Two and a half years ago, when I unknowingly began my journey back to my childhood Armenian church before it closed forever, I began experiencing a series of little miracles.
The first miracle was the call that started it all. My elderly cousin interacted periodically with my older sister but had never, that I can recall, contacted me. He called me with a purpose. He was helping another cousin with an ancestry search of our Armenian family, and he had run across a name from our shared grandfather’s generation that he had never heard. Would I see if I could find anything in county records, perhaps in church records, he asked. And so the journey began.
The next miracle was locating the church records. The Armenian church which we attended through my childhood and early adulthood was closed – had not held a service since 2011. And finding them required a couple of mini-miracles. I hadn’t had contact with anyone from the church in decades, so I had no idea who to contact. There was one minister, back in the ‘90s, whom I knew from my years in the Armenian Protestant Youth Fellowship. I had no idea where she was, but I thought if she still was an active minister, I probably could find her online. So mini-miracle number one was finding an email address for her and successfully making contact. She had indeed maintained contact with some of the church members, and let me know who, if anyone, could help me. The church building was for sale, and two brothers had taken on the responsibility for keeping it intact while it was awaiting a buyer. I called one of the brothers, who had no idea where the records were – another member had tried to find them for an ancestry search and had not been successful. But he graciously let me into the church. My first visit (of many, it turned out) to my childhood church was shocking and depressing. It was dirty and smelly and was in total disarray. Something told me to look in the office first—although it seemed likely that the other member had done that. Mini-miracle number two was finding the three volumes of church records almost immediately! I obtained permission to borrow the volumes for a week or two, since I didn’t want to hold up the man who so generously came to the church to let me in. And mini-miracle number three was the effect studying the records had on me—a revival of my positive memories of the church and the people I knew. I felt compelled to write the story of the church, and to give the church and congregation a well-deserved closure.
The next miracle was the surprising ease with which I convinced the “guardians” of the church building to support my desire to hold a closure service before the building was sold. They doubted I could do what was needed. But they gave me support for work I couldn’t do (like getting the lights working and the organ functioning). As word spread, others offered assistance with cleaning and logistics. And the closure service (described in a previous post last fall) was welcomed and well attended even as the COVID pandemic required special care.
I posted previously about the miraculous finding of the church photo of my grandfather.
The latest miracle was a while in coming….
As I pored over the church record books, I was grateful that all of the actual records (births, deaths, etc) were in English. But the priceless narratives that could give me so much insight into the early workings of the church were in what I assumed was Armenian. I searched and searched for someone who could translate—but the writing wasn’t really in Armenian. Armenian letters were used, for the most part, but the words were not Armenian. Nor could Turkish sources translate it. We sent samples to a woman and her father in Armenia, and they couldn’t read it. And finally samples were sent to a linguistics expert who concurred that it was a combination of languages and alphabets, and might even have some Arabic in there. I gave up. The contents of the writing of the narrative entries of the church records would remain a mystery. Until this past week, that is! A woman contacted me about a photo I had, and coincidentally mentioned another woman who translated Armenian, Turkish, and a few other languages. I wasn’t hopeful, but I sent this woman some sample pages.
So, the latest miracle, and possibly one of the most exciting: she was able and willing to do the translating! At last, I may learn the inner workings of the church in its early years.
Writing this story was meant to happen. I’m convinced of that by the sheer number of miracles that have stripped away one obstacle after another.