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smaster101

Religious services and Scouting

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A few weeks ago I posted a message called "Are Church Services Optional The gist of it was that I wanted to know how to handle a situation that happened last year at camp where a parent told me his son didn't have to attend a non-denominational religious service. I got some good advice from this group on respecting parent's wishes. Weve announced a policy for this year at camp where a scout needs parental approval to not attend services.

 

But now, a similar situation presented itself last weekend with a more disturbing twist. We were at a large camporee with 4000 other scouts & scouters. Protestant, Jewish and Catholic services were being held as part of the camporee schedule. Two brothers in my unit told me they would not go to any service because they did not observe any of these religions. Their dad was present so I respected their choice. But then another scout said he would not go either. I knew this boy's family were practicing Baptists. He had no legitimate reason for not wanting to go, and I assume he wanted to just hang with his other two buddies. I told him he needed to attend and that I was sure his mother would support me in that. He agreed reluctantly. Then two other scouts came up to me and said they didnt want to go either because their families just didnt attend church. I know one of them even goes to a Catholic school, but he said they dont go to church.

 

So, Im faced with 2 situations: one based on ideology, which I can respect, and the other based on something else (laziness?, lack of importance?, upbringing?) which I have a problem with.

 

I feel that attending some sort of religious service at scout events is just as much a part of scouting as saying the Pledge of Allegiance during an opening ceremony. In private life a person (even a scout) can choose not to say the Pledge of Allegiance, but most scout leaders would have a serious problem with a scout that refused to participate in it at the opening of a scout meeting or court of honor. Remember duty to God and Country is what our organization is all about.

 

So Ill ask this group again to help me sort this out. When religious services are offered in a scouting situation, should scouts be permitted to not participate without a legitimate reason?

 

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smaster101,

 

First, I agree with your sentiments. Furthermore, your analogy with the pledge is a good one...I think right on the mark. Even so, once you start to discuss this issue in your troop, I think you'll become very frustrated. By my experience, there seems to be quite a number of folks who don't understand the difference between a public organization (school) and a private organization (such as BSA). You'll probably tangle with a few of these folks. It's a shame they didn't pay more attention in civics class. Regardless, once you find folks who understand the Constitution, I think you'll still find a number of other folks debating the term "legitimate reason". Some will claim that they have a deep reverence for God, but refuse to attend services (for a variety of reasons). I'm not sure how they justify that to themselves...but some folks will do just that.

 

Bottom line: I agree that it's within the troop's right to create such a policy. However, due to a variety of viewpoints (nonsensical as some may be) about what the phrase "duty to God" means, and ignorance about what BSA can mandate as a private organization, I think it will be an uphill battle. It'll probably be a debate that will give you more gray hairs than you ought to have. Just my thoughts(This message has been edited by Rooster7)

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My question is, who within a troop should be making the decision as to whether attendance at religious services is mandatory; and secondarily, who should be making the decision as to what excuses are legitimate? My understanding of "boy run" is that the boys make the rules except where there would be a violation of BSA policy; or involving health and safety issues not specified by BSA policy (but which would almost always involve interpretations of BSA documents (Guide to Safe Scouting, Safe Swim Defense, etc.) anyway; or financial matters. I know that "discipline" is a hot subject and some troops have rules approved by the troop committee, some have it approved by the boys, some a combination, some have no written rules, and so forth.

 

However, what boys should be doing on a campout sounds to me like something that should be decided by the PLC. Shouldn't they, not an adult or the committee, be deciding whether this is a mandatory activity? Now, if they DO decide it is mandatory, I suppose the issue of what is a legitimate excuse could be left to the Scoutmaster as an interpretation of the policy. Or the PLC could further define this issue as well.

 

If this seems like "inmates running the asylum," I thought that was the whole point: A troop isn't an asylum and the boys aren't inmates. They are supposed to be running the show, within boundaries, and this sounds like something that is inside the boundary.

 

(Perhaps this is answered in a book or training somewhere, but I am still at the Cub Scout level where the adults make the rules. In my pack we attend twice-a-year district-wide family camping weekends where religious services are offered on Saturday evening (Catholic and nondenominational.) The issue of "who goes" is very simple, because every boy is there with at least one parent, and whether the boy attends services (or any of the other activities for that matter) is up to their own parent. Obviously this is not the case in the Boy Scouts where the parents aren't there, and if they are it is in the capacity of a troop leader and not as a parent.

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smaster101,

I'll make two suggestions that might help you out.

First at your next Court of Honor, talk to the parents and your scouts about "Duty to God" and how that is a basic component of scouting. Admit to the familis that religion altho personal in many ways is also celebrated and shared within a community. That community can take many forms. It can be within an organized church, within a family or displayed by a persons behavior in a community. In scouts we look for ways to fulfill our responsibilities to God through our service to others, through respecting our bodies and our minds and on occassion in forms of worship. We ask for the parents support in all these actions. There will be occasions at troop meetings on campouts and at special events that the scouts will have the opportunity to attend religious services, some specific to their chosen religion and some "all faith services". We ask for the parents to support our troops participation in these activities and understant that unless we have specific instructions saying otherwise from the parents we will expect ALL scouts and leaders to participate in these activities.

 

Second..One reason boys don't participate is due to their comfort level. You can help with this by not waiting for summer camp or a Camporee to have a religious service. Start troop meetings off with a prayer from your Troop Chaplain's Aid, Use the available scout religious resources to do simple ceremonies on campouts, encourage scouts to work toward their religious awards. Make duty to god a weekly part of your program.

 

Do your best, and remember you have a responsibility to try and reach every boy in troop... but that doesn't mean they all accept it.

 

I hope this helps,

Bob White

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smaster101,

When we attend camporees, I require my Troop to attend religious services. At summer camp, we hold vespers in our site & invite other Troops to join us. It's not an option.

 

Ed Mori

Scoutmaster

Troop 1

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Bob White's suggestion is sound. A good way to start is with baby steps. Incorporate a grace into group meals and Scout's own on Sundays. What better setting to recognize the existence and goodness of god than in the great outdoors during a trek or car camping event? I admit our troop doesn't do this regularly, and it is always something of shock when it happens. But if you get the boys, and their parents, into this frame of mind that certain things are done as a matter of course, the bigger hurdles will be easier to jump.

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I'm with a pretty active Troop that camps every month. We are fortunate to have a few adult leaders who write and produce a great Scout's Own service for each and every encampment. They also incorporate the help of boys who volunteer to aid in the process. The service itself runs about 20 minutes and is mainly comprised of inspirational readings (Scoutmaster's Minutes type of material etc.) and, having the benefit of a few guitar players in the Troop, an opening and closing song is usually performed. We try to use music that 'fits' and is somewhat contemporary. We've used things like "The River", "Turn Turn Turn" and John Lennon's "Imagine" for example.

Our Troop is comprised of many different faiths and, up to this point, it seems as though everyone accepts this practice which is simply blended into our program. Two of our leaders are actually developing a 'Scout's Own' web site as part of their Wood Badge ticket.

It doesn't have to be this elaborate but if you start a program like this, over time, you may find less resistance to taking a brief period out of the day to recognize the twelfth point of The Scout Law.

I wish you success in your continuing endeavors.

 

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In our troop our Chaplain's Assistant always has a scouts own on sunday morning. With Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Hindu members of the troop, its a challenge, but the Chaplain Aide writes one with adult help.

 

And all scouts attend, as a scout is Obedient and Reverent and if anyone is offended by the service, its discussed with the scout, chaplain aide, scoutmaster and parents to be sure the troop knows the problem. the services get generic, but they still speak of the creator

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The camp is outdoors and I presume the "churches" are outdoors also. Why don't you have the scouts sit down in visual range 20 feet appart to meditate. They are not attending, but rather meditating on their Duty to God. Make sure that they stay in visual range and of course you will need to sit at the back of whatever "church" they sit "outside of".

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Our troop says a prayer to end every meeting. We say grace before every meal. And we have a Sunday Service on every campout. It is somewhat easier for us in that all of our familiies at the moment are Christians. I guess if a parent brings their child to a meeting and doesn't like the idea of prayer they just don't come back. I'm sure there are other troops in town that don't take duty to God and reverence as seriously. If a family is happier there then I wish them well.

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Duty to GOD. duty to country, duty to others, and duty to self is the basis of scouting. If a person wants to be in the BSA he should embrace these ideals. Now if a parent objected to a specific religious service OK, but he should use the time to worship GOD in his own way.I would ask the parent who chose not to go to the service to do his own.

 

Now if he objects to this, I would say they need to look for another camping club not scouting.

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I would be inclined to at least require the Scouts to perform a religious service of their own. Religion is an important part of Scouting, and if the Scouts would be attending services if they were at home, I think it's reasonable to expect that they will do so on an outing.

 

Secondly, I do not agree that the PLC remains supreme when not dealing with health or safety. Simply put, there are some choices to which leaders need to guide the Scouts, that leaders need to nudge the Scouts towards. This is one of them.

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I think it is important that you talk to the parents. Explain the part of about Duty to God and a Scout is reverent. Explain what type of services are available. This should be the parent's decision.

 

I do not go to church nor make my son go to church. BUT if he is on a scout outing, with or without me, he is to participate. I can see not wanting a child to participate if it is REALLY against your own religion. I signed my son up for an organization that says he will do his duty to God. He might actually learn something by attending vespers/church service.

 

I would be upset if someone was trying to convert him to a specific religious sect. I would be upset, for example, if he came home saying "they said we are not going to heaven because we don't go to church".

 

The troop he is in does have grace before meals and church services on troop campouts. The troop campout I attended the scoutmaster told an inspirational story he had read recently and tied it into everyday life for everyone there.

 

Just my two cents worth.

 

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I hope these two thoughts help:

 

I notice an emphasis on Sunday services and Scouts Own's. They can be held at any time. Leaving it to sunday might be setting you up with a some baggage the boys are carrying.

 

I tend to hold group discussions after every activity session. Some are less than 30 seconds (not joking) and others can last longer and normally about 5-10 minutes (record is about 90 minutes). It all depends on where the Scouts are at at that time. All sessions require input from every member present and most revolve around our inter-relationships. They are not at all religious but seem to cover the same ground as religious services. The success of these sessions is due to:

 

individual involvement

 

relevance to what we are doing

 

timeliness

 

open and honest discussion

 

the speaker has the floor - no hijacking their statement

 

About one in six of these sessions is very moving for one reason or another. I suppose it is another example of little and often rather than leaving it all to the Big day.

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Thanks to all for the many good responses. A couple of thoughts:

 

The week following the camporee we had our monthly PLC meeting and the SPL brought up to the PL's and Jr leaders present the issue of scouts not attending services during scouting events. I was proud of this scout taking a position on this with his peers.

 

Second, Bob White's comments reminded me that we used to always end each campout with a nightly prayer, but have gotten away from it after last year's summer camp incident. I think it's time we got back to this, and make it clear that that every scout is expected to participate.

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