Last February my second son received his Eagle Scout Award. A few weeks later, a post by BSA blogger Bryan Wendell about Eagle Scout rankings cited Utah as the state which produced the most Eagle Scouts in 2014, “Thanks in large part to the strong support Scouting receives from the LDS Church there.” (Read all of Bryan’s great post here.)
This kind and accurate declaration caused a flood of online discussion about Eagle Scouts, Scouting, and the Church. In the blog comments, some people questioned whether or not LDS Eagle Scouts actually earn their awards. Some even questioned whether or not the authentic Scouting program is practiced in the Church.
As the mother of two Eagle Scout sons—and three Eagle Scout hopefuls—I’d like to share my response to these concerns: YES. SCOUTING IS AUTHENTICALLY PRACTICED IN THE CHURCH. This personal declaration is my own whole-hearted opinion, based on my experience as a Scouting mom, and I take full responsibility for it. Let me explain my reasoning.
First of all, I know very well that every troop and pack sponsored by the Church is not perfect. I have experienced firsthand—as a Cubmaster, troop committee member, pack committee member, den leader, and Mom—that in the Church we often struggle with Scouting. We deal with inconsistent leadership, with finances, with maintaining momentum from Cub to Boy Scout years, with parental involvement, with leader training, with council support, and with other factors related to a volunteer organization. However, as a lay-minister church, we as members should already understand the challenges of volunteer organizations. I have experienced similar problems with city soccer teams, Relief Society groups, Young Women camps, and PTA organizations. So these difficulties don’t deter me from being involved in Scouting.
Secondly, I’m convinced that such struggles are worth the larger purpose of Scouting which, according to the BSA Mission Statement, is “to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices.”
Scouting in the Church goes beyond just making choices. Our more specific goal is to produce good missionaries and fathers. We seek to prepare young men so that when their eighteenth birthday arrives—or shortly thereafter—they can be sent to an unfamiliar location (within or outside of the USA) and live on their own for two years. These young men must be physically able to walk or bike several miles a day, cook their own food, do their own laundry, maintain specific health guidelines and personal standards, and give service. Doesn’t Scouting sound like the perfect training ground for such an experience? Absolutely!
Once missionaries have returned home, we hope they will be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent husbands and fathers. I believe that Scouting activities coupled with priesthood purposes are the perfect training ground for diligent missionaries and successful fathers.
My oldest son left on his mission last summer. Was I worried about sending him halfway around the world? Of course. But I was also excited. A year earlier he had lived away from home for ten weeks working on staff at a Scout camp. He slept each night in a leaky tent. He did his own laundry. He worked long hours teaching Scouts swimming, canoeing, lifesaving, and other aquatic skills. He put in time cleaning outhouses and marking trails. He survived rain, snow, thunderstorms, and homesickness. Yet, despite the trials and challenges of camp staff, he came home taller, tanner, and stronger. And—ready to serve a mission.
My second son learned important life lessons as he earned his Eagle Scout rank. It took three Eagle Scout service project submissions, with lots of painful rejections, before his final project was approved. He then organized over 30 people to help, gathered donations, and made difficult phone calls (he’s quite shy). But, he survived!
At his court of honor I couldn’t hold back the tears as he stood in front of a crowded room and spoke confidently about his Eagle project and his love of Scouting. His voice didn’t waver, his testimony was sure, and his confidence radiated. In one year I know he’ll also serve as a successful missionary.
Last year our third son turned eight years old. He wasn’t surprised when he received his Wolf Handbook and Cub Scout uniform for his birthday. (Some things are just expected in our family!) However, although he is my third Scout, I wasn’t entirely prepared for the eagerness and anticipation with which he jumped into the Cub Scout program.
“Have you sewed the patches on my shirt yet?” he asked every day upon returning from school. “When is our first den meeting?” he asked again and again during the week. And finally, when the day did arrive, he quickly dressed in his uniform and literally ran out the door. His enthusiasm for Cub Scouting (and constant reading of his new Wolf Handbook) has reminded me again that this program works.
Moms, you know better than anyone else that our young men do earn their Eagle Scout ranks because you are with them every step of the way. Here’s one of my favorite tributes to Eagle Scout moms, performed in the Conference Center during the “A Century of Honor” program produced by the Church on October 29, 2013: “Ma, You Earned Your Eagle.”
Do we practice authentic Scouting in the Church? My answer is a resounding, “Yes!” Are we perfect? No. But we are successful, and I am grateful. This year I have a missionary, an Eagle Scout, and a Cub Scout—all credited to the Church Scouting program. And so from the bottom of my heart I say, “Thank you.”
Question: How has earning the Eagle Scout rank prepared your son to serve a mission, be a father, and overcome challenges? Please comment below or email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
~Nettie H. Francis is the proud mother of two Eagle Scout sons, one Cub Scout, and two future Scouts.