Coachella Valley Armenians for years attended church services by going to Los Angeles or San Diego or using a dining hall building in Rancho Mirage. But as this wasn’t the ideal way of worshiping they put in motion plans to build their own church in the Coachella Valley. That was more than 10 years ago.
On Saturday that endeavor, St. Garabed Armenian Apostolic Church, 38-905 Monterey Ave., in Rancho Mirage, was consecrated and officially opened as a church. “Everyone is in a state of happiness; that’s the best I can describe it,” said Palm Desert resident Armand Arabian, 77, who attended the consecration ceremony. “It’s a dream come true.”
With a clear evening sky as a backdrop, people entered the 3,000-square-foot building that’s 56 feet tall and symmetrical on its front side. More than 150 people observed the ceremony from inside, and two dozen others sat outside and watched on a pair of televisions. Wearing suits and dresses, attendees stood silently, some smiling and others crying.
Their attention was on Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, head of the Los Angeles-based Western Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church of North America.
Tasked with anointing the church, he maneuvered around the crowd during the 45-minute ceremony to crosses at each corner of the church while a choir sang. On each cross, Derderian dabbed a bit of muron, a special holy oil produced every seven years in Armenia. By the time the archbishop was done and the ceremony ended, local Armenians officially had a church.
“I don’t think there could be any day compared to this,” said the Rev. Krikor Zakaryan. “This will happen now and never again.” The church has been a long time coming for its congregation, whose members worshipped out their adjacent parish hall for six years.
Rancho Mirage leaders approved a conditional-use permit for the project in 1999 and modifications in 2001, but the building permit expired in April 2005 due to inactivity. Plans were resubmitted and the project was approved in April 2009 on the condition that church officials blocking access from Vista Dunes and install a driveway on Monterey.
The final design resembled St. Hripsine, a seventhcentury stone church in Etchmidzin, Armenia.
Article and photos: Desert Sun