Long jour­ney to Min­istry

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE -

Vic­to­ria Vanier, Ayer’s Cliff

The jour­ney to the Min­istry can some­times take a long and wind­ing path; it cer­tainly did for United Church Min­is­ter Tak­ouhi Demird­jian -Petro who be­gan serv­ing the con­gre­ga­tions of Ayer’s Cliff, Ge­orgeville and Ma­gog last July.

Of Ar­me­nian de­scent, Tak­ouhi grew up in Le­banon. Her fa­ther sur­vived the Ar­me­nian geno­cide in Turkey by his mother car­ry­ing him through the Syr­ian desert to Le­banon. “My Ar­me­nian name is all I have of my her­itage. Demirdji means “black­smith” and the “ian” at the end of the name means I’m Ar­me­nian. It was the se­cret way Ar­me­ni­ans iden­ti­fied each other,” ex­plained Rev­erend Tak­ouhi in an in­ter­view with the Stanstead Jour­nal.

Raised by a de­vout Chris­tian mother, at the age of eleven Tak­ouhi started a small church group in her eight mem­ber fam­ily’s one be­d­room apart­ment. By the age of twelve she wanted to be a mis­sion­ary. But with a civil war go­ing on around her, life wasn’t sim­ple. “I ex­pe­ri­enced the war big time. I spent eight days in a small room with fif­teen peo­ple. When we came out you couldn’t see the sun or sky for days be­cause of all the fumes. There were shells fall­ing next to us. I can see it like it was yes­ter­day.”

Be­cause of the war, Tak­ouhi‘s par­ents wanted to send their chil­dren away for their school­ing, once they were old enough. She tried over and over again to get a visa to the United States at the Amer­i­can Em­bassy and then got lucky on her eighth at­tempt. “The visa would ex­pire in three months and the Beirut air­port was closed so we had to get to Da­m­as­cus. My mother took me through the moun­tain­ous roads of Le­banon, through the of­fi­cial check­points and killer in­sur­gents to get me on a plane to Los An­ge­les. I ar­rived in Cal­i­for­nia in Septem­ber of 1983.”

In 1986, Tak­ouhi came to Canada un­der the spe­cial project for Lebanese cit­i­zens, mov­ing to Mon­treal with her mother and two of her sis­ters. Although they joined the United Church of Canada, Tak­ouhi ad­mit­ted that she had “wanted to ex­plore the world more than serve the Lord.” She had a suc­cess­ful ca­reer for sev­eral years and be­came hap­pily mar­ried but felt that: “There was al­ways a strug­gle in­side me.”

Then in 2002, Tak­ouhi’s min­is­ter asked her to share her faith with the con­gre­ga­tion. “I said okay and thought I would tell a few sto­ries. Then I found out I was do­ing the worship ser­vice. I lost five pounds that Sun­day!” She did sub­se­quent ser­vices at both her own United Church and at the nearby Angli­can Church. “Peo­ple asked when I would join the Min­istry but my Ar­me­nian cul­ture had taught me that women can­not be min­is­ters,” she com­mented can­didly. Although the King­dom of Ar­me­nia was the first state to de­clare its of­fi­cial re­li­gion to be Chris­tian­ity, in Ar­me­nian cul­ture there are only male min­is­ters. “For two years I strug­gled with that.”

Tak­ouhi’s defin­ing mo­ment would come at Mon­treal’s Ar­me­nian Evan­gel­i­cal Church where she was in­vited to run a Youth Group. “A young guy in the group kept ask­ing me ques­tions about Chris­tian­ity be­cause he had just read The Da Vinci Code. That night when I was driv­ing home I said ‘Okay God – you win!’ When I got home I asked my hus­band how he would feel if I went back to school to be a min­is­ter. ‘What were you wait­ing for?’ was his an­swer!”

So at 37 years of age, Tak­ouhi went back to school, study­ing at Con­cor­dia, the United The­o­log­i­cal Col­lege and fi­nally re­ceiv­ing a Bach­e­lor of The­ol­ogy from Mcgill Univer­sity in 2009. Tak­ouhi first ap­proached the Ar­me­nian Church to start her ‘dis­cern­ment’ process, only to learn that times hadn’t c hanged. They openly stated that they didn’t en­cour­age women to be mi­nis- ters. The United Church of Canada, on the other hand, wel­comed her “with open arms.”

“I was or­dained on May 28th, 2011. That is an im­por­tant date for Ar­me­ni­ans: our first In­de­pen­dence Day was on May 28th, 1918,” ex­plained the Rev­erend who also is the first Min­is­ter of Ar­me­nian de­scent in the United Church of Canada.

Trans­form­ing from a ‘city girl’ into a ‘coun­try min­is­ter’ has been chal­leng­ing, es­pe­cially when home is in Laval. “I try to go home once a week and on days off. It has been a jug­gling act but I’m get­ting bet­ter at it. It’s also chal­leng­ing in the first year with a church; it’s the year when you’re get­ting to know peo­ple, learn­ing ev­ery­one’s names and back­grounds. But it’s get­ting there! My goal is to treat peo­ple as I would like to be treated: with re­spect, kind­ness and grace.”

“Even if so­ci­ety doesn’t care as much about the Church as it used to, at the end of the day, the Church re­ju­ve­nates my spirit. It’s like the spa for the soul and peo­ple should say once a week I’ll make that ap­point­ment.”

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

Rev­erend Tak­ouhi Demird­jian-petro, seen here at Beu­lah United with the Church’s pop­u­lar hat, has been serv­ing the con­gre­ga­tions of Ayer’s Cliff, Ge­orgeville and Ma­gog since Canada Day, 2011.

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