A Minute With Mark: Looking Ahead to the LDS-BSA Changes with 20/20 Vision

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

Mark R. Francis

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  1. As always, wise counsel, Mark! Thank you for your devoted service and that of your family over the years. Scouting has had a profound impact on many inside and outside of the Church and we will never forget those experiences.

    And, we will make the most of the remaining year and a half of this exciting adventure with the Church and BSA and beyond for those Church members who choose to move forward in community units.

  2. bob bedont says:

    Thanks you for your crystal-ball observations. I am LDS but not active as a youth so my scouting came through another denomination – and it was a WONDERFUL experience that has shaped my life and my work in scouting as an adult leader.
    Scouting is still “true” and has value in the lives of youth and families. My 4 boys are grown and all sit in Eagle Nests – I hope that my grandchildren will do likewise

  3. KevintheScout blogger here …
    What a great article, Mark. Thanks so much. Yes, this is something that we should all think seriously about.

  4. Bob Mersereau says:

    Thanks, Mark, for sharing this insight and wisdom. As both a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a Scouter your thoughts are especially helpful and appreciated. More and more I think the coming years will show this change to have been good for the Church and Scouting and that both with thrive in their shared dedication to raising up young men and women of character, integrity, values, and with a strong commitment of duty to God and others.

  5. Allan Campbell says:

    I guess my question would be as we have more LDS youth join “traditional” troops how will the no camping on Sundays going to work out. Will we see more Bishops excusing Scouts from Sunday services or duties? Will families just elect to have their scout miss Sunday mornings.

  6. Trina says:

    Thank you for your comments!! My family and I have already decided to continue supporting Scouting after 12/31/19. We spoke just yesterday of working with the school that my daughter goes to and work with them to sponsor a Venturing unit, hoping to encourage them to sponsor a Troop and Pack as well. We love what Scouting has given our family and agree that the youth of today needs Scouting now more than ever!!

  7. Sheila Foraker says:

    Well written, Mark, and thank you. I have felt sadness and a deep sense of loss since the announcement. I got my start in LDS scouting through a Stake Primary calling. Since then I have learned and grown in scouting and strongly support the values and character development for youth – and the adults who serve them. As we move forward I am hopeful that there will be many LDS families who will continue to support scouting, and as you noted, in ways that previously were not possible. I am also hopeful that the new youth programs that the Church will offer will be lead by engaged leaders who will see to the development of youth in a world-wide church. I will continue to support scouting and the church and we’ll make the most of this final chapter in the LDS-BSA partnership. Thank you for your leadership in LDS-BSA relations. All the best to you as we move forward in scouting.

  8. Jason Lichfield says:

    Mark. My friend your insight is enlightening. Thank you again for your thoughts. I’m rolling some ideas around in my head now… thank you for your direction and I hope to see you on the trail along the way!
    Btw. I’ve got 18 life Scouts in my unit. And three soon to be… it’s going to be a long year and a half of great service projects lol!

  9. Derrick Larsen says:

    Mark, Thank you for your continued service and vision. I firmly believe that Scouting is a wonderful organization that provides amazing experiences for our youth. What better way for our youth to invite their friends to adopt higher ideals by having them join neighborhood Packs and Troops. Scouting is a wonderful tool and will continue to be so!

  10. Brett Bybee says:

    There are ways to participate fully in a community unit and still attend Sunday meetings and honor the Sabbath Day. It will probably require extra effort and sacrifice, in the same way my daughter chooses to miss Sunday games with her club basketball league. That said, in some cases, it may be desirable and more convenient to start new units that are more sensitive to Sabbath Day priorities.

  11. Robert S Schleich says:

    Well Said! Although I will faithfully support the new direction of the Church, I will continue to lead, mentor and inspire the youth of the community in another Troop. It might even lead to missionary experiences with the parents!

  12. John Sanders says:

    I am a scoutmaster and Eagle scout. I have spent 10 years of my adult life in Cubs and BSA leadership roles. I think there will be some awesome troops out there but I also believe that it is overly optimistic to think scouting will emerge stronger than ever. They just lost 30% of their dues paying members. The transition time line is only to keep from leaving boys hanging and to allow the church time to untangle all the real estate ventures

  13. Gail Schaper says:

    Mark , what a great article , I have met many fAbulous LDS scouts and leaders which I would have never had met if they were not associated with BSA .

  14. Priscilla "Pat" Thompson says:

    Mark, First thanks you for your service and vision. For over 20 years I have been involved in both community and LDS Scouting programs. Your thoughts serve as both inspiration and encouragement to continue to do so. Scouting changes lives both individually and vicariously. As we move forward to create more community units it is my hope that that we will be embraced by others as we embrace them to accept our differences, because at the end of the day, Heavenly Father and Scouting make us all equal.

  15. Gary Sanford says:

    Thanks for the inspirational message. I live in the Utah National Parks Council where there are approx 40 community units. I am from the Cascade Area Council where I have spent the better part of 40 years in scouting both in District and Council positions. How can I assist?

  16. Ed Morrow says:

    Thanks for your inspired, positive reflection as we transition. I am thrilled that we can still move ahead and demonstrate our charity as we embrace other community Scouters. I am grateful that my choice led me to seriously seek to strengthen the units around me. There are so many spiritual LDS Scouters, who like me, recognized the Lord’s hand in Scouting. The Scouting community is full of wonderful people of many faiths. They all focus on building youth so they can be our future servant leaders. God bless you Mark. I have also chosen to stay loyal to the Scouting movement. I can’t wait to see you at the NAM in Dallas, Texas.

  17. R. Chip Turner says:

    Thanks, Mark! Well said. You are appreciated so much!

  18. Jennifer Parker says:

    I am so glad to read all the positive remarks to your article. I too have been involved with scouting for almost 25 years and my husband and I do not have children. The scouts are our kids. It is definitely a worthwhile program. I have served (all volunteer positions) from the Pack level all the way through Area 1 Western Region for a period of time. My biggest fear is that some leaders will stop the program now, versus giving the youth an AWESOME 18 months of program.

  19. James Francisco says:

    Mark,
    Thank you for your comments. I’ve been involved with the BSA for 26 years as a volunteer and in LDS unit positions. I am one of those that will be continuing on as a volunteer, trying to build my council and the strong district of traditional BSA units in my area. There are a couple of things that would help us out in the field. First, strong public reinforcement from the General Authorities that the termination of the LDS-BSA relationship is an operational decision. I’m already hearing in my area comments to the effect that “if the church is dropping scouting, there must be something morally bad about it.” If it takes a First Presidency letter to get the point across, so be it. The second help would be some thoughts and guidance on how to gracefully sunset our troops and packs. Transitioning the families that want to continue in scouting to transition to remaining units and to ease those who have no interest in continuing gracefully out of the BSA.

  20. Robert Sanchez says:

    I’ve been the Scoutmaster for my wards troop off and on for over 10 years. Our charter form says our troop is 81 years old and now it faces oblivion. Should I have the support of the parents and can identify a new chartering organization will the church allow me to “take it on the road” so to speak and recharter the troop elseware?

  21. Carlos Nicho says:

    Mark, thank you for your help. Three years ago, I was an LDS parent with little to none Scouting experience called by the Lord to serve as troop Scoutmaster. You helped me. Especially, you helped me to understand the clash of cultures (LDS-BSA) which was very frustrating for me to do the job the Lord assign me to do with the 10-young men in the troop. As I learned more about Scouting, I discovered that Scouting could very well be a synonym of Priesthood which centers in service. Service continues both in Priesthood and in Scouting. It is not a religion-owned virtue but God’s.

  22. Sheldon Laird says:

    Mark,
    Thanks for your insight and points. I enjoyed them very much. As I neared the end if the article, it kind of reads as if the Church is just dropping scouting and is not going to have a program that is as good or better than scouting. As a long time scouted, it is hard to imagine anything as good, but that is the intention I have to believe. As we give this new program a chance, many of our efforts may be split if we continue to embrace scouting fully. I appreciate your thoughts and positive points. I guess we’ll just have to see where I can best serve.

  23. Michael Mulcady says:

    Mark, As with others, you have written well and elevated many with a very optimistic vision.

    I never participated in scouting except as an church leader.

    Question for you Mark …. For all that was good, and for you, all that made very real life building experiences, do you believe that BSA leadership will hold steady on things like the scout oath and law? Would you agree that the external forces that have brought all the recent changes to the fore, will also dilute the very core values of scouting?

    I suspect scouting has been and will yet succomb to these egalatarian movements. Sadly, the war on religious freedom has scouting in their sights.

    Grateful for your character, but I wonder if it will be underappreciated or worse, assailed.

    All the best, and kind regards

    Michael Mulcady

  24. David J Ellis says:

    Will the On My Honor awards still be available for our scouts in non lds units?

  25. David J Ellis says:

    This move is not surprising. As a Unit Commissioner working with lds units for thirty years I really never observed the use of the methods of scouting.I felt very few scouts ever really benefited from the scouting program. In our district we are going to be starting a scouting unit for lds boys following lds guidelines like no camping on sunday or Mondays. We hope this will work

  26. Craig Reeve says:

    Thank you Mark. As I have taken all this in, I realize there is still much to do in the next 18 months. As a District Commissioner of a Mormon Trail District involving 9 stakes, I feel the need to emphasize enduring to the end. The church statement made it clear we were to remain fully engaged, and continue to be active in participation and financial support. Too many have already pulled back, and that is not supporting the Prophet and our leaders.
    On December 31st of 2019 I will still be involved 100%. Why? Because on January 1st I want to be able to say as the Savior did, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” Then the next phase begins.

  27. James Francisco says:

    There have been a number of comment about continuing on with scouting while trying to retain some of the existing LDS Church policies like Sunday Camping. Consider this, those policies go away on 12/31/19. Having a Friday evening through Sunday noon BSA camp out does not deprive youth from the opportunity to worship God. Every outdoor activity plan in Troop Program Features has a worship service built into Sunday morning. (https://filestore.scouting.org/filestore/pdf/33111.pdf) In all honesty, there is an operational, but no doctrinal, reason for the “no Sunday” rule. That is that Leadership wants Deacons passing the sacrament on Sunday. Not withstanding that it would be good for the souls of the Teachers Priests, and even Elders who would have the opportunity to render that service in the absence of the Deacons.
    It won’t hurt the souls of the young men who remain in scouting to worship out in nature on occasion. In fact, it might just help them fine their own “Enos in the wilderness” experience.

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LDS-BSA Relationships