The rain poured down on what, minutes before, had been a picturesque campsite. His troop had just finished a grueling day as part of a 70-mile hike on the Appalachian Trail when the storm began and instantly hampered their spirits.
Brandon Baggett and a small group of Scouts from the Boy Scouts of America gathered together and said a prayer, asking that they would be able to make the most of the situation. Immediately the rain stopped in their campsite.
“It was one of the most spiritual experiences of my young adult life,” said Baggett, a BYU freshman from Pleasant Grove. “It’s one of those experiences I’ve looked back in wonder at.”
His experience is not unique among Scouts. A main tenet of scouting is “duty to God.” This point was emphasized by Presiding Bishop Gary E. Stevenson while speaking at the BSA’s national annual meeting in May 2013.
“We live at a time when there is great need for youth to look outward, focusing less on themselves and more on others,” he said. “This is a time to reinforce and defend duty to God. That is the message of Scouting.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been Scouting’s largest chartering organization for 100 years. It sponsors 37,857 units and more than 430,000 youth. This partnership affects large numbers of BYU students — 71 percent of male students are Eagle Scouts, according to BYU admissions statistics.
Director of LDS-BSA relations and BYU alumnus Mark Francis said the 100-year anniversary couldn’t be more important.
“This centennial is a grand opportunity for all of us to reconnect and see what the Church’s perspective is on Scouting,” he said.
Despite controversial issues faced by the Boy Scouts of America over the past few years, the Church has recommitted to scouting and is making efforts to help members understand the significance of its partnership.
“The Church and Scouting have been together for a long time,” said Nettie Francis, lead writer of “Century of Honor,” a book commissioned by the General Young Men’s Presidency to commemorate the centennial. “But if people can understand why the Church sponsored Scouting at the very beginning … hopefully they’ll gain a greater appreciation for this partnership.”
Forging a partnership
Scouting began in 1907 when prominent a British military officer adopted a previous book and wrote “Scouting for Boys” to teach young men character through outdoor adventures.
William D. Boyce, an American publisher, brought Scouting to the U.S. following a visit to England. He was lost in the English fog when he was helped by a boy who refused payment for his service because he was a Boy Scout. Boyce was impressed and decided to bring scouting to America, founding the Boy Scouts of America on Feb. 8, 1910.
Shortly thereafter, Thomas George Wood organized the first Mormon Scout troop to instruct the 50 young men in his Salt Lake City ward.
The Church became the first national partner of Scouting on May 21, 1913.
Innovations in how Scouting was administered often originated with the Church. For example, the Church created the Varsity and Venturing programs, both later adopted as national BSA programs.
“I am pleased to stand firm for an organization that teaches duty to God and country, that embraces the Scout law. Yes, an organization whose motto is ‘Be prepared’ and whose slogan is ‘Do a good turn daily,’” said President Monson in the October 1993 General Conference.
Director of BSA Public Relations Deron Smith said the future of this partnership looks bright.
“We thank the Church for their commitment to our mission and join with the rest of the Scouting family to celebrate the immeasurable impact it has had on our nation’s youth,” he said.
BYU alumnus and Grand Teton Council director of support service Brian Porter said Scouting will continue to influence youth for good.
“The Scouting program is more relevant today than ever,” he said. “It teaches them their first duty is to God and gives them practical opportunities to use the things they are being taught.”
A grand celebration
Events throughout the country have celebrated the 100-year partnership. From El Paso, to Chicago and Seattle, many councils have held 100-year “camp-o-rees.” The Church held its own show and exhibits at the National Scout Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel National Scouting Reserve in West Virginia and sponsored the Thomas S. Monson award, available to all Jamboree attendees.
The Church has also sponsored exhibits at the Church History Museum. “Camp Good Turn” takes visitors through the history of Scouting in the Church while “American Originals” features 23 works of art by Norman Rockwell on loan from the National Scouting Museum in Irving, Texas.
The exhibits are open to visitors Monday–Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday–Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. American Originals will be on display until Dec. 31, 2013 and Camp Good Turn until Oct. 5, 2014. Admission is free.
The Church will also sponsor a national Scouting broadcast and open house on Oct. 29 at the Conference Center and will celebrate the values of Scouting.
All are invited to view the event Tuesday, Oct. 29 at 7:00 p.m. MDT at stake centers or online at scouts100.lds.org.