It seems that every week the Boy Scouts of America or Girl Scouts of the USA are in the news. As registered adult leaders in these organizations for many years (Sue for 31 years and Jay for 20 years), active members when we were growing-up, and parents of an Eagle Scout and Gold Award recipient we wonder if it’s the baby or the bath water that is being scrutinized.
Fortunately for us, our home congregation can see beyond the controversies and appreciate the value of these programs and the synergies they provide to its own youth programming. Our church has chartered a Boy Scout troop for many years and is home to six Girl Scout troops. These troops bring 40 boys, 55 girls, and most of their parents into our building each week.
The relationship between our church and these scouting programs is mutually beneficial. Our church provides meeting and storage space, in Sunday school classrooms that would ordinarily be empty on a weeknight. Scouting provides adult and youth leader training, insurance and meaningful programs that can be implemented by volunteers. The units that meet at our church provide leaders, the program and recruit youth from inside and outside our congregation to participate.
Scouting provides age-appropriate programs for all ages. The Boy Scouts of America offers Cub Scouting for boys in grades 1-5, Boy Scouting for boys age 11-18, and Venturing for boys and girls age 14-20. The Girl Scouts of the USA offers Daisies for girls in grades K-1, Brownies for girls in grades 2-3, Juniors for girls in grades 4-5, Cadettes for girls in grades 6-8, Seniors for girls in Grades 9-10 and Ambassadors for girls in grades 11-12.
The scouting programs focus on youth leadership development and service to others; desired ingredients of any church’s youth programing. But scouting can also support a church’s desire to help youth grow spiritually. The program itself offers many opportunities for spiritual growth as does the youth’s association with adults other than their own parents.
In basic training as a Boy Scout leader, we are taught that three-quarters of scouting is outing. Getting the youth outside is a significant ingredient of the programs. This formula not only makes program planning simpler (Q: What should we do? A: Take them outdoors to camp, hike, play a game, etc.), but it affords countless opportunities to introduce youth to their creator in His creation. In addition, both organizations emphasize service to others which is grounded in their oaths as a natural extension of service and duty to God.
Scouting teaches youth to gain a better understanding of their own faith, to be reverent, and to be respectful of the faiths of others. Another basic element of scouting is reflection, which is not just part of the planning and leadership models that are taught, but is also integrated into Scoutmaster Moments, Scouts Own services and such group sharing as Thorns and Roses. Scouting also includes a tiered system of age-appropriate religious awards, which connect the youths’ scouting experience to their own place of worship.
As leaders, we have found our own faiths grow along with the youth we have served.
- While star gazing, we too have pondered whether God created life on other planets and concluded “why not”.
- We have been awestruck by an hour-long display of the Northern Lights at 3 in the morning, and humbled as this gift from God came at the end of a week-long canoe trip in Minnesota where personal stories of faith had been shared just the evening before after all the usual topics (and our bodies) were exhausted.
- We have had the joy of attending a 13-year old boy’s confirmation of faith at his place of worship, when only a few short years earlier he and his parents questioned whether they could join scouting in the first place, because they were not sure they knew what was meant in the oath to do one’s “duty to God.”
- We have shared Christmas joy with elderly shut-ins while caroling with the scouts at nursing homes and rehab centers.
- We have affirmed Gods gifts while working side-by-side with homeless men at a youth-led project to build a storage-shed at a transitional living center.
- We have shared God’s grace while collecting food in the community and then delivering it to a food pantry.
- We have celebrated as a girl and her family joined our church because, first, the girl had become comfortable inside our church building, then wanted to know more about what else was going on in the building, then wanted to go through confirmation classes, and finally wanted to be baptized and confirmed in our church. Other members of her family followed in her footsteps.
Scouting can bless the Moravian Church, and the Moravian Church can bless scouting. We have been blessed by both.
Jay and Sue Larson are members of East Hills Moravian Church and have received The Order of David Zeisberger award for their work in scouting. Photos courtesy of the Larsons.
From the October 2012 Moravian Magazine