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Generic Nondenominational Worship Services - yea or nay?

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  • Generic Nondenominational Worship Services - yea or nay?

    Yah, this came up again in da parent thread.

    I confess that the more I think about it, the more I believe that there's no such thing as a non-denominational service that is meaningful.

    Yah, yah, we claim to do 'em at scout camp and scouts' own. But if we're honest with ourselves, most of the time those follow a generic protestant worship plan. Songs, readings, a sermon. Not something that would be recognized by non-western religions as a religious service. Heck, not something that even most Catholics or Jews are comfortable with as being their weekly honoring of the sabbath.

    Either that, or we do an even more odd Wiccan/pseudo-American-Indian/God-in-Nature thing, with a whole mess of Scout Oath & Law as religion stuff. I reckon that offends almost everybody, or at least satisfies almost nobody.

    Plenty of our members feel that such generic "worship" is either worthless or blasphemous. It makes a whole mess of the rest of our members uncomfortable.

    Why do we do it?

    Wouldn't we be better off just encouraging units and lads to pursue a real faith experience consonant with their belief? I've seen this done a few times, and I confess I (as a Christian) found attending a real Jewish sabbath service at camp far more spiritual than the generic nonsense, and far more respectful of the faith of my brother scouts and scouters.

    Right now, our generic services are rejected by Catholics, LDS, Muslims, and many protestant denominations, are often found offensive by Jews, and just mystify our members from da Eastern religions who tend to put up with it as a weird thing we do.

    What do the rest of yeh think?


  • #2
    When my district does camporees, they try to get a Catholic priest, a Protestant minister and a rabbi for services.


    • #3
      I've found the most meaningful services to be ones that include prayers, readings and songs from various faiths. One's not watered down or so nondescript that they are unrecognizable. Personally I don't care for the ones that as you say "a whole mess of Scout Oath & Law as religion stuff"

      Currently I have asked our Chaplain's Aide to collect a variety of items to be used. I am interested to see what he comes up with.


      • #4
        As long as it's not as generic as the Frantics Sketch from the late 80's called "Worshipers 'R' Us" (, it can't be too bad.

        More seriously, at our district events we try hard to have Catholic, Generic Protestant (led by whichever local church minister is willing to lead it) and Native American Services available. When we can't, we alert units in advance and it's up to them as to whether or not to hold their own "Scouts Own" service or to motivate their unit to pack-up that much quicker on Sunday in order to get home in time to catch their normal Sunday services. Service attendance is not required at our events. However, we do ask those who choose not to attend to respect those who are attending, but keeping the noise level down during services.

        One of our leaders ID's as Native American and heads-up that service. We don't have a large Native American population in our district. Despite this, it's usually more heavily attended than the other services combined. Either he does a very good job, or maybe it's just curiosity among the scouts/leaders. (shrug)

        We don't have a large Jewish population, so we've never had to deal with that. Of course, what little I've observed is that the local small synagogues have their services on Friday evening after sundown, so this wouldn't be a problem for any Jewish Scouts. They can attend their normal service and just arrive a little later to our events--not much different than scouts who are also active in sports.

        We do have a lot of LDS units and do our best to make sure that they get packed-out with enough time to get home before Midnight Saturday Night into Sunday Morn. We usually place them in the campsites closest to parking (or easiest access to the access road). Each event, I double-check with them to ensure this is alright as I don't want them to think they're being singled-out by being grouped together at one end of the camping area. Each time, I'm assured they appreciate the accommodations we provide them to make it easier for them to get home when they need to.


        • #5
          Beavah asks "Why do we do it?"

          Well, I suppose part of it is tradition. I suspect that chaplains, chapel services etc have been a part of the Scouting program from it's earliest days.
          There is also a perceived need. That is, we declare that a Scout is Reverent. So we feel compelled to provide some sort of outlet for that when Scouts are gathered at an event.
          At the summer camps in our council, we have a pretty good chaplaincy crew in place to meet the specific needs of the most common faith groups in our area.
          The generic things I've seen concocted at, for instance, Camporees and OA events mostly leave a lot to be desired (and I'm doing my best to be courteous on this point!!)

          Personal anecdote: I was raised a catholic, signed on with the lutherans when I got married, and now attend a fundamental, independent baptist church which most closely aligns with my personal doctrinal beliefs and practices. Had a vague belief system during my time in Scouting (I consider a specific point in time in 1987--age 27--as when I came to faith in Christ.) I look back and one point in my youth scouting time really made an impact and perhaps started me on "the path." That is when I was on staff at camp an was invited by a Jewish troop to attend their Friday evening service. They did it on a bluff that overlooked a beautiful river valley as sunset was approaching. Was it the view and setting, the beautiful Hebrew language, or the Holy Spirit? Maybe all of the above, but it was then that I began to have crystallized in my mind a notion of a personal God.


          • #6
            I think you miss the point, a Scouts Own service is not supposed to be a true religious service or a replacement for any denominational service, that was not why they were created.

            It is a method/opportunity for scouts of many different faiths who are away at a camp or wilderness on a Sunday to get together and to reflect on their God and the beauty of the creation around them, and to quietly reflect on being reverent in their own particular style. The readings should be positive,motivational, and uplifting, but not from any particular religions sacred texts.

            The term worship service is also a misnomer as well because then it becomes a Protestant, Catholic, Jewish service for example all of which worship in a very different and not really in a compatible way. To try to develop a combo one size fits all faiths worship service that is true to each traditions beliefs is nearly impossible, as the Catholics, Jews and LDS will never accept it as a replacement for their own denominations services.


            • #7
              I guess we need to define "meaningless." As leaders, what are our goal and reasons for guiding scouts towards conducting a "Scout's Own" service?

              I don't think our goals are or should be identical to the goals of many organized religions. For example, I myself am Catholic, and can tell you that officially, attending a Scout's Own service doesn't "count" for my weekly obligation to attend Mass. However, that doesn't mean that I feel that attending or requiring a Scouts Own service is meaningless. To me, the goal in conducting Scout's Own services is not to substitute for the practices and rituals of one's own religion, but instead to offer a unique opportunity for praise, worship and reflection in the Scouting context.

              My advice would be to move away from thinking about it as a "interdenominational" service, and move towards embracing the 'Scout's Own" philosophy. That is, let your scouts take ownership of the worship service, and conduct it in a fashion that is meaningful to them. I've attended services that ranged from a just a few minutes of silent reflection, to informal discussions around a camp fire, to a "Scoutmaster Minute on Steroids," to one's that closely resemble Christian services.

              When you leave the decision up to Scouts, you'll likely see them develop a worship service similar to those in their own religions - just because that is what they are comfortable with and knowledgeable about. That may not be a problem if its what your Scouts are comfortable with, but I would advise reminding them that the goal is not to recreate their own church services, but instead develop a simple program in which all scouts can comfortably have experiences of reflection, and express praise, gratitude and intercessions to the Almighty.

              I too do not care for many of the "canned" services which strive to include any and all religious traditions - including those not represented by the Scouts in attendance. Like I said, the goal of these services should not be to try to include and validate each and every religious group, but instead give the scout's their own opportunity to connect with a higher power in a meaningful way for them.

              In this light, I think that Scout's Own services are quite meaningful, if conducted in the right mindset for the right reasons.


              • #8
                As an ordained minister, I was asked to do the "sermon" for the chapel service at camp last week. A lay-minister put together the order of service and asked me to review it.

                He was not "happy" with my suggestions in that I had him remove the Lord's Prayer and replace it with a Psalm. The prayer was one accredited to one used by American Indian tradition and the songs were pretty generic.

                Focusing in on the "old Testament" allowed the service to appeal to Islam, Judaism and Christianity. I preached in the 12th Scout Law as it applied to the tenants of all three religious bodies as they viewed Servant Leadership.

                I received appreciative comments afterward from both Muslim as well as Christian attendees. If there were any negative concerns they might have been addressed to the Camp Director, but I didn't hear anything.

                It just takes a little time to consider a number of traditions in the area, "knowing the audience", and being sensitive to a variety of different traditions. It's a pretty thin tightrope, but it can be done.



                • #9
                  I'm Orthodox Christian. I barely (if ever) run into other Orthodox Scouts and Scouters, aside from the National Jamboree, so I'm one of those people for whom a "Scout's Own" service does little to satisfy my own usual worship tradition because it NEVER reflects who I am as a Christian. Ever. The Christian portions of these services are more often than not Protestant in look and feel. The Christian point of view put forth in the usual "Scout's Own" is very narrow and specific in comparison to the wider spectrum of Christianity. And, after all, what is a Christian portion of a service if they can't even mention Christ?

                  I'll be honest and say I get little to nothing out of a "Scout's Own" or other "non-denominational" Scouting service. I respect the role they hold in maintaining that "A Scout is Reverent," and they do a fairly good job of reminding us we are in nature and an environment where there are people of many different traditions and understandings of God(s). But that doesn't necessarily mean they do a good job of making the individual partaking of them feel like they're actively worshipping.

                  Another reason I don't particularly like the catch-all services is because I'm not overly comfortable with some of the elements brought into them. I'm not comfortable reading from the Book of Mormon, I'm not completely comfortable reading prayers outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and I don't feel much of anything reading Native American prayers sourced from God knows where. That's not to say that I don't respect someone's right to adhere to that tradition, or that I look down on them for believing things different than me, but that doesn't mean I feel comfortable being roped into a worship services that incorporates their theological ideas. I'm sure some of them feel the same way about that, too.

                  Part of me thinks the time might better be spent allowing each person to spend time worshipping in their own way, a "meditation hour" or "prayer hour" or something, instead of putting us all in a generic worship setting where we get a little of everything and almost nothing that is actively useful to a good portion of the congregants. There's a point at which we try too hard to incorporate everyone and offend no one, and it ends up just being so watered down there's nothing left but empty platitudes. Make everyone get into their Class A, go to the chapel or even the middle of the woods or something, tell everyone to grab a stump, and do that which is comfortable to them. Tell everyone to bring a prayer book or materials or whatever they might want for their own worship ahead of time so that they're all prepared, and there you go. I'd much rather spend an hour on a stump reading the Bible or my personal daily devotions than sitting through a Scout's Own.

                  As for the idea that a Scout's Own isn't supposed to be a religious service, or not a replacement for religious worship, I don't know how you could come to that conclusion. The point is that we're at camp and we can't attend our normal places of worship, so in order to fulfill our reverence, we worship together non-denominationally. That's why Scout's Own and other things of that ilk exist...(This message has been edited by Bando)


                  • #10

                    To answer you, because the Scouts Own was never meant to be a substitute for your normal Sunday practice of worship, if you want that invite a chaplain from your faith tradition to hold a service at camp. Its purpose was to give all scouts from all traditions a time for private meditation and prayer, and to hear a positive, not doctrine, message in the beautiful surroundings of nature. For Catholics and Jews with their ritualistic orientations, and yourself wanting a mini Christian scriptures service defeats the purpose of what a Scouts Own is supposed to be.


                    • #11
                      "The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God."

                      Why do we include religious services? The BSA is ABSOLUTELY nonsectarian in its attitude towards religious responsibilities. Not Nondenominational- nonsectarian. There's a difference now days. Nondenominational terms have been taken over by most Christian churches to mean: Christian, but not of our faith.

                      Nonsectarian is used to denote a group that doesn't favor one world religion.

                      IFWS are designed for the boys to have yet another chance to play the game of scouting, have fun with their faith, and learn to be courteous and kind to people of other religions. What you call odd or weird may be a wonderful part to another Scout's religious practice.

                      There's one religion in particular that can't say the Pledge of Allegiance. The Pledge violates their allegiance "only to God." While this boy can't be a Scout, we should be tolerant of this and teach the boys that while we're all different in our faith, we still deserve respect.

                      Some religions must wear a hat at all times. To ask them to "Remove your hat to pray" is not something they would do, but by not takiing off their hat when told would be a bigger problem than recognizing their diversity.

                      What about when a boy at a campout is forced to taste a particular food that he shouldn't partake in because of his religious beliefs? Are they "odd" for that, or should we respect their differences, and include them in the education of our boys?

                      There's two ways to approach the service in my mind, and I've planned and led both: 1) a mixed religion service with scripture and songs from the religions present and 2) a generic service. You have to take into account that yes, not all needs of all religions will be met by a "generic" service, but that we're not out to meet all of their needs, we're out to meet the needs of the Troop rather than the needs of the church.

                      We do the services to show that we can be inclusive and tolerant of others' beliefs. If the members aren't tolerant and aren't getting that message, the leaders aren't doing their jobs.

                      I work with a unit that has members of five different religions represented. They unite under the banner of Scouting, and religious teaching is done in the home. When they have a IFWS, it's an amazing experience, and the boys learn far more about their own beliefs by leading these services sometimes than they do in Sunday School.

                      You can't require a boy to attend religious services distinct to one faith, but you can't require them to attend a Scout's Own, either. What it does create is an opportunity for them to explore the Scout Law in another way.


                      • #12
                        For what it's worth, a "nondenominational" service only really covers the different Christian denominations, so that term leaves out Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, etc., by its very use.

                        The preferred term these days is "interfaith worship service." The term "Scouts' Own" is apparently not in vogue anymore, for some reason, according to the training syllabus (below is a link to a cached copy at The syllabus outlines the pros and cons and pitfalls.



                        • #13
                          BadenP, that's all well and nice, but in my experience with these "nondenominational" services, that isn't what happens. It's treated as a replacement for regular worship in a Scout's home tradition, regardless of what the blanket intent is supposed to be. And, no, I'm not asking for "a mini Christian scriptures service." Rather, I'm pointing out that Scout's Own and the like are a pretty poor attempt at pleasing everyone, and really end up serving no one by cherrypicking a little of this and a little of that in a pretty narrow way.


                          • #14
                            I think Beavah pretty much nailed it. And I am also persuaded by what Bando wrote.

                            Why do we do it? As far as I can tell, we do it because we always have...tradition. My memory goes back to the sixties and at that time there was no question about the service. We all attended and it was definitely Christian. Jews were incredibly rare in scouting and they just endured the experience. Other faiths were invisible to the point of practically being non-existent. This is not the case today. And this unit exercises the local option to break tradition, this one at least.


                            • #15
                              Bando nails my position. The Scouts' Own as published by the National Council is ANATHEMA

                              My vote is NAY!

                              Thus says the Lord. All quotes are from the New International Version,
                              found online at

                              Exodus 20:1-6
                              And God spoke all these words:

                              "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

                              "You shall have no other gods before [a] me.

                              "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments.

                              John 14:5-14

                              Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"

                              Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him."

                              Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us."

                              Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his
                              work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so
                              that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

                              Exodus 34:10-14
                              Then the LORD said: "I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the LORD, will do for you. Obey what I command you today. I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites,
                              Hivites and Jebusites. Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you. Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles. Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

                              Deuteronomy 6:13-19
                              Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land. Do not test the LORD your God as you did at Massah. Be
                              sure to keep the commands of the LORD your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you. Do what is right and good in the LORD's sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers, thrusting out all your enemies before you, as the LORD said.

                              Revelation 3:14-22

                              "To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

                              These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you
                              are lukewarm-neither hot nor cold-I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

                              Luke 9:18-27

                              Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, "Who do the crowds say I am?"

                              They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life."

                              "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "The Christ of God."

                              Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. And he said, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life."

                              Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me
                              will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see
                              the kingdom of God."

                              I trust the Word to make my case.

                              I've no problem with protestant Christians gathering together as one family, and I have no problem with protestants and Catholics (in most cases) gathering together, as long as the priest doesn't offer a closed Mass (meaning Roman only).

                              AS A SCOUTER... I have no problems with assorted other faith families going off and worshipping as their way is.

                              I'll sit at the campfire with you, share with you, learn about your faith from you (as I hope you will learn from me). I will even come to your worship service (as I take kids in God and Church to see a service in synagogue) as long as I am in learning mode, vice worshipping mode. Just do not ask me to worship with you. My God draws a very bright line at that limit.

                              Many of you have seen me say this before. There's nothing new in my position, but I wanted to espouse it clearly.

                              Peace be with you.