So you had a low turnout at the church parade outing. And you’re vexed. Perhaps if you offered a badge or something, or offered points to reward the attendees it would pressure some of the others into turning up next time and reduce your embarrassment?
But – would it be fair? No, actually, in every sense, would it? After all, was everyone who attended necessarily doing the right thing in being there? And was everyone who did not attend automatically in the wrong for not participating? No. For the only girls who can ever attend any outing - are those whose parents who not only give them permission to attend, but then also arrange the means. The rest cannot attend, keen to or not – so it can't be fair to criticise or disadvantage the girls for something which is mainly or entirely out of their hands. And equally - if parents insist a girl will attend then obey she must, even if against her wishes and despite her objections – to then reward her for having attended is illogical. In both these instances, it is the parents who have decided whether their girl will attend or not, so it is parents who would be due any rewards or demerits, if such are given at all.
Then there is the question of who is ‘behaving’ or ‘misbehaving’ by being present, or indeed absent - before making any decisions about that we should consider:
- Were any absent because their folks were unable to make arrangements for them to attend?
- Were any absent because the content of the event was inappropriate for their beliefs, such that keeping their Promise meant absenting themselves?
- Were any absent because they were attending their own place of worship instead (despite the temptation to truant for rewards)?
- Were any absent because they were away from home that weekend, but they nevertheless attended an equivalent event where they were?
- Were any absent because they had a regular or prior commitment at that time, and believed they should honour that prior commitment?
- Were any absent because they are from split families, and were scheduled to visit the ‘other parent’ at that time (perhaps even were obliged to)?
- Were any absent despite fully intending to be present, because an unexpected emergency arose which had to take priority?
- Were any absent due to illness, or to accident (theirs, or a relevant other person’s)?
- Were any absent because their folks refused to sign the permission form (regardless of the reason)?
- Were any absent because the girl’s family had a prior commitment at that time?
- What about the ones who couldn’t take part in the parade, because they had other duties at that church instead (e.g. choir, crèche helper, bellringer etc)?
- What about the ones who attended with their families (in uniform or in plain clothes) instead of with the unit group?
- What about the ones who attended with another club they belong to, rather than with your unit/in your uniform?
So, given all the possible and plausible scenarios – can you say with 100% certainty just why each individual in the unit did or didn’t attend, enabling you to judge whether they should share in any rewards, if rewards there be? By attending, or by not? It’s complex. And that’s the reason why there has never been a ‘Church Parade’ attendance badge in Guiding, and almost certainly never will be.
That leads to a further question - what if no reward were given for ‘just turning up’ at outings (any type of outings)? No “I turned up” badges, no extra treats or activities ‘tagged on’ before or after an outing in order artificially boost it’s turnout? No, each outing treated as the optional extra it is, regardless of outing venue or programme - and required to be viable or not on it’s merits? Wouldn’t that be fairer all round? The only badges issued at outings being those earned by actually tackling challenging activities or mastering new skills whilst at the event, not merely dished out to all regardless of their level of participation – that would fit our ethos as an educational charity, after all. A church parade was originally just those who cared to attend a particular place of worship opting to wear their uniforms instead of their ‘Sunday best’ outfits, and arranging to meet up outside in order to go in and sit together, rather than with their families or on their own - so why not let it be simply that once again – suggesting that any who care to go to a particular place of worship on a particular day and time might arrange to meet up outside and go in together, the only reward being the company of friends, the insights the preaching might offer, and perhaps a bit of progress towards ‘faith awareness’ badge if the individual chooses to work towards that particular interest badge?
Ah, but it could make the outing unviable? To which the natural response is, if any outing isn’t viable on it’s own merits – then why run it? There is no such thing as a compulsory outing. There are no outings which have to be run X times a year regardless of whether anyone attends them or not. Church outings have never had any link to Guiding membership, they have never been necessary in order to keep the Promise, they have never been compulsory or anything near it (indeed, for long enough, all joint parades of units were directly discouraged in Guiding). For many years, the only thing that was special about church outings was - that they were the only non-residential outing you needed to get specific parental permission from parents for – and that’s been a requirement right from 1912. Because Guiding was determined that no member should be asked or encouraged to attend any act of worship which ran contrary to her beliefs. And still is, neither more nor less than then. Does running the same outing several times a year fit in with the requirement for us to run a balanced and varied programme? After all – what other sort of outing would you run several times a year, to the same venue, to do much the same activities?
An even more important question we should consider is - what do the clergy want? Are you certain the answer is “a dozen bodies in the children’s pew at any price, from mild persuasion/coercion right up to tangible rewards/bribes”? Or - would the clergy prefer to have the 2 or 3 children who genuinely want to be there, who are curious or interested to see what happens and hear what the preacher might have to say, who may enjoy singing the hymns or joining in with the children’s story, who are keen to find out more of that religion and it’s beliefs? All the clergy I’ve chatted to would 100% prefer the 2 or 3 keen or curious children to a dozen bored ones, reluctant ‘bums on seats’ who provide a token pound in the collection bag but are as likely to be put off as be enthused to make a return visit – maybe the clergy in your area take the same view? And if your aim in taking the girls to an act of worship is to give thanks for generously-discounted hall rental, as commonly seems to be - then there are a wide range of practical good turns you could do which would be far more effective and useful to the church than a handful of children making embarrassingly token donations four times a year. With many hall rents typically being £10 per hour or more, your unit’s £5 a visit 4 times a year may actually be backfiring – potentially perceived as cheek rather the token of gratitude you intended it to be!
So why not covering/repairing books, polishing brasses, making up Christingles/poppy arrangements/daffodil bunches, hanging decorations for festivals, labelling up new robes, folding newsletters or orders of service, collecting donations for the parish charity box, taking responsibility for the care of the war memorial, cleaning the vases ready for special events, wrapping the presents for the crèche party, recording and delivering the ‘talking service’ or magazine through the doors, helping with clearing up refreshments after events, helping at the coffee morning or fair, making and delivering greetings cards to lonely parishioners – those and plenty of other options would all be practical good turns for a place of worship as a token of thanks for discounted hall rents. Or – or you could pay your way. Churches are charities too, and gone are the days when they could afford to make large donations to community groups – why would you be treated different to all the other clubs which hire the hall?
If your argument is that you want the girls to learn more about the church building or what happens in it – wouldn’t that be easier to do on a separate visit to the building, where they could get to explore the building and have it’s features explained, be able to ask their questions without disturbing others who are trying to concentrate, where what is done and why at certain ceremonies could be properly explained, rather than cryptically Chinese-whispered along a pew mid-service? A congregation can usually arrange for someone to open up the building, and show the girls round, answering their questions, on a weeknight.
All this, of course, doesn’t even touch on the possibility that attendance at church service outings may not be straightforward for the Unit Leaders either – attending the church may run contrary to their personal beliefs and cause them embarrassment or conscience issues. They may have commitments elsewhere on Sunday mornings which they have to miss in order to staff this optional outing. They may have to take time off work (perhaps unpaid) in order to attend, or have to swap shifts or turn up tired straight after working a full night shift. They may have to give up yet more time away from their family commitments, or organise (and pay for) childcare or elder care (at Sunday rates). Is this a realistic expectation or demand for us to make of our scarce and valuable volunteers? After all, it was only a couple of hours on a weeknight plus the occasional outing or residential that the Leaders volunteered for – regular Sunday mornings in church were never part of the deal.
So, that’s why I think you should give it a little bit more thought. Will giving out sweets or badges for attending church parade be fair, or unfair . . . and if turnout is consistently poor, should you consider whether holding a Church Parade should happen as often, or perhaps, even happen at all?