By Jennifer Keledjian
On September 6, 1997, Californiaís oldest Armenian Church celebrated itís 100th Anniversary. The centennial celebration for First Armenian Presbyterian Church of Fresno (F.A.P.C.) was held at the Centre Plaza Holiday Inn.
Almost 1000 individuals within California and throughout scattered parts of the nation, gathered in unity, to commemorate this historic event. The prepared program included greetings from Jim Patterson, Mayor of the City of Fresno; George Radanovich of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Elder Patricia G. Brown, Moderator of the General Assembly Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Earl R. Meyers, Jr., accompanied by Dr. Alan Rea, graced the evening with special music.
Dr. Raymond V. Damadian, an acclaimed inventor of the MRI and a national religious leader, in his keynote address, spoke about the immense power of God in the scientific world. This commemoration dinner concluded with many attendants leaving the event with renewed faith that God had kept the First Armenian Presbyterian Church standing strong.
This church history began on July 25, 1897, when 40 men and women met together in a hall to praise God. This determined group formed the First Armenian Presbyterian Church. The first pastor of the church was unanimously chosen as Reverend L.T. Burbank. After Reverend Burbank served the church for two years, Reverend George H. Filian took over the demanding role. During that time, a sanctuary was constructed at the corner of Santa Clara and Fulton Streets.
As years followed, and as many new pastors were given the opportunity to work God’s glorious miracles in this church, the church building was relocated to First and Huntington Streets, where a second sanctuary was built. This took place on March 30, 1942.
In 1964, the church, which was growing and expanding, built a Christian Education building and sanctuary. In 1978, the Reverend Bernard Guekguezian became the tenth pastor of the First Armenian Presbyterian Church. Reverend Guekguezian is currently serving the church.
According to Anna G. Eshoo, Member of Congress, “The First Armenian Presbyterian Church allows the California Armenian community to retain a close spiritual kinship by meeting the needs of itís members.” In F.A.P.C.’s attempt to spread Christianity to itís members and in the surrounding mission field, many programs and projects have been developed to continue the ultimate quest for salvation. The dedicated services of Badveli Guekguezian and his wife Knar and Associate Pastor Gregory Haroutunian, have contributed to an encouraging increase in membership and general attendance.
The Sunday School at F.A.P.C. is one highlight of the churchís service that gives students an understanding of Christianity and comprehension of the Bible. Sunday School extends to all ages, including classes for college and career, adult men, and adult women.
The morning Armenian Worship Service, beginning at 9:30 am, is an extension to the regular service that is presented entirely in Armenian. This service embraces many who are not familiar with the English language. This service now has 100 members in attendance each Sunday and is continually growing. F.A.P.C. also has a very active women’s society, Fidelis, in which women work together, in order to carry on the ministry of service and faith to the Lord. Fidelis not only monetarily supports the church, but also hosts a number of banquets and receptions in service to the community. Fidelis continues to be a motivation to many, spiritually, culturally and socially.
The church sponsors and supports many outreach mission projects that reach out to many around the world. Some of these include the Mexico Outreach Program, reaching out to a small impoverished village along the Mexican boarder; Serve Fresno, witnessing to the Hmong community; sponsoring many orphans in Armenia; participation in World Impact; and devising a generous fund specifically for the construction of a new church in Armenia.
Other activities within the church include Childrenís Church, Christian Education youth groups for Jr. High, High School and College and Career, and Vacation Bible School held in summer. F.A.P.C. has been the foundation of many Christian Endeavors, outreach missions, and has stood as common ground for many to come and learn about Godís power and grace.
Over the 100 year time span, the church has been relocated, buildings have been build to facilitate youth group functions and the growing congregation, ministers have served and moved on to find other callings, but most of all, the meaning and purpose of this church has remained strong and constant. In order to follow the 100 year history of the church, the Centennial Committee collected documents and photographs that depicted the church’s involvement within the community. These valuable pieces of 100 years of history are elaborately displayed in the Christian Education building in hopes that many would become familiar with and learn about the early configuration of the church.
The Centennial Celebration for the oldest Armenian church in California touched on many of these enriching aspects that have led the church to continued success. The celebration reunited many, and encouraged members to continue the legacy of the goal of the church- to spread Christianity to all. It is obvious that First Armenian Presbyterian Church is proud of itís 100 year celebration. The members are upbeat and ready to embrace the challenges that face them. With that kind of dedication, another 100 years is very close by.
*Some of the above information has been provided by Phillip Tavlian, chairman of the Centennial Committee, who extensively researched the churchís history.