Pastor Peggy Roy
by: usa games correspondenT, Mike Gastineau
When she moved to Florida, joining a church was the last thing on Susan Carleton’s mind.
She had two kids with autism. They had been born in Ireland where religion obviously is a big and daily life influence. The family eventually moved back to the USA to West Virginia, but Carleton didn’t find enough programs there to help her and her kids. So she relocated again to Auburndale, Florida and moved in with her friend Liz.
Liz tried to convince them to join her church but Carleton demurred. After living in Ireland and then making two moves, she didn’t think church should be a big priority right away. She turned down her friend’s invitation with an oft-used excuse.
“If God wants me to join a church,” Carleton said, “he’ll send me a sign.”
Three days later the two friends were having a yard sale to get rid of some extra things they didn’t need. A man browsing the sale found out that Carleton had just arrived in Auburndale.
“He was standing in front of me with his hands in his pockets,” she recalled while laughing. “He asked if I had a church yet and recommended I try his because they had a great, new pastor.”
Her bluff pretty solidly called (“I asked for a sign, so I’d better go!”), Susan felt she had no choice but to check out the First Presbyterian Church of Auburndale. But she did so with an uneasy feeling.
“There’s always some trepidation about taking kids into a quiet place like a church when they have autism. You generally sit near the back and you have to be prepared to bolt.”
The first two weeks went okay and before the service on the third week one of the church elders approached Carleton to ask if her daughter Aedammair would like to help light the candles. Her response to the elder was tinged with incredulity.
“You’re going to give her fire in a wooden church; are you sure?” Carleton laughed again while recalling the story. “She’s a little accident prone. She walks into a room and all the furniture falls over. And yet, they handed her a candle. She lights candles every week now and she hasn’t burned anything down yet. That’s faith in action. From the start, everyone at the church was supportive and believed in her and I caught on right away that this was coming from Peggy.”
That would be Reverend Peg Roy who has been the pastor at the church since 2014. Carleton thinks Roy’s inclusive nature is truly a part of her personality.
“Her sermons are about love and acceptance. Not judgement or fire and brimstone. She preaches that we’re all in this together and we’re here on Earth to care for each other.”
Shortly after Carleton and her kids (Aedammair and her brother Fergus) joined, the church started a program called “The Hangout”. It’s a monthly event for people with intellectual disabilities.
“It allows them to have some time with each other in a safe space. They’re dancing, doing crafts, they have pizza parties. And all the moms, dads, and caregivers get a few hours to take a much needed break.”
In addition to Aedmmair’s candle-lighting expertise, Fergus recently made his first-ever public speaking appearance at the church. Carleton says her kids (and others with intellectual disabilities in the congregation) benefit from the warm environment Pastor Peg has created.
“It makes them feel comfortable and very much at home,” she said. “A lot of people say they’re inclusive, and tolerant of people with intellectual disabilities. But when they’re faced with someone who has that they may freeze up or turn away. Peg embraces them. Her attitude is ‘you don’t just have a welcome here, you have a role here.’ Peg understands that these kids bring out the best in all of us as humans and her love and constant support is very inspiring.”
Carleton concluded that joining the church was the best thing she ever did.
Even if it took a nudge from one of God’s emissaries at a yard sale to convince her.