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Celebrating our 140th Anniversary

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Wednesday 12th August 2020

Some reflections from your President as he bows out.

The Boys’ Brigade welcomed Lord Griffiths of Burry Port as its thirteenth Brigade President in September 2011. Lord Griffiths steps down as Brigade President in September 2020 and in this article shares some reflections from his 9 years as President.

I should have remembered when Steve Dickinson invited me to have lunch with him that there’s no
such thing…

Being invited to become the Brigade’s President came completely out of the blue and it somehow destroyed all the protective fences I usually put up when someone wants me to do something and I heard myself say yes.

In 1970, my wife and I, just married, began a ten-year stint in Haiti. That’s where I first saw the Brigade in action at the Carrefour Church on the edge of Port-au-Prince.

Later, I found myself Chaplain of the Caversham Company in Reading. In the 1980s, we found a struggling Company in Loughton. That’s where our sons joined and where, for a while, I ran the Anchor Boys’ section which often turned out to be a handover point for divorced or separated parents. In the mid-90s, I began my final period of active ministry at Wesley’s Chapel in the heart of London and served as Chaplain of the 5th London.

During these years of “marginal involvement”, I awarded prizes, led devotions, visited families when there were difficulties. I even went on camp and began the week by digging the latrine. But I didn’t get involved with the ‘organisational’ side of the BB.

Nine fulfilling years later after my lunch with Steve I find myself stepping down as your President and can say that I’ve become very, very proud to have been part of this wonderful movement.

Looking back, it didn’t take me long to realise that news of my appointment didn’t necessarily go down well with everybody. However it has been heartening to sense a growing affection, increasing support, even a degree of pride shown towards me over the years as I’ve travelled around and in doing so met Mayors, Members of Parliament, Lord-Lieutenants, Bishops, Moderators and Archbishops and even Her Majesty the Queen in my role as the President of The Boys’ Brigade. And I’ve certainly sensed that a number of those who looked at me suspiciously at first gradually lowered their defences and warmed to my visits and conversations.

In truth, I have found much nostalgia in some quarters, I’ve looked at so many old photographs of camps, heard about the great events of yesteryear, that I’d want to issue a challenge.

Cherish your memories by all means. Thank God for the friendships you made, the influences you came under; but don’t dwell in the past. Don’t create a sense among the membership of this generation that things are not as good as they once were. They need leaders who can seize the present moment and squeeze it for all it’s worth. Our children and young people are living in perilous times. Today and tomorrow are challenging enough. Measuring themselves against benchmarks from yesterday isn’t really helpful.

From the outset, I was determined not to be swallowed up in the BB bureaucracy. When all’s said and done, the movement is the members. At Company displays, Battalion events, presentation ceremonies and KGVI courses I’ve found myself surrounded by the enthusiasm, candour, energy and generosity of spirit that young people seem to have in abundance. It has rejuvenated me, buoyed me up and driven me forward. It’s so easy to think of the Brigade as the transference of wisdom and experience from an older generation down to another. It’s been my experience that the transference has been two-way. I must pay my thanks in this little message to all those young people who’ve been prepared to engage in conversation, I will be eternally in their debt.

And so to our leaders. I’ve met so many fine people in every part of the land – men and women who give up their time and offer their gifts to inspire and encourage their young charges. “Christian manliness” is, of course, a key part of the Brigade’s object. It may sound like an outworn phrase in this day and age but its core meaning cannot be avoided. Our leaders seek to help youngsters grow up to be men (and these days, of course, women too) in the style and after the manner of Christ. I salute all those who go out week after week, rain or shine, winter and summer, to serve the present age by investing in the future generation.

Having confessed my luke-warmness for bureaucracy, I must now eat humble pie and take my hat off to all those who keep the organisational side running. Those who serve on our committees, who keep an eye on our strategy, the balancing of our books, the safeguarding of our children, the production of programme materials, the care of our properties and so much more. All those who have so imaginatively kept on producing a programme through the recent months of lockdown deserve the very highest commendation.

I end with a reference to the noblest of all my tasks, and the most inspiring aspects of the work. It falls
within my power to grant “Certificates of Commendation” to members of one Company or another who has shown courage or set an example beyond the call of duty. As I’ve read some
of the things our children and young people have done, I’ve often been moved to tears. A little boy who takes control of
the situation when a parent has a heart attack, phones the emergency service, loosens a collar, sits with the troubled person and waits till an ambulance arrives. Or a teenager who copes with multiple physical disabilities, faces a constant round of hospital treatments and surgical operations, turns up at BB week after week without fail. Or a child with Downs Syndrome who plans the annual camp. And so I could go on.

I must pause to remember the parents of these children who surround their children with love and support year after year. And all those in their Companies who, without ever patronising, include them in all the activities, watch their backs, stick with them through thick and thin.

Over the past nine years there have been so many wonderful, glittering and shining occasions that I have been fortunate to join as your President. But none will outshine the memory of those children and young people who overcame the odds, who dug deep and showed tremendous courage. That’s what The Boys’ Brigade is all about. That’s what we’re working for.

Thank you for the memories. The Lord bless you and bless you kindly.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port

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