Long journey to Ministry
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.”
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.