More than 30 years ago, one of my colleagues asked me to speak briefly about the Armenian Genocide to a Jewish congregation in Stamford, Connecticut. I prepared a 30 minute presentation. Rather than only listening to a lecture, I wanted them to ask ques-tions, especially since it was a workday evening.
I drove to the address the Rabbi, a woman, their spiritual leader had given me. As I got closer to the address, I noticed it was a residential neighborhood and I did not see any big building which looked like a synagogue. In the dark, I drove back and forth to make sure I did not enter the wrong home. What comforted me was that I saw two dozen cars near the address given to me.
I rang the doorbell. The Rabbi and the host family greeted and welcomed me at the door. As I entered the large living room, I saw at least two dozen congregation members sitting comfortably on couches and chairs in a circle. They purposely set up the room to allow every member to feel included and close to the guest speaker.
After the Rabbi’s welcoming and introductory words, I spoke for about 30 minutes as they listened attentively. At times, I made some comparisons, both similarities and dif-ferences, to the Jewish Holocaust. After the question and answer session, the host family offered a light reception. Obviously, this was not their synagogue, but the home of one of their families.
As I prepared to leave, the Rabbi thanked me again. I thanked her and the hosts for inviting an Armenian priest to educate them about the Armenian Genocide and for want-ing to learn also about the tragedies of other nations.
The Rabbi accompanied me to my car. As we were walking, I asked her, “Where is your Synagogue?”
She immediately responded, “We do not have a building yet. We gather at homes. First we build the community and then the building.”
As I was driving back to Trumbull, her words rang in my ears, “First, we build the community.”
Years later, as I remember this Rabbi’s words, I think we Armenians do just the opposite. First, we buy or build our church. Then we work diligently for the next 20 years to pay the mortgage. Finally, we start to gradually build the community. Sometimes we erect beautiful churches, leave them with no full-time pastor, and are content to have a visiting priest come on weekends.
If the real church is the congregation and not just the building, then maybe we too must examine our priorities and as this Jewish congregation did some 30 years ago, put them in the right order. Today, even where our communities have the church edifice and a full-time parish priest, we still have to work on building the community and to fill the pews on Sundays.