On Saturday, January 23, the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America held its 118th annual Diocesan Assembly as an online gathering, convened over the Zoom video conference platform. Some 150 attendees—clergy, delegates, parish council chairs, and observers, representing local parishes throughout the Diocese—took part in the meeting.
Diocesan Primate Bishop Daniel Findikyan, who presided over the gathering, acknowledged the novelty of holding a Diocesan Assembly remotely. In his welcoming remarks he noted that this was not only a first in the history of the Diocese, but possibly a milestone in the history of the Armenian Church, considering that other diocesan jurisdictions had decided to forego their representative assemblies for the duration of the pandemic crisis.
Bishop Daniel said that delegates throughout the Eastern Diocese felt that even under such circumstances it was important to hold an assembly, and communications technology made the gathering feasible. The Primate emphasized that whether meeting face-to-face or over the Internet, “the church and the actions of its leaders always aim to serve God’s will, first and foremost.”
Worldwide concerns over the pandemic had caused the cancellation of the scheduled 118th Diocesan Assembly, which was to have taken place in May of 2020, in Dallas, TX. Furthermore, an earlier online gathering of Diocesan delegates and leaders on September 12, 2020, was conducted as an “informational assembly,” with a limited scope and timeframe. In the same informational vein, throughout the fall several online “breakout sessions” were held, during which leaders of Diocesan departments and organizations reported on their activities and upcoming plans, and fielded questions from delegates.
Voting Takes Center Stage
An important function of the January 23 Diocesan Assembly involved voting for elected officers, proposals, and matters such as the approval of the Diocesan budget. In preparation for the meeting, the Diocesan Council along with representatives from the Board of Trustees, Nominating, Auditing and Proposals Committees, and officers of the 117th Diocesan Assembly, tested a virtual voting platform and deemed it to be both secure and user friendly.
At the outset of voting, Nominating Committee chair Dr. Lynn Cetin (Holy Martyrs Church, Bayside, NY) thanked Alex Topakbashian (St. Sahag and St. Mesrob Church, Wynnewood, PA) for his technical help in adapting the secure voting platform “Election Buddy” to the needs of the Diocesan Assembly. (The same platform is being recommended to local parishes for use in their respective parish assemblies this year.)
With the voting system in place, the first order of business was to elect officers of the 118th Diocesan Assembly. Having led the early portion of the meeting (as well as the September 12 “informational assembly”), 117th Diocesan Assembly chair Lisa Esayian turned over the virtual gavel to the incoming officers: chairman Gregory Saraydarian (Holy Martyrs, Bayside, NY), vice chair Zaven Tachdjian (St. Gregory the Enlightener, White Plains, NY), and secretary Laurie Bejoian (Holy Translators, Framingham, MA).
Elections were also held to fill seats on the Diocesan Board of Trustees, as well as the Nominating, Proposals, and Auditing committees. (Results of all the elections appear below.)
A report from the assembly’s Standing Committee on the National-Ecclesiastical Assembly, Ecclesiastical Representative Assembly, Bylaws and Church Governance was presented by Ara Araz (St. Leon, Fair Lawn, NJ).
Financial Report and Proposals
Roseann Manoogian Attar (St. John, Southfield, MI) delivered the Financial and Budget Report on behalf of the Diocesan Council, which she serves as its longtime Treasurer. She discussed the sometimes difficult measures the Diocesan Council and administration took in the wake of the pandemic, noting that Diocesan financial concerns during the unpredictable pandemic year were greatly relieved by the federal Payroll Protection Program (PPP), which loaned $500,000 to the Diocese. The Diocese is applying for the second round of PPP funding, while also applying for forgiveness of the first-round loan.
She noted that the Diocese raised over a million dollars for Artsakh during the year. She also congratulated Diocesan Development director Laurie Onanian’s efforts for the 2020 Annual Appeal, which raised in excess of one million dollars to fund the Diocese’s ministries for the coming year.
Diocesan Council chair Fr. Krikor Sabounjian (Holy Translators, Framingham, MA) made special mention of a half-million-dollar endowment established in memory of the late Edward Onanian, which will for the first time ensure an annual retirement benefit for lay members of the Diocesan staff.
Proposed Diocesan budgets for 2021 (of around $3.7 million) and 2022 (around $4.4 million) were both approved by the delegates.
The final area of deliberation by the delegates involved a series of proposals, several of which sought to amend the Diocesan Bylaws. Three such Bylaws amendments were passed by the assembly; these involved amendments that (a) clarify the nature of the majorities on the Diocesan Council and Board of Trustees required to authorize the dispensation of real properties, (b) establish a limit of three consecutive 4-year terms for service on the Diocesan Council, and (c) permit the Diocesan Board of Trustees to hold meetings telephonically.
All three of these amendments were passed for the second consecutive year, and pending approval by the Catholicos of All Armenians will be adopted into the Bylaws.
Voting on several other proposals was deferred to a later date, in consideration of the lateness of the hour. The report of the Auditing Committee was also deferred to that time—which is still to be determined but will be scheduled for the near future.
With a benediction from Bishop Daniel, the January 23 virtual session of the 118th Diocesan Assembly was adjourned. Before doing so the Primate expressed appreciation to the assembly officers and delegates for an orderly gathering in unusual circumstances, to the Diocesan Council members for their efforts throughout the difficult preceding year, and to Diocesan staff members Jennifer Morris and Kathryn Ashbahian for gracefully running the technical aspect of the Zoom video conference.
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2020 DIOCESAN ASSEMBLY ELECTION RESULTS
Below are the names of individuals elected to Diocesan boards and positions during the 118th Diocesan Assembly.
Gregory Saraydarian (Bayside, NY)—Chair
Zaven Tachdjian (White Plains, NY)—Vice Chair
Laurie Bejoian (Framingham, MA)—Secretary
Board of Trustees
Zaven Tachdjian (White Plains, NY)—full 10-year term
Edward Korkoian (Southfield, MI)—3-year completion of term
Dn. Ara Jeknavorian (Chelmsford, MA)—Chair
Fr. Ghevond Ajamian (Dallas, TX)
Fr. Tadeos Barsaghyan (St. Paul, MN)
Fr. Mesrob Hovsepian (White Planins, NY)
Jeanette DerHagopian (Cheltenham, PA)
1st Alternate: Fr. Abraham Malkhasyan (Bayside, NY)
2nd Alternate: Danny Mantis (Racine, WI)
Jacki Melkonian El Chemmas (Southfield, MI)—Chair
Fr. Tavit Boyajian (Palos Heights, IL)
Fr. Avedis Kalaydjian (Racine WI)
Charles Babikian (Chicago, IL)
Sarine Zenian (Washington, DC)
1st Alternate: Michael Kazarian (Southfield, MI)
2nd Alternate: Fr. Andreas Garabedian (Chicago, IL)
Russell Kashian (Greenfield, WI)
Alternate: Dean Shahinian (Washington, DC)