Elder Jeffrey R. Holland was the keynote speaker at the Boy Scouts of America Duty to God Breakfast in San Diego on May 26. As a member of the BSA’s National Executive Board, Elder Holland spoke to 1600 attendees—key BSA volunteers and professionals—about the importance of duty to God.
“In a day when some people are using religious faith to divide the human family, this little gathering is a bold declaration that commitment to Deity can and should be a powerful, uniting force in this world,” he said. “You are evidence that faith in God is not weaker, thinner, and less relevant in the public life. It is truly an honor to be counted among you.”
The Duty to God Breakfast is held each year during the BSA’s National Annual Meeting to highlight the organization’s continuing focus on faith. Robert Baden-Powell, founder of Scouting, emphasized, “There is no religious side to the Scouting movement. The whole of it is based on religion.”
The breakfast began with a stirring performance by the San Diego Martin Luther King Choir, presentation of the flag, and an invocation. Following the meal, several Scouts received religious awards, including boys from the United Methodist Church, Catholic Church, Lutheran Church, First Baptist Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Hyrum Wood, Cub Scout in Pack 609 of the San Elijo Hills Ward received his Faith In God award from Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary general president. The BSA offers over 90 religious emblems representing a wide array of religions to encourage Scouts to grow stronger in their faith traditions.
“Duty to God requirements are now part of all rank advancements as of 2016,” explained Paul Moffat, chairman of the Duty to God Breakfast. His announcement was followed by a round of applause and Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh announcing the creation of a new National Duty to God Award.
The keynote address was then given by Elder Holland who stated, “Something stirs inside me when I hear a young man say, ‘On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God.’ An oath is a personal commitment, a personal vow, a promise to others and to the world that we will never falter, never yield, and never give up.”
Elder Holland shared the experience of young men in the Bountiful 15th Ward who did their duty to God by helping a fellow Scout. Mitchell Fennemore was born with spina bifida and, although he wanted to be fully engaged with the boys of his quorum, was limited in many physical activities. In a video presentation of the story, Mitch’s bishop, Verlyn Hawks, commented, “The challenge was to teach the young men that Duty to God has to translate into real actions.
The boys caught the vision of action when fellow Scout Jonathan Knudsen proposed that a special contraption, lovingly named the “Mitch Mobile,” be built to carry Mitchell on hikes and other activities. Jonathan coordinated the design and building of the special chair as his Eagle Scout service project and soon the troop could carry Mitch with them wherever they went.
At the conclusion of the video presentation and the invitation from Elder Holland, Jonathan and fellow quorum member Sean Barnes came on stage carrying Mitch in the Mitch Mobile. They were greeted by a standing ovation from the appreciative audience. Both Mitch and Sean were wearing missionary nametags as Mitch is currently serving as a full-time missionary in the Family and Church History Headquarters Mission in Salt Lake City, and Sean is currently serving in the California San Diego Mission. Jonathan had recently completed his mission in the Belgium/Netherlands Mission.
“Fulfilling one’s duty to God is a way of life,” concluded Elder Holland. “It is not just something we do; it is who we are—or perhaps more accurately stated, who we are becoming!”
Immediately following the breakfast, at the National Annual Business Meeting, Sister Jones was nominated and approved as a BSA Executive Board member; and her counselors, Sisters Jean B. Bingham and Bonnie H. Cordon, were nominated as members of the National Advisory Council. Additionally, Charles Dahlquist, former Young Men general president, was appointed as National Commissioner, and Paul Moffat was appointed chairman of the Religious Relationships Committee.
During the week several members of the Church received significant Scouting awards. Hugh Redd of Great Falls, Virginia; Ken Gubler of St George, Utah; and the late David Hedman of Ojai, California received the Silver Antelope Award for Scouting service on a regional level. Christine Perry of Medina, Washington received the Silver Buffalo Award for her national service to the BSA.
Elder Holland also addressed a gathering of 300 Scouters at a reception on Friday evening, of which many in attendance were not members of the Church. A choir of 32 Boy Scouts from the San Diego area sang to open the meeting.
Mark Francis, LDS-BSA Relationships director, welcomed those in attendance and thanked them for their service to Scouting. He introduced leadership from both the Church and BSA who were in attendance including newly-elected National President Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T.
“Scouting and the Church are strong partners,” Mr. Stephenson noted as he addressed the crowd. “The role that the Church has played in Scouting cannot be overstated. What we both do together is vital to society, and Scouting is a critical and irreplaceable element of our society.”
Sister Jones also spoke and shared that Scouting had given her own sons, “The opportunity to give service, have fun, and do hard things. I am overwhelmed with the love I have felt that you have for the youth. Thank you for making a difference in the lives of young men.”
Brother Stephen W. Owen, Young Men general president, spoke to the group and noted, “We are mentors to those coming behind us. My prayer is that these young men will be physically prepared and make decisions early in life. I’m grateful for the Boy Scouts of America and for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We need to strengthen each other.”
Elder Holland began his remarks by thanking those in attendance. “One of the great things about the BSA is the people we associate with,” he said. He then mentioned “duty to country,” and noted, “I am an upbeat kind of person, but we have reason to be sobered by the society and the world in which we live. These are challenging times. The world needs the vision of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America. Thank goodness they reinforce each other and follow parallel paths. We need these values more than ever.”
“There are some things that make life worth living and beautiful—ethical values that allow us to be happy in society with each other. We need values and virtue in leadership that represent what life ought to be.”
He continued, “The things for which Scouting and the Gospel of Jesus Christ stand are universal and eternal and important. On some things we can never afford being ambivalent. We cannot be ambivalent about virtue. We cannot be ambivalent about standards. We cannot be ambivalent about integrity.”
After leaving his blessing with the group he concluded. “I love you. I’m proud of you. I’m proud of these Scouts. I walk with more lilt in my step because I know there are people like you!”
~Contributed by Nettie H. Francis with Roma Bishop