Caloosa Belle

Familiar pastor back at Carlson United Methodist Church

The congregation at Carlson Memorial United Methodist Church has welcomed home an old friend. Peggy Benson was a longtime member of the congregation, lay minister who actually became a minister and retired in July 2014. After that she and her husband, Joe, enjoyed traveling, eventually returning to LaBelle as a home base.

She got the call in May asking if she would serve as interim pastor at CMUMC for a year. That year may be continued on an annual basis. She accepted and, last June, returned to the pulpit.

Peggy Benson, the new pastor at Carlson Memorial United Methodist Church. (Submitted photo)

It’s been a long journey for Pastor Benson.

She had been a strong leader and music minister at Eastside Baptist Church for years, and always close to Carlson, even collaborating with CMUMC Choir master Bette Foote on events, so it wasn’t difficult when she married Joe Benson of Felda and decided to switch to the Methodist church. Joe worked in the rough Felda oil fields and spent a lot of time away – always somewhere drilling. He has also been a teacher and even enjoyed teaching Bible class and it was Joe who first recognized her calling. She was such a good Christian and so involved in the church that he felt the ministry was right for her.

She said having a husband like Joe has been a tremendous support over the years.

After moving to CMUMC she served as lay leader, taught bible study even helped out with the liturgy for Pastor Robert Atchley. She was a good lay leader and Pastor Atchley depended on her ability to get the Word out to the congregation.

Actually, she felt the call to the ministry for several years before she quit struggling against it and stopped making excuses. When she saw herself in the Biblical story of the Burning Bush, when God called Moses to lead His people. Moses struggled against the calling before finally accepting it.

That’s when she finally knew it was the right thing for her.

She worked hard on her ministerial studies and served in the church while she was in the seminary. In 1998 became a Licensed Local Pastor. Her first church was the United Methodist Church in Immokalee, where she pastored for nine years. She then pastored in Marathon before retiring.

With her heart always in the church, she said she learned from both Eastside Pastor Wesley Hamil and CMUMC Pastor Robert Atchley. In fact, she said she has patterned own non-judgmental ministry after them. After many years putting ministers on a pedestal, these two men made her realize that it’s “real people” that God calls to be ministers.

In true John Wesley fashion, she said “The world is my parish” and considers all of LaBelle to be her “charge” church members or not. She is here to anybody who is struggling and needs help.

She sees pastoring as a mothering role and therefore a very natural calling for woman. People are often more comfortable talking to a woman about deep and sensitive issues.

Being a woman can cause some problems, she admits, at interdenominational activities because some denominations refuse to participate with a woman minister.

The biggest difficulty is that a minister is never really “off” – you’re never completely at ease because it’s always in the back of your head that someone might need your help and you must go.

She said that, over the years, pastoring itself has not changed – that is, the people have not changed, but each church is different. “Each church has own DNA and community expectations,” she said. A minister must be ready to pastor a mostly homogeneous church like Immokalee, and then take on a continually changing congregation like Marathon.

She is highly complementary of her excellent staff including Director of Children and Youth Doug Russel and her efficient Administrative Assistant Kelly Perkins along with various part timers.

“I don’t know why God called me,” she comments, adding that she never really feels worthy. “After all, who am I?

So she tries to stay out of the way and let God speak through her.