Oh, How I Long
For A Good Scouting Ceremony
When I was a Scoutmaster, I did the best I could to fill our Courts of Honor with appropriate, fun, and patriotic ceremonies that showed Scout Spirit. For the most part, they went pretty well. But, as with many things, there is much that we, as adults, can learn from our Scouts. We had just come back from our annual summer camp at Camp Maple Dell in Payson Canyon, Utah. Our Senior Patrol Leader and his Patrol Leaders had planned a nice Court of Honor for the parents – and, at 6:59 p.m. I sat in our Scout Room with all the parents – AND NOT ONE SCOUT IN SIGHT! Needless to say, I was nervous and wondering where they all were. I was about to get up out of my chair and go to investigate when suddenly, right at 6:59 and 30 seconds, I heard them marching down the hall toward the Scout Room, single file, by patrol and singing one of the Scout songs we learned at summer camp. Right at 7:00 p.m., to my relief and to the amazement of their parents, they filed into the room, took their places, finished their song, and then went right into the Opening and Flag Ceremony. Nothing – I repeat – NOTHING I could do in the way of ceremony could have outclassed what those young men did that evening to start the Court of Honor – on their own and without their Scoutmaster even knowing their plan. How proud I was of them!
In the years since that Court of Honor, I have been to hundreds of Courts of Honor, Scouting administrative meetings, troop and patrol meetings, and other Scouting (and community) events where ceremony was meant to be a critical part – but where the utilitarian attitude of “reduce and simplify” has often gone too far and caused us to “git ‘er done and git home” – rather than take a few precious minutes and help the participants have a memorable and life-changing experience.
I think there has never been a time when we have a better opportunity for a “Return to Ceremonies” in Scouting than now. We are aching to get back to normal gathering amid the pandemic and, with the current spiking throughout the world of COVID cases, we are still working to gather in appropriate ways. In addition, Scouting is seeing a new awakening. This is especially true in Scouting for Latter-day Saints – where Scouts, families, and registered leaders are making a conscious decision to be “still Scouting” – not because it is the program of the Church, but because they want to continue their Scouting adventure, in addition to their activity in the new program for Children and Youth.
May I offer a few suggestions for Courts of Honor, troop and patrol meetings, Scouting administrative meetings, parents meetings, and other Scouting gatherings that will help them be particularly meaningful to the recipients – including Scout, Scouting family, and leader alike:
- Be Prepared. In Scouting, it seems like a given, but often Courts of Honor are woefully lacking in preparation. Take time to ensure you have all the appropriate badges, that parents know far in advance the date, time and location of your Court of Honor and realize how important it is for them to be there. Take time to make a personal invitation to each parent to be there – especially for those young men and young women who are getting rank advancements and will have their parents involved in the award. I was at a Court of Honor recently where not only were the adult leaders, Senior Patrol Leader and Assistant SPL prepared, but each Patrol Leader was obviously prepared, knew what his role was and how to accomplish it effectively and how to make the award meaningful for the boys of his patrol.
- Be Personal. Particularly for those receiving advancements, take a moment to describe an unusual accomplishment that Scout did in achieving the award – take time to build and reinforce the value of each Scout to his/her patrol and to the troop – and family. Young men and young women love to hear their names and to hear stories about their extra efforts in achieving their awards. The stories don’t need to be long – just personal.
- Patriotism and Duty to Country. Your ceremony should reinforce a Scout’s Duty to Country and strengthen his/her feelings of patriotism and love of country. There is so much of negativism and criticism of our country today. This is one of the few places a Scout has to show his or her patriotism and to recommit to his/her duty as an American.
- Scouting Values. Your ceremony should reinforce Scouting’s Mission, Aims, Methods and help a Scout recommit to live the principles of the Scout Oath and Law.
- Simplicity and Dignity. Your ceremony should be impressive, dignified, simple, brief, and friendly. It should be dramatic, inspiring, colorful, and sincere.
- Use Available Media. The Boy Scouts of America has produced many wonderful brief video clips that are suitable for a Court of Honor or another occasion, such as the beginning of a troop meeting, troop committee meeting, troop parents meeting, etc. and where a brief ceremony is completely appropriate and reminds the participants of the significance of their participation in Scouting and what is all about: “Focusing on the Main Thing. And Keeping the Main Thing, the Main Thing…and the Main Thing is to Serve More Youth” (as taught by former BSA National President Rex Tillerson) – and to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.
- Youth-Led. Ensure that your Scouts are involved in the planning and implementation of the ceremony. It will be much more impressive and effective and will impact THEIR lives more if they are involved. Recently I watched a 15-year-old Senior Patrol Leader, as part of the closing ceremony at a Court of Honor in Bountiful, Utah, step to the front and address parents and Scouts alike with this impressive message: “Two of you are very new in the troop, and we have one more here with us today who is 11 years old and will be joining us soon. Let me tell you what our expectation is for wearing the Scout uniform. I hope this will be helpful to you and a good reminder for the rest of us and our parents. You are expected to be dressed just like I am today, Scout shirt with all the badges in the correct place, shirt tucked in (imagine that!), Scout belt, Scout neckerchief and neckerchief slide, and, if possible, Scout pants or shorts.” I was thrilled to hear this young leader speak with such persuasiveness and confidence – much more persuasive to his fellow Scouts and their parents than if a leader had given the same message.
- Use Visual Aids. There are many Scouting visual aids that are either available or which can be made and used and reused in troop ceremonies. If you are encouraging Scouts to join the Order of the Arrow, don’t just talk about it, invite some Scouts from your local lodge to visit your troop meeting and share their enthusiasm for the OA and its mission. In addition, things as simple as American and Troop flags, blow-ups of Scouting badges, or Norman Rockwell Scouting paintings are perfect. Recently I played in a golf classic sponsored by Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge, a national organization formed some years ago by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower to support freedom and American patriotism. On the right and left sides of each tee box throughout the course were two full-sized American flags. Each time we teed off, we were reminded of the value of this great country in preserving freedom for the peoples of the world. What a simple, dignified, and appropriate visual reminder of the principles of freedom in our world today. It is amazing what feelings can arise at just the sight of a simple American flag. Also, youth learn by that which they see and experience. I watched a perfect example of that during a local Court of Honor held at the Marriott Hotel (at the hotel’s invitation), where videos were used not only to reinforce feelings of patriotism and Scouting Values but to highlight Troop activities. Thanks, Troop 42, for inviting me to your spectacular Court of Honor. Using visual aids reinforces verbal and audio messages in a way that will help our youth – REMEMBER.
- Ideas. For additional ideas on effective and exciting Courts of Honor, go online at websites such as the org or Bryan on Scouting. You might want to check out https://scoutingmagazine.org/2000/03/scouters-speak-ideas-for-a-memorable-eagle-court-of-honor/ for starters.
- Finally, Have FUN! Fun and enjoyable activities that involve your Scouts should be interspersed throughout any Scouting program. I learned a lesson years ago during a Troop Leadership Conference. I had taken my troop leaders to a Scout camp for leadership training. I had a wonderful catapult balloon toss competition planned for them at the end of the training – as a surprise. The training, I must admit, was long and somewhat tedious. Just when we were about 30 minutes from the end of a 3 ½ hour training, my Scouts found the box of FILLED water balloons…and the rest is history. One grabbed a water balloon and plastered the SPL, and he then countered with his own barrage of water balloons – until they were all gone. What a lesson I learned that day. Instead of involving them in the fun throughout the leadership training, I left the fun until last – and it was just too much for them all at one time. Wayne Perry, former National President of the BSA and a member of our Vanguard Scouting Board once said, “Scouting is a little deceptive in the way it works. The boys (and now girls) think they are just having fun – when in actuality, they are learning leadership skills and character values that will prepare them for a lifetime of challenges.” We just need to make sure that our Courts of Honor and other Scouting meetings are filled with fun and entertaining activities – and that the Scouts are involved in the planning and performance of those fun activities and ceremonies.
The charge this month to those of us who are responsible for conducting a Scouting meeting in the final months of 2021 – do all we can to improve the quality of the ceremony in that meeting, using the suggestions listed above. If you are holding a council executive meeting or a troop committee meeting (even by Zoom), you might include a short Scouting video clip and a youth-led and well-planned flag ceremony before turning to the business of the day. If you are holding a Court of Honor, make it the best ever by using your youth to plan and implement the recommendations listed above. And when you involve your youth in the planning, you will often find that they have even better ideas to making your Courts of Honor and troop and patrol meetings even more special and memorable. Good luck and Good Scouting!