of our Church
by Harry Missirlian- Pastor Emeritus (deceased)
Armenia is mentioned twice in the Bible. First, in Genesis
7:41, then Genesis 9:20-21. After the Great Flood, Noah’s
Ark rested on Mount Ararat, which is the center of historic
Armenia. After Noah got out, he planted a vineyard and made
wine. He drank of it and got drunk. Today, Armenia is still
famous for its wine and cognac.
The second reference to Armenia in the Bible
is found in Jeremiah 51:27. The prophet predicts the downfall
of the Babylonian Empire, The kingdoms with-in the empire
and their neighbors will rise against her and destroy her.
Among them are mentioned Ararat, Minni, and Ashkanaz which
are parts of Armenia.
Christianity came to Armenia in the first
century A.D. Tradition tells us about the Apostles Thaddaeus
and Bartholomew having preached in Armenia. There were also
small bands of devout Christian women headed by Hripsime’
and Gayane’, preaching and teaching the Christian Gospel
and making new converts. Many of these Christian women were
martyred for their faith including Hripsime’ and Gayane’.
To honor their memory, two churches were built in 618 A.D.-
St. Hripsime’, and St. Gayane’ in 630 A.D.. They
are still being used today in Armenia.
It was in 301 A.D. that the Armenian King
Dertad became Christian and proclaimed Christianity as State
religion for the first time in history.
The first Armenian Church was built in 301
A.D. in Echmiadzin, near Erevan, Armenia. This church is still
used today, it is the Mother Church.
The first Armenian bishop was Krikor Loovsavorich.
In the year 551 A.D. the Armenian Church
separated itself from the rest of Christendom and became an
independent national church with its own liturgy, doctrine
and hierarchy, headed by the Catholicos, Supreme Bishop of
In the course of time many foreign elements
found their way into the practice and liturgy of the Armenian
Church. Many attempts had been made to bring about reform.
They had not been successful. In the early part of the nineteenth
century the Peshtimaljian Seminary was opened in Istanbul,
Turkey, to prepare new clergymen who hopefully could bring
reform. Just at that time American Congregational missionaries
arrived in Istanbul and they were welcomed by the Armenian
Patriarch and the seminary president, Mr. Peshtimaljian. The
Patriarch changed his mind, dispersed the students and drove
out the missionaries. The reform minded believers were deprived
of their civil rights and persecuted mercilessly. They were
obliged to start a church of their own. This was the beginning
of the Armenian Evangelical Church, instituted on July l,
1846, in Istanbul Turkey. The new church spread rapidly. Assisted
by the American Missionaries, they opened new elementary,
secondary schools, colleges, seminaries and hospitals throughout
The first Armenian pioneers arrived in Fresno
in 1883 and immediately sought to attend an American congregational
church where they were warmly welcomed. Soon, because of cultural
and language differences, the Armenians left the church. A
group of them joined to form the Armenian Presbyterian Church
in 1897. Others joined no church and waited and longed for
the day when an Armenian congregational church could be formed.
1901 The Pilgrim Armenian Congregational
church became a reality under the leadership of Dr. Alexanderian
with fourteen members. Unfortunately we have only the names
of six original members. They are the following: Dr. Nazareth
and Elizabeth Alexanderian, Harutune and Takouhie Azhderian,
Daniel and Esther Housepian. These are our founding fathers.
In 1903 Reverend Hovhanes Santikian assumed
the leadership of the little flock after the departure of
Dr. Alexanderian from Fresno. Reverend Santikian became the
first resident minister. Under his leadership the membership
grew fast. The congregation worshiped in public halls. They
needed a large church to accommodate the worshipers. In 1911
the church and parsonage of the First Congregational Church
at Van Ness and Inyo Streets were bought for $10,000.00. Reverend
Arpiar Vartanian was the Minister.
In 1914 came the horrors of the First World
War which shook the world. The Armenians were uprooted from
their homes, lands and experienced the First Genocide of the
20th Century perpetrated by the Turks. Out of three million
Armenians, a million and half were annihilated. The survivors
took refuge in some countries of Europe, others in Russia,
in the Arab countries and some in North and South America,
some found their way to Fresno.
Due to the new immigrants in Fresno, the
Pilgrim Church experienced unusual growth, extensive needs
to help the immigrants, and orphans gathered in orphanages
organized by the American Near East Relief Society became
critical. The pastor of the Pilgrim Church was Reverend M.
G. Papazian who feverishly sought help. The Near East Relief
Society called him to join other Relief Society members to
tour the United States to raise funds and supplies for the
homeless, the hungry and the orphans. Reverend Papazian was
also invited by the U.S. Government to expedite the sale of
Liberty Bonds. Because of the distress caused by seeing the
suffering of his people, Reverend Papazian retired in 1940
and died in 1943 after having served his beloved church for
One of his great achievements during his
ministry was the purchase of the church on “M”
and Merced Streets in downtown Fresno. It was a big impressive
and a dignified monument owned by the First Presbyterian Church
of Fresno. The Presbyterians offered their church for sale
because they wanted to relocate. The price was $100,000.00.
It was financed by the sale of our old church on Van Ness
and Inyo streets for $51,000.00 plus four lots we owned on
Calaveras and “M” Streets for $31,000.00. The
rest was borrowed from church members and the Northern California
Congregational Conference. The sale was finalized on January
4, 1921. The church and parsonage served our congregation
for forty years.
. In 1941, the Reverend Hagop Chakmakjian
assumed the leadership of the Pilgrim Church. Soon he found
himself very limited, due to the fact that 198 young men and
women from our church served their country. Nine paid the
supreme sacrifice. He did his best serving the remaining parishioners.
When the youth returned from the war, the church was filled.
Young families offered new opportunities and challenges. The
church and the pastor responded favorably to those challenges.
July l, 1953, Reverend Harry M. Missirlian
arrived to assume the leadership of the Pilgrim Church. The
congregation was enlarged, the organizations had multiplied,
the needs were many and urgent. Over 200 were attending Sunday
School, over 125 attended three youth groups. The Church building
could not accommodate all the needs and activities of the
parish. New services, programs and projects had to be initiated
to meet the demands of the parish. The pastor had to preach
two regular sermons each service in two languages on different
subjects. Additional leadership was needed. The services of
a full-time Christian Education Director was employed in the
person of Doris Fick and later Jo Ann Conard and Karl Avakian.
The old church building had to be remodeled
to create more space to accommodate new needs. A survey was
made by architects, engineers and City Officials and all agreed
that the building could not be remodeled. Beautiful as it
was, it could not serve us adequately anymore. Therefore,
the congregation decided to relocate. Eight and half acres
of land was purchased and plans were made for a new church.
Funds had to be raised, a taxing project that needed the cooperation
and generosity of the entire parish.
Ground was broken and construction of three
units begun, a spacious Social Hall, an Administration Building
and an Educational Building. By borrowing some money, we were
able to pay for land and the three units at the cost of $430,995.00.
Ten years later the construction of the sanctuary was started.
On March 15, 1970, the beautiful sanctuary was completed and
dedicated with a joyful and meaningful service.
In 1970, Karl Avakian was employed as a full-time
Christian Education Director. He was in charge of youth groups
and Sunday School. He guided the youth to spiritual life retreats,
conferences and conducted Bible study groups at Fresno State
By 1972, all building expenses were paid
up and the church was free of all debts.
In 1965, a parsonage was built on church
grounds, at the cost of $30,000.00 donated by the estate of
Mrs. Ephtalia Heghin, a former parishioner of Reverend Missirlian
in Chicago, in appreciation of love and care given to her
by him in time of need and illness.
By the recommendation of Reverend Missirlian
two funds were
A. A Memorial Fund - Gifts given in memory
of loved ones by family and friends. From the income of this
fund a new pipe organ was purchased and a beautiful illustrated
Memorial Book was published. Only the income of this fund
can be used for church needs.
B. The Endowment Fund - Gifts received from
estates and from special celebrations make the bulk of this
fund. Again, only the income of this fund can be used for
In August 1980, having completed twenty seven
years of a fruitful ministry in the Pilgrim Church, Reverend
Harry Missirlian retired with a feeling of contentment and
joy in his heart.
Reverend Roger Minassian served the Pilgrim
Church from 1980 until 1993. During his ministry, emphases
on missions were stressed and contributions for that purpose
were included in the budget. A two hour pre-worship program
of Bible study was introduced plus additional weekday sessions.
Reverend Minassian was instrumental in inspiring Harry and
Zabelle Goorabian to build, finance and endow a Family Life
Center for recreation, fellowship, study and outreach into
the community. Reverend Calvin Sagherian was employed to serve
the youth and young couples. Joan Hensleit Minassian was employed
as Director of Christian Education for a short time. Reverend
Sagherian introduced a mission to Mexico program for the church
The Harry and Zabelle Goorabian Christian
Family Life Center has it’s own Board of Directors and
youth director in the person of Sam Sarkissian.
After the resignations of Reverend Minassian
and Reverend Sagherian, the one year of interim ministry of
the Reverend William Antablin was a blessed experience for
our church family.
Reverend Bruce Baloian served the church
from 1995 - 1997. His Biblical preaching and Bible study sessions
were appreciated. He returned to his first love, teaching
at Azuza University.
In 1992 Mrs. Margaret Josephine, in memory
of her husband, Joe, undertook an extensive program of maintenance,
renewal and preservation of our church grounds and buildings,
and their beauty and care for present and future generations.
Some planted the seed, others watered it,
but God made it grow. They served the Lord holding the torch
of faith high and passing it on to the coming generations,
so that they may bear witness to the faith of our fathers.
“Go forth therefore, make disciples
and teach them to observe all that I have commanded you. Be
assured I am with you always to the end of time.” Matthew