By BSA Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh
It is truly my honor as Chief Scout Executive of the Boy Scouts of America to recognize and celebrate the historic partnership with the UMC, and specifically the UM Men.
On February 12, 2020, we will recognize a 100-year journey that we have taken together to impact the lives of youth throughout our nation.
Church provides more than meeting space
As a new district executive in Jacksonville, Fla., I was struggling to learn how the chartered organization relationship worked on a structural level.
Having been a Scout in Troop 360, chartered by the Bethel Park (Pa.) UMC, I knew that this relationship was much different than simply having a place for the troop to meet.
While the church was generous in providing space for our equipment storage, parking for our troop trailer, and a meeting hall for our weekly outings, I sensed that there was much more to this bond.
As I grew in the program and began participating and leading service projects, our first thought was always towards our chartering partner. Our Scoutmaster emphasized how special the relationship was and how the generosity of their support made our troop operations possible.
Often, as we were painting the basement, landscaping and various other projects, we slowly grew to realize that we did not have just a meeting place, we had a chartering partner that took ownership of our Scouting unit. That bond was strengthened as we participated in Scout Sunday and the pastor gave us responsibilities throughout the worship service.
All those thoughts came flooding back to me as I prepared to make my very first “sales call” to try to start a brand-new scouting unit.
Knocking on door of a UMC
It was natural that I was most comfortable knocking on the door of the UMC in a small town in rural north Florida. I was warmly welcomed by the pastor and as I began my sales pitch, he laughed and said, “You can save the pitch. I’m an Eagle Scout. I get it.” He said that he had wanted to start Scouting but had been challenged because of a lack of available leadership.
Over the next few months, we developed a steering committee, formed a troop committee, and selected an outstanding scoutmaster who was not then a member of the church. Interestingly, that Scoutmaster later joined the church with his family and became a key lay leader.
The troop started out with just six boys, and quickly grew to 15 over the next few months. We then started a Cub Scout pack. I didn’t know at the time that this is usually the reverse of how you organize units––typically, Cub Scout packs are first––but, in the end, it all worked out and we had a vibrant Scouting community in a town that had long been without the program.
Over the years, I have thought many times how different my career might have been if I had not been mentored and nurtured by key members of the Methodist Church through both my boyhood experience and learning the ropes as a new Scouting professional.
Over the past 100 years, that spirit still permeates the UMC. You may remember in a letter to the first Chief Scout Executive James E. West, James V. Thompson, the superintendent of the Young People’s Department said, “We welcome your fine spirit and eagerness to place the program of the Boy Scouts of America at the disposal of our leaders of Methodist youth. We shall do all we can to promote the use of the Boy Scout program throughout the Methodist Church.”
Over this time, our relationship has remained strong throughout many changes in both the Boy Scouts of America and the UMC.
Scouting and the UMC have placed priority on reaching out to our communities. This dynamic partnership has been seen not just as a statement of faith but has provided an opportunity for many who are unchurched to experience a faith component in their families.
Scouting has provided an outreach ministry opportunity to the church and, in return, Scouting has grown across America due to the commitment and enthusiasm of UM Men.
At this moment in time, the UMC can help us through a significant time of need as we seek to impact greater numbers of youth throughout America. With The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leaving the BSA as a chartering partner, we will rely on the UM Men to help us find homes for all of these families who seek to remain in scouting.
Scouting also has a new opportunity to grow as we have opened our service to the entire family.
This is an exciting time for our movement and we stand ready to serve the next generation of America’s future leaders.
While we know that service to millions of youth is important, we never forget the impact that the program has on the individual Scout. Lives are changed one at a time and your mentorship and support has given character and leadership to countless youth and their families for multiple generations.
Speaking as one of those Scouts, I am truly grateful that there was a Methodist Church and Methodist men who gave me an opportunity to reach beyond myself, learn service to others, and eventually develop the most satisfying career imaginable.
Speaking not as the Chief Scout Executive for the Boy Scouts of America, but as one timid little 11-year-old walking through the doors of the Bethel Park Methodist Church, thank you.