Sermon - Sunday, 6 October 2019

The following sermon was delivered by the Very Reverend Dr Russell Barr at the Cramond Scouts 75th anniversary service on Sunday, 6 October 2019.

Scripture: Philippians 4: 4-11 / Matthew 13: 31-35

Do you suppose when Robert Baden-Powell organised a fortnight’s camp on Dorset’s Brownsea Island for 21 young boys in July 1907, he ever imagined that he was sowing the seeds of a youth organisation that would touch the lives of countless millions of youngsters in countries across the world?

And do you suppose in October 1944, exactly seventy five years ago, when Leonard Small, my illustrious predecessor as minister at Cramond Kirk, began scouting here at Cramond, he thought he was sowing the seeds of an organisation which would touch the lives of so many young people for good in this corner of north-west Edinburgh?

When he organised the camp to Brownsea Island in 1907, Robert Baden-Powell was already something of a national hero.

An officer in the British Army, some eight years earlier during the 2nd Boer War, Baden-Powell and his men were besieged in the small town of Mafeking by a much larger Boer army.

If his successful defence of Mafeking brought Baden-Powell not only to the public’s attention but to its acclaim, the military manual he wrote entitled Aids to Scouting caught on with a younger audience.

Exploration, field craft, tracking, map reading, using a compass, wood craft, camping and learning how to survive in rough conditions: if these were some of the skills Baden-Powell learned during his army service, boys loved reading about them in his manual.

As the popularity of his book grew, Baden-Powell wrote a non-military field edition for youngsters, one which included instruction about camping and woodcraft but also emphasized the importance of morality and good deeds.

And so it was that on the 25 July 1907 Baden-Powell decided to try out some of his ideas on an actual group of boys at a camp on Brownsea Island - and the Scouting movement was officially born.

Within a year, 1908, there were 60,000 registered Boy Scouts, troops began springing up throughout the commonwealth countries and in other countries too, a central administration was started in London, a uniform was designed, and when in September 1909 the first national Boy Scout meeting was held at London’s Crystal Place, some 10,000 Scouts turned up including a uniformed group of Girl Scouts.

Hands up everyone who thought welcoming girls into Scouting was something new?

Although Scouting began as a programme for boys 11 to 18 years of age, almost immediately others wanted to participate.

Inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book a Wolf Cub section soon followed for younger boys and also a Rover Scout branch for older boys.

Today it is estimated there are some 50 million Scouts in 200 countries around the world and perhaps ten times that number, 500 million, have been involved in Scouting since it began.

From something small – 21 boys on a fortnight’s camp on Brownsea Island – something quite remarkable has grown.

And from something small, Leonard Small, something quite remarkable has grown in Cramond these last 75 years.  

In his autobiography entitled The Holy Goalie, Small tells of joining the 1st North Berwick troop in 1917 and describes many of the adventures he enjoyed, including meeting and shaking hands, left hands, with Baden-Powell when he was part of a guard of honour at the First World Jamboree at Olympia.

Coming as the minister to Cramond in 1944, just at the end of the 2nd World War, he discovered there were no groups or activities for young people.

And so on 10 October 1944 the Cramond Troop, 32nd Midlothian, met for the first time in the old primary school – all 11 boys including Ronald Small, Leonard Small’s son.

With the war ended, things developed quickly and the following year Bunty Inglis and Moira Kidd started the Wolf Cubs while Jean Raeburn (Murray) and Madie Hart started the Guides and Brownies.

And as he describes in his book, it sounds as though everyone had a lot of fun, not least learning how to build bridges.

At one Parent’s Night in the Manse garden we started with poles and lashings carefully laid at the side of the drive opposite the front door.

I blew the whistle, the Scouts started to build two piers and supports and main bearers, and thirty minutes later the Troop marched out of the door and over the bridge while I drove my car underneath.

Talk about chancing your luck!

From small beginnings – 11 boys – today there are 211 young people, boys and girls, involved with Scouting at Cramond – and how many more have been involved over the years.

Jesus knew nothing about Scouting but he knew plenty about small things turning into something big and something seemingly insignificant turning into something really important.

So when his disciples asked him to describe what the kingdom of heaven is like he told them two parables.

The first parable was about a man who took a mustard seed and planted it in a field.

Although it was the smallest of all seeds, when it grew it produced a plant as big as a tree, so big birds could come and make their nests in it.

The second parable was about a woman baking bread, something the disciples would see happening in their homes every day in life, and of how a tiny pinch of yeast could transform a large amount of flour.

If both parables speak of something small – a seed - growing into something big – a tree or something small –yeast - creating a remarkable transformation into something much bigger – the dough - what Jesus began with his tiny group of disciples some two thousand years ago grew into the worldwide Christian church.

And does it still happen?

Twenty years ago a small group of people – including people from this church – wondered what we could do to help people who were homeless make a home for themselves.

From an initial group of seven congregations gathering cups and saucers, pots and pans which were stored in Eileen Barnwell’s garage, the seeds of Fresh Start were sown, a charity which has helped tens of thousands of people make a home for themselves and a work which has changed government policy.

It is still happening and I wonder what big things will come from what one young woman, Greta Thunberg, is doing to focus everyone’s attention on the climate crisis.

And I wonder too what big things each of you will achieve from the small seeds being planted in your hearts and minds during your involvement with Cramond Scouts.

Through its unique combination of adventure, education and fun Scouting continues to renew and adapt itself to a changed and changing world and to the different needs, interests and aspirations of young people.

From tiny acorns giant oaks are grown - and as today we celebrate 75 years of Scouting at Cramond and all it has achieved, we are also glad to give thanks Scouting continues to inspire young people to become active, thoughtful, kindly and responsible men and women and to look to the future as these young people, local and global citizens, sow the seeds of a better and more sustainable world.