Annual Report of Rev. Fr. Stephan Baljian, Delivered to the General Membership Meeting of Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church of Merrimack Valley, February 10, 2019
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.
As I did last May before our community and the entire Prelacy family, I would like to thank on behalf of our entire church community, our beloved outgoing Prelate, Archbishop Oshagan, for his fatherly care and guidance. Srpazan Hayr visited our community twice during this year of transition for him and for all of us. In his last official visit as Prelate, Srpazan Hayr was with us on January 28, to celebrate the Divine Liturgy and preside not only over our parish’s 48th Anniversary celebration, but also over the celebration of my 10th ordination anniversary.
Srpazan once again visited our community, albeit in a different capacity – in order to convene along with the Religious and Executive Councils of the Prelacy the annual National Representative Assembly that takes place every May. This year’s N.R.A. was bittersweet, in that while we were honored to have had the chance to host this prestigious event, we were saddened that it would be the last for Archbishop Oshagan as our beloved Prelate. Once again, we would like to wish His Eminence health, rest and great success in his future endeavors, always praising God for the work that he carried out in our Prelacy during his twenty years in office.
We also welcomed with joy the election in September of His Grace Bishop Anoushavan Tanielian (now Archbishop) as our new Prelate. We thank Srpazan Hayr for his fatherly guidance throughout his tenure as Vicar General of the Prelacy, and we wish him a blessed mission and service to God as he begins his tenure as the fifth Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America. We also extend our thanks and our warmest greetings to the Religious and Executive Councils of the Prelacy, offering our gratitude for all the ways they assisted us as well.
Continuing with a sense of gratitude, I would like to publicly thank the Board of Trustees and its executive for all their hard work and devotion throughout this past year. Our NRA delegates represented our church not once but twice this past year, and their hard work along with the NRA Steering Committee at large was an integral part of the success of the event. Therefore, I would like to make special mention of them – Rita Sarkisian, Sossy Jeknavorian & Sharké Der Apkarian – and give them extra commendations for a job well done this year.
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. I cannot emphasize enough how much you are wanted, needed and appreciated for your faithfulness and dedication to our church and community.
The year 2018 was an extraordinary year in the life of our church and community; one that will long stand out in our collective memory -- a year for the history books, so to speak. In addition to our faithful administration of the Christian Faith of the Armenian Apostolic Church to the people of the Merrimack Valley Armenian Community, we recorded some great milestones, as well as even greater challenges, about which I am proud to say that we have met with courage and resolve to overcome.
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). We welcomed Deacon James Haddad to service at the Holy Altar of our church. Dn. James is a seminary-trained deacon who, as he has recently relocated to the Manchester (NH) area, has brought his faith in Jesus Christ and his unwavering dedication to the Holy Tradition of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church to our community. Dn. James has already commenced his service to our church beside his fellow devoted deacons Avedis Garavanian, Arek Kalaydjian and John Saryan, and I am pleased to announce that he has agreed to head up a new youth program in our community one which has been developed by the Youth Ministry Department of our Prelacy and which aims to foster fellowship, growing faith and discipleship among the young people of the Armenian Apostolic Church in America within the various communities. Please watch for details about this exciting program in the near future.
We also continued with broadcasting many weekday festal services (morning or evening) over Facebook Live. Although we were not fortunate to perform any baptisms this year, we did celebrate two weddings, one in January and one in October. We also had the sad but honorable task of offering funeral prayers for twelve of our dearly departed parishioners as we bid them farewell and sent them to their eternal rest in the Lord. They were:
George Shahnaian (Peabody)
Berjouhi Tamzarian (NH)
Henry Hovanasian &
May their memory be eternal and may they find comfort and rest in the dwelling place of our heavenly Father.
Two areas of concern have always been attendance and participation on special feast days and occasions (such as Holy Week, Christmas, Anniversary, Blessing of Grapes, etc.) and also attendance and participation – particularly of our youth – during the summer months. I am pleased to announce that on both fronts we showed considerable progress this past year. On Friday evening, January 5, our church was full and vibrant with the joy of Christmas Eve – our time to celebrate the birth and revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ – for the first time in a while. I commend the parents for bringing your Sunday School children to take part in the Vigil readings and Divine Liturgy. For the first time, we also held a candlelit procession and “spiritual home” blessing in Jaffarian Hall. Subsequently, things did not totally die down in the summer months as had been concerning the Board and me over the past several years. Instead, due to the dedication of parents and also with assistance from the Deacons and Board staff, many of our young members served on the altar or sang in the choir on a regular basis. Not only that, they reported that they enjoy serving during the Divine Liturgy in this capacity. With this in mind, we have also started to create more opportunities for the youth to serve in the sanctuary throughout the academic year as well.
In addition to the full schedule of yearly events that took place, our parish had the extraordinary opportunity to host the National Representative Assembly of the Eastern Prelacy from May 9 through May 12. During these days, our church and community were transformed into a bustling center of national and ecclesiastical life, as we over one hundred clergy, delegates and observers from the various communities across the Eastern United States. The banquet on Friday, May 11, held at the Harris’ Pelham Inn afforded our community members a wonderful opportunity to meet with the delegates and clergy, celebrate another year of the work of the Prelacy and local church and honor our fellow parishioners: Jim & Ann Apovian, Sharké Der Apkarian, Armen & Christine Kourkounian as they received citations for their years of dedicated service to the Armenian Apostolic Church, both at the local and national levels. Mention must be made of Anna Shahtanian and Meliné Almasian, two outstanding young people who were highly deserving of the Youth Service Award they received that night. The Board of Trustees joins me in congratulating all the award recipients for a job well done!
One of the biggest challenges this year presented was the major incident that occurred on September 13, wherein the town of North Andover was rocked by a series of gas related fires and explosions. While our church was in the affected area, we are thankful God that no damage was sustained and that all of our parishioners were safe and unharmed in their homes. We were challenged by the fact, however, that the aftermath of this disaster left us without heat, hot water and a working kitchen for two months. I will not go into details as to the process of restoration (you can find that outlined in more detail in the BOT report), but I will take a moment to thank all those who helped during the process, with an extra commendation and “job well done” for our Board of Trustees Chairman, Greg Afarian. Greg went well above and beyond his normal responsibilities as Board Chairman and really helped to make sure we got back on track in a way that didn’t compromise our well-being as a church and community.
Our regular events and activities took place during the year, although they necessarily had to come to a halt after the events of September 13. The Ladies’ Guild’s annual bazaar and two family nights had to be cancelled. We are thankful, however, that the gas service (at least heat and hot water) was restored to the building on November 10, seemingly right before the daily temperatures began to dip into “too cold” territory. We see the providence of God in this. I am also proud of our parishioners, who despite the decreasing temperatures both inside and outside the building, braved coming to church in coats and hats and stood by as dedicated parishioners, thankful for the church we have been given and the faith that has been handed down to us.
Indeed, during the year, we all maintained a very busy schedule, and we were all busied attending as many Men’s Club and Ladies’ Guild meetings, AVAK luncheons, Family Nights, Sunday School events, committee meetings and annual events (like picnics and bazaars) as we could. As your pastor, I did my best to be with you for as many of these as I could, encouraging you and steering you in the best direction for our church. I tried to reach all of you at least once during the year, either by visit or by telephone, and if the limits of human frailty did not permit me to do so, please accept my sincerest apologies. Know that I am always available to any of you – for prayer, confession and counseling, to visit you at home or just to talk and laugh! I am only a phone call or an email away, so please don’t hesitate to contact me.
We held two Bible study series’ during the year. The first one began in the Spring and looked at the Acts of the Apostles. The second one took place over the Summer and studied the letter of Paul to the Ephesians. All who participated were greatly satisfied.
On the communications front, we also commenced this year with the publication and distribution of a weekly e-newsletter entitled “Aghavn-E Weekly.” Overall, this has been well received and has aided in keeping our parishioners and supporters informed of happenings and events around our church community.
Another novelty this year was the trip we took to New York City on November 11, which was planned by myself and the Board of Trustees. Conceived partly as a way to give our parishioners the opportunity to view the acclaimed Armenia! Exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and partly as a way to vacate our building for a Sunday while the gas was being restored, the trip afforded us a lovely day of travel, companionship, worship (at St. Illuminator’s Cathedral in Manhattan) and broadening of our artistic and intellectual appreciation for our Armenian Culture.
2018 was a milestone year for me personally as well, as it saw the celebration of the tenth anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood, which took place on February 17, 2008. I am so grateful to you for honoring me at the banquet on January 28, 2018, and celebrating this milestone with me. The generous gift of the new set of liturgical vestments that you gave me will forever remind me of this milestone and of the relationship we have forged as pastor and congregation over these past five and a half years. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for this gift. Yeretsgin, Nishan and Hovig also join me in thanking you for all the ways you have supported and helped us in the community over the years. Please know that your help and generosity have not gone unnoticed or unappreciated.
In closing, I’d like to echo the sentiment of St. Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians, when speaking about all that God has and will work through us as a people, “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Try to remember that when we co-labor handed in hand with God and with each other, he can accomplish great things in our church and community. Let’s give him glory and allow the power of the Holy Spirit to guide us and work within us as we carry out our mission of preaching and living out the message of the Holy Gospel as an Armenian Church and Nation. May God bless you all and may he bless Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church of Merrimack Valley.
Fr. Stephan Baljian, Pastor