensitive to the needs of our community. He has been and will continue to be a blessing to our community.
This year, I also experimented several times with broadcasting many weekday festal services (morning or evening) over Facebook Live, to very good reception. This year we were honored to offer six baptisms and two weddings, as well as humbled to offer funeral prayers six of our dearly departed parishioners. Prayer and the sacraments are the main pastoral function of the Christian Church and form the cornerstone of any pastoral ministry. I would also like to mention that despite an overall trend in declining attendance at church services (in many churches of many denominations), I was pleased to see that our attendance on Sundays, for Lenten services, Holy Week and special feast day services remained steady if not encouraging. I was particularly pleased with the resurgence of attendance at Sunday School and especially this past Christmas Eve and Christmas, with the robust participation of our Sunday School students and their families. Even the summer months, which are notoriously abysmal in terms of attendance, saw a steady number of attendees and only dipped to alarming levels once or twice over those four months.
We made every effort to reach out to those who were in need during the year, because of sickness, bereavement or spiritual needs, doing so through home, office and hospital visitations, telephone calls, emails and interactions at social events. We also attempted to keep in contact in general with all our parishioners on a regular basis to let them know that the church is their home and that there is always a welcoming place for them to live out their Christian faith in the reality of the sacramental life of God’s Kingdom.
Despite being a relatively small parish, our social life was VERY active for the year 2017! We all maintained a very busy schedule, and I tried to attend as many Men’s Club and Ladies’ Guild meetings, AVAK luncheons, Family Nights, other committee meetings and annual events (like picnics and bazaars) as I could.
We put regular Bible Study sessions on a short hiatus this year. We noticed an overall decline in participation over the past several years (mostly due to the aging population) and have begun to think of ways we can branch out and bring the study of the Word of God (Jesus) to a wide variety of our parishioners (because every one of us is in need of it, including me). Some ideas for the future include separate daytime and evening sessions, “neighborhood” studies at different homes (let me know if you’d be interested in hosting) and youth studies – perhaps in E-format? I am not sure what direction we will ultimately take, but I am happy to announce that we will begin a 10-week Bible Study course on the Acts of the Apostles (the Early Church) immediately after Easter.
2018 will undoubtedly present new challenges for us. One of our biggest efforts yet will be hosting the upcoming National Representative Assembly of the Armenian Prelacy, the yearly general assembly convened by the Prelate and Executive Council with the participation of delegates from all Prelacy parishes. This is done in order to examine the work of the Prelacy and the parishes of the previous year, to refine policy and to elect a Prelate, Religious & Executive Council and make other key decisions for the life of our Church. We are overjoyed to have been given this honor and we look forward to hosting Archbishop Oshagan and the entire Prelacy Community on May 9 – 12 of this year. This will certainly require a lot of effort and teamwork, but I am confident that the amount of satisfaction we will receive will be even greater.
In closing, I’d like to remind everyone of the words of St. Paul in the Letter to the Hebrews, when speaking about living together as a Church, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
By the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, let’s remember the faith that has been taught to us and let’s come together often in love and thanksgiving to encourage one another for the betterment of our church and community and for the glory of God. May the Lord continue to guide St. Gregory’s parish.
Fr. Stephan Baljian, Pastor
March 11, 2018