BY CATHERINE YESAYAN
A few years ago, as we were driving on Monterey thoroughfare in Rancho Mirage towards Palm Desert, my eyes suddenly caught a lonely church standing on the right side of the road surrounded by sand dunes. From its architectural structure, I figured that the lonely church must be Armenian—and indeed it was. I was puzzled to see a pristine Armenian church in the middle of the desert.
About a month ago, in an Armenian online publication, I read that the St. Garabed Armenian Apostolic Church of the Desert will be celebrating the 12th Anniversary of its Consecration on January 14. I thought that would be a good excuse to make plans to visit Palm Springs and, in the meantime, visit the church and get some information to whip up a brief column.
Through the church website, I was able to contact Parish Pastor Deacon Gevork Gevorkian. I informed him that I was planning on visiting the church.
I asked a friend of mine to accompany me to Rancho Mirage to visit the church, and she was happy to join me. It was around noon when we arrived.
I couldn’t help but notice that the parking lot was quite full. My mind drifted to the “Field of Dream” movie— from which we learned the slogan: “If you build, they will come.” I thought of all the Armenians that would be living in this desert community. Later, I learned that there is an estimated number of around 700 Armenian families in the area.
The weather couldn’t have been any better. The sun was up, and the temperature hovered in the low 70s. A large pathway, lined with mature palm trees, led to the entrance of the church. It was a picture-perfect sight.
As we entered the church, I was surprised to see it was packed with parishioners. There were only a few seats available, and a few people were lined up against the walls.
On that day, Western Primate Archbishop Hovnan Derderian was invited to lead the Divine Liturgy. The service lasted much longer than usual, as they ordained David Gevorkian to the holy order of the Diaconate—to become a deacon.
After the liturgy was complete, while I exited the church I saw a table where they were offering coffee and baked goods. There I met Hasmik Barsamian, who had baked all of the sweets. She explained that she was a part of the church’s women’s committee. I also had the chance to chat with a few other people to gather all the information I needed.
Before I go further, I’d like to tell you about the Coachella Valley, which encompasses the Greater Palm Springs area. In 1990s, the Armenian leaders of Rancho Mirage in the Coachella Valley got together and decided to build a church. The plans to build a new church were submitted in 2009 and construction began soon after. Finally, the church was consecrated and anointed on January 7, 2012.
Before the construction of the church, the Armenians of the Palm Desert area, for years, attended church services either by traveling to Los Angeles or San Diego, or renting a dining hall in Rancho Mirage.
For the last 12 years, the Parish Council of St. Garabed church has been very active within the community—serving as a space for both religious and nonreligious functions. Every year on Veteran’s Day, the church parish organizes the Armenian Cultural Festival. This year, about 3,000 people enjoyed Armenian food, music, dance, and culture. Guests from various surrounding towns, and some even further from Los Angeles and San Diego, often visit the festival. The event has become an annual, popular tradition.
A few hundred feet away from the church entrance, there’s the Kirkjan Family Hall where the local community holds different events, such as New Year’s Eve celebrations. On the day of our visit, right after the liturgy, Deacon Gevork Gevorkian invited us to attend the banquet luncheon, held at that Family Hall. However, due to time constraints, we were unable to attend.
The Ladies’ Society members provide coffee and sweets to parishioners during the fellowship hour, which is held after Sunday services. The church also offers Sunday School and Armenian language classes on Saturdays.
Archbishop Derderian has called the St. Garabed Armenian Church a “crowning jewel.” I attest that the Church of the Desert can be one of the most treasured gems of the Western Diocese.