Conducting an Interfaith Service
An interfaith service is a brief worship or meditation, specifically designed for Scouting events where there may be members of more than one faith group. The intention of an interfaith service (formerly known as a Scouts' Own) is to provide a spiritual focus during a camping experience that does not reflect the views of a particular denomination or faith. An interfaith service can be defined as a gathering of Scouts held to contribute to the development of their spirituality and to promote a fuller understanding of the Scout Oath and Law, with emphasis on one's Duty to God. Let's take a look at what this definition means.
An interfaith service is a gathering of Scouts consistent with the 12th point of the Scout Law. This can be in groups as small as two or as large as a world Scout jamboree, though groups of a few patrols work best. In smaller groups, Scouts are able to get involved, share their experiences, and learn that spirituality is something that affects everyone.
An interfaith service is held for the development of the Scouts' spirituality. Spirituality is that which is beyond the material, that which gives meaning and direction to one's life. Scouting is primarily concerned with how people live out their beliefs in everyday life.
Hence, an interfaith service should connect in some way to the Scout Law, the ethical code of Scouting. Usually, mentioning the Scout Law, making allusions to it, and/or including a recitation of the Law as part of an interfaith service provides this connection. An interfaith service may simply include ethical content that the Scouts themselves can connect to the Scout Law.
Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouting movement, believed that a person's religion is not in how he behaves; rather it is in what he believes. This is where the Scout Law intersects with spirituality. In developing character, Scouts may connect their spirituality to the Scout Law so that the living out of their religious faith is also an active expression of the Scout Law.
As explained herein, the goal is to provide an uplifting and positive experience for all attendees. It is not necessary to attempt to account for the sensitivities of every conceivable religion on Earth; rather, seek to account for those religions whose members reasonably might be expected to be present. As promoters of the religious emblems program, unit leaders should have a good sense of the religions of those unit members present on a campout. For larger camping activities, such as camporees, all unit leaders could be asked about members' religious preferences to ensure that reasonable care is given to inclusiveness.
In the event that an individual attendee becomes offended as an outcome of an interfaith service, an apology is in order in the spirit of "a Scout is friendly." Similarly, though, in the spirit of "a Scout is friendly," the individual offended should accept the apology graciously and explain how the service might have been conducted so as not to be offensive to him or her. The acts of seeking to make subtle theological distinctions or looking to be offended are grossly out of place at an interfaith service, particularly when the service is planned by youth members with adult mentoring and conducted by youth members.
Attendance at an Interfaith Service
Participation at an interfaith service should be a voluntary, uplifting experience for Scouts and leaders. It should be a friendly, welcoming experience for all. There should never be coercion or criticism concerning participation or nonparticipation in an interfaith service.
Some religions do not support the participation of their members in Interfaith Services. Some religions obligate their members to participation in a specific religious service; consequently, participation in an interfaith service may not meet this obligation. Some individuals may choose to participate in the interfaith service and also in a service of their own faith.
Location of the Service
Any location separate from the noise and activity area is fine—a clearing in the woods, an empty campsite, the chapel area at a camp, a scenic overlook, an unused room in a building, the far corner of a gym.
Content of the Service
An interfaith service is an inspirational experience, usually built around a central theme, such as friendship, world peace, save the Earth, or appreciation of the world around us. Just about any topic is appropriate if it is consistent with the Statement of Religious Principle and program goals of Boy Scouts of America. Scouts should be part of the planning process so that they learn and grow spiritually. Active adult coaching, consistent with the training provided herein, is critical for success.
The form of an interfaith service can range from lively to somber. While the content may take different forms, an interfaith service always should be conducted with reverence. Advance planning (and scripting) is critical because extemporaneous comments, while well-intentioned, may lead to discomfort on the part of members of some faith groups.
To help ensure that nothing in an interfaith service would offend any participant, invite representatives of all faith groups with members present to participate in developing the service. Care must be used so that one person's religious traditions are not imposed to offend another person. For example, one should not direct all attendees to remove their hats before prayer, as those of Jewish and Muslim faiths pray with heads covered. A more acceptable call to prayer would be: "Let us each prepare to pray according to his or her tradition." Similarly, stating, "This we ask in Jesus' name," while making the prayer personal to the person leading it, could be troubling to people of other religions.
Planning an Interfaith Service
While the leader can be either a Scout or an adult, the content of an interfaith service needs to promote a meaningful and inclusive experience. Songs (hymns) are best when accompanied by an instrument, like a guitar or harmonica, to help the singers with the melody. The simpler the song, the easier it will be for Scouts to sing along. Songs like "America the Beautiful," "God Bless America," or other well-known melodies are the easiest to sing if no accompaniment is available. The leader (or song leader) may choose to hum the opening note to help get everyone started, or have the accompanist give the first chord or note.
Leaders should ensure that youth members are included in the planning and conduct of the interfaith service. It is important that those chosen to conduct the service gather ahead of time to plan the service, together with all the needed papers and material needed. Assign who will read what and who will provide accompaniment (ensuring that the songs are known or that musical scores are available), and determine where the service will be held. If time permits, those conducting the interfaith service should rehearse their parts as a group.
Attendance should not be mandatory at these services, but all should be made to feel comfortable while there. Choose your place to hold this service, be it a clearing in the woods, a wide spot on the trail, or a hill overlooking a nice scene or a quiet room. Remember, these are only guidelines for a generic service. If all members of the group are of the same religion, the canons of that religion may be followed. When present, participants from different religions should be considered and involved in the planning of these services.
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