Monday, 22 September 2008

Scouting for Boys

I suppose all of us can identify in our lives the four or five people who have really made a difference to us. Among those in my life was the late John Clifford. His job was an insurance clerk, but his vocation was a scoutmaster, and his passion was life.
In the troop to which I belonged, his influence was incalculable. He could rave, jump up and down with frustration at modern youth, but he was one of the steadiest and best people I have ever known. He did things which these days would be frowned upon; on his own he took thirty or more scouts out every week on foot or on bicycles into the wilds (or as wild as the Surrey hills and heaths got, anyway) using public transport; with only one or two other adults (and sometimes without), he took up to forty boys away camping for a fortnight, the responsibility being shared with 16-18 year-olds who were expected to exhibit a level of maturity unimaginable these days. And we all responded. Given respect and responsibility, we lived up to it, (well, most of the time). John 'Skip' Clifford would speak to us as nobody else did; as being small adults who simply lacked experience. He would (you couldn't imagine this now!) look the other way if we went to the pub (as those of us in the Senior Scouts frequently did from 16 or so years old) while at camp or on the weekly hikes or cycle rides. He taught us to discern good from bad, and not simply to run with the herd. He knew just why a Fuller's cake was so much better than a Mr Kipling cake, and Terry's chocolate so much better than Cadbury's. He would, walking along a high street, teach us to look above the boring shop windows and look at the fascinating building above. He taught us about Routemaster buses, trams, took us on train cruises, taught us knots. We learnt how to cook on open fires—something we always did on the camps, disdaining stoves of any kind. He taught us to respect quality rather than novelty, and to look beyond the obvious. And he loved the Latin Mass. 
I didn't always enjoy being a scout—it was very constraining at times for a teenager, and he would insist on us wearing the old khaki scout uniform when shorts were absolutely the nadir of fashion because, he very reasonably pointed out; the new uniform was very smart, surely, but hopeless to hike in, or cycle in, or do anything really interesting in.
By now you will have gathered that I think that this was such a good influence on my life that I am sorry that boys now do not get this experience much. Scouting still exists in the UK, but even when I was a scout, John Clifford came under very strong pressure to change it to conform to the less robust pattern that was then (and I think still) official policy. He strongly refused, because, according to his own principles, the modern version was not as good as the old, and if a thing ain't broke, don't attempt to fix it. I think that time has shown him to be right. The old principles of self-reliance and activity have disappeared now from our youth, on the whole. There is sport, for the sporty, but very little else to occupy a boy's mind (or a girl's, for that matter) that does not involve a computer or naughty substances. Since scout troops must now admit girls, there is no space really for a boy to be a boy except in football teams, which do little towards the moral and psychological development necessary if a boy is going to turn into a happy man. I don't think that constant mixing with girls is helpful: some is of course a good idea, but I think that separate groups too can be very useful in providing a space for growth without the complication of trying to impress the other sex. If women need their space, then so do men.

I have long been impressed with much French scouting. Going on retreats at monasteries in France, I have found that it is a rare weekend that does not have a troop or two camping in the grounds and attending Mass on Sunday, and even many of the other offices. These scouts are scouts as I remember them; there is strong and active esprit de corps, and the religious element is much stronger than in the English scouting movement. In fact French scouting was founded by two priests, and the faith is written into the law and promises of the movement.

Particularly impressive in my experience is the Scouts of Europe movement, which exist in most European countries outside the UK. I wish there were more hours in the day, and/or that I was twenty years younger, or that I could find other people willing to give it a try, but I would love to try a troop of the Scouts of Europe here in Shoreham. Consider these Scout Laws (rather different from the UK Scout Laws) as principles for a young man's life:

The European Scout Law:
The Scout is on his honour to be trustworthy.
The Scout is loyal to his country, his parents, his leaders and his subordinates.
The Scout must serve and save his neighbour.
The Scout is a friend of everybody and all other Scouts.
The Scout is polite and chivalrous.
The Scout sees God's work in nature. He loves plants and animals.
The Scout obeys without arguing and does nothing by halves.
The Scout is his own master, smiling and singing during hardships.
The Scout is sparing and takes care of what is others.
The Scout must be pure in his thoughts, words and actions.

The European Scout Promise:
On my honour, with the grace of God,
I promise to do my best to serve God, the Church, my Country and Europe,
To help my neighbour in all circumstances,
And to obey the Scout Law.

John Clifford died about five years ago, and at his funeral there were so many of his surrogate sons, many in tears. May he rest in peace.


Mary Martha said...

They make the BOY scouts accept girls now? That's just stupid.

I was a Girl Scout here in the States and it was wonderful. Two weeks of sleep away camp, lots of time horseback riding and canoeing and sailing. I had leaders who I will always remember fondly.

There are great advantages to gender separation in activities like this. For girls it is a change to go out and be active and be leaders without worrying 'what will the boys think'. Co-ed scouts ruins that.

umblepie said...

Thanks for a wonderful blog. Brought back many memories for me. Longer ago than I care to admit, many if not most Catholic parishes boasted their own Catholic Scout troop. I doubt that this is the case now. Like many excellent organisations I suspect the Scouting movement has been choked by 'political correctness', 'health and safety regulations', and 'human rights', not to mention the liberal, humanist, and downright atheist agenda promoted by our Governmental agencies. Congratulations to French scouting for promoting and maintaininmg the highest Christian principals.

gemoftheocean said...

Fine organization. I loved my time in the Scouts. That fuzzy wuzzy "serve Europe" concept seems a bit off though. PC has very much crept in to too much of life. Here in the US the Boy Scouts are under a constant barrage from the atheists. Here the boy scouts still insist on a belief in God and they are constantly under attack. I'd agree that overall scouts are better served overall by separating the sexes given for the reasons you list. Have you ever had occasion to read an original boy scout manual? Here in the US in the early 80s they did a reprint of the original handbook - a real eye opener. For the original (1910 - heavily modeled after the British original) if memory serves one had to be able to build a log cabin, and spent zillions of more hours under canvass than is currently required. [They also had a plumbing badge too!] It gave advice such as how to kill a mad dog [a good swift kick under the chin!] all manner of things. The usual knots etc.

I know I learned how to do a hangman's knot in the scouts! [I'm betting the PC types long ago snuffed out that particular knot from the pages of the Girl Scout handbooks!] We learned how to read a compass and all sorts of cool things. An uncle of mine was a boy scout master for a long time, and I think my cousin, his son, is also a scoutmaster himself now.

Here in the US Norman Rockwell, among many other wonderful paintings he did, often painted commissioned pictures with Scouting featured. There is a fine website here where you can see a lot of his illustrations he'd done for the scouts.

gemoftheocean said...

Oh, and you're not too old to be a scoutmaster. When I was growing up each Catholic school had multiple scout troops for the kids.

Anonymous said...

These arguments exactly parallel the wisdom of choosing exclusively boys and men as altar servers.

gemoftheocean said...

William, I'd disagree on the grounds that there is NO equivalent for girls offered. There is nothing like serving Mass to get to know it intimately.

Now, for pastoral reasons, *some* boys and girls do better single sex for that, but if some boys are at an age where they do not mix well with girls, then a priest could make all boy or all girl teams for that. Why should the boys have all the fun?

Anonymous said...

Dear Gemoftheocean,
there is no equivalent offered for girls as an alternative to the Sacrament of Holy Orders either, nor can there be. Having only boys and men serving at the liturgy is a clear sign that girls should not look to Holy Orders as a possible vocation. It may be one thing to tolerate women where there is a true pastoral need (whatever that means) and an absence of men and boys who can be shamed into doing their duty to assist the Church in her liturgical needs. But to encourage girls to serve risks inviting them to think that they might be called to Ordination one day. It also permits the perception that the Church may one day change her mind. I do wonder if those priests who permit altar girls actually think that one day women will be ordained, and even desire it, and hope to undermine the Church's teaching on exclusively ordaining men by undermining the Church's immemorial tradition of having servers drawn exclusively from men and boys.
If having servers at all is only about their "having fun", then best, perhaps, not to have servers at all. It is certainly not conducive to good liturgy to have sanctuaries full of servers of either sex if they are only there as decoration or as a statement of political correctitude.

gemoftheocean said...

Then let's shut the women out of reading and being EMs maybe they should just swab down the church steps and sit in the back with their heads covered.

[We're talking about someone handing the priest a CRUET, for heaven's sake - NOT saying the Mass!!! do you really think Jesus gives a rip about that one? This attitude *precisely* reflects my reservations regards TLM crowd. Either it's going to be accessible to ALL or just the select few. Quite one thing not to allow what you don't know you have the *authority* to do -- i.e. we don't know that women can be ordained. But the functions reserved to the server are completely arbitrary and have ZIP to do with priesthood. Why forbid what doesn't have to be forbidden?

And if you feel that strongly about not letting women/girls do what was previously given to "minor orders" then you can count up the pennies and lock up too - because those were functions assigned to the porter. You guys can do ALL th3e scut work too if you really think the "right" genitalia is required for such tasks.

Michael Clifton said...

Is this the same scout group at Tadworth where Chris Long was also a member? I know he was at a tr aditional group as described. It did not hinder him anyway ..He is now headmaster of St Edmunds Ware.
He was a good friend of mine and nearly saved my life once

Pastor in Monte said...

Fr Michael,

Yes indeed, Chris and I were scouts there together. It was in Banstead, though, not Tadworth.

Anonymous said...


You have brought back so many evocative memories of our time together in the mighty 10th Banstead. To this day I regard John "Skip" Clifford as one of the major influences in my life, for all the reasons you outline so eloquently. I wonder how many other blokes of our age know the correct height of a bicycle saddle, or the correct way to light a fire from scratch! And who could forget the infamous "CFE"s, (character forming experiences) which invariably followed major misdemeanous, were amusing without being cruel, never did lasting damage and above all invariably ensured improved behaviour. I certainly had my fair share of these.....

As you say, in this brave modern world, a single adult would never be permitted to take 30 or 40 boys out without an army of other "responsible adults" (and a lengthy Police check). It makes me feel very nostaligic for those more innocent times.

I'm pleased to say that here in Australia, although the scout movement has declined, shorts are still worn by scouts. In fact it was only recently that the khaki uniform has changed to a dark blue and green shirt, but the shorts remain. Both my sons have come through the scout movement, and have belonged to a local troop which decided some years ago to be for boys only. Of course these days the parents play a much more active role than in our day, accompanying weekend activities and camps, serving on intermninable committees, maintaining the hall (surely in our day the boys did that...), and participating in various fundraisers and barbecues.

Pastor in Monte said...

Yes, in our own fashion we did maintain the hall —or rather hut—ourselves. It always looked as if it were about to fall down, but never did. Most remarkably, when I was ordained, I and all the other clergy vested there. It was a strange revisitation.