Bahai News - Girl Scouting opens doors for the faithful

Girl Scouting opens doors for the faithful

Programs for many denominations help participants strengthen their religious ties

By Kristen Holland

DALLAS -- Lindsey Moore celebrates Mass regularly, goes to confession and crosses herself when she passes a cathedral.

Raised Catholic, the college sophomore has always considered faith a vital part of her life. But it's a secular organization, the Girl Scouts of the United States of America, that she credits with deepening her religious devotion.

Moore has completed all but two of the Girl Scouts' religious recognition programs for Catholics. The rigorous requirements she had to meet for each helped her appreciate and understand her religion better, she said.

"It's more in-depth than anything I learned in church," she said.

The programs are offered as one avenue for Scouts to live up to their promise to serve God. Girls of most faiths -- from Buddhist and Baha'i to Lutheran and Episcopalian -- have the opportunity to earn awards tailored to their religions through the Scouting program.

Exact numbers aren't available because the Girl Scout organization doesn't organize or lead the programs. That's up to the various faith communities.

For example, the National Jewish Girl Scout Committee organizes the Jewish programs, and the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministries puts on the Catholic ones. The Catholic Diocese of Dallas runs programs specific to the diocese.

Moore said that every year "there are hundreds of girls in the area working on projects." She spent eight weeks helping a dozen second- and third-grade girls complete the Family of God program for her Girl Scout Gold Award project.

The Gold Award is the highest honor in Girl Scouts and is considered equivalent to the Boy Scouts of America's Eagle Scout award.

The Girl Scouts organization, based in New York, approves the programs for Scouts of all ages and faiths and allows members to display the recognition medals on their uniforms.

The Boy Scouts organization, based in Irving, Texas, follows similar guidelines regarding its religious programs.

Both organizations include references to religion in their promises but say the wording is meant to encourage participants to study their families' faith traditions.

Members of the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Camp Fire Boys and Girls Border many of their program materials through P.R.A.Y. -- Programs of Religious Activities with Youth -- a nonprofit organization based in St. Louis, Mo., that also runs its own God and Country program.

Debbie Hazelwood, assistant director for P.R.A.Y., said the medals aren't just things to attach to a sash or vest.

"The pin or the medal that they wear is a way for that Girl Scout to fulfill the first part of the promise -- to serve God," she said.

Hilary Block, 13, completed the Bat Or award, a program for Jewish Scouts, at Congregation Beth Torah. She said she loves being able to wear the religious emblems on her uniform.

Attending synagogue and observing Jewish holidays didn't mean much to her until she completed the Bat Or program, Hilary said. "Afterwards, I started asking to go to services," she said.

Bat Or (the Hebrew phrase means daughter of light) is designed for Junior Girl Scouts: fourth- through sixth-graders. The girls learn about festivals and holidays, the Torah, the synagogue, Israel, and how Jewish history and heritage relate to Girl Scouting.

Sometimes the girls have to write essays about the shema -- "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one" -- or discuss the Exodus, said Etta Korenman, a local representative for Jewish Girl Scouts.

Korenman said girls who understand their faith have an advantage over those who simply memorize prayers.

"One of the things that makes people run away from religion is ignorance," she said. "What this teaches them is that they can succeed at whatever they want to and still be true to their faith."

When she had her own troop, Korenman said, she often took religiously mixed groups camping. She said the hardest part was not being able to make a campfire Saturday.

"The Christian girls would do their thing, we'd do our thing," she said. "For Shabbat morning, we would have some doughnuts and a hot water pot like an urn, so girls could make hot chocolate or tea."

Traditionally observant Jews can't light a fire on Saturdays because it is considered work, and work is not allowed on the Sabbath.

Twelve-year-old Andrea Mason attends Congregation Beth Torah with Hilary and also completed the Bat Or program. She's taking a year off from Girl Scouts to participate in other activities but said she's considering re-enrolling.

She said it's important to learn about and practice the traditions of one's faith.

"You can't have a religion and not know about it," Andrea said. "If you don't know about it, there's not really a point of being part of that religious group."

One goal that's reflected in most of the programs is that the girls evaluate how religion plays out in their own lives.

"I learned a lot about how much I incorporate God into my life," said Megan Parker, a 16-year-old junior at Frisco High School. She completed four of the United Methodist programs.

Her 12-year-old sister, Kyrie Ann, has earned three awards. Kyrie Ann said her faith in God helps her when times get tough.

"There's lots of things happening in the world right now, and that's one thing that helps me get through life," she said. Kyrie Ann attends Clark Middle School in Frisco, Texas.

Mary Parker, Megan and Kyrie Ann's mom and a longtime Scout, said she encouraged the girls to complete the projects so they'd see how Scouting affects all areas of life.

"It gives them a better perspective of Girl Scouts -- that Girl Scouting is not just a civic organization, it's an all-encompassing organization," she said.

©Copyright 2002, Contra Costa News

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