Marshallton UMC in West Chester, Pa., made scouting history Feb. 1, when its all-girl BSA Troop 19 held its inaugural meeting and Court of Honor. Yes, that’s BSA, formerly known as the Boy Scouts of America.
Three girls already in the church’s Cub Scouts crossed over, and 16 others received the first rank of Scout. A Chester County Scouting Council leader presented the troop with its charter, the first for an all-girl troop in Chester County.
Marshallton’s pastor, the Rev. Steve Handzel, thinks they might be among the first all-girl BSA troops in the nation, because Feb. 1 was the first date when such troops would be allowed, and the church’s charter was already on file. They are leading a new movement that is sure to grow, as more girls find activities they enjoy in the BSA rather than the Girl Scouts.
On Oct. 11, 2017, the BSA announced that girls would be allowed to become Cub Scouts in 2018 and could join the Scouts BSA Program this year. The BSA also does not prohibit gay adults or youth from participation.
As local media covered the historic moment, Handzel and the Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm, South District Superintendent, presented a letter to the troop on behalf of Bishop Peggy Johnson. Doug Gindin presented a check for $800 from the church’s men’s fellowship to help the girls purchase camping gear and tents. The supportive congregation contributed an additional $130 and adult leadership.
Troop 19 first organized in June 2018 as an Explorers club in anticipation of the Boy Scouts of America opening to girl troops in 2019. As Explorers, the troop has already been to five states, three National Parks and two scout reservations (camps). They chose “19” as their troop number to commemorate the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution granting women the right to vote.
Troop 19 joins all male Troop 52 and two cub scout packs as groups sponsored by Marshallton UMC. Troop 52 and the Church Council have been strong supporters of getting the fledgling troop off the ground.
As girls enter the Scouts-BSA program, they will dress in uniforms similar to the boys, but with different tailoring. Their handbook is identical to the boys, except that illustrations depict girls in leadership roles and performing scouting skills. The Chester County Council is working to arrange for its Horseshoe Scout Reservation and Camp Ware to be accessible to all-girl troops.
Most significantly, girls can now aspire to the coveted rank of Eagle Scout, just like their brothers and fathers. Handzel, himself an Eagle Scout, noted the historic nature of the evening “as equal opportunities for leadership training and outdoor exploration are now being provided to all on an equal footing. “ He reminded the inaugural audience that the United Methodist Church is the second largest sponsor of Scout-BSA troops in the United States.
Young women, ages 11 to 17 can join Scouts BSA. Troops are single-gender to allow for equal leadership opportunities, but all troops can participate together in local, council-wide, and national programs.
Information and photos provided by the Rev. Steve Handzel