“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Colossians 3:23)
At this joyous Advent season, first, I thank our Lord for granting us another successful year of ministry and service to our people, through His abundant blessings.
I am personally grateful to the faithful of our community, all the volunteers who serve our Church, the parish councils and all committee members for their dedication and commitment. I am sure they find satisfaction in the awareness that they are providing God-pleasing service to our people. As individuals we might have differences of opinions or views on certain issues, but ultimately our goal is and must be the same: serving Christ by serving our people.
Last year, we established a number of new programmes which have been taking place at the Bishop’s House, the primate’s new residence and office in Ealing. A range of activities have been planned and implemented throughout the year that addresses the various needs and segments of our community.
Spiritual Journey through the Bible
Weekly Bible studies with the Primate (every Wednesday) were held during the year for the faithful of the community, who are in search of deeper understanding of their faith and Christian fellowship. These are not academic discussions, but a journey together through the Bible.
Armenian Christian Faith Lecture Series
This program introduces the faith, theology, liturgy, sacraments and, generally, the spiritual heritage of the Armenian Church to the members of the community and wider interested audiences. Presentations have included on a series of subjects, such as: “Deaconesses in the Armenian Church” and “Sexuality as reflected in the Armenian Church wedding service”, both delivered by Dr Hratch Tchilingirian ( Oxford); and presentation of a book by the General Secretary of the Bible Society in the Gulf, Dr Hrayr Jebejian, about his travels in the Diaspora.
Contemporary Social & Ethical Issues
These are series of discussions of contemporary social and ethical issues, curated and led by Dr Hratch Tchilingirian (Oxford), which are of concern for young professionals and members of the larger Armenian community. Recent topics included: “Are we becoming victims of Fake News?”; “How much money do people need to be happy?”and “Are we addicted to online distraction?”
These are monthly, after work informal gatherings for young professionals at the Bishop’s House to network and catch up with friends and the latest developments in the Armenian world or a presentation by a guest speaker. Recently discussed topics of interest, included the three-hundred-year story of the “Tutundjian de Vartavan” family of Karabakh meliks by Christian de Vartavan, a descendent of the clan; another is a presentation by Baroness Cox on the situation of Christians in Syria.
Although engaging the youth has many challenges, we have had a number of successful activities that provided networking and collaboration with young people – all thanks to the dedication of a core of committed young people. This summer, our youth visited Armenia and Artsakh to attend the Armenian Church Youth Organisation’s international gathering. The trip not only provided an opportunity for British Armenian youth to meet with their counterparts in Armenia, but also provided inspiration to work locally and connect with the Mother Land.
The Bishop’s House has provided space for the “Armenian Youth House”, equipped with full sound system and latest technologies — thanks to generous donors, especially Shahe Gulian – so that the youth can gather and enjoy themselves by networking and learning from each other.
Our youth have organised a number of exciting events, such as Boat Parties, Christmas Carols, celebration of various Armenian feasts, distribution of traditional Christmas and Easter baskets to the elderly, and series of lectures to help them in faith matters. Some of the youth serve also on the altar during the Divine Liturgy. More exciting activities are being planned in 2020.
Armenian Children’s Club
This new program has provided an opportunity for Armenian children to come together fortnightly, to have fun and learn together about Armenian faith and culture. We are grateful to Mrs Anna Henden, who runs the Children’s club at the Bishop’s House.
ART Wellbeing for Women
Led by young artist Anna Virabyan, these gatherings provide art therapy for women. The sessions that were held throughout the year encouraged non-verbal communication and expressions through painting and artistic creatively.
The Primate’s office has organised a number of pilgrimages in recent years. This year a successful pilgrimage to Italy took 26 participants to discover Armenian traces in Naples, Florence, Venice and Rome. The highlight of the trip was a general audience with Pope Francis. In 2020 we are planning a pilgrimage to the Holy Land during the Armenian Christmas, a trip to Portugal, and possibly to Western Armenia.
Cultural and Social Events
The Primate’s office and the Ladies Committee have organising a series of cultural and food evenings, including Italian-Armenian and Persian Armenian nights. Participants not only enjoyed food and music, but also had opportunity to socialise, network and carry on discussions.
The biggest event of the year, not only for our Diocese but also for the British Armenian community, is the Armenian Summer Festival, which was held again at North Acton Playing fields. The preparation for the festival takes more than six months of enormous amount of time, energy and organization by an army of volunteers, led by a dedicated committee. This year’s success exceeded all expectations and was unmatched by any previous festival. The turnover and attendance were the highest recorded yet. It also generated some funds for the implementation of church programs. We are grateful to each member of the festival committee and all the volunteers who contributed enormously to our collective success.
The response to our programs and activities at the Bishop’s House has been enormously positive. We shall continue our activities in the coming year with even more enthusiasm and, more importantly, with the help and participation of our faithful people.
Pastoral visits to Parishes
As chief pastor and Diocesan Primate it is a great joy for me to meet our faithful people during my regular visits to the churches and parishes in our diocese. Worshipping with our people, praying with them and meeting them during the social hour are among the most important aspects of my ministry in the British Armenian and Irish Armenian communities. While due to circumstances I visit the London churches more often, every parish in Britain and Ireland are equally important and dear for me. Working together in our parishes is the most important dimension of our ministry as clergy and laymen.
I am thankful to our priests serving in our diocese: Rev Fr Nerces Nersessian, who serves the Holy Trinity Armenian Church in Manchester; Rev. Fr Shnork Baghdasarian, pastor of St Sarkis Church; and Rev Fr Nshan Alaverdyan, pastor of St Yeghiche Church, who also actively serves the parishes in Dublin and Birmingham. Since last year we have been fortunate to have with us Vey Rev Fr Grigoris, who is studying in the UK, and has been elevated to the rank of vardapet; he will assist us as his time allows.
Relations with sister Christian Churches and inter-religious organizations are part of our ecumenical outreach, as well as international and local engagement. During the year I attended a number of meetings of the World Council of Churches and the Conference of the European Churches. In Britain we have close working relations with the Church of England, the Catholic Church and other denominations. In March of this year, we consecrated an Armenian khachkar at the memorial garden of Canterbury, along with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. The memorial is dedicated to the victims of the Armenian Genocide. In April, we commemorated the Armenian Genocide at Christ the Saviour Church in Ealing, which concluded with a procession to the Armenian apricot tree in Ealing. I visited Dublin and Wales respectively to commemorate the Armenian Genocide on 24 April. At St. Davids in Wales we recognised Canon Thomas Patrick with a special blessings letter from the Catholicos.
Community organizations and schools
As the Primate I have good working relationship with all the organizations in the Armenian community. The Armenian Church is the home of every Armenian and is an inclusive community. Our relations with the two community schools are very important for us. Our clergy visit the two schools on a regular basis. We have arranged for the schools to join us on special festive days, such as “Tarkmanchatz” and “Vartanank” to celebrate the liturgy together and to bless the children.
Pan Armenian projects
We have been involved with a number of charitable projects in Armenia. Among them, we raised funds towards the purchase of houses for destitute families in Gyumri, who were still bearing the consequences of the devastating 1988 earthquake. The project was organized and implemented by the Holy See of Etchmiadzin. Donors and parishes participated in the fundraising. A main event for this purpose was organized by the Ladies Committee, a dinner-lecture with Lord Darzi, who was the guest of honour and speaker at the Holiday Inn in Kensington. Another important fundraising effort is dedicated to the restoration of the Mother Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin. In October a special event for this purpose was organized at St Yeghiche Church. The fundraising for these charitable projects were done through the UK-registered charity “Friends of Holy Etchmiadzin,” whose main objective is to support Church projects in Armenia.
While some of our projects are self-sufficient, we heavily rely on the assistance of sponsors and donors to continue our ministry. We are immensely grateful to all the donors and sponsors of our programs. The Armenian Church Trust (ACT UK) is the main charity through which the Primate’s Office and the work of the church in the UK are administered. I thank the trustees for their continued service: Mr Hovnan Hampartsumian, Mrs Ayda Lundon, Mr Alan Simonian, Mr Viken. Haladjian.
Major donors: A special gratitude must be expressed to our major donors, who provide significant and critical support for our annual programs. We are immensely grateful to Raffi & Alice Tanielian and family; Hagop & Donna Didizian and family; the St. Sarkis Charity Trust, under the leadership of Mr Martin Essayan, AGBU London Trust and many others for their continued and generous contributions.
Our parishes: We are most grateful to the annual contributions made by our parishes despite their own challenges, which continue to support the primate and diocesan programs. Their sense of duty, service and dedication to the Armenian Church are exemplary.
We are grateful to Dr Hratch Tchilingirian for his advice and support, especially for conceiving and developing programmes for our diocese. Special thanks to Mr Keghvart Vartanian for his invaluable help and involvement in our projects. I am very grateful to our team, led by multitasking Hrachik Sarian; the Ladies Committee, led by Jeanine Gulvanessian, and all the volunteers, without whom these activities may not have been possible.
This year we recognised a dedicated and long serving member of our community, Mr Armenag Topalian, who was awarded with highest medal of the Armenian Church, the St. Sahag and St. Mesrop medal. We will continue to recognise other such members of the community who have served for many decades.
Our staff at the Bishop’s House is extremely small, just one part-time assistant and a bookkeeper. We have an active website and continue to publish our weekly e-newsletter. We maintain our Facebook page, Twitter and YouTube channel with the help of Zorik Gasparian who started the online Hamaink TV, for which we thank him.
May the Lord bless you and your families throughout the new year with good health and success in your lives.
“And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14-22).
Bishop Hovakim Manukyan
Diocese of the Armenian Church