Muffled footsteps on damp ground signaled the approach of an expected group. From the darkness emerged a collection of young men along with a couple of adults, each outfitted in his own way for a night of solitary camping.
In the shadows of our dimly-lit circle I could make out anticipation and apprehension on the faces of many of those campers. This brought to mind a similar night years earlier when, as a 13-year-old Scout, I stood among a comparable cluster of boys, excited yet nervous about the unknowns that lay ahead. Would I manage to pass the Ordeal to become a member of the Order of the Arrow, Scouting’s national honor society?
Of the Ordeal the OA website explains:
“The induction ceremony, called the Ordeal, is the first step toward full membership in the Order. During the experience, candidates maintain silence, receive small amounts of food, work on camp improvement projects, and sleep apart from other campers. The entire experience is designed to teach significant values. All candidates for membership must complete the Ordeal.”
The Ordeal is designed to be challenging in a meaningful way. Unlike demanding events that mainly target fortitude and personal achievement, such as marathons or mountain climbing, the Ordeal works to turn the candidate’s focus outward through service to others and upward to God in reverence, as well as inward to find self-reliance.
Church leaders in recent years have repeatedly called on youth to step up and do hard but worthwhile things. The Ordeal fits nicely into this pattern. An OA candidate who has been nominated by his troop becomes a member of the Order by enduring the challenges listed above. Along the way each candidate is invited to learn more about who he really is and to begin a journey toward becoming someone even better.
The Scouts and Scouters who stepped cautiously into our circle that recent night spent the next day quietly and hungrily pulling weeds, improving trails, fixing campsites, mucking out streams, and working on a variety of other camp tasks. Despite the clouds and mud, I noticed a number of smiles and looks of satisfied accomplishment.
Few of these workers will directly benefit from the projects they finished during the Ordeal. Instead, the fruits of their labors will be enjoyed by hundreds of campers next summer, most of whom will be oblivious to the work that has been done for them. But those who did the work know. And they know that serving those unseen future Scouts was the right thing to do, since service to our fellow beings is service to God (see Matthew 25:34-40, Mosiah 2:17).
After a day of arduous labor, our OA candidates attended a ceremony where each accepted an obligation to unselfishly serve others throughout life. Each was awarded the Order’s distinctive sash signifying him as an Ordeal member of the Order of the Arrow. The red arrow embroidered on a white background is an emblem of who they are and who they are becoming. Each of these new OA members returns to his troop more able to fulfill the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood and more able to serve his fellow Scouts.
Nearly every Latter-day Saint sponsored Boy Scout troop has one or more young men who deserve the opportunity to join the OA and thereby enhance their service and Scouting experience.
Questions to Ponder
- How will you use this information to help the young men you are called to serve?
- Did you know that you can find out how your troop members can join the OA by contacting your local Scout council?
-Scott Hinrichs has been actively Scouting since age eight. He has served in many youth and adult Scouting positions and has been a member of the Order of the Arrow for more than four decades. He and his wife are raising their family in North Ogden, Utah. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.