My Saint Michael’s Story: Stephanie Carlson

Posted by on Sun, Sep 22, 2019 in Giving

A friend of mine used to work for Starbucks, and she was telling me one time how Starbucks, with its coffee shops on seemingly every corner, aims to be people’s “third space”.  The idea here would be that people spend most of their time at their homes, their places of work, and at their local Starbucks café; and that this triumvirate of places and spaces—home, work, and Starbucks—makes up the backdrop against which our 21st-century lives play out.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I find the idea of Starbucks as a would-be “third space” both ingenious and frankly, a bit sad.  What is ingenious here is that Starbucks, through all kinds of market research and advertising, has identified and is continually tapping into, a deep need we all have—not just for caffeine, for hot coffee and a highly caloric pastry, but a need for community, for the warmth of belonging and of having a place to go “where everybody knows your name”.

It has been said that we have lost many traditional forms of community in this day and age.  We have lost many of those ways in which people used to come together, and to know and ultimately, care about, and for each other.  And this is what I find a bit sad about the idea that a coffee shop could be a “third space”: the ideal might be something like “Cheers” (remember the TV show, but with coffee), but the reality—the reality—is that coffee shops are filled with people who are all ensconced in their own worlds, working on their computers or talking and texting on their phones, or otherwise immersed in private conversations.  Most interactions are fleeting and superficial.  People know your name because it’s written on your cup!  Now I have nothing against coffee shops, and I like Starbucks just as much as anybody else around here, but I would never consider it my “third space”.

St. Michael’s is MY “third space”.  It is my family’s “third space”.  We started coming to St. Michael’s in 2012—my first Sunday here was also Katherine’s first Sunday here, Palm Sunday I think it was—and my family and I have become very involved at St. Michael’s over the years.  It has always been important to David and me that we bring our children up in the church, that we help to cultivate their young spiritual lives, that we set an example for them with our own faith and words and actions, and that we do our best to give them, in all these ways, a solid foundation.  A big part of raising children in the church, “in the love and knowledge of God”, I think, is actually just being here, being together with them and with all of you in community: having the kids experience what it is to worship together, pray together, sing together, listen together, stand-sit-kneel-stand-kneel-sit-sit-kneel-stand together; having them experience what it is to pull weeds and spread mulch together; to share pizza, spaghetti, ice cream sundaes, or Lenten soups together; to help decorate the church for holidays together; to play bingo together; to set up and serve goodies for coffee hours and eat one too many cookies or two too many pieces of salami.  St. Michael’s is a large and meaningful part of our lives, and the warmth and welcome and ease we have felt from the very beginning of our time here is something we feel compelled to share too.

Many years ago, I heard a priest suggest, “You never know how much someone next to you in the pew might need you”.  Think about that for a moment.  “You never know how much someone next to you in the pew might need you”.  Maybe they need your smile, your sincere greeting at the Peace, your offer to share your bulletin or hymnal, your voice mingled with theirs in song; maybe they need that tissue you hand them; maybe they are just glad for your presence, to feel part of something and to feel less alone.

I am reminded here of a friend from graduate school who had to fly home to California to bury her younger brother who had died of a drug overdose.  On the return flight home, she tilted her seat back ever so slightly, and the woman behind her jumped up and yelled at her, chewing her out.  I will always remember my friend telling me this story, the utter disbelief she felt in the midst of her grief, that someone could behave so outrageously, be so petty, unkind and unfeeling.  My friend’s story brings home to me that we don’t know what other people are going through and that we should always proceed with kindness, with grace.  This anecdote is intertwined in my mind with the priest’s suggestion that “You never know how much someone next to you in the pew might need you”.  Together these thoughts are something of a mantra for me on Sunday mornings when I am feeling sluggish or it is cold and rainy, and staying in my pajamas and eating too many pancakes sounds nice to me.

(I also hear in these instances my dad’s voice: “An hour for God once a week is not too much to ask”—I remember complaining about “having to go to church” at times when I was younger and that was his usual reply.)

Truly there are many reasons why I come to church, but I will say this here today, that I also come for YOU!  I come to St. Michael’s because you are my church family, you are my community, and just maybe you are the person in that airplane seat in front of me, or the people in the pew who need me next to you.  I think God calls us into community, to share our faith, to share fellowship and to worship together, to “do life” together here at St. Michael’s so that God’s little light in each of us is continually rekindled and shines that much brighter, lighting the way home. Thank you.