The two main reasons churches give for not starting a scout unit are “My church is too small,” and “We don’t have enough boys,” according to Jim Marchbank. He believes those churches need to change their perspective.
“Those two reasons are exactly the same reasons why churches should be starting a scout unit,” he said. “About 50 percent of the new scouts are unchurched. These are potential church members. I think most pastors dream of having unchurched families visit their church once a week.”
Marchbank is a member of Salem UMC in Ladue, and chairs the Religious Relations committee for the St. Louis Area Boy Scouts Council. He recently organized a Bishop’s Dinner for Scouting, a formal banquet held at Salem UMC on March 17. It was sponsored by fellow Salem member David Steward and his company World Wide Technologies. There were 82 people in attendance from 27 churches.
Salem’s Senior pastor Terri Swan kicked off the meeting by reading from minutes from the church’s Troop 208, from the year 1941. At that time they were initiating a plan to do an overnight hike every week of the summer.
The United Methodist Church is the second largest chartering organization of the Boy Scouts (second to the Latter Day Saints). 5,700 United Methodist Churches were chartering organizations last year. About half of the children in scouts are from unchurched families. United Methodists are the largest participants in the PRAY program (Programs of Religious Activities with Youth).
But just because a church lets a scout troop use its basement once a month, that doesn’t mean all those scouts and their families are going to be lining up to join the church. For the church to be able to reach out, they need to actively engage the troops. Churches have every reason to do so, because being active in scouts and being active in church are very complimentary activities.
“Duty to God is the pillar of the scouting program,” said Ron Green, scout executive for the Greater St. Louis Area Council.
If you have the image of scouts just being kids from the suburbs camping in the woods, the St. Louis area breaks that image. They lead the nation in their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programs, and have been innovative with the CampUs program, which has scouts “camping” on a college campus. Recently three new troops have been started in Ferguson.
“Kids can join Scouting at any time during the year. And if a boy was never a Cub Scout, he can still join Boy Scouts or Venturing- at any time,” said Christine Dieckmann, director of communications for the Greater St. Louis Area Council. “In Scouting, kids are introduced to countless hobbies, interests, sciences, and even future career choices. Scouts have the opportunity to develop confidence, self-reliance, character and values that they’ll carry with them for a lifetime.”
The keynote speaker for the evening was Missouri Bishop Robert Schnase. He held up a Silver Beaver award that had been given to his wife Esther’s grandfather in 1933. He was a leader who brought all of his sons up through scouts, including Esther’s father, who had one leg. Both of Bishop Schnase’s sons earned the rank of Eagle Scout. He credits his wife Esther with upholding the family tradition.
“A lot of scout activities are on weekends, and I often work weekends, so for 14 years of scouting in our family, Esther took on most of the responsibility, serving as a den mother and scout leader,” he said.
It’s not that he wasn’t involved, though. He taught classes on fishing and birding and ran with kids as they were working on their physical fitness tests.
“You can’t do it for them,” he said. “You can’t push them or pull them, but you can run beside them.”
He also served as an adult leader on camping trips. He recalled one particularly challenging portage on a Boundary Waters camping trip, when he offered encouragement to a scout who felt he wasn’t going to be able to carry his canoe up the hill. When he got to the top, he saw one of the other leaders having a similar talk with his own son.
“All young people need a relationship of trust with adults other than their parents,” Bishop Schnase said.
That trip also involved seeing the antlers of a moose that was swimming across the lake in the middle of the night, and hearing the call of loons for the first time.
He spoke about the threads of service that are woven through the scouting program, from simple litter clean ups and food drives to complex Eagle Scout projects, many of which serve prominent functions in communities and in churches.
“We should lift up the value of scouting when it’s done with excellence,” Bishop Schnase said. “It’s about a changed life. It’s about development, growth and maturing in faith. It matters in what kind of person someone will become, and what kind of character will develop. Let’s not let our kids be squeezed into the molds of the false values that our culture gives them.” Marchbank agreed.
“Too often we view scout units as a community service. While this is important, frequently we don’t see this an outreach opportunity,” he said. “It should be an important and intentional part of our efforts. The Scout message is very similar to ours. Duty to God and building character - Do the right thing and follow the Golden Rule.”