By Florence Avakian
“It’s all about the parishes,” explains Seta Nazarian.
“The Eastern Diocese’s endowment campaign—‘Our Church, Our Legacy’—is about the crucial importance of the local, individual parishes.”
Her voice rising with passion, she adds: “We need to bring the disconnected Armenians back home. And the church does that. We need to reconnect. The church is where we go when we want to feel like we’re home—to feel like Armenians.”
The Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) launched its endowment campaign four months ago with an ambitious goal: to inspire every Armenian, strengthen their faith, and make the church a relevant part of daily life.
To that end, the campaign set a goal of raising $15 million to support the Eastern Diocese’s ministries. In a short time, the campaign has reached the half-way point: $7.5 million in pledges—including a magnanimous pledge of $1 million from the Nazarian family.
As the campaign title “Our Church, Our Legacy” suggests—and as Seta Nazarian ably explains—the key objective is to strengthen the Diocese’s local parishes.
Faithful church members like the Nazarians are coming forward to help the Diocese provide the right tools for the church’s grassroots work in education, pastoral ministry, and community outreach. Recent initiatives to emerge from the effort revolve around digital education for youth and parishioners, and continuing training for parish clergy.
A Family Legacy
Seta Nazarian is the daughter of legendary Armenian philanthropists Nazar and Artemis Nazarian. For decades, the couple has demonstrated their Christian faith, charity, and leadership to numerous Armenian educational, cultural, and religious institutions. Their generosity has extended to communities across the United States, and reached across the world to Armenia, Artsakh, and strongholds of the Armenian diaspora.
Nazar Nazarian was one of the 35 original godfathers of St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral in New York City, when it was consecrated in 1968. As a member of that distinguished group—and one of its sole survivors—Mr. Nazarian feels a special sense of devotion to the Armenian Church and nation.
For their lifelong efforts, the Nazarians have been awarded with the highest honors from Catholicos Vasken I, Catholicos Karekin I, Catholicos Karekin II, Catholicos Aram I, Armenian Presidents Kocharian and Sargsyan, and the Ellis Island Medal of Honor committee, among many others.
And the Nazarian family legacy of supporting the Armenian Christian heritage has been passed down to their daughter Seta, to their son Dr. Levon Nazarian, and to their five grandchildren, William, Nicholas, Matthew, Daniela, and Gregory.
“My parents have always had a strong modern vision, coupled with a deep respect for our traditions,” relates Seta. “This endowment campaign addresses issues that will take the church into the future, and make sure it stays relevant in the next generation.”
What attracted her family, Seta explains, is the way the “Our Church, Our Legacy” campaign is “geared toward local parishes—where one’s church experience starts, where it’s maintained, and where results can be seen and felt.”
“Parishes are where the connections happen, where family life begins,” she says with emphasis. “We haven’t given the parishes enough support—but this campaign re-ignites the connection.”
The generous donation by the Nazarian family is meant “to inspire others; to be an example to others; to say: This is important for our survival. If we all don’t come on board, if we don’t strengthen our faith and church, we could lose the relevance of the church,” she warns.
Keys to the Future
With half of its $15 million goal already achieved, the “Our Legacy, Our Church” campaign has been meeting with dedicated individuals throughout the Eastern Diocese.
A key part of these meetings, led by the campaign Steering Committee co-chairs Melanie Dadourian and Oscar Tatosian, is to connect with people’s dreams and desires for the future of the Armenian Church in America.
“In our travels, we’ve been asking people from different parishes about their needs, their wants from the church. People want the church to be truly relevant—to speak to their children the way it did to our parents,” says Melanie Dadourian. “People have been so generous—not only with their material support, but with their time, advice, and encouragement.”
Seta Nazarian pays tribute to that approach, praising Melanie and Oscar for their “professional, solution-oriented methods,” emphasizing accountability and oversight.
“There is so much competition for people’s time and money. But we all have to make the ‘Our Church, Our Legacy’ campaign a priority,” Seta says.
She stresses that the project is very important to her parents, her brother and their children. And she notes that her sons Nicholas (age 25) and William (age 28) “are very excited about the goals of the campaign”—and how it’s being run with the help of modern tools like social media.
Still, it’s the personal outreach—the one-on-one conversations with sincere, caring Armenian Church members—that inspire co-chairs Oscar Tatosian and Melanie Dadourian to push forward towards the campaign’s ambitious goal.
Seta Nazarian agrees. As someone who fundraises for non-profits, she knows that a goal of “$15 million is a big bite. But we can’t just sit back.”
It was Seta who encouraged her family to make a contribution of the magnitude of a million dollars. “The lessons that my parents taught us were the Christian values of kindness, of generosity to others, of care for the needy,” she recalls.
And with pride she adds: “Those lessons are now being lived by our children.” Indeed, her own son William, as chairman of the AGBU Young Professionals group, led the recent effort to raise $35,000 for Syrian Relief.
Such expressions of generosity, of compassionate outreach, are hallmarks of the “human connection” that has always made the Armenian Church an important fixture in people’s lives.
“People are so busy today; we risk letting machines and technology envelop us. We have lost a great deal about the human connection,” Seta says.
“Therefore, the church is all the more important for all of us.” Regarding the Eastern Diocese’s “Our Church, Our Legacy” endowment campaign, Seta Nazarian’s message to her fellow church members is loud and clear: “Please join us on this crucial journey, and make a difference.”
To join in this important effort, or to receive information on how to lend your support to the “Our Church, Our Legacy” campaign, contact Taleen Babayan of the Development department of the Eastern Diocese, at (212) 686.0710, ext. 144; or via e-mail at email@example.com.