“We are one.”
Whether speaking with the parish priest, council members, or youth, this is the common sentiment shared by those who attend the St. Gregory the Enlightener Church in White Plains, NY.
“I think our greatest strength would be how close-knit everyone is,” shared Arsen Yelegen, a young professional who has grown up experiencing the positive family-friendly environment of the community. “If you need help with anything, you can always count on someone in the parish to assist you,” he said.
Parish council chair Ann Giragosian Daw concurred: “We have always had a good sense of community, but I think we are tighter now.” One of the reasons credited for this oneness is the united focus on the youth of the parish. Ann explained how, like in many parish communities, they are losing their older generation and with that, there is always worry about what happens when they are gone. “So we wanted to be sure the kids [of this community] felt like this was their place,” she said, underscoring that the youth have to feel like their church isn’t just about Sunday School or Armenian School, but rather that their community is there for them every day enriching their life.
To achieve this sense of a second home, back in 2010, the members conceptualized the idea of a space that catered to the youth. In May of 2017, that dream was realized with the opening of the Harry & Edna Keleshian Hall on the grounds of the scenic Westchester County parish property. This hall is now used for a multitude of activities for all ages but focuses on the younger generation as they gather regularly for basketball, volleyball and other youth-related activities and events.
“The new hall is a strong addition to the community. It is a great place for the youth to engage in fellowship,” said Yelegen, who regularly attends gatherings there to meet up with his friends.
Feeling at Home
“We are respecting and honoring the past, but also making sure the church continues to be strong and lively and attractive and a safe haven for our kids,” expressed Giragosian Daw, adding: “The parish has done a really good job over the past five years or so especially, to focus on the next generation, and the hall was a big part of that.”
It was also the youth that were showcased during the recent 10th anniversary of ordination to the holy priesthood of Rev. Fr. Mesrob Hovsepyan, pastor of the church. During a recent celebration of the Divine Liturgy, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Eastern Diocese, ordained four acolytes and blessed two candle holders. The program that followed included entertainment by the newly-formed St. Gregory dance troupe as well as a talented young man who provided a musical selection for the audience. “I’m glad I had the opportunity to share the celebration with the young people of the parish,” humbly stated Fr. Hovsepyan.
Fr. Mesrob, a graduate of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, was ordained by Archbishop Barsamian in January of 2008 in Richmond, VA. In 2014, he was appointed as the parish priest of St. Gregory, the same parish where he initially carried out his pastoral internship under the guidance of then-pastor, Rev. Fr. Karekin Kasparian.
While Fr. Mesrob indicated that he is still learning and growing himself as he strives to continue recognizing the needs of the people, he credits the oneness of the community for making his ministry easier. “We really have a great community of members who are supportive in many different ways,” he said. The biggest support he sees is with the youth. “We want to make them feel it is their own,” explained Hovsepyan, elaborating, “We want them to make that social connection and create friendships amongst themselves. When we achieve that goal and create that connection between them and their families, it will also help connect them to the church.”
Zaven Tachdjian, a long-time parishioner and former parish council member who currently sits on the Diocesan Council, praised Fr. Mesrob for building on the dedicated work of long-time pastor Fr. Kasparian, for bringing in even more of the younger generation and adding to the cohesive parish with new enthusiasm. “Our parish has grown and matured in a very positive way,” he said.
The St. Gregory the Enlightener community continues to move forward in unison, especially this year as they host the 116th annual Diocesan Assembly in May, with the fitting theme of “Under One Roof.”
“We are very excited about hosting the Assembly this year,” concluded Zaven, as no doubt the bond of ‘oneness’ echoed by the generations will be felt amongst all who attend.
–Paulette K. Doudoukjian