by Reverand Mesrob Tashijian
Our history as a church community is a mere 83 years old, but we have come to understand and appreciate the enduring spirit of continuity which connects the past with the present.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, “history” is that branch of knowledge which deals with events that have already taken place; a narrative or account, usually chronological of the past events in the life of a nation, community, institution or the like. The history of Sts. Vartanantz Church fits this criteria with more than enough events to fill a lifetime of service to the Providence community.
In 1898, Khrimian Hairig, the Catholicos of All Armenians, proclaimed by means of a holy encyclical that an American Armenian Diocese be established. The seat of thefirst Prelacy was establishedin Worcester, Massachusetts; and HovsepVartabed Sarajian became the first Prelate of the Armenians in America. In 1913, the Armenian community of Providence and vicinity had its own church called Holy Translators Church which later was changed to St. Sahag and St. Mesrob Church. It was at this church that the Armenians worshipped and worked together for nearly twenty (20) years.
The Diocesan National Representative Assembly (NRA) held in New York City between September 2-8 1933, led to unsolvable political differences which caused a rift within the national character of the church. The Providence parish could not avoid the turbulence and as a result, nearly 500-600 families were left out of the local church because of their political views or affiliations. These families were denied the comfort of spiritual nourishment including the sacraments of the church. Recognized as the separated brethren, their children were not allowed to he baptized nor could their dead be buried from the church.
It became imperative to establish a new church and community center. In 1933, the new separatist movement met in a hall at 935 Westminster Street; and under the presidency of the late Reverend Matteos Mannigian, the attendees elected its first Board of Trustees.They were Garabed Khimatian, Chairman; Vagharshag Toumasian, Vice Chairman; Boghos Melikian, Secretary; Aharon Aghtzanian, Assistant Secretary; Hapet Sarkisian, Treasurer; Aram Nalbandian, Assistant Treasurer; and Aharon Sarafian; Hampartzoom Hagopian, Bedros Jorjorian, Roupen Berberian, Boghos Ayvazian, Nishan Pashalian and Artacky Berberian. The first action the Board initiated was the rental of a church at 197 Broad Street (the corner of Summer and Stuart Streets).
When Reverend Mannigian resigned on February 12, 1934, the Very Reverend Ghevont Martoogesian became the temporary pastor June of 1934). National delegates were elected at a membership meeting held on August 22 and 23, 1934, in the Mourad Club located at 131 Douglas Avenue, Providence. The newly elected NRA delegates were Aharon Aghtzanian, Boghos Ayvazian, Vagharshag Toumasian, Hampartzoom Hagopian, Garabed Sahagian, Boghos Melikian and Karekin Donabedian.
As the years passed, the reasons for the rift in the church remained unchanged. The Board of Trustees soon tired of moving from hall to hall and faced the reality of finding a suitable house of worship. On January 26, 1936, they rented the Seventh Day Adventist Church located between Cranston and Burgess Streets. The contract was signed by Mr. Artacky Berberian in the presence of Mr. Hapet Sarkisian and Mr. Khatchadoor Mooradkhanian On September 21, 1938, a hurricane destroyed the rented church on Cranston Street which forced the Board of Trustees to take further decisive action.
A special meeting to elect a search committee was held at the Kristapor Agoomp on Sunday, October 2, 1938. The search committee headed by Mr. Artacky Berberian was selected as follows. Reverend Hoosig Nakhnikian, Mr. Harootune Avakian, Mr. Kevork Kojian, Mr. Nishan Pashalian, Mr. Garabed Khimatian, Mr. Manoog Atamian and Mr. Diran Ashodian.
After a lengthy search, they found St. James Episcopal Church at 402 Broadway, Providence. The church with its adjacent building containing kitchen facilities appeared to be quite suitable. At a special meeting held on October 30, 1939, the church membership voted to purchase St James Church for the sum of $17,000.00. At a second membership assembly held in St. James Church on January 21, 1940, under the Presidency of Reverend Yeghishe Gasparian, it was voted to raise the purchase price to $18,000 with a $6,000 down payment.
Although it had been difficult to find a church, it was harder to find financing. The fear of the depression was still fresh in the hearts and minds of the membership. However, the necessity of a church and community center was a priority to community life. Financing was-arranged and the real estate agent, Mr. Avedis Avedisian finalized the purchase. The deed was drawn up in the names of the following parishioners: Mr. Aram Nalbandian, Mr. Apkar Toumasian, Mr. Karekin Donabedian, Mr. Boghos Sahagian, Mr. Asadour Barsamian, Mr. Sarkis Saroian and Mr. Charles Sahagian.
In regard to the naming of the new church, it was unanimously decided to name it All Saints Church, as it stands today in city records. Additionally, it was the desire of parishioner, Mrs. Mary Markarian, to be the godmother of the new church.
Finally, the former St. James Episcopal Church, built circa 1890, was consecrated and renamed Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Apostolic Church on June 23, 1940. As is the custom in Armenian churches, Mrs. Mary Markarian became the Godmother of the church. In three short years, the mortgage was completely paid and all debt obliterated. This was accomplished because of the moral and financial support of the parishioners. The entire interior of the church was completely renovated by the artisans of the parish to appear as it does today.