History of our Church
The Gospel first came to Armenia in the first century A.D. through the teaching of the Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew. This is why the Armenian Church is considered a true Apostolic Church. In the year 301 A.D. King Dertad proclaimed Christianity as the state religion.
The First Armenian Church structure was built in Etchmiadzin, near Yerevan, Armenia and is still in use today. The First Armenian Bishop was Krikor, named Lousavorich (illuminator). That is why the Armenian Apostolic Church is sometimes called the “lousavorchagan” church.
Throughout her history, there have been movements of reform within the Armenian Apostolic Church. In the early part of the 19th century, a reform movement began among the Armenians in Istanbul. This movement was later assisted by congregational missionaries coming from America.
On June 21, 1846, the reformers were excommunicated from the Apostolic Church. The reformers, who had never intended to the leave the Apostolic Church, were forced to form a church of their own. On July 1, 1846, 37 men and 3 women formed the first Armenian Evangelical Church. They continued to grow in number and zeal, and established churches, schools, colleges, and seminaries. All was lost during World War I and the Armenian genocide.
Due to wars and persecutions, many Armenians migrated to the United States. Their first thought was to organize churches. The Armenian Evangelical Church of Worcester, Massachusetts, called the Church of the Martyrs, was the first Armenian Church in this country. It was formally organized in 1892 even though the group had been meeting for ten years prior to this.
The Evangelical churches in the United States have raised millions of dollars to send abroad for missions of mercy and compassion, but they never thought of assisting and strengthening one another. However, in 1901 a group of Armenian Evangelical Churches in the East banded together and formed the Armenian Evangelical Union of the Eastern States. Those in California formed a similar union in 1908. Then, in 1971 at Detroit, the two groups, together with the churches in Canada, merged and formed the The Armenian Evangelical Union of North America (AEUNA) for mutual support and advancement. Today the AEUNA is made up of 24 churches, fellowships, and several affiliated organizations (including our church). By God’s grace, the AEUNA continues to grow in numbers and ministry.
The AEUNA is part of the Armenian Evangelical World Council which consists of the Armenian Evangelical Union of France, The Union of Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East, The Union of Evangelical Churches in Armenia, The Armenian Evangelical Union of Eurasia, and the Union of Armenian Evangelical Churches in Bulgaria.
In the 1920’s, as the Armenian community began to increase in San Francisco, the need for an Armenian Evangelical Church was increasingly felt. Beginning on December 17, 1922, Rev. M. Saladian held Worship Services in Armenian in a room at the Calvary Presbyterian Church. On September 7, 1924, Rev. S. Shanlian came from Pasadena and voluntarily started to preach at the Mission YMCA. A number of devoted men and women supported these services, and on November 2, 1924, a group of 44 people elected a Board of Trustees. These meetings lasted for only six months. But, the people persevered in their efforts for regular Armenian services. Finally, Rev. H. Kartozian, who was then Moderator of the Armenian Evangelical Union of California, came to San Francisco for two months to assist them.
At that time there were some lay brethren in the person of Dr. A. Arzooian, Dr. A. Atamian, and Mr. Astor Arakelian holding independent services in the Seventh Day Adventist Church on Laguna Street. They gladly joined the other group and through the able leadership of Rev. Kartozian the church soon became a reality.
They decided to be united with the Congregational denomination, adopted the name of Calvary Armenian Congregational Church, and on March 19, 1926, became officially organized with 34 charter members. This is the official anniversary date of the church and has been celebrated every year.
Rev. Kartozian was called as the permanent pastor, and the congregation grew. For a long time this was the only organized Armenian church in San Francisco holding meetings every Sunday, and it served all of the Armenian community with its active Sunday School, Youth, and Ladies Groups.
These were depression years with money and employment scarce. There were numerous social and money-raising activities to help make "both ends meet." Services were held for over 20 years in rented halls and churches: a rented hall on Divisadero Street, the rented churches on Twenty-Third Street, O'Farrell Street, and Seventh Avenue. In spite of limited means, in 1931 we were able to host the Armenian Evangelical Union convention. The Calvary Armenian Congregational Church was incorporated in March, 1946. After renting facilities for 21 years, a decision was made to acquire a church building.
In 1947 the goal was realized when a structure on 38th Avenue was purchased from the Immanuel Baptist Church for $18,000. The building was not new and required many repairs. An enthusiastic congregation worked diligently to make it suitable. The altar was remodeled, an organ aquired, pews purchased, and the kitchen equipped. Church ministries grew and developed. This structure was our “Church Home” for many years. In 1969 we were able to host the Armenian Evangelical Union convention this time in our own church home.
When the Congregational denomination organized with other groups and adopted the name of “United Church of Christ,” the Church voted on November 17, 1963, to be a part of the United Church of Christ. But, we retained our congregational name and own self-government.
In 1965, the ladies who had orginally orgainzed in the 1930's, reorganized taking on the name Calvary Circle. In 1971 our first church newsletter was issued and given the name of “The Calvary Messenger.” As time went on, it became apparent that a change of location, as well as a better and larger house of worship was needed. In 1971, a special church building fund was established.
After 33 years, our congregation outgrew our facilities on 38th Avenue. In 1980, after much deliberation and prayer, the 38th Avenue property was sold and our present location at 725 Brotherhood Way was acquired. The last service at our old address was held on the last Sunday in January, 1980. It was a tearful, as well as joyous, farewell.
Financing the new church facilities was a challange met with hard work and the support of the U.C.B.H.M. (United Church of Christ) and the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA). The sanctuary was completed in 1983, and the addition of our Christian Education facility was completed in 1993. The Church facilities now include a sanctuary, social hall/gymnasium, Sunday School rooms, staff offices, a library, a conference room, and bride's room. In order to provide an Armenian motif, the architect spent many hours studying Armenian Church architecture. The cupola, the cross on top, the "Khach Kar" on the altar, and frieze design are all characteristic of Armenian churches.
By the grace of God, the financial support of many, and a dedicated Building Committee, services of worship commenced in the new sanctuary on June 19, 1983. In that year, 41 individuals joined the church, of which 15 were youths.
With God’s blessing and grace, our congregation continues to grow in Christian fellowship and service. After the 1988 earthquake in Armenia, the church was open every day as a collection point for receiving donations. A memorial service was held, and over $62,000 was raised. Through the Sunday School, Calvary Circle, and the contributions of individual members, numerous orphans in Armenia are supported. Our members pledged generously to the AEUNA One Million Dollar Campaign. The local Food Bank has been added to the regular charitable donations. We support the AMAA Child Sponsorship program as well as other local and international missions and missonaries. We are continuing to grow in our understanding, support, and participation in missions and evangelism.
We have active ministries for all ages from birth to adult. Among these, our Sunday School, Youth Group, and Young Adults (formerly College and Career) group continue to grow. Our HomeBuilders ministry is focused on couples and families.
Our members are very active and annually present an outstanding Food Festival. Our women participate in the Armenian Evangelical Women’s Fellowship conferences, and weekly Bible Studies. There are increasing areas for individuals and families to minister and to find a place of ministry.
In October 1995, after much thought and prayer, the congregation terminated membership in the United Church of Christ, mainly for their views on Scripture.
In 1996, we hosted The 13th Biennial Convention of the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America. In 1997 we participated in the San Francisco Bay Area Billy Graham Crusade. We have begun an Annual Bay Area Armenian Christian Education Workers Conference which has been attended by youth workers and teachers from Northern California Apostolic and Evangelical Churches.
In 1998, our congregation hosted the HayaZartnoum Renewal Crusade which included the participation of all Northern California Apostolic and Evangelical Churches. In 1998, we adopted the Armenian Evangelical Church of Hrazdan, Armenia as our sister church. During the summer of 1998 we sent our first short term missionary to Armenia. In 1999, through the Armenian Missionary Association of America we sent our first Youth Missions Team to serve with the children's camps in Armenia. And in the summer of 1999, some of our church members traveled to Armenia to visit the AMAA ministries there and to join in the dedication services of our sister church's new sanctuary.
On November 18, 2001 we joined with all the Armenian churches of Northern California for a special service of worship commemorating The 1700th Anniversary of the Christianization of Armenia.
Calvary is now over 90 years of age and is still growing. We have had our “ups” and “downs” but God continues to lead us forward in His service. We continue to experience and believe that, “With God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27).
We would also like to acknowledge our pastors who have served unselfishly and contributed so much to the growth of the Church:
Rev. H. A. Kartozian (1926-1932) - (1945-1950)
Rev. Y. K. Rushdoony (1933)
Rev. D. Yenovkian (supply) (1933)
Rev. H. M. Hovagimian (1934-1936)
Rev. H. Khachadoorian (1937-1942)
Rev. V. Amirkhanian (1942-1944)
Rev. H. A. Chakmakjian (1950-1957)
Rev. H. K. Hachian, Pastor Emeritus (1958-1966)
Rev. V. Bedikian (1967-1974)
Rev. V. Galustian (1975-1981)
Rev. H. Misserlian (supply) (1982 and 1993)
Rev. L. N. Bakalian (1984-1992)
Rev. M. Shnorhokian, Interim (1993-1994)
Rev. S. Muncherian (1994 - 2002)
Pastor S. Albarian, Associate Pastor (1999 - 2001)
Interim Leadership (2002-2004)
Pastor Nerses Balabanian (2005-2017)
Pastor Calvin Sagherian, Interim (2018)