The Happy Accident

Carie J Johnsen

The tale I am about to tell is a based on a true story. It is a tale woven from the stories of those who remember. It is a tale of wayward travels, a tale of the stranded tourist.

Some of the people who recounted the events described it as a Happy Accident.

The story begins in early October, during the peak of the leaf peeping season when a couple, Hugh and Betsy, found themselves stranded in the middle of Maine.

Just a few weeks earlier Hugh and Betsy had departed their home state of Colorado. Confident with their itinerary, and with the safety and comfort of traveling across the country in their motor home, they were enjoying a leisurely journey to their destination – the Maritime Provinces of Canada.

And then the unfortunate circumstances, their motor home breaking down in Central Maine along the Turnpike. To add to this seemingly ill-fated incident, the parts to repair this home on wheels would not only need to be specially ordered but also specially manufactured because the replacement for their rusted out gas tank was no longer available; thus Hugh and Betsy would need to take up residence in the capital city of Augusta for an unknown period of time.

So together making the best of their situation, Hugh and Betsy unhitched the Jeep they were towing and called for their abiding companion, the family pet, a canine traveler to join them the car.

After finding a motel and settling into their new temporary residence, this faithful Christian couple picked up the local newspaper in search of a church to attend the following day.

One might expect they would choose a familiar faith community to worship in but not these adventurous travelers. They scoured the paper in search of a church that had an 11:00 a.m. service. A simple criterion for the stranded tourists who were seeking a spiritual community to rest their weary souls.

The service title “Heterosexuals Coming-Out,” although may have been intriguing, had nothing to do with their decision to attend or not attend. It was quite simple, Unitarian Universalist Community Church was the only gig in town with an 11:00 am service.

And so they arrived at the inn (if you will), they entered the sanctuary, received an Order of Service and joined the ingathering of members in the pews. The tourist, strangers now among many, settled into their place with the same assuredness that had them traveling thousands of miles away from home.

During the welcome portion of the service, they bravely stood up and introduced themselves as guests traveling through from Colorado.

As the welcome continued the couple heard the open invitation to attend the elder luncheon being served following the service. They heard the speaker offer a gentle encouragement for all people to self-select their status as an elder.

It is here that we, the members and friends of UUCC, become more deeply engaged in the Happy Accident. The couple came to elder lunch, picked a seat among a smaller group of strangers and waited to be served a meal.

As they enjoyed their meal of salad, soup and dessert, the couple quietly told their story to a table of 6. Mildred recalls how happy and friendly the couple was despite such an unfortunate event. She recalls them being nice people who enjoyed their lunch. She remembers how they seemed so content and happy they were to be with us.

The following week, still stranded in Augusta, Hugh and Betsy arrived back at church. They took up there now familiar seats in the sanctuary and quiet contemplated the 11:00 service. No longer strangers in our midst, a few knowing members greeted them and called them by name.

And then again on October 24th, they joined the congregation now as regulars in the pews. They settled quietly into what had now become their usual spot for the leave taking service; ironically this would also be the week they took leave of Augusta and Unitarian Universalist Community Church.

In early November, Hugh and Betsy finally returned to Colorado taking with them a memory of Unitarian Universalists in Augusta.

Hugh and Betsy returned in their jeep to Colorado leaving behind their motor home (Yes, it was still awaiting the newly manufactured gas tank.) and a memory of the time when two stranded tourists found a warm hearth, a welcoming faith community and the exchange of simple gifts.

When I spoke with Hugh this past Wednesday, he kindly reported how much he enjoyed his time in our community. He shared with me that his cross country trip was about seeing the country with his wife Betsy before he began cancer treatment. And as one might expect he was approaching chemotherapy with as much optimism as a broken motor home in Maine.

Hugh said one of their treasured memories was there time with us. They so cherished the open philosophies, the rich diversity of people, the hospitality of many. He sends greeting to the congregation with the added comment, “tell the congregation they have a very special gift they are giving.”

May this tale of the Happy Accident be a vision for radical hospitality in this community.

May the accidental tourist and the local seekers and those searching for sanctuary from their suffering find companionship in the journey on the corner of Winthrop and Summer Streets.