Thursday, 4 March 2010

Founders Day/World Thinking Day

This is another delayed post - though less to do with my slow working brain and more to do with my waiting to see if its subject matter would appear elsewhere on the web. One report of the event is here, but I haven't been able to find any media reporting.

The Scout and Girl Guide movements celebrate Founders Day and World Thinking Day on 22nd February each year, that date being, I understand, the birthday of Robert Baden-Powell the founder of the scout and guide movements. Each year the day is marked by a service at Westminster Abbey, where there is a memorial to Lord and Lady Baden-Powell. This year, the service took place on Saturday 28th February.

One of my nephews was escorting the Scout banner during the service, and I had the opportunity to accompany another nephew in the congregation. I did not really know much about the Guide and Scout movements, apart from contact with the groups in my own parish in organising events like Evening Prayer for Christ the King, and Stations of the Cross. This year, it being the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Girl Guides, it was the Guides who had the lead in the service (three years ago, a similar lead was taken by the Scouts for their centenary). They showcased the history and the work of the movement.

And I have to say that I was most impressed by what I learnt about the movements during the service.  In an  ordinary and practical way the Guides and Scouts address issues that others would turn into slogans and political programmes. I will quote the promises of the two movements, which were renewed at one point during the service, and then offer some observations.

The Scout Promise is:

On My Honour, I promise that I will do my best
To do my duty to God and to the Queen,
To help other people
And to keep the Scout Law

The Scout Law is:

A Scout is to be trusted.
A Scout is loyal.
A Scout is friendly and considerate.
A Scout belongs to the worldwide family of Scouts.
A Scout has courage in all difficulties.
A Scout makes good use of time and is careful of possessions and property.
A Scout has self-respect and respect for others.

The Guide Promise

I promise that I will do my best
To love my God
To serve my Queen and my country
To help other people
and To keep the Guide Law

The Guide Law

A Guide is honest, reliable and can be trusted.
A Guide is helpful and uses her time and abilities wisely.
A Guide faces challenge and learns from her experiences.
A Guide is a good friend and a sister to all Guides.
A Guide is polite and considerate.
A Guide respects all living things and takes care of the world around her.
At the start of the service, three flags were processed to the altar - the Guide flag, the Scout flag and the Union flag; and both promises include a promise of service to the Queen (this aspect of the promise is, I presume, suitably adapted in other countries). Remembering that the Guide and Scout movements are both international movements, and that both draw members from across the breadth of society, I felt that the way this aspect of their promises was represented in the service, and is represented in the life of the movements, expressed exactly the right approach to having a sense of loyalty to one's nation. I was prompted to reflect on how I viewed the monarchy; one should perhaps see it as a symbol of the country that stands distinct from any particular political allegiance, and our present Queen, Elizabeth II, has lived the vocation represented by that symbol in a very faithful way.
Another aspect of the service that struck me was its approach to religion in the life of the Guides and Scouts, something represented in the promises by the references to duty towards and love of God. This reference to God in the promises can be adapted so that those who are not Christians can address it appropriately in accordance with their religion. I can't find it on their websites at the moment, but I understand that they work on the basis that their members will live fully the life of their own religious communities and that participation in religious events as Guides or Scouts is voluntary. The two movements did, however, seem to be perfectly comfortable celebrating their Founders Day/Thinking Day service in a Christian Abbey and making use of Christian prayers. I am sure that many readers of this blog will be familiar with Guide and Scout groups that are affiliated to Catholic parishes or to other Christian churches (my own nephews are members of a Scout group run by a nearby Methodist church). Again, without making a big fuss about it, the two movements seem to have captured exactly the right approach to the place of religion in the life of society and to the contribution that religion makes to the good of society as a whole.
A third aspect that struck me was the sense of friendship, a sense that was more than just being friends with people you know. I gained a real sense during the service - and it is reflected in the promises - that every Guide or Scout tries to be a friend to every other Guide or Scout, and perhaps especially those in other countries who they couldn't possibly know in an individual way.
The fourth aspect to strike me really grows out from the previous three. It is the sense of service to others and of responsibility in one's own life. Guides and Scouts put into practice in an ordinary way what others would make a fuss about under the headings of "citizenship" or "social cohesion". I have to say, as a personal point of view, and one that is not based on my own living of Guide and Scout ideals, that this sense of service to others appears to me to gain its depth and authenticity from being grounded in the first three points mentioned above: an appropriate sense of one's country, a correct approach to religion in the life of society and the sense of comradeship.
The founding inspiration of the Guide and Scout movements has something in common, I think, with that of the Focolare. The idea of camps familiar in the two movements is rather like the idea of a Mariapolis, particularly as it was experienced in the early days of the Focolare. The dialogue across four generations of a Guiding family that was part of the service at Westminster Abbey reflected the sort of testimonies that would be typical of a Focolare event. The idea of doing a small thing in your own life or for your neighbour, as your contribution to changing the world, would again be familiar to young people in Focolare. At one point during the service, there was also a reference to living in the present moment, between the past and the future - again, a thought that would be familiar to the Focolare. The place of religion in a spirituality that promotes a universal friendship is also something that would be familiar to the Focolare.


Matthew Hewitt said...

One interesting aspect of the Scout Association's rules is that whilst those of all faiths can be members of the Scout Association, those of no faith cannot - a belief in a deity is a requirement of membership.

Joe said...

Matthew, thank you for your comment.


Scouting is based on three principles, which are expressed within the Beaver, Cub and Scout
Promises: Duty to self;Duty to others; and Duty to God.... The three principles lead Members of the Scout Movement to believe that the world is a better place when people: are trustworthy, self-controlled and selfconfident; have self-respect and respect for others; work together to serve other people and to improve society; show responsibility towards the natural world and proper respect for possession
and property; and have an active religious faith.

Not directly relevant to a comment about the Scout Association, I know, but I want to post it for the sake of completeness in relation to my original post.

Extracts, which seem to me to allow someone of no religious faith to join the activities of Guiding without taking the promise:

Youth membership of Girlguiding UK is voluntary and is open to any girl or young woman
aged between her 5th (4th in Northern Ireland) and 26th birthdays, regardless of faith, race,culture, nationality or any other circumstance. A young member makes, or works towards
making, the Promise appropriate to the section to which she belongs....

Adult members can be (this one part of three) women and men aged 18 and over who do not make the Promise but who believe in the ethos of guiding, wish to support it and agree to abide by Girlguiding UK’s policies

Do these provisions really amount to the "discrimination" claimed by the likes of the British Humanist Association? Or are they an invitation to non-believers to share, in so far as their conscience allows, in activities which have an aspect of religious inspiration, and therefore, in a spirit of equality, to respect and value the contribution that that religious aspect of scouting and guiding can make to society as a whole?

Joe said...

Sorry, I managed to truncate the link to the scoutbase factsheet in the post above: