Leader Emeritus Khoren Arisian, 1932-2021

By January 19, 2021 January 21st, 2021 No Comments

By Leader Dr. Joe Chuman

It is with great sadness that I inform you that Khoren Arisian, former leader of the New York Society, has died.

Khoren served as leader on two separate occasions. He had served as the minister of the first Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, long a bastion of Humanism in that movement. He came first to the Boston Society where he served as leader until he arrived at the New York Society in the late 1960s. He later returned to the pulpit in Minneapolis and returned again to New York where his leadership reached its high water mark.

Among Khoren’s most notable achievements was to create what was one of New York’s City’s largest adult education programs that drew many hundreds of participants to our meetinghouse. Even more visible was the Advocacy Forum series. Khoren envisioned and ran this program for several years. The Advocacy Forums were large public programs which invited notable participants to speak out on the issues of the day. This was during the George Bush administrations and many of the Forums were directed at combating the excesses of the Administration and the Christian Right. It was not uncommon for these programs to fill our auditorium.

Khoren was committed to the large humanist ecumenical project. He was involved in creating the North American Commission for Humanism (NACH), a coalition of national humanist organizations. Later on, he was instrumental in supporting the Humanist Institute with which he saw great success as a fund raiser.

Khoren was a strong and uncompromising advocate for an unalloyed humanism, which attracted him to Ethical Culture. His knowledge ranged broadly and he had a pronounced intellectual style that augmented his following at the Society, centered primarily around his Sunday platform addresses. Khoren was a man of great erudition with a special affinity for literature and classical music.

After his retirement from the New York Society, Khoren and his wife, Leigh, moved to Lambertville, New Jersey.

Khoren Arisian was 88 years old.

Khoren’s obituary can be viewed online here and is reprinted below:

Khoren Arisian, Humanist Leader, passed away peacefully after a dignified battle with dementia. He was 88 years old. Influenced by his immigrant father who survived the Armenia genocide, Khoren used his great intellectual gifts to work passionately for human and civil rights throughout his career as a Unitarian Universalist minister (serving congregations in Iowa City, Sarasota and Minneapolis) and as Leader of the Ethical Cultural Societies in Boston and New York City. He was educated at Tufts University, Crane Theological School, Manchester College, Oxford, Starr King School of Ministry, and Harvard Divinity School. He received an honorary doctorate degree From Starr King in 1988.

Khoren, always a fierce defender of our democracy, courageously spoke out against McCarthyism, marched in Selma, co-founded the New York Society’s Prison Reform Task Force, co-founded the Humanist Institute for new humanist leaders, spoke out for LBGT rights, and created New York Society of Ethical Culture’s public political forums before and during the Iraq war. From the pulpit he was a classic preacher with a powerful voice that intertwined research information with elegant prose that inspired us to be our best selves. Khoren published hundreds of articles, edited professional journals, and wrote the well-known book, The New Wedding.

He leaves us wishing for another honest conversation full of wit, kindness and awe of all things beautiful…and of course a pint of Guinness. Our beloved Khoren is survived by his wife, Leigh McKay; his sons, Christopher Arisian and Derek Arisian (Silvia Arisian); his step-daughters Megan Elliott (Eddie Elliott) and Amy McDaid (Richie McDaid); his grandchildren, Sofia, Serena, Veronica, and GianLuca Arisian, Natasha and Aidan Arisian, Levi Elliott, and Finn McDaid and his brother, Rodney Arisian.

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