What follows is an address by Maria Derderian, who is the Chair of the ACYOA and is finishing her first year of studies at St. Nersess Seminary. Her message was addressed to the 104th Annual Assembly of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, which met last weekend at St. Leon Armenian Church, Fair Lawn, New Jersey.
Your Eminence Archbishop Khajag, respected members of our clergy, Diocesan Council members, and delegates:
This past year has been one of renewal in the ACYOA. Each year brings about new and exciting progress, and 2005 was no different. The details of our events and programs can be found printed in your report books. But today, rather than talking to you about what we have accomplished, I'd like to spend a minute or two sharing with you what the ACYOA needs.
This year, more than ever, we have been blessed with increased support on the Diocesan level, which shows that our Diocesan leadership has recognized that the work of the ACYOA is ministry in its truest form.
I want to take a moment in this audience to extend the sincere thanks and appreciation of each member of the Central Council to our Primate, and the Diocesan Council, for making youth ministry in this Diocese a top priority, and for supporting the ACYOA in every possible way. From our joint retreat in October, to the youth that have been invited to facilitate today's workshops, we have been inspired to rise to the occasion and take on the responsibilities we have been given.
Additionally, with the leadership of Fr. Daniel Findikyan, the ACYOA and St. Nersess Seminary have collaborated on many projects, most importantly our annual Leadership Conference, to be able to be as effective as possible in planting the seeds in our youth that will create more and more disciples in our Holy Church.
Four years ago, with your overwhelming support, we received an in-house presence at the Diocese with the re-establishment of the Executive Secretary position. Thanks to the decisions of this assembly in 2002, the effectiveness of the ACYOA has increased exponentially with the undying devotion of Nancy Basmajian, and the ACYOA has grown to the point where we would be crippled without this position.
The ACYOA is at an important crossroads we are doing well on so many levels. But the largest piece of the puzzle is missing, without which our successes will soon level off, and eventually begin to decrease.
With just seven volunteers on the Central Council and an Executive Secretary, giving each parish group the attention it needs is virtually impossible. The ACYOA is in high demand, and we are thankful for that. It means business is good. But often times we are left little to no time to develop the one-on-one relationships which are so crucial in building lasting church involvement.
We must now focus on the parish level. The Central Council has tried so many different methods to be able to ensure that every parish has the resources and tools needed to be able to develop ACYOA groups. Yet somehow, we have not yet been able to integrate the ACYOA into the day-to-day life of each parish. We struggle just to simply find out the names of the youth in the parishes, often being told "we have no youth here." When we send out nomination forms to each parish for our annual ACYOA awards, which honor the leadership of both ACYOA Juniors and Seniors, we receive only a handful back each year. Getting representatives to our Leadership Conference or General Assembly takes months of constant phone calls, e-mails, and follow up contacts.
Mentoring and Inspiration
I know this is not an easy task, because it is very personal, and involves us opening up our hearts to others. But is very simple. That's all we need.
The parishes that have active ACYOA groups are not a result of funding or large membership. But they are the result of personal cultivated relationships, mentoring, and inspiration. In fact, our three newest chapters are from small parishes have created that sense of community without a wealth of resources to utilize.
Show your youth you need them right now. Not because we will need them to be on Parish Council in 20 years, but because they are as essential to the life of the Church now, today, as they will ever be.
The Light of Our Lord and Savior
This weekend, we wrap up the Diocesan theme which incorporates the phrase "Carrying the Flame." Last year at the Assembly, people shared what the flame means to them. To the ACYOA, the flame represents, above all, the light of our Lord and our Savior, Jesus Christ.
This morning, our Primate said that it is important that we understand the needs of our youth. Make no mistake, our youth need Christ. And our youth need you to show them Christ.
The youth are hungry, constantly on a search for any sort of nourishment to feed their hearts and minds as they form their identity. But they don't know how to cook. So it is up us in this room to show them how. Just as children eat the food they are provided, your children and grandchildren will embrace the spiritual nourishment they receive.
We cannot afford to do any less than this. The future of the church in the next generation is of no concern to us, if we do not have a church tomorrow. It is imperative that we adopt this sense of urgency in our actions. Don't wait for the ACYOA, Sunday School, or anyone else to do it. The ACYOA is not just a youth organization. The ACYOA belongs to each and every one of you. The fate of the ACYOA is as much up to you as it is to us.
In only two semesters of studying at St. Nersess, the most significant thing I have learned is that the faith of our 1700 hundred year old, ancient Armenian Church absolutely has the answers to every single one of the questions and that can so heavily weigh down the hearts and minds of our youth today.
We must own our faith, and teach our youth to own it themselves. People take care of what is theirs. Do not underestimate the effect your faith has on others.
Look around you. The youth are here. Their witness to you this morning was profound, heartfelt, and inspiring. However, this must be happening daily, from each one of us, not only between our Diocesan leadership, but between all of our faithful. This is the ONLY way to make a lasting impact. Inspiring this group is easy you have all already dedicated your time and efforts to the church. Now, we need to expand our scope.
If we succeed in doing so, God will provide all the rest. The funding, the programs, the people - all of that will come if we focus our message on Christ.
I say this not to take the responsibility off the youth, nor to disregard the love and dedication you all have shown to the ACYOA, but I share this information to stress the important role you play in the future success of this organization, and to emphasize the effect that personal faith will have on every organization within this Diocese.
However, being inspired is useless if we do not take action accordingly.
Here's what you can do for us today. Make a list. Show us your youth. Write down the names of your children, relatives, parishioners, anyone you know between the ages of 18-25. Five Central Council members are present today. We have a copy of our national mailing list, that is sorely in need of updating. Come up to us after this session and help us update that list. Nominate someone for an ACYOA award. We have nomination forms here today. Now is the time to act.
At this point, I believe we can all use the advice of our beloved founder, Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan, of blessed memory, when he said, "Who is going to enlist in the bright future for our people and for our country and for mankind? You, the youth of the Church. So wake up from your slumber and get going forward and upward."
Maria Derderian is pursuing a Master's degree at St. Nersess Seminary as preparation for serving the Armenian Church in the area of youth ministry.