My Saint Michael’s Story: Carol Szwajkos

Posted by on Sun, Oct 20, 2019 in Giving

Good morning.  My name is Carol Szwajkos.  I have been a member of St. Michael and All Angels church since moving here from the Philadelphia area three years ago. The Daughters of the King chapter that I belong to uses the African Bible Study method at its meetings.  It involves reading a Bible passage three times. After the first reading, each person says just the Word, or the Phrase, that touched them.  We don’t discuss the word or phrase till after the second and third readings. When Tina sent me an email asking me to speak today on the topic of “How has St. Michael’s been part of my faith journey”, the word JOURNEY jumped out at me. We often hear the saying, “Life is a JOURNEY”.  So, as I reflected on this word and how it relates to my JOURNEY of FAITH and my St. Michael’s story, many thoughts and memories wove through my mind.  Mine is now a fairly long story with many years, experiences, and miles behind me—but new adventures ahead!

Here are some of the random words, phrases and thoughts that popped into my head, that fit into my life and faith story, which you may also relate to: A JOURNEY has a beginning, a middle, and an end. My faith journey, like many of yours, began when I was a baby with a trip to our family’s church to be baptized and named.  Our life on earth is the middle of the journey before reaching our final destination – Heaven, God’s home!  Another word that came to mind was GUIDES – Who and What have been the guides in my life.  To start: my parents & family, then, my teachers, both religious and secular, & my friends.  Guide posts were marked by family & school rules, rules of etiquette and civility – but those guidelines, I realized, were established thousands of years ago – the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament and Jesus’ teachings – in the New Testament.  These set my spiritual and moral compass. You might say that throughout my life they have been my Navigation Tools and my personal GPS! (my personal “GOD POSITIONING SYSTEM!”) My walk down memory lane in preparation for this talk made me realize how my life has always revolved around my faith.  During my years on the east coast, I had been attended and worshiped at many churches and worked in a variety of professional positions in a number of parish schools.  

So, how did I get to St. Michael’s?  One Sunday afternoon while I was still living with my son and family in Bellevue, I put on my hiking boots, packed a pb&j sandwich and a water bottle and set out to explore my new surroundings.  I drove around and found a park with a trail and started on an uphill hike. There was a car in the parking lot, but I didn’t see anyone around. After walking about a half mile, I saw signs warning first to stay on the path since there were old buried coal mines in the area.  Continuing on, I stopped in my tracks when I read the next sign “Beware of Bears and Cougars”! Needless to say, I turned around and headed back to my car. So, where to go next? Earlier, I had Googled Episcopal Churches in the area. So as I ate my sandwich, I looked up St. Michael’s again and hit “Directions” and “Go”.  I was just a few miles from the church! As I pulled into St. Michael’s parking lot, I was touched by the beautiful, simple edifice surrounded by tall trees. (I didn’t notice the condition of the parking lot at that time!) I knew right away that I would visit St. Michael’s soon after settling into my new home in Issaquah at Providence Point.  

About a month later, I attended St. Michael’s for the first time.  I arrived in the middle of the 9:15 service. For some reason, I was still on the 10am schedule from my former church in Pennsylvania! Well, I took a deep breath and walked in just before Communion.  I found a seat near a window on the west side and marveled at the peace and beauty of God’s creation both inside the nave and outside the windows. As Mother Katherine held up the bread and spoke the words, her voice washed over me and I knew that I had found my new spiritual home!

Within a few weeks, I met church members who warmly greeted me and welcomed me into the St. Michael’s church family.  This was what I had hoped and prayed for in seeking a new parish. It was definitely not the “Seattle Freeze” that I had been warned about back East.  I still have the note of welcome that Mother Katherine wrote to me. I soon found myself participating in the Advent activities at church. The Sunday after making my Advent Wreath, I mentioned to Mother Katherine that when I got home with my Advent wreath, I didn’t have any matches to light the candle since I was still unpacking and settling into my new home.  She immediately went back into the sacristy and gave me a small box of matches. A few weeks later, Mother Katherine asked me to serve as Clerk on the Vestry. Here was both an opportunity to learn more about St. Michael’s and to serve my new parish; how could I say no. I have found St. Michael’s to be an incredibly supportive community. Here parishioners readily welcome all.  They generously offer their prayers and help to others in need. They give of their talents, time, and energy to work on church projects, such as the parking lot and decorating the church for Holy Days. They, and now including myself, pray, laugh, and cry together as a family – God’s family!   

Joining St. Michael’s marks another milestone on my faith journey.  Here I have found spiritual nourishment not only during the Sunday Eucharist, but also the Wednesday evening Contemplative Prayer services, and the services to mark Holy Days and special occasions, such as St. Michael’s Day.  One of my most favorite services is the Easter Vigil, which years ago my family and I nicknamed the Fire and Water service. It is one that you should attend at least once in your life. The music provided by Jason and our talented choir adds to the beauty of these services.  But above all, are the messages in the readings and the sermons given by Mother Katherine. 

My prayer life has also expanded to include you and all at St. Michael’s, especially those on our Sabbath Prayer list.  Today, we were reminded in the gospel that we “should always pray and never give up.”

I have to admit that there have been Sundays when I have hit my alarm and rolled over not wanting to get out of my cozy warm bed.  However, there is something – call it my guardian angel or GPS – that nudges me into a U-turn to get up and ready for church. Today, I even made it to Adult Forum on time!  

Each Sunday as I enter the sanctuary and find a pew, my life slows down as if approaching a yellow traffic light.  The light turns red when the organ begins to play and I stop for this time of renewal to let the words of the hymns, readings, prayers, and sermon set my course for the coming week.  With the final blessing and dismissal, the light turns green and we are all sent forth to illuminate Christ’s love on the Eastside. As I leave today, I will carry the words of today’s psalm to comfort and guide me as my JOURNEY continues: “The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” Ps. 121.