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"The Birth of AEUNA"

By Rev. Dr. Vahan Tootikian

[from the March 2002 issue of Forum]

It all happened in October of 1971, at the Armenian Congregational Church of Greater Detroit, in Southfield, Michigan. The merger of the two Armenian Evangelical unions on the North American continent, the Armenian Evangelical Union of Eastern States and Canada (AEU-East) and the Armenian Evangelical Union of California (AEU-Cal), produced the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America (AEUNA). It happened at the 70th (and last) annual convention of the AEU-East, held in conjunction with the 52nd annual meeting of the AMAA.

Formation of the AEUNA

The main item of business at this convention was the amended constitution and by-laws for the AEUNA. For this purpose a special Constitutional Convention was convened, consisting of three sessions. Some 60 official delegates, including 23 ministers, attended the various meetings. A revised constitution prepared by a special committee chaired by Prof. Zaven Margosian was presented to the assembly for approval. This document had undergone intense scrutiny, review, and revision by the officers of the two unions during long and arduous sessions held at a two-day special pre-convention meeting. On the basis of the ground rules set and implemented by the two parliamentarians, and under the capable leadership of Prof. Margosian, the document was discussed and voted on, article by article, section by section, each church delegation having one vote.

Of the 22 churches constituting the two unions, 18 were represented at the convention, with a 2/3 majority required (i.e., 12 churches) to pass any item. At the Friday, October 8th evening session, with a majority of seventeen churches and one abstention (later becoming a unanimous vote), the constitution and by-laws were adopted and the AEUNA became a happy reality, applauded by all. After the convention, the four absentee churches also agreed to join the AEUNA.

Then the AEU-East and the AEU-Cal were symbolically united as the two former moderators, Revs. H. Missirlian and V. Hartunian, together lighted a single candle from two smaller candles which were then extinguished, thus symbolically dissolving the two former unions and bringing into being one new greater union.

The avowed purpose of the new AEUNA is stated on the first page of the constitution and by-laws:

  1. To work for the Kingdom of God on earth through the saving power of Jesus Christ.
  2. To promote the general welfare of the Armenian Evangelical churches in North America.
  3. To promote the missionary outreach of these churches.
  4. To unite all ministers of this Union into one Christian brotherhood and to foster their spiritual growth and effectiveness in the Christian ministry.

Background to the Merger

Who were the parent organizations of AEUNA? Why did they want to merge? And how did the merger come about?

The Armenian Evangelical churches in America made their appearance toward the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth. Although the majority of these were founded before World War I, it was after the Turkish massacres of the Armenians that a stream of immigrants reached America and strengthened Armenian evangelicalism, numerically as well as financially.

In the early 1900s, Armenian Evangelicals in America founded two Church Unions, one on the east coast, and the other on the west. The AEU-East, which included all the churches east of the Mississippi River, was founded in 1901, in Worcester, Massachusetts. The AEU-Cal was organized in May 1908, and was first called The Armenian Congregational Union of California; in order to enable Armenian Presbyterian churches to join, its name was later changed to the Armenian Evangelical Union of California.

For many years churches and ministers, both in the East and in California, had felt the need for closer cooperation and more intimate fellowship. This feeling that they are one and belong to one another was intensified in the 1960’s when travel became easier and representatives of the two unions participated in each other’s conventions. There were other factors that prompted the desire to seek unity. New threats, as well as new opportunities confronted our people. On one hand, some Armenian Evangelical churches in both regions were closing. On the other hand, some conducive factors also intensified the desire for unity. A good example of this was the Inter-Union Council which became an inspiring example of establishing closer inter-relationship among our churches, and this on a world-wide basis. The meetings held in Paris, in 1965, brought representatives of Armenian Evangelical churches from all over the world. The ultimate effect was one of cementing the unity of Armenian Evangelicals.

Moved by these events, at the AEU-East Annual Meeting, held in Philadelphia in 1964, the idea of the merger was discussed and a committee was proposed to study and report.

Then, at the AEU-East Annual Meeting held in New York in 1966, Rev. Norair Melidonian, then moderator of the AEU-Cal, officially expressed that group’s desire to form one union. Many ideas were expressed and proposals made. The Executive Committees of the two unions explored the possibilities. Special papers were written, compiled, edited and distributed to representatives of the two unions in 1967 to study, discuss and report to their respective bodies.

As a result of these discussions, in their annual conventions, both unions approved a recommendation that concrete steps be taken toward the eventual and complete merger of the two unions.

Uncertainty Gives Way to Unity

As every proposed merger gives cause for speculation, doubt, and reservations, so did this one. Many questions were evoked in the minds of many people, including those who later became moderators and leaders of the AEUNA. Questions like: How successful would the proposed union be? Would geographic distances hinder its smooth operation? If the two unions separately are not strong enough entities as parent organizations, how could they give birth to a healthy offspring? What working relationship would it have with the AMAA? Shouldn’t the AMAA also merge in the proposed Union? And a myriad of other questions.

There were many discussions and debates, some of which were heated and passionate to say the least. The issue, upon majority vote, was sent to the convention of each union respectively.

Upon the approval of both unions, a copy of the draft constitution was sent to the churches for study, comments and recommendations. For three years—1968, 1969, 1970—these discussions and revisions continued and were voted on by each church, resulting in the final draft presented at the Constitutional Convention in 1971.

The new moderator, Rev. Harry Missirlian, who had spared no effort to make the AEUNA a reality and was touched by this historic merger, summed up the sentiments of many: "Now we can truly say we are one in spirit, one in body, one in the Lord. We are on our way together. We will walk, work and pray side by side, hand in hand, heart to heart."

Thirty years have elapsed since the birth of the AEUNA, and with all its shortcomings, it is still growing in strength and service for the glory of God and for the edification of Christ’s Church.

Rev. Dr. Tootikian is the pastor of the Armenian Congregational Church of Greater Detroit, Michigan.




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