Father and son, Scott and Michael Stanton, reflect on what it means for them to be part of a Church family and how ‘being valued and belonging to a community is important to all of us.’
Michael: My name is Michael Stanton and I am 20 years old. In my spare time I like to do swimming with Special Olympics where I compete in competitions all over NSW most months. I am training hard for the Nationals in Adelaide in April 2018. I have Autism Spectrum Disorder. I like to listen to music and my favourite singer is Taylor Swift.
Scott: My name is Scott Stanton and I am Michael’s Dad. Like most accountants I am an exciting person to know, and my wife Suzanne is a Minister in the Uniting Church. When I’m not working too hard, I spend lots of time with Michael. Many Church communities we have been involved with would consider Michael and I as a bit of package deal, never too far away from each other. I love travel, food, photography and sport, which is what Michael also enjoys. He must have spent too much time with me!
What are the joys and challenges of being part of a Church Community?
Michael: The joys of being part of a Church Community is meeting new people, singing hymns and listening to the Minister’s sermon. I also like being part of the Church Community when I do things like bible readings, or playing the aboriginal clapping sticks at the start of the service when Reece plays the didgeridoo. The challenge for me is trying to understand what people are saying, and picking up what the sermon was about.
Scott: I’m interested in and inspired by the lives and faith journeys of others, the joy of worship music, and sermons that make you laugh and challenge your thinking. We began our faith journey in the Uniting Church at a time in our lives when Michael was four and his disability was at its most confronting. We were struggling with what the future held for Michael, and us. We were fortunate our congregation saw past the meltdowns and tantrums, didn’t assume we were bad parents, and joined us on the journey we were on. It could have been very different.
How has the Church Community made you and your family feel welcome?
Michael: When I was a young boy and grew up at Menai, Marcia and Andrew welcomed me. Ron was a nice person because he was the Minister of the Church. He used to ask me to choose a picture for the front of the newsletter each week.
Salesi has welcomed me to Jannali by inviting me to church services. I went to the Uniting Church 40th Birthday celebrations at Jannali in June 2017.
Bec and James have welcomed me to Hope Uniting Church by inviting me to church and socialising with people. Bec has a little baby called Rowan. I think Rowan is cute and I like seeing him.
Scott: Suzanne’s journey to becoming a Minister has led Michael and I away from our original home Church at Menai-Illawong to many parts of the Uniting Church. In a relatively short period of time we have briefly felt part of the communities of United Theological College, Ashfield Uniting Church, Bankstown Uniting Church, Burwood and Malvern Hill Uniting Churches, Hope Uniting at Maroubra, and Jannali Uniting Church. It would be fair to say that all the Church communities that Michael and I have been involved with have willingly offered us faith, hope, friendship, activities, entertainment and support.
“Watching congregation members make the effort to engage with Michael… is incredibly rewarding and gives me hope for the future.”
Being valued and belonging to a community is important to all of us. When your child is diagnosed with a disability, you can’t help but think about what the future may hold for your child. What will they do, or not do? Will they ever speak, get a job, and have relationships with people? Whether Michael would find ways to belong to a community is one of the many things I instantly no longer took for granted anymore once we received his diagnosis.
We have been fortunate. Michael did eventually talk at about six years of age. Today he is unusually social for someone on the Autism spectrum. He has developed independent living skills but is yet to succeed in the challenge of getting a job. Finding a job is a big challenge for people with disabilities.
Michael has met so many incredible people in his life that have each had a significant hand in his development. Many of these people have been Uniting Church people who just took the time to get to know him. Watching congregation members make the effort to engage with Michael, get to know him, love him for who he is, and be interested in his life and cheer him on as he develops and achieves new skills and abilities is incredibly rewarding and gives me hope for the future.