Armenian Evangelical celebration

The Armenian Evangelical Church of New York Celebrates its 120th Anniversary

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By Peter Kougasian

NEW YORK – Culminating a year of observances, on the weekend of June 10-11, the Armenian Evangelical Church of New York celebrated its 120th anniversary with a gala banquet and church luncheon. Attendees came from as far away as California, and even Jerusalem, to enjoy music and dance presentations, listen to scripture and historical presentations, and of course, to eat.

The church prides itself on being the first Armenian church in New York and one of the first Armenian churches in the United States, tracing its origins to prayer meetings conducted by Rev. Garabed Nergararian in 1881. The prayer meetings became an organized church on November 14, 1896 when seminary student H. H. Khazoyan conducted services at the Adams Memorial Presbyterian Church.

The church’s remarkable history was celebrated at a gala luncheon at the Liberty House in Liberty State Park, New Jersey on June 10.  Zaven Khanjian, Executive Director/CEO of the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA) recalled the crucial role played by the New York Church in founding the AMAA, and the continuing close association of church and mission for nearly a century.  Levon Filian added his warm congratulations from the West Coast office of the AMAA.  Rev. Berdj Djambazian extended congratulations from the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America, and stirred the audience with deeply personal reflections on the spirit of Armenian martyrs that inspired the creation of the Union and infuses it still.  And Rev. Djambazian commended the church’s pastor, Rev. Haig Kherlopian, recalling an evening when together they walked the streets of New York, and suddenly Rev. Kherlopian was greeted warmly by a homeless man who considered the pastor his cherished friend.

Plaques and gifts were presented to eleven faithful servants of the church, including former pastor Rev. Dr. Peter Doghramji, and 102-year-old Armine Mardiguian. Cultural presentations at the banquet showcased traditional Armenian arts in a modern context.

Milena Nalbandian performed a traditional Armenian dance in costume, flavored with contemporary dance elements.  The Armenian a cappella trio Zulal sang Armenian folk melodies invigorated with a modern spirit. Church moderator Jon Brothers, a professional singer, along with members Christina and Aaron Santana-Smith, led the banquet audience in singing “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”

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Keynote speaker at the Saturday, June 10 banquet, and featured speaker at a church luncheon on Sunday, was Donald Wilson Bush, President of the Woodrow Wilson Legacy Foundation, and a descendant of President Woodrow Wilson. Bush is married to a “Hayastantsi” Armenian, Hermine. Bush delighted the audience with his story of travelling to Armenia to meet all his wife’s relatives, which he called the “khunamee tsunami.”

Bush is a theology school graduate, and he delivered an electrifying speech offering his view of the special role of Armenian Christianity in evangelizing the world.  Drawing an analogy to Armenia’s geographical placement, joining Europe and Asia, Mr. Bush said Armenian Christians have a special calling to transcend traditional divisions and proclaim Christianity’s universal message.

Reflecting the spirit of Mr. Bush’s message, distinguished clergy from all church communities attended the banquet, including Bishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Rev. Craig Simonian, Rev. Jerair Bizdikian, and Vicar Jordan Voges. Deputy Ambassador Mher Margaryan represented the Republic of Armenia.

The Saturday banquet ended with guest clergy leading the singing of the Hayr Mer, and master of ceremonies Paul Kayaian extending an invitation to one and all to come to New York the next day to attend church services followed by a luncheon.  Many of the 180 in attendance took up the offer.

Rev. Haig Kherlopian, the charismatic young pastor of the New York Church, addressed the banquet on Saturday and conducted Sunday services.  A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, Rev. Haig continues the greatest tradition of the New York Church: a ministry that combines the finest scholarship with a searing Evangelical spirituality.  His theme for the weekend was a forward-looking ministry that emphasizes three approaches:  (1) reaching out to the larger community to call new disciples;  (2) unifying the Church through a message that unites denominations, cultures, and ethnicities; and (3) using new technologies to communicate ancient truths.

After church on Sunday, the Boyajian family provided a delicious kebab luncheon, and Seza Momjian and Peggy Dingilian provided mezze, drinks, and dessert.

The weekend offered yet one more symbolic element to celebrate.  Longtime members could not help but note that the anniversary committee co-chairs were Jennifer Telfeyan-LaRoe and Katherine Tharp, scions of the Telfeyan and Teagar families, two of the greatest pillars in the long history of the New York Church. Their leadership conveyed the assurance that the great traditions of the church endure to this day.

As the celebration drew to a close on Sunday, with the audience inspired, delighted, and very well-fed, one common thought seemed to be expressed by one and all:  the church seems well-poised for its next 120 years.

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