History of Our Church
In 1954, the Dadour Dadourian Fund and several contributors made possible, through a loan to the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), the purchase of a property consisting of a three story home and detached building located at 1184 Ocean Avenue in the seaside town of Elberon, New Jersey. There were only 25 members of the church at the time, many of them summer residents. After extensive renovation to the structure, then named Saint Mary Armenian Apostolic Church, the first Badarak was officiated by His Eminence, Archbishop Mampre Kalfayan, on June 24, 1956. For eight years, church services were held with a Vemkar, a blessed stone, maintained on the altar. During the 1950ís and 1960ís, the building served as a retreat and vacation home for the clergy of the Diocese during their one-week summer conference. It also served as one of the sites of the summer religious study conferences sponsored annually by the Saint Nersess Armenian Theological Seminary. The deacon in residence was Deacon Levon Hekimian.
Saint Mary remained a church that held only summer services until 1969, when visiting priests were sent to serve the community on a year-round basis. The first priest to serve year-round was The Reverend Father Vertanes Kalayjian (1972-1976), followed by The Very Reverend Father Avak Assadourian (1977-1979) and The Reverend Father Guregh Kalfayan (1980-1982). Over the years many visiting priests also faithfully served this community.
Reflecting the demographic changes taking place in the central New Jersey area in the 1980ís, the vitality of the Armenian community grew along with the population. The rapidly deteriorating condition of the old structure of St. Mary Church became more and more apparent to the parishioners and a high priority of the Parish Council was to seek a solution to this problem. Seeing the profound needs, and after deliberation with the Parish Council, Mr. Kevork Hovnanian proposed an exciting plan.
On Sunday, January 19, 1986, Mr. Hovnanian unveiled to the congregation a scale model and fully completed drawings for a new church structure and parish hall that not only met the needs of the church, but provided for its future growth and anticipated use by the entire Armenian American community of central New Jersey, as well, Kevork and Sirvart Hovnanian offered to build the new church edifice and parish hall on the same site and to underwrite the financial obligation of its construction. They wished this donation be made in memory of Mr. Hovnanianís mother, Yester Hovnanian. The beauty of the proposed structure and Mr. Hovnanianís generous gesture were enthusiastically accepted by the Primate, His Eminence, Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, and the Diocesan Council of the Diocese of the Armenian Church.
In April of 1986, the three story building of Saint Mary Church, which had served this community for thirty years, was demolished to make way for the new St. Stepanos Church. Ground-breaking ceremonies, officiated by His Eminence, Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, were held on Sunday, May 25, 1986, at the site. On July 20, 1986, His Eminence once again traveled to Elberon, this time to officiate at the Cornerstone Blessing rites. This was followed by a luncheon at the Berkeley-Carteret Hotel, Asbury Park, New Jersey, with more than 300 people in attendance.
Arrangements were made with the Asbury Park Chapter of the AGBU to hold Sunday church services in their building until the new church was completed. Each Sunday, services were conducted and frequently followed by impromptu visits to the church site to marvel at the progress of the new structure.
The new church at 1184 Ocean Avenue was named Saint Stepanos Armenian Apostolic Church, a name selected by its benefactor. The new church building was a manifestation of the faith and dedication of Mr. Kevork S. Hovnanian to his Armenian Church and its people. He dreamed the dream of this new edifice, had his hand in its planning and design and personally supervised virtually every state of its construction. It was a gratifying and rewarding process and a true labor of love.
The Armenian community of Elberon owes gratitude to Kevork and Sirvart Hovnanian. The community is also grateful to those individuals, some no longer among the community today, who worked so diligently over the years in the progress leading up to this beautiful Church. We look back with humility at the vision of those who helped build this parish from its earliest days.
Saint Stepanos Church was completed and consecrated on June 14, 1987. The detached house was remodeled and is used as the Parish House. The furnishings of the Church, hall and Parish House were also a part of Kevork & Sirvart Hovnanianís donation, a final touch to a memorable and beautiful gift.
As the year 2003 comes to an end we are happy to announce that our Church has an active Sunday School, Armenian School, Womenís Guild, ACYOA Jr., Junior & Senior Choir group, Menís Club, a Semi-monthly Church Publication (Datev) and a Church Web Site. Our Church Dues Paying Membership has grown to 125 members.
We look to the future with thanks to our Lord asking for His guidance as we continue to work for His Church, His people, and His glory.