Each May key Scouting volunteers and professionals gather at the Boy Scouts of America National Annual Meeting (NAM) to meet, discuss, plan, and honor those who have given significant service. For over 50 years key LDS leaders have been part of these meetings and have participated in an LDS Relationships meeting or reception.
In 1966, NAM was held at the Statler Hilton Hotel in downtown Dallas, Texas. Sister LaVerne Parmley, Elder Ezra Taft Benson and additional Church leaders of the time attended. They participated in a “Mormon Relationships” meeting and other events during the week.
This year, NAM was held at the Sheraton Hotel in Dallas, just a few blocks from the 1966 location. Once again, key Church leaders and apostles were in attendance including Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Elder Ronald A. Rasband, Brother Stephen W. Owen, Young Men General President; Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary General President; and Brothers Douglas D. Holmes and M. Joseph Brough of the Young Men General Presidency. Elder Holland, Brother Owen, and Sister Jones currently serve on the BSA National Executive Board.
Laura Bush, former First Lady, spoke at the traditional Thursday morning Duty to God Breakfast. Afterwards, at the NAM opening session, BSA President Randall Stephenson spoke about the importance of Duty to God in his remarks. He emphasized that Duty to God is the first part of the Scout Oath, and every other part of the Oath and Law are related to and dependent upon an inherent Duty to God.
“It was very comforting to hear him speak so passionately and powerfully about Duty to God,” remarked Mark Francis, LDS-BSA Relationships director. “God and religion have always been a foundational focus of the BSA, and it’s empowering to have the National President reiterate that commitment.”
On Thursday evening, several hundred LDS and non-LDS Scouting volunteers and professionals gathered on the top floor of the Sheraton Hotel for a reception with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Brother Stephen W. Owen, Young Men General President and his wife, Jane; Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary General President and her husband, Rob; were also in attendance as well as the apostles’ spouses. Mark Francis, LDS-BSA Relationships director, welcomed and introduced the guests. He noted that many in the audience were seeking “peace, comfort, and direction” after the announcement that the Church would no longer charter Scouting units in 2020.
Elder Holland then spoke and stated that he hoped those in the room would find the peace and understanding they were seeking.
*The following includes notes taken during Elder Holland’s remarks. It is shared simply as an informative overview, with the hopes that the readers will feel the same comfort and Spirit that those in attendance felt that evening.
Elder Holland briefly described difficult situations he and the Church have been involved in recently, including the current crisis of evacuating missionaries in Nicaragua. However, he stated that nothing has been more emotional than working out a relationship with the Boy Scouts of America.
“Collectively and individually we are invested in this. My boys are Eagle Scouts and my grandsons are Eagle Scouts. There has been considerable anguish at the highest levels of the Church as we have made this decision. But we hope there can be comfort and understanding as we move forward.”
He went on to explain, “This isn’t a divorce. This is sending kids off to college, in Stockholm and Johannesburg and all around the world. Right now in the Church there are 4.5 million young people. We have a very large responsibility to a very large Church and it’s getting larger. That’s the arena and the growth that we’re facing. We are obligated for all the right reasons to intentionally reach them around the world.”
“Please know how grateful we are to the BSA. We are friends now and we will be friends forever. In 18 months when our charters are finished, we hope that many LDS youth who wish to do so will still choose to be in Scouting. It is just the charter part that we are separating from. We’re going to stay in close contact. And we are locked arm in arm and hand in hand for the next 18 months. Please keep your shoulder to the wheel. Let me stress again, ‘This isn’t a divorce.’ It’s growth. We’re not in any way disavowing any of those virtues of Scouting. This is about children. We hope that you keep serving. Let me say it again, ‘Keep Serving.’”
Elder Holland then invited Elder Rasband to the stand and noted that he would be taking over Elder Holland’s work with the BSA. As Elder Holland left to catch a flight, those in the room gave him a standing ovation in appreciation for his service on the BSA National Executive Board.
Elder Rasband shared, “There has been no greater advocate for this separation with the BSA to be amicable and friendly than Elder Holland. Everything that should have been done has been done. Elder Holland has been the leader of this entire effort.”
He continued, “I pray that you can be at peace. I’ve been the junior apprentice that has watched this happen, specifically, how the announcement was made as well as the timeline that was determined. I want you all to have a second witness. I’ve felt the Spirit of the Lord guiding us.”
Elder Rasband then held up the adult On My Honor award that he was wearing around his neck. With great emotion he said, “This morning at the Duty to God breakfast I was given this On My Honor badge to wear and I haven’t wanted to take it off all day. It reminded me of the one I have at home. I remember Scouting from my youth. The connection between our quorum and troop was inseparable. I saw this morning that other Faiths have a Duty to God program. I’m happy to see every Faith has one. I will always treasure mine.”
He then specifically addressed professionals who depend upon the BSA for employment. “Thank you for all that you do. We know some of you are anxious. We’ve been praying for you—especially that in the next 18 months you will have wonderful opportunities open up to you.”
He concluded by saying, “I pray God will bless us in this time. I reaffirm that this is His work. We go forward with faith, confidence, and optimism. President Nelson is optimistic, and the Lord’s magnificent work and miracles will be manifest as we go forward.”
After Elder Rasband’s remarks, Brother Owen gave a closing prayer and then Elder Rasband invited those in attendance to greet him, Brother Owen, and Sister Jones personally. There was a wonderful feeling in the room as the crowd lined up and respectfully visited with the Church leaders.
As the reception concluded, Jim Turley, incoming BSA Board Chairman, also spent time visiting with guests, listening to comments, and sharing optimism.
At the closing Silver Buffalo Banquet on Friday evening, Mr. Turley opened his remarks with a resounding “thank you” to Elder Holland and the entire LDS leadership for the way they “worked with us through a very difficult situation on both sides. It was open and honest and you could see and feel the love of God throughout the process.” He added, “I’m sure this feeling will continue as we move ahead.”
As the dinner concluded and the Silver Buffalo ceremony began, several significant previous awardees were mentioned, including Sister LaVerne Parmley, former Primary General President and the first female to receive the award. A photo of Sister Rosemary Wixom was also shown. Church member and National Executive Board member Howard Bulloch from Las Vegas, Nevada received the Silver Buffalo Award during the weekend.
At the conclusion of the evening, Mike Surbaugh, Chief Scout Executive, invited Charles Dahlquist to the stage to thank him for his two years of service as the National Commissioner and presented him with a leather chair inscribed with a map of Philmont Scout Ranch. Brother Dahlquist is a former Young Men General President, and will continue to serve on the BSA National Executive Board in key capacities. He received a warm standing ovation.
“The whole week was full of optimism, good will, healing, hope, and a positive energy that was contagious,” concluded Mark Francis. “I am grateful for the meaningful relationships that have existed for many years between the BSA and the Church, and feel confident that this goodwill will continue through this transition and in the years to come.”
~Written by Nettie H. Francis