A UMNS feature
By Barbara Dunlap-Berg
Happy birthday, Boy Scouts of America!
Today’s 6-year-old Tiger Cub Scout might be amazed to learn that Boy Scouts came to America 100 years ago.
It all began when Grace Methodist Church Pastor L. Eugene Rush—trying to get Delaware [Ohio] boys off the streets—formed the “Eastside Roughnecks” in 1908.
The name eventually changed to the “East Side Gang,” and the boys became involved in activities similar to what Boy Scouts do today.
Rush later contacted Sir Robert Baden-Powell, a British military hero who founded the Boy Scouts in England. Baden-Powell sent Rush a charter, making the East Side Gang a troop in the British Scouting movement.
When the Boy Scouts came to America in 1910, Rush’s troop became Troop No. 1. There are now 51 No. 1 troops in the United States. Each state and the District of Columbia has its own troop No. 1.
United Methodist Men take the lead
The United Methodist Commission on United Methodist Men takes the lead in nurturing Scouting ministries in the denomination. More than 550,000 youth meet in some 6,700 United Methodist churches each year as members of Scouting and other youth organizations. Surveys show that half come from unchurched families, creating an evangelistic opportunity.
The United Methodist Church designates the second Sunday in February for Boy Scouts and the second Sunday in March for Girl Scouts. Many congregations use one Sunday of their choice to celebrate all ministries offered in collaboration with youth agencies (Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Camp Fire and 4-H).
Boy Scouts of America’s official 100th birthday is Feb. 8, 2010, but the 124,425 units across the United States will celebrate throughout the year, with a major celebration scheduled for the National Jamboree, July 26-Aug. 4 at Fort AP Hill in Virginia. That event will include a worship service for 6,000 United Methodist Scouts led by Pittsburgh Area Bishop Thomas Bickerton.
Scouting Ministry Specialists
The Nashville-based men’s agency is recruiting Scouting ministry specialists who will help neighboring congregations introduce Scouting ministry and enrich relationships between churches and existing Scout troops. Scouts, experts note, are not simply young people using church facilities but, rather, vital players in the congregation’s outreach ministry.
The specialists also will help congregations use educational resources sponsored by Programs of Religious Activities with Youth (PRAY). The St. Louis-based organization sponsors the former God and Country Award series that provides United Methodist-related activities for four age groups. Some pastors use the God and Church award in confirmation classes. In addition, churches will learn of several awards to honor Scouts and express appreciation to leaders.
Purpose of Scouting
The purpose of the Boy Scouts of America, incorporated Feb. 8, 1910, and chartered by Congress in 1916, is to provide a program for young people that builds character, trains them in the responsibilities of participating citizenship, and develops personal fitness.
"Scouting means a lot to me," said Nick Harrington, Cubmaster for Pack 208 in Sioux City, Iowa. "People I've met through Scouting remain my good friends."
When Harrington's son was old enough for Tigers, it wasn't a stretch for Dad to join the pack.
"It's a family atmosphere," he added. "I like the values the program promotes. God and country and service to community are important.”
Fostering a moral compass
Joe Gittings has spent his entire life living by the Boy Scout oath. He spent 20 years as the Scoutmaster of Troop 28 at West Rome (Ga.) United Methodist Church, helping to foster a moral compass into the hearts of dozens of young men over the years.
By his count, 20 boys achieved the rank of Eagle under his tenure for 20 years as the head of Troop 28, formed in 1953.
He calls the Scouts he shepherded on camping trips and canoe paddles his “boys,” and he has kept track of them throughout the years.
“I could spend all day talking to you about my boys and what they’ve done,” he said.
Matt Hart, a Scout executive in Valdosta, Ga., has seen the organization add “hundreds of different things over the years to keep kids involved.
“The activities Scouting provides . . . you can’t get in a classroom, and those are tools young people are going to need to succeed as adults,” he said.
Jerrell McCool, 77, was the second Eagle Scout to come out of Gittings’ troop. He is still involved with the organization.
“When Joe Gittings started that new troop and I went to church with him, it was just a given for me to get involved, and I’ve never slowed down since.”
‘Celebrate the adventure . . . continue the journey’
Joel McCool is one of his three sons who earned their Eagle ranking under their father.
Now an insurance agent, Joel grew up fully engaged in the Boy Scouts. He hopes to continue that legacy when his 2-year-old son David is old enough.
“I want to be there like my father was there for us,” he said. “I want to be there in service for other kids in the community.”