Celebrating Halloween, All Saint’s Day, and Juliette Gordon Low: How the Girl Scouts Shaped Me as a Young Clergywoman

Post Author: Rev. Katharine L. Steele

In the Girl Scouts, I’ve found a place where I don’t have to leave any part of myself at the door. In contrast to the church, which often adheres to a patriarchal structure, Girl Scouts provides a nurturing and inclusive atmosphere. I’ve never felt that I needed to be someone I’m not in this organization. It’s a safe haven, a place where all are celebrated for their unique qualities. As a young clergywoman, I strive to recreate the Girl Scout spirit within the church—a space that is welcome and hospitable to all, regardless of their background or identity. We just celebrated Halloween, the day when ghouls and ghosts come to life, but October 31 is also the birthday of Juliette Gordon Low. 

Low once said, “Today is the history of tomorrow, and we are its makers.” My history of being in Girl Scouts as a child made my future as a young clergywoman. Growing up, I was an eager participant in Girl Scouts, and, as a leader’s daughter, I was often the first to arrive to set up for our meetings and the last to leave after ensuring that we had left our meeting space “better than we found it.” Becoming a Patrol Leader within my troop was my first taste of leadership, teaching me the importance of communication and teamwork. It also planted the first seeds of self-efficacy within me as I often struggled with self-esteem and belief in myself. Although I often felt my peers were nominating me as Patrol Leader simply due to the fact that I was the “leader’s kid,” the fact remained that more often than not I was voted into that leadership role. Perhaps they saw something in me I did not yet see in myself, but either way it was a formative experience that laid the groundwork for the leadership roles I continue to find myself in as a clergywoman. Through Girl Scouts, I learned that leadership is not just about giving orders but also about listening and understanding the needs of those you lead.

Summer camp helped me develop my independence and ignited my sense of adventure. It was there, surrounded by the beauty of nature and the camaraderie of fellow scouts, that I discovered my capacity to explore, to take risks, and to embrace the unknown. This adventurous spirit would later serve me well in both my spiritual journey and my role in the church, as years later I served as a Mission Intern through The United Methodist Church’s Global Ministries’ Young Adult Missionary program. While there are dozens of stories I could tell about how my Girl Scout experience and missionary experience were intertwined and how one built upon the other, perhaps the most memorable is the time I was in a remote village on a ski trip and the only facilities available was a latrine up and behind the main guesthouse. We were on a ski trip with our college ministry and I very unfortunately came down with a pretty severe case of food poisoning. I believe many other people would have returned from that experience scarred and/or asking when the next flight home was to take off; instead I wrote “An Ode to Latrines,” and thanked my lucky stars that I had spent several summers at Girl Scout camp.

Now,  I find myself as a Leader of a multi-level Girl Scout troop. I realize anew every year the transformative power of youth leadership and involvement. In my work with church youth groups, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of listening to the voices of the young and embracing their innovative ideas. Juliette Gordon Low said, “Ask the girls, the girls will know what to do,” and this has become my guiding principle, pushing me to foster an environment that encourages creative brainstorming and inclusivity in my youth groups and with church leadership teams, ministry boards and my own current troop.

As I celebrate Halloween and All Saint’s Day, I also honor and celebrate Juliette Gordon Low’s birthday every year, recognizing the profound impact she has had on my life. Her legacy reminds me of the importance of mentorship and passing down the torch of leadership to the next generation. This idea is so vital to me that I’ve made it a mission to involve my niece in the Girl Scouts. I want her to learn valuable life skills, cultivate her own sense of adventure, and feel the support of a community that welcomes her as she is.

Rev. Katie Steele is an Elder in the United Methodist Church currently serving in extension as the Associate Director at the Wesley Foundation Campus Ministry in Cincinnati, OH. When not writing or pondering existentially, she enjoys time with her cats, time with her niece, and taking her Girl Scout troop on adventures.

Image by: Rev. Katie Steele
Used with permission
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