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ACYOA holds 10th Annual Leadership Conference

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ACYOA HOLDS 10TH ANNUAL LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE

Participants in the ACYOA Leadership Conference last weekend explored questions of faith and commitment as they gathered for the annual three-day session at the Don Bosco Retreat Center in Stony Point, NY.

This year’s event, held Friday, March 6 to Sunday, March 8, marked the 10th anniversary of the Leadership Conference, which was first organized by the ACYOA Central Council in 2000.

Themed “From Fellowship to Discipleship,” the weekend featured a range of speakers, including clergy and former Central Council members. On Saturday, March 7, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), visited the conference, where he addressed participants following an evening service.

“It’s not enough to come together and enjoy each other’s fellowship as brothers and sisters in Christ,” the Primate said. “It’s also important to be disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

To that end, Archbishop Barsamian told participants “to be ready to hear God’s call.” Focusing on the example of Mary, who responded to God’s call to bear His son, the Primate added, “Each one of us is called by God to make a difference in our life, to make a difference in the life of our family, and to make a difference in the life of the parish.”

“And each one of us can make a difference,” he said.

Other presentations included a discussion led by former Central Council member Saro Kalayjian on the mission of the ACYOA. Kalayjian urged chapter leaders to consider how their work is helping carry out the organization’s mission.

“It’s one thing to have a mission statement, and to post it on the website, and to print it in the constitution, and to hear someone talking about it,” Kalayjian said. “But the question that we have to ask ourselves is, ‘Are we invested in the mission?’”

The Very Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan, dean of St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, offered a session entitled “Believing and Belonging,” stressing the importance of belonging to the church.

“If you want to know where you come from,” Fr. Findikyan said, “the only way you really get a satisfying understanding and sense of that is within the life of the church.”

“You can’t be a Christian apart from the church,” added Fr. Findikyan, who served as chaplain at the conference. “You can’t be a Christian on your own terms.”

Diocesan Vicar Very Rev. Fr. Haigazoun Najarian and Very Rev. Fr. Aren Jebejian, pastor of St. Gregory the Illuminator Church in Chicago, Ill., spoke about answering Christ’s call to follow Him.

“’Come, follow me’ means a commitment – a lifelong commitment,” Fr. Jebejian said.

Fr. Najarian told conference participants that they “heard the call and responded by being here. Now our task is to find out what we can do to be true disciples of the Lord in the society we live and through the means we have.”

Daron Bolat, former Central Council member from St. Mary Church in Washington, D.C., led a Bible-study session, asking participants to consider their God-given gifts and how these can be used to serve the church.

“I feel young people are still trying to figure out what they’re doing with their lives, and who they are. And I think part of that is trying to find out what gifts God has given you,” Bolat said. “Sometimes, that’s a very hard thing to find.”

On the evening of Saturday, March 7, participants marked the 10th anniversary of the Leadership Conference with a large cake bearing the event logo and the colors of the Armenian flag. In the decade since its inception, the conference has expanded from 53 participants representing 25 parishes, to 78 participants representing 28 parishes.

“It’s really exciting to be celebrating 10 years of this conference,” said ACYOA Executive Secretary Nancy Basmajian. “When I think of the over 330 young people who have attended through the years, I’m heartened because it means that they have shared a common experience that has the potential of enriching their lives and their faith. And most importantly for those of us in ministry, it has inspired some to become disciples of Christ and leaders in His Church.”

Following the celebration, Archbishop Barsamian led the evening service and congratulated participants on reaching a milestone in the program.

The Primate also encouraged ACYOA members to continue their active involvement in the Armenian Church, and presented each participant with a DVD of the documentary “Everyone Prays at Holy Etchmiadzin,” which aired nationally on ABC stations last December, and a copy of In Remembrance of the Lord, a commentary on the Divine Liturgy by the Very Rev. Fr. Vahan Hovhanessian, pastor at the Armenian Church of the Holy Martyrs in Bayside, NY.

Participants also heard about the challenges and strategies of running ACYOA programs from a panel of former Central Council members, and took part in a “Hot Topics” workshop where clergy answered questions on various topics submitted anonymously by the participants.

“The great thing about the Leadership Conference is that it gives me a new aspect of looking at my faith and my church every year,” said participant Shant Babikian, of the Armenian Church of the Holy Martyrs in Bayside, NY.

The conference concluded on Sunday with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy by Fr. Najarian. Yervant Kutchukian, a graduate of St. Nersess Armenian Seminary and a member of St. Peter Armenian Church in Watervliet, NY, delivered the sermon.

ACYOA Central Council chair Ani Tovar said she hopes the Leadership Conference will continue to draw young people for a weekend of worship and reflection in the years to come. The goal, she said, is to “maintain it as the strongest program outside Sports Weekend for the ACYOA.”

Throughout the weekend, participants were honored by the presence of many guests from throughout the Diocese, including Sandra Leitner, Diocesan Council member; Rev. Fr. Vasken and Yeretzgin Arpi Kouzouian of Holy Trinity Armenian Church in Cambridge, Mass. (who co-founded the Leadership Conference with the ACYOA Central Council); Rev. Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian, director of Youth and Vocations at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary; Rev. Fr. Bedros Kadehjian of St. Peter Armenian Church in Watervliet, NY; Rev. Fr. Karekin Kasparian and Rev. Fr. Hakob Gevorgyan of St. Gregory the Enlightener Armenian Church in White Plains, NY.; Rev. Fr. Shnork Souin of St. Mary Armenian Church in Livingston, NJ; and Rev. Fr. Gomidas Zohrabian of St. George Armenian Church in Hartford, Conn.

Also present were students from St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, including Justin Ajamian, Levon Asdourian, Vahagn Azizyan, Dn. Mkrtich Ksachikyan, Benjamin Rith-Najarian, Stan Sheridan, and Dn. Ryan Tellalian.