20 Years Ago: And the kids came

It was 20 years ago today: Untold stories from the Armenian Church Youth Ministries Center

Today’s episode: And then the kids arrived.

Following the Resurrection of Jesus, that is in the first Eastertide season, the Church grew fairly rapidly with regular converts. Christianity was an underground movement, and the Church remained underground until the 4th Century. Very simply, the powers to be were not happy with the Church and her growth. The growth of the first century Church is documented in the book of the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistles, which follow Acts in the Biblical canon.

A reading of the Gospels will make it clear that Jesus’ popularity and following did not sit well with the established religious community of his time as well. Why else are we here in the Easter Season? His deeds and teachings sentenced him a torturous and slow death on the Cross, and the Resurrection is the mark of the triumph of Truth. Life won out over death as Love proved stronger than hatred.

The purity and absolute Truth of Jesus Christ was his calling card. This is why the disciples, one-by-one left family and home to follow him. This is why the landscape of the Sermon on the Mount was packed and why there were tens of thousands who needed to be fed in the loaves and fish story. (Matthew 14)

What we were doing with the Armenian Youth Ministries Center was an experiment. We were building on the Faith and Teaching of the Church. Since the earliest days of my ministry as a deacon and as a priest I never understood nor appreciated the bait-and-switch approach to ministry. We’ve heard it often: Come to church, we have a great basketball court. Once you get there, surprise! They have you in a Bible Study. I cannot understand how this is supposed to promote goodwill between the youth and the church. Obviously, the kids that come want to play ball and sit through a Bible Study if it means some time on the court. But what does that entire bait-and-switch operation really saying about the church? Do we feel that our main “product” is so defective or unappealing that we have to trick people into coming? Ideally, you want bring people in on the basis of your Faith – your main product – and afterwards celebrate with fellowship – whether with hoops, on a bowling alley, at a picnic ground.

The truth of the matter is that the YMCA or the local high school have better basketball courts than the church. But there is no one who has a better understanding of the Christianity and the articles of the Faith than the Apostolic Church, the Body of Christ, the one that was there at the time of Christ. And that became the platform on which we built the Youth Ministries Center. Let’s combat the evils that were before us, whether drugs, loneliness, violence, gangs, whatever they may be, let’s combat them with the Love that Jesus Christ offers.

The kids started coming.

After that first Easter word got out that we were on the corner in Glendale. There was no magic to bringing kids in. We left the doors open and curiosity did the rest. It was a quiet haven for those who wanted to get out of the afterschool hustle-bustle. We had a church upstairs and a large multipurpose room downstairs where many kids would come after school just to hang out, do their homework or wait for a parent pick up. There was no covering up that this was a church. In the sanctuary, Bibles were available for the taking. We’d talk about issues. Weekly Bible Studies were attended by the kids and their parents. We had our social activities, but they weren’t the reason, rather they were the places where fellowship took place.

And then came April 24, only 10 days after our opening and four days after Easter. With all the positive energy we were putting out there for our Ministry, the switch to mourning, sorrow, and victimization was not the turn I wanted to take. We had addressed these issues at my former parishes, but this was Glendale. We were in the largest concentration of Armenians outside of Armenia. If there is one thing Armenians all rally around, it’s recognizing the atrocities committed by the Turks against the Armenian Nation culminating in Armenian Genocide. One-and-a-half million Armenians were murdered, and over that amount of people were exiled from their historic homeland.

This was very personal for me. My grandparents are survivors of the Armenian Genocide. I grew up with stories of the Genocide heard firsthand. I resented people who turned on their Armenianness on April 24 and forgot about in on April 25. Further, as a priest, I felt a hypocrisy in celebrating the victory of Life on Easter and tossing the euphoria out the window days later to mourn a crucifixion. If we are the inheritors of the title “First Christian Nation” and “First Genocide of the 20th Century” then we have to come up with a response that reflects both the Resurrection and the horrors of Genocide. We had done it at my parishes in Cupertino and Pasadena, now Glendale was going to feel the power Gospel expressed.

We continue tomorrow with more untold stories from 20 years ago today, and invite you to join us. If you missed earlier episodes, you can hear them on your favorite podcatcher or at Epostle.net under the “Armodoxy for Today” tab. Remember to leave a comment and/or write us at feedback@epostle.net.

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