Rev. Jirair Sogomian
By Harry Stephey*
Reverend Jirair Sogomian was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1937 and received his elementary education in Alexandria at Armenian private schools and at the St. Mark French High School. Soon thereafter he decided to pursue a career in the ministry, in part due to the inspiration of the Reverend Theodore Daghlian of the Armenian Evangelical Church in Alexandria.
It was at this time in his life that he journeyed to Beirut to attend Haigazian College. After completing his freshman year at Haigazian, he spent the next three years at the American University of Beirut before continuing his education at the Near East School of Theology.
In 1962, at the age of 25, Jirair came to the United States and attended Milligan College in Tennessee, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1963. He next travelled to Hartford, Connecticut, where he continued his theological studies at Hartford Seminary and received his Master of Divinity degree in 1965. One of his mentors in Hartford urged him to pursue a PhD, but Jirair responded that he was more interested in becoming a pastor. His first parish was the United Armenian Calvary Congregational Church in Troy, New York, where he was ordained and served for three years. Following his service in Troy, he served for a short time as Minister of Christian Education and Youth at the United Church of Christ (UCC) Wapping Community Church in South Windsor, Connecticut.
His second Armenian parish was the Armenian Congregational Church of Detroit in Southfield, Michigan, where he served from 1970 through 1974. In 1975, he accepted a call to serve as the first Chaplain of Haigazian College (now University) in Beirut, Lebanon, where he was also a Professor of Religion and was active in recruiting young people for future leadership in the ministry. Asked why he would leave a parish that he had sparked to dramatic growth, he responded, “Because Haigazian means a lot to me. It provided the vital link between my French-Arabic education and my college education in English. The small college with its personal touch has provided room for creativity and free thinking, and I want to help preserve it.” Soon after going to Beirut, civil war broke out in Lebanon and Rev. Sogomian sustained a gunshot wound to his hand. He returned to the United States in 1976.
After returning to the United States, Badveli Sogomian first served as Pastor of the Immanuel Armenian Congregational Church in Downey, Ca-lifornia, and later at a non-Armenian UCC church in Simi Valley, California, before receiving the call from the Armenian Martyrs’ Congregational Church (AMCC) in Havertown, Pennsylvania. He served as Pastor at AMCC for almost eleven years from August, 1990 until April, 2001. As his longest consecutive term of service, he considers his ministry at AMCC to be one of the highlights of his career. He epitomized the term “pastor,” which means “shepherd” in Latin. When asked what he thought was the most important part of being a pastor, he responded, “being close to the people and sharing their concerns with them.”
Following the untimely death of Rev. Dr. Movses B. Janbazian in September 2000, Badveli Sogomian was called by the Armenian Missionary Association of America to be its next Executive Director, starting in April 2001. Multi-lingual and known for his exceptional ability to preach and teach the Gospel of Christ, Reverend Sogomian is equally recognized for goal-oriented administrative skills and organizational leadership. He spent his career traveling to places where he could be of the most service to others.
In 2003, Rev. Sogomian and his wife Lorraine “retired” to Huntington Beach, California, to be close to their children and grandchildren. His retirement was interrupted by a call to serve as Interim Pastor of the Immanuel Armenian Congregational Church in Downey, California, where he served for six years until his final retirement in 2011. He still stays in touch with many of his former parishioners. Together, the Sogomians have five children – Mark Sogomian (Daria), Sharon Mequet (Brian), Michael Deovlet (Carol), Sheri Olson (Scott) and Allison Vamvas (Sterling) – who have blessed them with nine grandchildren – Jake and Colin Mequet, Sophie Sogomian, Danielle and Ali Deovlet, Chloe and Lily Olson, and Ani and Sosie Vamvas.
*Harry Stephey is a member of the Armenian Martyrs’ Congregational Church of Havertown, PA.