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Sausage, Rainbows and the Religious Conundrum

Husband and I have been looking for an after-school club to send Sausage to for some time; there are clubs run through her school but they’re for slightly older kids. She’s a bright, outgoing little girl but being an only child means that she lacks interaction and sometimes is a little under-confident in social situations where she has to push her boundaries. We were aware that a few of her classmates went to Rainbows so I enquired about our local group and waited for a reply.

Husband raised concerns that he thought that The Girlguides Association was a Christian group and as someone who attended Brownies and Guides myself, I had to admit that I remembered promising to ‘do my duty to God’ during the Promise. I went onto the Girlguiding website to check it out and according to the information on the site, the part of the promise mentioning God has been removed altogether, after a public consultation. It also goes on to say that The Girlguiding Association “is not, and never has been, a Christian organisation”. The Promise, which aims to represent the inclusive values of Rainbows has now been changed to say ‘to be true to myself and develop my beliefs’

Okay, so far, so good…or so we thought.

After Sausage’s first session, which she really enjoyed, I emailed the Brown Owl at Sausage’s group to see if she could shed any light on the situation, mostly because we’d received a schedule of the next few meetings which said that she’d be attending ‘Church Parade’ within the next few weeks. I asked the leader if this was a compulsory activity and if there was a general note of religion running through any of the sessions. Here’s her reply:

“There is not a particularly religious aspect to our meetings.  As you may have read in the Press last autumn, Girlguiding has altered the Promise to ask a girl to be true to her beliefs, whatever they may be, so it is multi-cultural.  Church Parade is not compulsory, but as we meet in the Church Hall and are given greatly reduced rates for the hall hire by the PCC we do like to support the Church.  About once a year the Vicar runs a meeting for us.  This has taken the form of a nature walk round his garden, a BBQ, a tour of the church and a talk about Advent.  These meetings are listed on the programme and you are at liberty to withdraw Sausage from that evening if you so wish.”

So, what that sounds like to me is that, because the Church hires the hall space to the Rainbows for a reduced rate, they’re given access to the kids to be allowed to preach religion to them. Despite the official organisation tack of ‘all-inclusive’, I don’t see anything on the schedule about activities with a Rabbi, Imam, Buddhist monk or any other such religious leader, so it does seem to be fairly exclusively Christian, does it not? And what, in exchange for cheap hall rental?

I appreciate the fact that we’ve been given the option to keep Sausage back from the sessions which involve religion, but I don’t understand why there has to be a religious aspect at all? It’s all well and good to encourage “spiritual development”, but I really feel that should be part of the parents job, not the remit of someone who is clearly biased towards one religion or another. My daughter is five years old – she’s not old enough to make her mind up about which religion she wants to follow, if any (she regularly tells us she wants to be a Hindu until she realises that it means she’ll have to give up eating spaghetti Bolognese) and beginning some sort of insidious indoctrination at such a young age is not what we signed up for.

To be honest, I feel really disappointed on Sausage’s behalf. She should be able to attend an after-school club without us having to worry about what might be being preached in her ear, but this Rainbows pack in particular has obviously decided that the all-inclusive nature of Rainbows is to be ignored. The whole point of the Promise Consultation wasn’t just to make the organisation inclusive to all faiths, it was to make it inclusive to those with NO set faith too.

She’s given MORE than enough religious education at school (which, believe me, is an understatement, she comes home almost every day telling us that there’s been some sort of religious aspect to her education) and the last thing we want is for it to be poured onto her at an extra-curricular club too. Faith, or choosing NOT to have faith, should be a personal thing, dealt with at home and marginally through a small aspect of their education. She’s five years old and it’s all too much.

Perhaps I need to see if I can find a science club for her to attend.

22 thoughts on “Sausage, Rainbows and the Religious Conundrum

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  2. I do see where you’re coming from but my daughter went to Rainbows and loved it. We didn’t go to the Church Parades and I genuinely didn’t get the feel that it was religion focussed in any way. I think what she’ll get out of it will far outweigh the odd mention of religion – especially as it’s probably not nearly as full on as school.

  3. Whilst I am a Catholic, and my children have been baptised as Church of England we are not overly religious. I do however allow my children to attend these events as it gets them familiar with different beliefs and the age old ‘if she is going I want to go’.

    Personally I would ask Sausage if she wants to go

  4. hmmm, I know where you are coming from…. I too went to a church school, brownies, guides, was confirmed, etc… yet didn’t/don’t *believe* – I think in general it’s ok in small doses, and generally the bible stories of good samaritans, sharing, kindness are just that ‘good stories’ and I’m OK with that…. She’s bright enough to know that they’re just stories, as are my two boys who for example, know not to blaspheme as it may offend those of their friends/friends’ parents who do believe – so it makes for niceness all round really in my eyes??

  5. It’s a difficult one, my son goes to a church school even though we are not religious (it’s the local village school) and I do wonder about some of the things that he comes out with. I’d hope that the group also have an emphasis on learning about other religions and cultures. I think though that the majority of a child’s influence comes from the home, so as long as you are able to discuss it with her (I go with the ‘some people believe that such and such…’ then hopefully she’ll be able to make up her own mind about it.

  6. I’m with Tanya and Steph. Saying “the Church hires the hall to Rainbows so they’re given access to the kids” makes it sound like some sinister plot.
    It’s my understanding that our local church) offers a reduced rate to youth groups and local charities in order to help the community. It’s up to those groups whether they want to take that up or not. They don’t have to – but it would involve a lot more fundraising on the part of the parents if they went for more expensive premises.
    And likewise the church hosts events for these groups in order to support them, and become a relevant part of the community, getting to know members of the parish. As far as I’m aware they don’t do it to “recruit” or preach anything in particular to them.
    I suspect people wouldn’t complain if, for example, a Buddhist group rented a hall to the local Rainbows, and in return got to meet them and host an event for them once a year. Parents would probably view this as a useful cultural experience.
    But Mums and Dads tend to get very worried about the Christian faith having an ulterior motive.

  7. I am not religious at all. I am about as spiritual as a breeze block, and that is after going to CofE schools all my life, which included weekly church services, RE as a compulsory GCSE and all sorts of other Christian stuff. I also went to Brownies and Guides. There is nothing to say your daughter will become indoctrinated from a walk around a vicar’s garden once a year and by supporting the church whose hall you are quite happy for her to use – she will be having so much fun being part of a girly club with her mates that it might well just pass her by.

    Tanya pretty much said everything I came here to say xx

  8. I was a Rainbow Unit helper and trained to be a leader for several years, sdaly I had to leave as my job changed and I worked longer hours. I am also a Christian.

    DD went to Rainbows and of course I helped manage the program and lead it. We talked about all kinds of things from butterflies, to numbers, caring to poverty, colours to animal welfare. I think Rainbows is great for kids. I genuinely don’t think they are pushed toward any religion now, though in the past they often had a prayer! (I’d argue that they were indeed a religious organisation once or at the very least very linked to the church) but now they focus of the core of your being, what you think, why you behave like that, how to be kind and helpful.
    I dont think they push religion but I also don’t agree that children should be kept away from religious teaching, after all, how can you decide what is right or wrong with no understanding of others beliefs? Of course it’s your right to keep her away if you like. But she’ll be missing out on some fun. (mostly chaos with glitter in my experience)

  9. I’m going to have to disagree with you on this one. As far as I am aware Girl Guiding is a religious organisation (if I am wrong do correct me!) I can remember attending church parade as promising to ‘do my duty to god’ when I went to rainbows, brownies and guides.

    I think that it is getting more and more socially acceptable for Christians beliefs to be targeted. Perhaps in a way that wouldn’t happen with other religions.

    If you don’t like the potentially religious aspects to some of these things then why not look to joining a swimming club or something else that doesn’t meet in a church hall?

    Hope that doesn’t sound too grr?!

  10. My daughter goes to a Catholic school so, like you, we have enough religious education but equally I think the response from the Scout Association was a really fair one and learning about these things could give Sausage a balanced view. Knowing the “right” thing to do is difficult sometimes isn’t it??

  11. TBH I am not really sure that I agree with you and I do think their response is actually quite reasonable. I am not sure that discussing Advent with the children is really such a big deal Knowledge is power and providing her beliefs, or lack of, are not being deliberately swayed will she not learn from these discussions? They may well reinforce what she already believes. They clearly have had this arrangement with the rental space for some time and I guess it may be difficult for that to change, and I am not sure that arranging for meetings with lots of other Religious advocates from other faiths is particularly useful as surely the point, your point, is that it should not really be about religion at all. It would not concern me but I am a catholic so may be completely biased.

  12. i agree. it sounds like too much. and i think she will learn a lot more from a science group anyway. or maybe dancing? although i am a christian too i believe religion should me a choice.

  13. We aren’t religious but with all clubs etc there is a point of religion, my daughter was in Sea Cadets and every year she had to ( well not had to but she enjoyed) attending the various services, from the Holocaust to the remembrance parades, it gave a sense of what the past and what others of different religions did for us.

  14. I’m of the opinion that providing those church parades don’t include any form of attempting to indoctrinate a child, I would be happy for them to attend – which might be odd for an atheist but I think it’s a good way of encouraging a child’s curiosity and getting them to question things. Sonya’s right when she mentions tradition and it will take a while for people to catch up.

    Have you thought about a local astronomy club? There’s usually quite a few amateur ones around that welcome children and adults alike. Could be a nice compromise.

  15. I used to LOVE girl guides and am happy for my kids to join the scout group even though I am not a believer. Having said that, there are alternative Scout like organisations you could join (if only I could remember the name?!? Argh..) and they tend to be less over subscribed too.

  16. As you know, I’ve run Rainbows, Guides, Brownies and am currently a Tawny Owl at our local Brownies. We meet in the church hall, we do get a discount on rent – we invite all our girls to the family services in the church and to take part in the activities – however, there is no requirement (and in nearly 5 years with this unit I’ve never been in uniform). We also do lots of other things that reflect different religious beliefs as part of our programme – we’ve covered Hanukkah, Sukkot, Divali, Eid and others (wracking brains) and also do Mother’s Day and Easter as they’re fantastic opportunities for craft and exploring the outside world.

    We find using celebrations that society joins in with are a really important part of our programme because it acknowledges how the girls fit in with the world around them – if we didn’t look at Christmas, Easter, Valentines day etc the girls would think (and by Brownie age they would tell us in no uncertain terms) that they were missing out.

    As a leader it takes lots of experience and planning to create a balanced programme – and certainly with the subs that we charge, a lot of juggling to make the books balance as the parents would be the first to complain if we put the prices up. I suspect your leaders are trying their best to keep everyone happy and as volunteers that’s a very hard job.

  17. Am interested to hear they have made a clear declaration of not being a religious organisation. I read a few blog posts at the time the promise changed, and one of my replies to them was that if they weren’t by definition a religious organisation then they shouldn’t have a religious aspect. I think your situation is a case of old traditions die hard, we had church parade when I was a brownie, and I think it has been the norm for a long time. It may be a little while before the actual practise of the groups catches up with their new non-religious stance. And that will only happen when parents like yourself question it. And don’t even get me started on religion in schools…..gggrrrrrr!

  18. I am on the fence with this one I am afraid. Hers, and your beliefs, may not include wanting to attend church but does that mean she should avoid them at all costs and not take part in all the other aspects of Guiding?

    I think I would look at the bigger picture. And whilst she does have to sit through the church preaching (though maybe they wont on a nature walk etc) she can then use that reinforce her belief that she doesn’t believe in God.

    I think to avoid it completely (and by it I mean church based activities) is a shame. I think that attending, hearing it, and saying “yep, as I thought, not for me thanks” is possibly better than just not attending full stop.

    And I say this as somebody who is also not terribly religious.

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