Seventeen clergy and seminarians of the Eastern Diocese gathered at St. Nersess on Saturday, October 22 for a workshop on youth ministry. The continuing education program was coordinated by V. Rev. Fr. Simeon Odabashian, Diocesan Vicar and V. Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan, Seminary Dean, by arrangement of His Eminence Abp. Khajag Barsamian, Diocesan Primate.
The two-day program, which began the day before at the Diocesan Center in New York, was designed especially for the younger clergy of the Diocese, including those who have come from Armenia to serve in the Eastern Diocese in recent years. Several recent graduates of St. Nersess Seminary and the current seminarians also participated in the workshop.
"Of course how to engage our young people effectively with the message of the church is of paramount importance," said Fr. Findikyan. "It is equally important to give our priests--especially the younger ones--the opportunity for true Christian fellowship and team-building. And St. Nersess provides the ideal venue for that," the dean remarked.
Reaching the Millennial Generation
Drawing on the considerable experience of the Diocese's Department of Youth and Education, as well as diocesan priests who have been involved in youth ministry, the workshop addressed the challenges of reaching out to Armenian youth of what Director of Youth Outreach, Jennifer Morris referred to as "the millennial generation."
Born in the years around the turn of the millennium, these young people are known for their technological savvy. "Social media are redefining the way this generation engages in relationships—for better or worse." said Morris. "They are lonely and looking for intimacy and faith--but not in customary places or ways," she added.
Elise Antreassian, Coordinator of Christian Education for the Eastern Diocese addresses Armenian priests participating in a two-day conference devoted to youth ministry.
Will Our Children Have Faith?
xecutive Director of the ACYOA (Armenian Church Youth Organization of America) Nancy Basmajian gave a succinct survey of faith development theory: how youth of various ages conceive of God, referring to differing styles of faith according to the model of John Westerhoff, an authority on Christian Education and author of the book, Will Our Children Have Faith?
Joining the workshop as well were Elise Antreassian, Coordinator of Christian Education; Gilda Kupelian, Coordinator of Armenian Studies; and Michael Guglielmo, Executive Director of the Diocese.
Following Evening Prayer in St. Vartan Cathedral, the workshop continued at St. Nersess Seminary, which hosted the clergy with a festive evening meal, prayer and fellowship.
Saturday's sessions included a presentation by long-time Director of the St. Nersess Summer Conferences, and Pastor of St. Peter Armenian Church (Watervliet, NY) Rev. Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian, entitled, "Youthful Sponges: Soaking It All In." Fr. Stepanos spoke from the Bible and from his own experience to emphasize how closely young people observe and imitate the behavior of adults, especially their clergy.
Rev. Fr. Krikor Sabounjian, Pastor of Holy Translator's Armenian Church (Framingham, MA) and Director of St. Vartan Camp, addressed "The World of Our Young People: Challenges to Effective Youth Ministry." His predecessor as Director of St. Vartan Camp, Rev. Fr. Vasken Kouzouian, Pastor of Holy Trinity Armenian Church (Cambridge, MA) shared practical techniques and strategies for youth ministry.
A Conversation with Youth Leaders
The day ended with a forum and discussion among the clergy and members of the Central Council of the ACYOA: Danny Mantis, Chairman; Olivia Derderian, and Adrienne Ashbahian. The young leaders spoke about the history and mission of the ACYOA, and offered suggestions as to how the young priests might support its work in reaching out to college-aged youth. "We want to help you draw in the young people in your parish," the chairman said, as he handed out a list of over 100 concrete ideas for bringing young people together in the embrace of the church.
"It was a great pleasure to gather as one body of brother priests at St. Nersess," said Rev. Fr. Vart Gyozalyan, Pastor of the Armenian Church of Hye Pointe (Haverhill, MA). "I have gained much that I will take back to my parish and to my young people," he added.
Experience of Senior Clergy
Fr. Arakel Vardazaryan, pastoral intern at St. Gregory the Enlightener Armenian Church (White Plains, NY) said, "I appreciated the vast experience of our diocesan clergy who have enormous experience communicating with our young people."Initial planning has already begun for the next continuing education workshop for diocesan clergy. St. Nersess has recently been charged with the responsibility of organizing periodic intensive courses for the professional development of the ordained priests serving the diocese.
Rev. Fr. Vasken Kouzouian, Pastor of Holy Trinity Armenian Church (Cambridge, MA) offers practical strategies for reaching out to Armenian young people with the love of God and the embrace of the Armenian Church.
(L-R) Rev. Frs. Tateos Barseghyan (St. Gregory, Chicago, IL); Abraham Malkhasyan (St. Hagop, St. Petersburg, FL); Hagop Gevorgyan (Holy Trinity, Cheltenham, PA); Martiros Hakobyan (St. Kevork, Houston, TX) and Arakel Vardazaryan (St. Gregory, White Plains, NY) attend presentation on parish faith development.
"The world around is changing fast," said Abp. Barsamian. "Like other professionals our clergy need to keep abreast of the most innovative and effective skills and insights in order to draw our people into a deeper love for our Lord and the Armenian Church," he said in his address to the clergy participants of the program.
(L-R) Rev. Frs. Vard Gyozalyan (Armenian Church of Hye-Pointe, Haverhill, MA) Hratch Sarkisyan (St. Gregory of Narek, Cleveland, OH) and Krikor Sabounjian (Holy Translators, Framingham, MA) pose outside St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral in New York during a break between sessions.