A milestone worthy of celebrating recently came and went and hardly anyone noticed. Because of our preoccupation with finding vaccination sites and monitoring the gradual evaporation of the COVID cloud, you likely missed it. I certainly did. Starbucks just celebrated its 50th birthday.
I was also totally unaware when the very first Starbucks opened its doors in the historic Pike Place Market on the Seattle waterfront. On the last day of March in 1971, I had just begun classes in the final quarter of my freshman year in college. As I prepared to write a term paper on the letters of St. Paul, I was clueless as to what was taking place not more than five miles from my dorm room on Queen Anne Hill.
A storefront with a sandwich board sign announcing the sale of premium coffee beans and the brewing of grounds would prove to be nothing less than holy ground. It truly was a groundbreaking occasion.
Fast forward four decades. About the time our firstborn daughter began working at the local Starbucks, I began referring to the caffeine commissary down the street as “St. Arbucks.” Although my play on words prompted predictable chuckles, from what I’d observed in my career as a clergyman, the correlation seemed appropriate.
Starbucks, like a local church or synagogue, is a gathering place. It’s a place where people commune with a cup in hand and share life. Prior to COVID, coffee drinkers would meet religiously for fellowship. Small groups would gather to discuss the Scriptures, to dialogue about an inspirational book or to debrief the Sunday sermon.
In addition, youth mentors would find sacred space in front of outdoor fireplaces to spark discussions or kindle conversations about college choices or career options. Pastors would meet with starry-eyed couples for premarital counseling.
Maybe it’s just my faith-based bias, but I see baristas behind the counter akin to preachers behind their pulpits. They take delight in serving up what is bound to warm and refresh those who are thirsty. Because of the loyalty of regular customers, baristas know the faithful by name and greet them accordingly. They take interest in your families. They give attention to your pets. In addition to being served your beverage or food item of choice, you feel cared for. Baristas are 21st-century shepherds of their flock.
It’s the Gospel truth. St. Arbucks has truly ministered to the needs of our community during the past year. And that includes our family. When COVID restrictions kept houses of worship shuttered and kept favorite eateries from opening, our local Starbucks provided a place of belonging.
In a confusing, year-long journey amid all its unexpected twists and turns, St. Arbucks (or “Our Lady of Lattes” as some may might say) has been a point of reference. Even when indoor seating was not permitted, those who communed daily found their jolt of joy in more than a high-octane brew. The ritual of conversation proved to be much-needed good news (no matter how brief).
They say that confession is good for the soul, so let me confess that my devotion to St. Arbucks is grounded in more than my obsession with iced non-sweetened passion tea. The reason I can’t seem to stay away from our local coffee cathedral is because our youngest daughter has followed in her older sister’s footsteps and donned the green apron. And so I faithfully pay homage to my favorite saint as a way of supporting her.
Not only did COVID undermine churches, schools and restaurants, it caused small-business owners and self-employed contractors to lose work. Many lost hope. More than a few lost faith. Our daughter, a classical musician and private flute instructor, lost students. Like others, she sought part-time employment to make ends meet. St. Arbucks blessed her with supplementary income. And as a result, the popular saint graced our daughter with new friendships and new connections in our community.
Yes, I have good reason for being grateful for St. Arbucks. No wonder I am singing his praises!
Greg Asimakoupoulos is a Wenatchee native living on Mercer Island, where he is the Faith/Values columnist for the Mercer Island Reporter.