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