By Forrest White
Seventeen years have passed since Andrew Spotts rose to the rank of Eagle Scout – the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouts of America – as a member of Troop 799 at Trinity United Methodist Church in Richmond.
Time, he said, has deepened his appreciation for how Scouting helped shape him.
“In a nutshell, I believe the greatest contributions Scouting made in my life were the development of resourcefulness, ingenuity and resiliency,” said Spotts, now a special agent in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Washington, D.C. field office.
When asked for examples, he offered a couple from his many camping experiences:
• “Situations like an impending downpour paired with a tent inevitably missing a pole or half its stakes force you to think on your feet, lest a drenching ensue.”
• “A fire will not start if fueled with damp, rotted wood, so the Scout learns where to retrieve proper kindling.”
But even more than the practical, Scouting provided big-picture perspective for Spotts, who was also among the most active youth in Trinity’s student ministry, with a heart for serving others through missions.
“An adolescent raised with the trappings of suburbia learns that itchy sleeping bags and overcooked foil packs are not terminal conditions,” he said.
The formal relationship between The Methodist Church and Boy Scouts was established on February 12, 1920, making this, the 100th anniversary year, a time for reflection upon innumerable life lessons learned by hundreds of thousands of Scouts.
Today, The United Methodist Church (UMC) is the top sponsor for both individual Scouts and Scouting units in the United States, according to Bill Chaffin, coordinator of Scouting Ministries for the Virginia Conference.
Even as the UMC celebrates its 100-year relationship with Boy Scouts, 2020 marks another milestone – one year has passed since Boy Scouts officially opened its doors to girls ages 11-17, prompting the name change from Boy Scouts to Scouts BSA for that specific program. Cub Scouts opened to girls in 2018.
As of December 2019, there were nearly 310,000 youth and 110,000 adults involved in Scouts BSA through The United Methodist Church, Chaffin said.
To call Chaffin passionate about all forms of Scouting would be an understatement. During a 45-minute phone conversation, he couldn’t sit still, instead walking around his house as he shared stories and statistics and statements about the value of Scouting.
“The stated mission is to ‘prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law,’” he said. “Youth are trained in responsible citizenship, character development and self-reliance through participation in a wide range of outdoor activities, educational programs, and, at older age levels, career-oriented programs in partnership with community organizations.”
Chaffin knows that many church people see Scouting simply as an outside program meeting at the church, not as a ministry of the church, even though it’s a part of the UMC Book of Discipline.
His message to all churches?
“Celebrate Scouting for what it is, a ministry that’s strong in The United Methodist Church, one that’s doing the best it can in a fast-paced world to educate and develop a moral, ethical, reverent culture for young men and women,” Chaffin said.
The Rev. Brian Sixbey has served churches with and without a Scouting ministry during his pastoral career of 24 years. An Eagle Scout now serving as pastor of First UMC Fox Hill, Sixbey offered a “Dos and Don’ts” list for pastors and church leaders:
• Do not expect Scouting to provide you with new members apart from the hard work of building and maintaining relationships.
• Do expect that building those relationships will bring about unexpected blessings.
• Do not expect that renaming Scouts as Scouting Ministries will solve problems, but …
• Do expect that the process of looking at how the church interacts with Scouts and asking church members to become involved in appropriate ways will help some of your members discover their ministry. Adults and children – because Scouting is truly an intergenerational activity, much like the church – will rise up and become leaders.
• Do not expect scouting to save a greying church, but …
• Do expect it – given good support and connections – to at a minimum make that greying church vibrant, vital, and excited about the future.
On Scout Sunday last month at Herndon UMC, the Rev. Jonathan Page asked those in attendance during his children’s message what they enjoyed most about being a scout. Their answers fell into two categories.
“Without fail, the two central answers scouts shared were that scouting helps people learn to help people and scouting builds community,” Page said. “Learning to serve our neighbors and building community are two of the most important tasks Christians can undertake.”
Looking back, Spotts appreciates how the practical skillsets introduced along his road to the Eagle Scout Court of Honor still serve him well today.
“The admittedly stereotypical knot-tying, campfire cooking and backcountry first aid experiences I had as a Scout translate to solutions to adulthood problems: how to pull a car out of an icy rut, how to grill a backyard burger, and how to render assistance at the scene of a vehicle accident,” he said. “Even as I approach age 35, the fingerprints of a youth spent Scouting continue to appear in my daily life, and I have little doubt they will do so for the remainder of my days.”
–Forrest White is a news associate with the conference Communications office.
Scout Sunday is of particular importance this year as 2020 is the 100th anniversary of the formal relationship genesis between the Boy Scouts of America and The United Methodist Church. Each and every church in the Virginia Conference is highly encouraged to recognize this milestone event. The UMC generally celebrates with Scouts clearly serving in the Sunday program: Scouts can usher, present performing arts, read Scripture, sing, as well as be presented their recognition awards from their efforts in the PRAY/God & Country program.
This year, celebrations occur on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020. Contact Virginia Annual Conference Scouting Coordinator Bill Chaffin with any questions at [email protected]. Learn more about scouting on the conference website: https://www.vaumc.org/Scouting.
Resources to celebrate Scouting Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020 (or other Sunday throughout the year)
Annual BSA Charter Agreement
Boy Scout Liturgy
Prayers of the People — Feb., 9 2020
Scout Law in Scriptures
Scouting References in the Book of Discipline 2016