If you ever want to create commotion among a group of priests and bishops, start speaking about the need for change in the Church.
Hierarchal clergy who administer the Church – any Church – have always struggled with change; for it is a difficult balancing-act recognizing that in ministry some things must never change, others must change constantly, and differentiating between the two is a precarious, high-wire act.
For the Armenian clergy, the preservation of the Armenian Church as the repository of our faith, devotional practices, and characteristics, is an increase to those burdens of maintaining authenticity, while at the same time, carrying the additional dynamic burden and responsibility of teaching our history, culture, language, etc.
Clearly, God has a purpose for His Church and these are non-negotiable. If the Armenian Church fails to balance the purposes of bringing the individual to Christ through worship, engaging in fellowship with others, having an attitude of discipleship, ministering to others in need, and preaching God’s message, then it is no longer a healthy church, and it is in danger of becoming simply a social club.
The way or style in which the faithful and clergy of the Armenian Church fulfill these eternal purposes must continually be adjusted and modified because human culture is always changing.
The challenge is to recognize the differences and to act on what must change and how to make such changes without weakening the foundations of doctrine and authentic theology. Such a challenge came to fruition from the Baby Boomer youth of the Armenian Church fifty years ago.
Historians have labeled 1968 arguably as the most historic turning point of contemporary American history.
It was the year that the North Vietnamese launched the bloody Tet Offensive against the United States and South Vietnam, signifying the beginning of the end of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
In April and June, revered leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated; during the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, two black athletes staged a silent demonstration against racial discrimination in the United States by raising their black-gloved hands; Apollo 8 was the first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon; and a myriad of other history-changing events If nothing else, 1968 marked a change in direction for our country.
Our Armenian youth were as much a part of daily American life as anyone and were not impervious to these violations of civil normality.
But they also bore the additional burden of having to preserve their unique Armenian Christian and cultural legacy that at times could be so stringent and weighty, they had to choose to either accept everything “as is,” or, as some did, walk away.
For the parents of this generation, there seemed to be no doorway to a common understanding of how both cultures could be a part of who both were.
On September 2, 1968, the Annual A.C.Y.O.A. Assembly convened at Williams Bay, Wisconsin. During the assembly, a document was presented and voted upon which was a clear message from the youth at that time to their elders that a change in the organization and the Armenian Church was needed.
While two years earlier, Time Magazine asked “Is God Dead?” the mainly Baby Boomer delegates to the Assembly were looking for meaningful changes in their Armenian Church and approached the matter differently.
During their deliberations, they produced a document entitled “The Williams Bay Manifesto.” They wrote in part:
We are told so often that the Church belongs to us; therefore, we have not only the right but the duty to see that our Church relates to the present day, . . .
we are disturbed by our Church’s refusal . . . to face the urgent and real problems of today, . . . Poverty, hunger, disease, wars, racial tensions, social discontent and turmoil sear the world around us, . . . We want our Church to see beyond its own interests, to share others’ sufferings and problems.
We are committed to action… the watchword is a revolution. Our revolutionary commitment and action address itself to a radical concern of making Christ live and grow in our Church and members. We are now resolved to speak out and act in accordance with the dictates of our conscience in all areas of life within and without our Church, wherever Christ is being crucified anew.
Church officials were faced with a double-edged challenge – to find ways to respond to the concerns of this generation while remaining true to the Armenian faith and traditions, or potentially lose them all together.
Today, 50 years later, it would be an interesting study to see how many of that generation remained within the fold of the Armenian Church and how many went elsewhere. Their choices made over these fifty years are surely evident in the reality of who we are today.
to be continued . . .