Eastern Diocese welcomes 75 young people to national conference
When Nancy Basmajian, executive secretary for the Armenian Church Youth Organization of America (ACYOA), realized 75 young people would be attending the organization's Young Adult Leadership Conference March 2 to 4, 2007, she was excited, because it would be a record number of attendees to the annual gathering. But she was also worried, being told by others that bringing that many young people together for a weekend could cause trouble.
During the conference, held at the Don Bosco Retreat Center in Stony Point, New York, she was approached by a Catholic priest, attending a different meeting at the center. He asked her if she was with the group of youngsters.
FOCUS ON FAITH AND LEADERSHIP
By all accounts the conference was a critical success. The 75 young people, ranging in age from 17 to 29, represented 24 parishes. Guided by 13 clergy and Diocesan staff, the young participants explored their personal faith, talked about ways to strengthen the bonds between young Armenians and the church, and gained valuable insight into how to be leaders of their local communities.
"This weekend had a very special effect on me," said Violet Mirzoyan of the Armenian Church of Atlanta, Georgia. "I met a lot of new Armenians, and I'm going home with great,
new ideas. I hope I can bring young Armenians together in my parish."
The act of worship plays an integral part of every National Young Adult Leadership Conference. Vespers services were conducted on Friday and Saturday nights and Matins on Saturday morning.
In his sermon he related the conference theme of "Church and Home" to the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector, found in the Gospel of Luke (19:1-10).
"Just as Jesus took the initiative to visit Zacchaeus in his home, Jesus too wants to come into our homes," Fr. Findikyan said. "He wants to be our guest. He wants to experience our hospitality. He doesn't want to be locked up in the church or in the sacraments. Your home travels with you and is not a home until you invite Jesus in."
Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), visited with the participants on Saturday morning. Addressing the youth, he said he was pleased they chose to spend their weekend at the conference worshipping, learning, and making friends. He then answered questions of the young participants.
"You are the engine that will drive our church and our local communities for years to come," he told the youth. "And it is encouraging to see you making the choice to come here, to equip yourself with knowledge and a deeper understanding of your faith. It shows that the next generation is preparing for the challenge to lead."
Before the Primate left, he greeted each one of the participants and presented them with a wooden cross from Armenia and a copy of "A Dictionary of the Armenian Church," by Archbishop Malachia Ormanian.
During the weekend, participants took part in a number of sessions designed to strengthen their faith and prepare them to lead.
"This conference helped me get back in touch with the Armenian Church after having been away at college," said Taleen Terjanian of the St. Stepanos Church of Elberon, New Jersely. "It helped me determine how I can still make a difference in my parish through the ACYOA, and gave me ideas on how to keep the youth active in their faith."
"Ten Things You Should Know about Our Liturgy," led by Fr. Findikyan included discussion on such topics as "it's all about love," "it's about God and us, not just God and me," and "it's a matter of life and death."
In a related workshop, "Ten Things You Should Know about Scripture," Fr. Vahan Hovhanessian, pastor of the Church of the Holy Martyrs of Bayside, New York, and perhaps one of the foremost Biblical scholars in the Diocese, offered his "list" of the top ten things everyone should know about the Bible. Participants found the session very informative and were especially interested in how the Armenian Church interprets Scripture.
Participants also heard from several seminarians during a session titled "Vocations: Responding to God's Call." Justin Ajamian, Greg Andonian, Maria Derderian, Dn. Vahe Hovsepyan, Megan Jendian, and Ryan Tellalian all shared their personal journeys and discussed their vocational goals, which range from entering the priesthood to serving in lay ministry. The consensus of the panelists was that a calling is usually not a single dramatic moment but a gradual process over time.
Leadership at Church and Beyond
During a session on "Leadership at Church and Beyond," former ACYOA Central Council member and a current Parish Council member and Diocesan delegate from the Holy Trinity Church of Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, Antranig Garibian spoke about his experiences as a young adult parish leader and as a new attorney. He talked about the importance of character and morality during the college years and in the professional world.
"Stay true to yourself, serve as role models for the next generation and share yourself, your gifts and talents with your parish and the larger church," he told participants.
"This conference not only taught me a lot about being an Armenian Christian and a leader, but it gave me the opportunity to meet new Armenians and strengthen bonds with those I already knew," said Tamar Pounardjian of the St. Gregory of Narek Church of Cleveland, Ohio.
Along with formal sessions, participants joined in a Leadership Conference tradition by asking questions anonymously for Fr. Findikyan to answer. Known as "hot topics," this experience helps build a deeper understanding of our heritage and faith in the participants.
"I really learned a lot about Christianity," said Allina Choudanian of the St. James Church of Evanston, Illinois. "Now more than ever before, I am motivated to be more a part of the ACYOA."
There is no charge for the conference, the ACYOA picks up all of the cost except for the participants' travel. That meant that past conferences were open only to two people from each parish. This year, however, thanks to additional funding made available by the Diocese, parishes were encouraged to send as many youth as they could.
The change in availability resulted in the record number of attendees coming to seek nurturing of their spiritual side.
"This conference does a fantastic job of adding a powerful spiritual aspect to the lives of young people. It was truly inspiring," said Nareg Korogluyan of the St. James Church of Evanston, Illinois.
Participating clergy included: Fr. Findikyan, who served as conference chaplain; Fr. Yeprem Kelegian; Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian; Fr. Mikael Devejian; Fr. Vahan Hovhanessian; Dn. Artak Khachikyan; and Dn. Vahe Hovsepyan.
"This was a fantastic experience that expanded my knowledge of the Divine Liturgy," said Margo Voskanian of the Church of
the Holy Translators in Framingham, Massachusetts. "ACYOA Sports Weekends are always fun, but these types of gatherings are rewarding in the sense that you spend quality time with clergy, Diocesan staff, and other young Armenians in a more intimate setting."