One such example of a lay leader is Nancy Basmajian, who left a career in the mid-70s as an award-winning school teacher in inner city Philadelphia to attend St. Nersess Seminary at the then Primate Archbishop Torkom Manoogian's invitation. She graduated in 1979 with a 3-year Master of Divinity degree (including classwork at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary in New Rochelle, NY and Eastern Baptist Theological School in Philadelphia).
After graduation, Nancy held positions at the Eastern Diocese for 34 years, including 17 years directing the national Junior and Senior ACYOAs, Program Director of St. Vartan Camp for ten years, and Co-Director of the Department of Christian Education for almost 20 years, positions which all overlapped.
For many, that would be more than enough. Instead, Nancy stepped away from her Diocesan tasks for one she has found just as rewarding, and even more so in some ways - parish ministry. In 2013, seeing a need for an organized adult Christian education effort in her own parish of Holy Trinity Armenian Church in Cheltenham, PA, she approached her pastor, Fr. Hakob Gevorgyan with the idea.
"While we have consistently provided Christian education for our children and youth, adults have been neglected! For the most part, it has been the responsibility of the pastor who is often too busy and probably does not have the hands-on background or training in Christian education. Adult faith formation is crucial to the future of the church in America. Without a literate and believing membership, we risk the possibility of losing our faith, our traditions and our community. But even more importantly, growing towards a mature spiritual faith, living in and following Christ, becoming His disciples and knowing how this is done, is the goal of every member of the church!"
Thanks to her forward-looking pastor and Parish Council, she was appointed Director of Adult Christian Education (a volunteer position) tasked with the responsibility of designing and implementing programming for its adult membership.
She and the team she assembled set out with a four-point purpose for the parish: to increase Biblical and Church literacy, develop a deeper and better-informed faith, engage in meaningful prayer and worship experiences, and reflect on and cultivate a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Programs are diverse, innovative and take place throughout the year. Some of them include:
- Frequent short-term Bible studies: "A Women's Summer Bible Study Adventure" (six weeks exploring the Gospel of John); "Fall Bible Study: Living the Gospel of Jesus Christ" (two separate groups, one for men, one for women; they also assembled to study the Gospel of Mark); a 4-session summer series on the Gospel of Luke; a six-week spring Bible study on the theme of Discipleship: Then and Now; a six-week study of the universal epistles of the New Testament and most recently a four-week series on Old Testament Wisdom Literature,
- "Images of the Life of Jesus in Art:"A tour of works of art depicting events in the life of Christ conducted by a parishioner who was docent at a local museum.
- "Gospel Marathon:"For two consecutive evenings during their annual Bazaar parishioners read through the four gospels in the sanctuary.
- "Instructed Liturgy:"Narration on its meaning and symbolism during the Badarak.
- "Faith Talks for Today's Christian:"Four consecutive Sundays following Liturgy; small groups met to reflect on memories and experiences that have impacted their faith.
- "Marriage Renewal Sunday:" Over 50 couples participated in a Service of Renewal of Marriage Vows, conducted at the conclusion of Liturgy.
- "Raising Children for God:"Interactive workshops held early on Sunday mornings about the role of parents in the development of faith in children.
- "A Day of Remembrance:" A candle-lighting ceremony held at the conclusion of Badarak in loving memory of those who passed away in that calendar year.
- "Women's Sunday Forum:"Women were invited on several occasions to gather for Bible study and general discussion.
- "Books and Brunch:"Four-session book study on The Sunflower: The Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness. Held on Tuesday mornings; discussions were followed by lunch at various local eateries for more conversation and fellowship. Other book studies (some in the evening) were instituted.
- "Fall Study Series: The Prayers of St. Gregory of Narek:" Four consecutive Tuesday mornings.
- "Sunday Morning Educational Series:"Held from 10:00-10:30 before Liturgy, different speakers on different topics.
- "Summer Faith Discussions:" In an effort to reach parishioners who had been unable to get to ACE church events due to work conflicts and/or travel distance, three evening programs were held in various neighborhoods
Recently, Nancy transitioned from being Director to serving as Coordinator of a now self-managed team whose members have bonded, grown in faith together, and facilitated different sessions over their three-year tenure. Under the leadership of Fr. Hakob, they will continue to be at the helm of innovative and engaging adult education efforts.
"I am personally gratified and inspired by the response of our parish family. There are several individuals without whom none of this would have been possible. First and foremost is Fr. Hakob whose vision, leadership and innovative spirit enabled the creation of this new ministry. I am grateful to the Parish Council for their support and especially to its former Vice Chair Jeanette Der Hagopian whose guidance, advice and availability have proven invaluable. We used so many of the wonderful resources from the Department of Christian Education at the Diocese. Lastly, to my dear friends who have become the new ACE team (Brian and Joyce Hoyle, Jeanette Der Hagopian, Albert Keshgegian, Leslie Movsesian and Merle Santerian), I believe the Holy Spirit is at work in our community, and I pray that our endeavors will continue to bear fruit!" remarked Nancy.
St. Nersess Seminary is so proud of Nancy and the good fruit her ministry continues to bear.
An informed, dedicated, St. Nersess-trained lay person, working as a paid staffer with the pastor in every parish may be the very future we need to imagine. To our Primates and Pastors throughout our North American Dioceses: if you know of someone who is interested in parish ministry, consider recommending him or her to the Seminary for a life-changing education!