The Eastern Diocese’s annual “ACYOA Leadership Conference” brought together young adults from 20 parishes on November 17-19. Some 43 young adults—almost half of whom were first-time participants—gathered at the St. Iakovos Retreat Center in Kansasville, WI, for the conference organized by the ACYOA Central Council.
Inaugurated in 1999 at the behest of Diocesan Primate Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, the annual Leadership Conference has become a major yearly undertaking of the Armenian Church Youth Organizations of America. Hundreds of young people have experienced it over its nearly 20-year existence, and local parishes throughout the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America have reaped a reward in having the up-and-coming generation of parishioners take up leadership roles on parish council, in committees, and on the altar.
This year’s theme conference was “Communicating the Cross.” Participants explored the different ways they communicate leadership, in person and online. Jennifer Morris and Kathryn Ashbahian, of the Diocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, were present throughout the weekend.
The conference began Friday evening with various activities to help the participants become acquainted with each other. The Very Rev. Fr. Mesrop Parsamyam, Diocesan Director of Ministries, led the group in a vespers service, followed by a reflection from Dn. Narek Garabedian, deacon-in-charge of St. Gregory the Illuminator Church in Chicago, IL.
Saturday morning began with a matins service led by the Rev. Fr. Yeprem Kelegian and a reflection by the Rev. Fr. Tadeos Barseghyan, pastor of St. Sahag Church in St. Paul, MN. The first session of the day, titled “Communicating YOU,” was led by the ACYOA Central Council members. Participants broke up into groups to explore how they represent themselves through social media and the messages they are sending to others through their posts and words online.
Participants watched “Doors of Mercy”—a video in the Diocese’s Bread & Salt series—which led into a bible-study session on how they one can act as a “doorway” to fellow parishioners who truly want to know God.
The same day, as part of the weekend’s service project, the young leaders made cards for pediatric cancer patients at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Fr. Yeprem Kelegian gave a presentation on the Fund for Armenian Relief’s crowd-sourcing platform “Ayo!” and encouraged everyone to spread the word about the organization that helps Armenia’s most underprivileged.
“It was cool to learn about the great things Ayo! is doing for the people of Armenia. The Armenian Club at my school raises money for Ayo! and now I have a much better idea of the mission of the organization,” said Sarkis Dagley of St. John Church of Southfield, MI.
In their free time participants toured the premises of the retreat center, visiting its farm populated by horses, goats, ducks, and even peacocks.
Fr. Parsamyan led a session describing a clergyman’s many roles in communication. He highlighted the works of several of his brother clergy who have carved out fruitful ministries online. Most notably, Fr. Mesrop discussed ways to create e-blasts and how this form of communication, if used effectively, can reach a large number of people and be a powerful resource for church leadership.
In a session led by Central Council member Melissa Mardoian, called “All It Takes is 60 Seconds,” participants were segregated by age and matched with a younger/older counterpart. Participants had 60 seconds each to talk rapid-fire about themselves, followed by another thirty minutes to get to know each other. At the end of the session, participants were asked to describe what they saw as their partner’s strongest leadership quality in one word. Each participant reflected on how their leadership quality can be a force for good within their own respective ACYOA chapters.
“One of the most eye-opening parts of the conference was the 60 second activity,” said Donnie Rask of St. John Church of Milwaukee, WI. “The purpose of the activity was simple, but the impact it had on me was far more profound than I anticipated. In a short amount of time, I was able to open up to someone I barely knew. It forced me out of my comfort zone, and I quickly realized the importance of communication in forming relationships and making new connections with people.”
Nine members of the 2017 Armenia Service Project (ASP) and seven members of the 2017 Young Adult Pilgrimage to Jerusalem discussed their transformative experiences.
The conference concluded Sunday with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy by Fr. Parsamyan. Central Council members led a wrap-up session and open forum following the service.
“Leadership Conference was a weekend full of learning about ourselves in our personal lives, leadership roles, and ACYOA chapters,” said Sandra Hovsepian of Holy Trinity Church of Cambridge, MA. “I love travelling to different places and meeting Armenians from across the states. I’m so grateful that the ACYOA has the ability to make weekends like this possible!”
Adam Bullock of the Church of our Saviour of Worcester, MA, added: “This year’s Leadership Conference was filled with plenty of opportunities for reflection and group activities. The facilities went above and beyond to accommodate all participants, and the messages from clergy were very inspiring. I highly recommend that all ACYOA members attend these conferences.