United Methodists launch effort to expand scouting ministry

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NASHVILLE, Tenn.––The number of Scout troops and other youth-serving agencies sponsored by United Methodist congregations is likely to increase over the next 12 months.

The General Commission on United Methodist Men, meeting Sept. 6-7 in Nashville, learned that there are 363,876 youth meeting in 10,868 BSA units sponsored by 6,700 United Methodist congregations, the second highest among all denominations. That number is likely to increase because of the presence of 234 scouting ministry specialists in 47 annual conferences and because Mississippi Area Bishop James Swanson, chair of the commission, has written a letter to other active bishops encouraging them to hold Bishop’s Dinners for Scouting. These dinners help local congregations understand how youth-serving programs can expand their ministries to their communities and provide an opportunity to invite unchurched families to participate in their congregations.

Efforts within the United Methodist Church are part of a New Unit Campaign by the BSA.

New membership policy

Mark Wappel, an executive with the national BSA, told the 20-member commission that some churches have dropped Scout units, following the BSA decision to admit gay Scouts, but 80 percent of dropped troops have found new homes. Wappel expressed appreciation to United Methodist congregations for inviting many of these troops to their congregations.

Wappel also made it clear that the new policy states that any “sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual by youth of scouting age is contrary to the virtues of scouting.” If the behavior of any youth member becomes a distraction to the program by discussing sexual activity or advocating conduct inconsistent with the mission and beliefs of the BSA, that youth may be removed from the troop or crew.

Three annual conferences, New York, New England and Northern Illinois, asked the commission to urge the BSA to expand their membership policy to include gay adults. The commission will continue to work with the Religious Relations Task Force to discuss membership policies. The commission had earlier urged the BSA to seek the counsel of the task force before implementing a new membership policy.

National Jamboree

Larry Coppock, director of scouting ministries, said the commission had a major presence at the July 15-24 National Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia.

West Virginia Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball led a United Methodist Communion Service for 800 Scouts following a Protestant Worship Service coordinated by the Rev. Greg Godwin, a clergy member of West Virginia Annual Conference. Godwin served as chaplain for the event along with 10 other United Methodist clergy. Steady rain came down during both services, but it did not dampen the spirits of the Scouts and leaders.

More than 20 volunteer UM leaders served in a 20-by-40-foot tent housing information about scouting ministry specialists, Stop Hunger Now, and the 2014 UM Scouters workshop at Philmont. Volunteers also gave out 1,400 copies of Strength for Service to God and Community book of daily devotions for first responders.

Five days of service

The largest service project in West Virginia included some 30,000 Scouts who spent five days in 350 sites to provide 300,000 volunteer service hours for local projects including Stop Hunger Now. Scouts packaged 16,000 meals for emergency situations in West Virginia and around the world.

Two Venturing crews and three Scout troops volunteered at the UM Burlington Family Services, Inc., Beckley Campus. Scouts and leaders provided valuable on-site work, and they had the chance to hear about the ministry at this residential treatment facility for troubled youth.

Phil Howard, chair of the Scouting Ministry Committee of the Commission, said some 150 Scouts also spread 150 tons of gravel in a parking lot and on a hiking trail.

PRAY Awards

Coppock also told the commission that United Methodist congregations presented PRAY (Programs of Religious Activities with Youth) to 6,700 young people, the highest number of any Protestant denomination. These awards, formerly called “God and Country Awards,” provide religious instruction to young people in four age groups. Some churches use these studies and awards as part of their confirmation classes.

Messengers of Peace

The BSA launched a global initiative to inspire young people in 220 countries to work for peace. Troops, packs and crews are encouraged to support projects that increase harmony between individuals and communities. Suggested projects include a holiday party for children of prison inmates, collecting books and magazines for inner-city schools, clean a Habitat house, create a community prayer garden, and replace graffiti with peace-related murals.

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