The Aaronic Priesthood was restored in the spring of 1829 on the banks of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. My family traveled there this summer and felt the powerful spirit of that sacred place.
Scouting was founded in 1907 at Gilwell Park in England. While I have never been to Great Britain, I have friends who have visited the birthplace of Scouting and told me they felt a special spirit there.
Despite the “spirit” of both the priesthood and Scouting, however, I sometimes hear people separate the two programs, quickly labeling the priesthood as the “spiritual” side and Scouting as the “mechanical” side of the Young Men organization. I can appreciate this loose definition. To the uninformed Church member it would be easy to categorize Scouting as a foreign appendage that cannot fully be associated with the priesthood because it is an “outside” institution. Church members might even be cautious in fully embracing and serving in the Scouting program.
However, after many personal experiences and close observation of the two elements, I have concluded that a black and white secular line does not separate Scouting and the Aaronic Priesthood. Instead, I believe that Scouting is part of the Church because the two organizations create a synergistic partnership that naturally builds and lifts young men.
Temples are houses of God where recommend-holding members worship Him, make covenants, and perform proxy ordinances for our deceased ancestors. We flock to temples to feel peace and to communicate with deity. We long for the spirit we feel so abundantly there. It cleanses us. It strengthens us. That is the purpose of the temple.
However, temples are not only sacred, but also uncommon. In fact, throughout the history of the world, most people have not had a physical temple in their midst in which to communicate with the Lord.
So, what of those people who have never had or do not today have access to temples? Are they doomed to never feel peace, cleansing, inspiration, or strength? Can they never communicate with God or feel His Spirit? No. There is an alternative. Prophets and good people throughout history have regularly revered and used mountaintops as temples.
Scripture records many instances where diligent people on quiet heights prayed to God and received His answers: Moses on Mt. Sinai, Nephi on a mountain near the land Bountiful, the Brother of Jared seeking revelation regarding his barges, Elijah on Mount Carmel, and even Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration. In the latter-days, Brigham Young hiked to Ensign Peak to unfurl an ensign to the nations, and Orson Pratt blessed the land of Israel from the Mount of Olives.
Mountains are sacred not only for prophets. Everyday people know the peace and direct communication that mountains provide individuals. A hike in pine-covered peaks is rejuvenating and refreshing and can be wrought with inspiration, much as a visit to a temple brings revelation.
Are the sacred events that occur on mountaintops less significant than those holy happenings that take place in temples? No. They are significant experiences that simply occur in different hallowed locations for different times and purposes.
Just as temples and mountains can each facilitate holy experiences, both Aaronic Priesthood and Scouting involvement can spiritually strengthen today’s youth.
Serving in the holy Aaronic Priesthood can cleanse and fortify a young man. Likewise, Scouting can become the “mountain of the Lord” for many of His children upon the earth. In fact, while Scouting delivers spiritual enrichment for church members that goes hand-in-hand with the gospel, Scouting is also often a stepping-stone for non-LDS youth, creating religious sustenance and relationships with their Heavenly Father in an otherwise secular world.
Scouting is more than the mechanics of knot tying, fire building, hiking, and camping. Scouting is recreation that—if executed correctly—will teach and bless young men. As founder Baden-Powell explained, “There is no religious ‘side’ of the movement. The whole of it is based on religion, that is, on the realization and service of God.”
Is camping more vital than covenant keeping? Of course not. But camping can provide situations, opportunities, and the atmosphere in which a boy can come to understand and keep his covenants. Additionally, Scouting creates activities where a boy can feel, rely on, and understand his Heavenly Father’s presence. In fact, Scouting activities performed under priesthood direction should always provide opportunities for boys to come closer to God.
Experiences in both Scouting and priesthood quorums have strengthened my sons. The truth is, it would be hard to draw a line and differentiate between the two. It was on a hike at beautiful Philmont Scout Ranch that my oldest son told me he first felt his Heavenly Father’s love. It was during a rainy night in a leaky tent at a Scout camp that he discovered the meaning of service. It was while serving as the deacons quorum president that another son reached out to a boy through Scouting activities and found missionary experiences.
When a leader truly understands that the Aaronic Priesthood and Scouting each include elements that are mechanical and spiritual, they can use them together to lead young men to Christ.
To categorize Scouting as “mechanical” and the priesthood as “spiritual” is a separation that is misleading. Scouting and the priesthood can be one and the same in spirit and build upon each other, just as temples and mountains both provide rejuvenation and revelation at individual yet appropriate times.
When Scouting and the Aaronic Priesthood combine we have a tremendous opportunity to build and bless lives everywhere through mountaintop experiences, which prepare young men for blessings, whether or not the boys are members in our priesthood quorums. Scouting is a “mountaintop temple” which builds young men—preparing them for the temple—and in so doing strengthens the Aaronic Priesthood quorums and boys.
Temples? Mountains? I prefer both. I love the soft white walls of the temple and the green-pined arches of mountaintops. Experiences at both holy places revitalize my life and strengthen my relationship with God.
Both Scouting and the Aaronic Priesthood are mechanical. Both are spiritual. Both have the spirit of the Lord within them. And both—when used together in a powerful partnership—can strengthen young men in these latter days, in temples and on mountaintops.
~Nettie H. Francis is a supportive Scouting spouse to her husband, Mark, and a Scouting mom to her five sons.