An Interview with the Director of Youth & Vocations

by Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian

On July 1, 2007, Rev. Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian was appointed Director of Youth and Vocations of St. Nersess Armenian Seminary. Fr. Stepanos is himself an alumnus of St. Nersess, and served as Pastor of St. Peter Armenian Church (Watervliet, NY). In his new position, Fr. Stepanos coordinated the Seminary’s efforts to attract suitable candidates for study at St. Nersess, especially those aspiring to the priesthood. He also directed and expanded the Seminary’s youth conferences and programs.

What excites you about your new position at St. Nersess Seminary?

I feel that my calling to serve God as an Armenian priest has been directed toward working at St. Nersess as the Director of Youth and Vocations. I have offered many prayers to God in order to receive His direction and will regarding this new position. I am excited that God has led me toward a ministry for the Seminary and the Armenian Church. I have a deep love and respect for St. Nersess, as it has been one of the greatest gifts that I have received in my life. I am excited to give back to the institution that has given me such wonderful blessings in my life.

As I embark on a new ministerial journey as the Director of Youth and Vocations, I pray for the direction and guidance from the Holy Spirit to fill me with the words, thoughts, acts and vision to carry out this important and challenging work in the Armenian Church. I am excited and eager to spend time with those individuals who feel a calling from God or have a desire to serve the Church in various capacities. I have been blessed with a wonderful and spiritually edifying St. Nersess Seminary experience as a student. As a priest of the Armenian Church for the past eleven years, my pastorate has been fulfilling, adventurous, meaningful and exciting. It is these sentiments and attitudes that I would like to pass along to those prospective seminarians who are thinking of the priesthood or other vocational work in the Armenian Church.

How do you feel about moving from being a parish priest to taking on youth and vocations at St. Nersess?

There are many elements of parish life that I will miss. Parish ministry has been uplifting. I have been honored to journey along with the successes, sorrows and challenges of families. I will miss my St. Peter Armenian Church parish; during my 11 years they became my family. Since 1998, I have been directing the summer conferences and have indirectly been involved with vocational work at the seminary. I am now eager to give my full heart and mind to the work of the Lord; praying that he will send laborers into the field for the harvest.

What are your goals from the first 100 days?

For the first 60 days in my new position, I am stationed at the seminary, as I have been for the past 10 years, directing the summer programs and responsible for organizing and implementing six programs for youth. Over 175 students will walk through the doors of our seminary in the summer months, many of them will be inspired to consider ministry in the church. I will spend considerable time offering them the follow-up support they need to take that important step. My work will involve building and developing relationships between these summer conference participants and the seminary.

I will also open a dialogue with our clergy, ACYOA, Armenian college clubs, diocesan youth departments as well as Sunday and Armenian school staff and students.

I plan to make contact with all or our clergy to inform them of my new position and to involve them in the task of recruiting for the Seminary. Our parish clergy are essential contacts in finding young men and women to come to seminary.

An important facet of my work will involve marketing and promoting the seminary in creative ways so that our young people have even more awareness about the mission and purpose of St. Nersess.

I plan to create a brochure called “The Harvest” to be distributed throughout our parishes. We need to train every member of the Armenian Church to help us identify potential seminarians in their communities.

We will also create a monthly e-newsletter to inform the public of the Seminary’s Youth and Vocations activities, offer spiritual messages connected to vocations and include prayers for young people to consider a vocation in the church. This e-newsletter will be sent to youth in our dioceses and to all interested.

An important part of my work will involve parish visitations that systematically include the various regions of our dioceses. Currently plans are being made for the New England, Mid-West, and Southern regions of the Eastern Diocese, as well as the regions of the Western Diocese.

Before long, we will organize a weekend gathering of prospective students at St. Nersess, where they will have th e opportunity to “shadow” a seminarian and get a taste of Seminary life. Most important, we hope that the weekend will create friendships and bonds with other young students who are considering seminary.

What’s the biggest obstacle that you will face in your work?

Managing expectations! It is important for us to realize that the call of a prospective priest begins with a seed and, like anything that grows from a seed, it takes time to develop. It is the same with our prospective seminarians. We all need to have patience and endurance including myself.

What do you have to say to a young man who is thinking about becoming a priest?

First of all I thank God and I pray for that person. I pray for the development and strengthening of that desire and feeling connected to the priesthood. I like to create opportunities to discuss and talk about his thoughts, ideas, and reasons why he is thinking about the priesthood. I like to share my joys of being a priest with young people in the hopes that others can feel that same excitement. I would also share the difficult aspects of the priesthood, but overall, stress that it is the most rewarding and fulfilling career.

How is recruiting candidates for Seminary different from recruiting candidates for law school or a corporate position?

Well I have not been a recruiter for any other vocation or career, so I am not sure how to answer this question. I do know that there are very successful Armenians in the law profession as well as in corporate America. However, I say to young people, “Why not think about being a priest?” It is an equally, if not more rewarding, noble and admirable profession than any other career or field. I also believe that the priesthood is a very diverse career. It offers a variety of professions all in one package–teacher, journalist, singer/musician, social worker, publicist, counselor, and marketer, among other professions.

Do you really think there are American-Armenian young men out there who would seriously consider becoming priests?

I know for a fact that there are many young men who are thinking about the priesthood because I am in contact with a number of them. I strongly believe that there are many more that we don’t know about.

As we provide more and more youth programs in our church, more young people are exposed to the lifestyle of a priest. Many of the young people who come to our church camps and St. Nersess summer conferences are seeking careers in which they can make a visible difference in the lives of real people. “I want a profession in which I can help people,” young people tell me all the time. They are looking for careers that include serving, teaching, caring, loving, helping, educating, and inspiring others. They want to feel fulfilled in their lives and many jobs offer only partial fulfillment of this deep desire. Working for God brings a deep satisfaction that pervades every fiber of one’s existence. Who wouldn’t want a job like that?

What talents, skills or experience will you bring to your new position?

I consider myself a personable, outgoing, open person who is able to effectively communicate with young people. I enjoy learning from our youth and sharing my experiences with them. I never stop trying to learn new ways to live my life and young people help me do that. I see myself as a creative thinker. This is one of my strong points; finding ways of making our centuries-old church come alive. It seems to come naturally to me. I thank the Holy Sprit for that gift.

How are the summer conferences connected to recruiting?

The summer conferences have traditionally attracted future seminarians and clergy. Most of the clergy alumni of St. Nersess are products of our summer conferences.

At the moment our first High School Conference of the summer is coming to an end. Last night I asked the young participants to describe their St. Nersess experience in one word. Among their responses were: “magical,” “amazing,” “unforgettable,” “unparalleled,” “magnificent,” “edifying,” “renewing,” “awesome,” “uplifting,” “extravagant,” “wholesome,” “indescribable,” “holy,” “inspirational,” “knowledge-filled” and “fun.”

I am sure if you ask the same question to participants of the early St. Nersess summer conferences years ago, their responses would be similar. At St. Nersess we try to expose our youth to the very best of the Armenian Church. Through the conferences young people meet clergy and theologically-trained lay leaders in an informal and loving atmosphere. They get a taste of what it’s like to serve the church. God’s Spirit is truly at work on the 9 acres of property at 150 Stratton Road in New Rochelle. I invite you to come and spend a day with us and see for yourself. I mean it!

What are your feelings about St. Nersess Seminary in general?

St. Nersess Armenian Seminary is a unique and extraordinary institution of the Armenian Church. Personally, I am grateful to St. Nersess for giving me so many gifts throughout my life. When I was 15 years old, the St. Nersess Summer Conferences opened me up to a real faith in God and offered me a social outlet in the Armenian community.

The seminary planted in me the seed of God’s calling to the priesthood. In the early 1980’s, then rector Fr. Mardiros Chevian, at the time Deacon Mike, one day approached me in the living room of the seminary during a summer conference and asked me, “Have you thought about being a priest? You have what it takes.” Those words were powerful. Well, from that moment onward, the seed of priesthood was nurtured and continued to grow and mature. I am thankful for the many and diverse experiences I have had through St. Neress.

When I was 21 and attending a winter conference at St. Nersess I met someone very special in my life, my wife, Paulette Kasparian of Selma, California. In December of 1985, we both attended the winter conference and hit it off from the moment we met. On the first day of the conference we sat in the upstairs landing and spoke for five hours about our lives. We were both in college and we began dating a few years later. We have been married since 1994. Every summer we come back to St. Nersess, and it is a joy coming back “home.” We really feel at home here at St. Nersess and even my two children, Jonah (whose middle name is “Nersess”) and Gloria feel the magic of St. Nersess. All year long they talk about their experiences and the friendships they have created here at the seminary.

I am also grateful for the higher education that I received from St. Nersess. I graduated with a Master of Divinity from St. Nersess and our sister seminary, St. Vladimir’s, and I am thankful for the generosity of the seminary and the Eastern Diocese in allowing me to study and learn about the Armenian Church and faith.

Who were your role models? Who has inspired you in your ministry?

I have had many role models over the years. Fr. Mardiros Chevian, Fr. Arnak Kasparian, Fr. Garabed Kochakian, Fr. Yeprem Kelegian, Fr. Kevork Arakelian. I admire Mother Teresa and I am inspired by the amount of love she had in her heart to live out her faith. My father, who passed away in 1999, also had a great impact on my ministry. I learned from him how to be compassionate and generous. He cared for many people and I saw that first hand.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love to spend time at the ocean. It is peaceful, relaxing, rejuvenating and it often reminds me of my younger days at Asbury Park with my family. I enjoy spending time with my wife and two children. We love driving into the country and enjoying the fresh air and scenic sights of rural America. I enjoy fishing, going for walks, and laughing with friends. I also like to write poetry.