Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and Chartering Churches Frequently Asked Questions
The Office of Finance and Administrative Ministries has received some common questions related to chartering agreements with the BSA. We’ve incorporated our responses in an FAQ format for use in your local church conversations.
Does this mean the United Methodist Church is ending its relationship with the Boy Scouts of America?
No. In fact, Conference staff has been discussing this sort of guidance for some time and delayed issuing it in hopes that it could be avoided. Even the strictest interpretation of GCFA’s guidance suggests termination dates of December 31 so that any relationship can be re-evaluated in December. Certain terms of settlement may well lead to a lifting of the instruction to end charter agreements. And, at least for now, churches may allow Troops to utilize their building through a Facilities Use Agreement. Church members may, of course, continue their own individual relationships with Troops.
Do you have a template for a Facilities Use Agreement?
Yes. If you have questions about the local church’s relationship with a Troop or need assistance generating an agreement for a self-chartering Troop or one chartered by another organization, simply contact Rev. Nate Berneking at email@example.com. That said, the Conference generally cannot provide legal advice to Troops seeking other chartering options.
We’ve heard that a revised settlement provides insurance for coverage for claims dating back to 1976. Does this change your guidance?
No. First, the revised settlement is promising, but neither final nor as encompassing as United Methodist Churches need to be safe from past claims. Even very old claims can present a problem with respect to liability. Second, the risk of past claims aren’t what is driving our advice not to charter. Rather, GCFA, the Office of Finance and Administrative Ministries, and Missouri Conference Chancellor Jordan Ault are concerned about future claims. Under the current chartering agreement, a local church is agreeing to “conduct the Scouting program,” and this agreement is not limited to activities that occur at the church. This means that if a Scout is injured or abused at camp or a private home, the church may ultimately be responsible. Of the over 80,000 claims of abuse raised by Scouts, a significant majority occurred away from a chartering organization’s location at places like Scout camps. In other words, chartering organizations are being asked to accept risks they can’t mitigate. For those reasons, even with the revised settlement, we continue to advise that our churches bring their chartering agreements to an end.
What would allow the renewal of charters?
The BSA will need to ensure adequate safeguards against both past AND future claims. With respect to past claims, this means some form of release for all Missouri Annual Conference chartering organizations. That includes claims prior to 1976. This could come through yet further revisions to the settlement and formal approval of that settlement by the Bankruptcy Court. With respect to future claims, it would probably mean a new template for chartering agreements that includes adequate insurance and indemnification for activities that occur off church property, including at locations controlled by BSA or their regional councils. It would also very likely include a new commitment by BSA to ensure all BSA leaders are trained in and following both their own abuse prevention program AND the abuse prevention programs of their chartering organizations (such as Safe Gatherings). That would be especially important for activities occurring in facilities run by BSA or their regional councils. We believe all of these outcomes are possible, and we hope to see movement in that direction in the future. But, for now, we can only advise what is best for our churches and the children and youth they serve.
What is the difference between a charter agreement and a facilities use agreement?
The primary difference involves the church’s responsibilities. Under the charter agreement, the church takes on the responsibility to “conduct the Scouting program,” and that responsibility is not limited to activities that occur on church property. A facilities use agreement allows a troop to utilize the church building the same as any other organization but removes any oversight that the church may have over activities that occur outside the church. Both require the BSA to both insure and indemnify a church in the case of injuries or abuse, although there would likely be no claims against a church for injuries or abuse that occur off church property if a facilities use agreement was in place.
Are other organizations continuing to charter BSA troops?
Yes. Although other religious denominations are ending (or have already ended) charter relationships with troops, organizations such as the American Legion, VFW or community clubs have regularly chartered troops and will likely continue to do so going forward.
If we end a charter agreement with a troop, can they still meet on our church property?
Absolutely. They will need to sign a facilities use agreement and abide by the same rules that apply to any other organization that uses a church building (including Safe Gatherings policies).
If we end a charter agreement with a troop, what happens to their property?
If a church ends a charter agreement with a troop, that troop should continue to own any property it has owned in the past. Similarly, the church should continue to own any property that belongs to the church. In some cases, troops have used the church’s legal entity to open bank accounts or insure equipment. If a new entity is chartering the troop going forward, the church should cooperate to make sure bank accounts or insurance policies are transferred to that new entity.
My troop says that if we end our chartering agreement, they will cease to exist. What can we do to help?
One of the options GCFA has recommended is to extend charter agreements through December 31, 2021. This should allow troops additional time to find another organization that can enter into a charter agreement. Ultimately, though, the guidance from the denomination and the Conference will be to end charter agreements completely. Many of our churches have already done so, and many other denominations are going through the same process. Like other denominations, we wish to continue doing ministry with BSA, but we need to do so in a way that protects our congregations from unexpected liabilities.
Our troop is chartered by United Methodist Men instead of the church. Does that change your guidance?
No. It may change the guidance if your United Methodist Men group is a separate legal entity, but that is extremely rare. Otherwise, a charter signed by your United Methodist Men group would expose the church to the same potential liability as if the church board signed the agreement. In addition, if a lawsuit is filed against a church and the charter agreement is signed by the United Methodist Men, it is possible that the individual who signed the agreement may be named as a defendant or deposed during the litigation. For these reasons, we recommend that the Board of Trustees chair serve as the point person for any agreements with BSA.
How do I know if there is a claim involving a troop chartered by our church?
We have already communicated known claims to lead pastors and trustee chairs. We cannot, however, be sure that the list of claims accurately includes all local churches involved, and in many cases the claimant failed to clearly identify the charter organizations. If we learn of a claim originating from a troop chartered by your troop in the future, we will alert you at once.