Last week The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that it will no longer sponsor Scouting units beginning in 2020. (Read the joint LDS-BSA statement here.)
This change sparked a series of reactions across our nation. Some Church members were thrilled. Others were saddened. As the LDS-BSA Relationships Director, I was immediately submerged with a flood of correspondence as people throughout our organization and religion expressed their thoughts, concerns, and hopes. This past week has been a pivotal time in my career and in my personal life.
As we all know these changes are significant. They will mark the end of a partnership that has lasted over a century. My life has been touched and blessed by Scouting since the days of my youth, and this Scouting legacy has continued in the lives of my wife, our five sons, and our five daughters.
When the news broke we enjoyed some personal family time, reflecting on the many experiences we have shared through our LDS Scouting associations–hiking, backpacking, camping, attending Scout Expos, meetings, conferences, jamborees, and other incredible opportunities that have blessed all of us. Scouting is indeed a family adventure and I am grateful that each of my children and my wife have been touched by Scouting in a positive and meaningful way. We will be forever grateful for all that we experienced through the LDS-BSA partnership.
However, as the LDS-BSA relationship comes to a close it is time to look ahead in a new direction, to the year 2020, with 20/20 vision. As we begin this upcoming era, I invite each of you to move forward in two ways:
First, share the wonderful LDS-BSA Scouting experiences you have had. Share your stories, your photos, your memories in writing, in word, on social media, and with those around you. What a magnificent legacy we have built together. Let’s never forget it.
Second, stay involved. Even though the LDS Church will no longer be sponsoring Scouting after 2019, I invite you to keep Scouting as part of your heritage. My family will always be actively involved in this life-changing program. We will still register in packs, troops and crews. We will still attend jamborees and participate in Philmont adventures. We will continue to work to build bridges between Scouting and good people throughout the world. I invite you to do the same.
During the past few years I have served as the advisor on the National Education Relationships Subcommittee. Our nationwide team has developed materials, legislation, awards, and tools to support Scouting units through public schools, homeschool groups, private schools, and PTAs/PTOs. Serving in this capacity has given me a greater understanding of the benefits of community Scouting and the advantages to sponsoring units through educational outlets. Specifically, the following have been developed: Adopt-a-school program, Outstanding Educator Award, Report to the School District, and School Access Legislation (this information will be released at the 2018 National Annual Meeting).
The structure is already in place for Scouting to continue to thrive! I excitedly anticipate the endless possibilities as LDS Scouting families move from Church units to community units.
Consider the many benefits and advantages that this upcoming change will bring to both LDS members and to the BSA:
- I believe that this separation—while initially creating a decrease in registration—will actually display more accurate numbers of actively engaged youth, leaders and units. It is exciting to think how these quality numbers will grow when LDS members choose Scouting.
- This transition will allow these new units to be filled with strong leaders who already love Scouting and are already trained. It will also give LDS youth a greater chance to enjoy all of the benefits of Scouting, instead of just the portions previously incorporated by the Church.
- It will open doors for people of many faiths within a community to work together in Scouting. Some of our non-LDS friends have chosen not to be involved in LDS units and this will now provide new opportunities for them.
- And finally, when parents are presented with several choices for extra-curricular activities, I am confident that they will still choose a values-based character-building organization for their child to be involved in. As an icon in our nation, Scouting will continue to be an honorable and commendable part of youth development. Scouting has never been more needed than now. I know that my family will continue to choose Scouting.
A few months ago, I had the unique opportunity to attend the Inter-Religious Forum of World Scouting in Rome, Italy. At the meeting key leaders from many religious organizations were in attendance. During our enlightening and respectful weekend, I was again thrilled and grateful for the amazing connections and relationships that Scouting provides. Scouting brings good men and women of many walks of life together in our communities, in our nation, and in the world. Isn’t this exactly what our society needs at this time?
These Scouting relationships and experiences don’t need to end, even if we are bidding farewell to our largest chartered partner. Instead, this is a jumping off point, a beginning to strengthen those relationships even further. I firmly believe that our continued interactions with good people will bring us strength and light in an ever-darkening world. Our youth need this now more than ever.
Just five years ago we celebrated a thrilling centennial of the LDS-BSA partnership. Now we are experiencing another historic change. Isn’t it exciting to have front row seats at both of these events?
Thank you for your continued support of Scouting as we navigate the last year and a half of this historic partnership. I invite you to remain fully engaged and also prepare to begin a new era of Scouting as we transfer and transform our youth.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if I can help in any way. I will do my best to assist you in your efforts during this pivotal, historic, and exciting time.
Yours in Scouting,
Mark R. Francis, LDS-BSA Relationships Director