I ran into a brick wall. My Conference Scouting Coordinator brushed me off. My offer of help, my seeking an invitation to belong and contribute, was of little importance. But, being a clergyperson with a mandate "to equip the saints for the work of ministry," I started to do training. I was District Education Chair, and we launched a District Scouts and Scouters Retreat, which went on for ten years or more, even after I left there. When the Conference made the Scouting Ministries Committee a free-standing body, I was elected Conference Coordinator and from my position on the Conference Nominations Committee, I found people all over the Conference who wanted to see this ministry developed. Instead of sitting around basking in our titles, we did things.
We did mission projects and Girl Scout retreats and trips to Tanzania and the UK. We promoted the awards and reached out to recognize the hitherto unrecognized. We distributed Bibles to campers. We did training. When NAUMS created the option of forming chapters, we started one of the first ones. For ten years, I stood at our booth in the display area and schmoozed people non-stop about all the cool things we were doing. We did a free (imagine that) breakfast at Annual Conference. I wrote articles for the Area newspaper. We published a newsletter. We produced a significant number of national leaders from our Conference.
It wasn’t until I stepped down as Conference Coordinator that I accepted election to the Board of NAUMS. It was something to do, a place to make a contribution, where I would be out of my successor’s way. The Board immediately elected me Treasurer (a notoriously hard job to fill). After four years as Treasurer, I was term-limited by our by-laws. I dithered back and forth about running for President, finally doing so. And so I served four years as President of NAUMS. Which meant I was also a full member of the Boards of GCUMM, NACP, and the UMM Foundation, as well as the Religious Relationships Task Force of BSA. I have attended far too many meetings of Very Important Poobahs, and I have felt the coldness that radiates toward Those Who Do Not Belong.
I think what GCUMM is doing to NAUMS is spiteful and counterproductive, but NAUMS could disappear tomorrow, and it wouldn’t make a lot of difference in the long run. In the long run, Methodism lives or dies by what the Conferences do, and GCUMM has given up on the Conferences. Here in my own little pastoral world, I rarely hear from Nashville, and need not reply if I don’t want to. They offer little that interests me, and nothing that I can’t get for myself. Which is the problem; besides making sure there are chaplains at the National Jamboree and teaching a training course at Philmont and a couple of things like that, the Office of CYSA/Scouting might as well not exist. They reach few. But they could do so much more.
I would like to see a strong structure of Conference and District Coordinators supported in their efforts by a strong Office of CYSA/Scouting. And I would like to see NAUMS became a truly mass organization, with chapters everywhere pursuing local initiatives that support and enhance the experience of the kids and volunteers. I would like to see NAUMS relating to the whole Scouting ministry field, as NACP relates to the whole Men’s ministry field – and both of them do better. I would like to see really top-notch resources developed that people would use, that would bring what we know about making disciples together with what we know about scouting. I would like to see the NAUMS newsletter made a really professional publication and be sent to all UM Scouting Coordinators.* I would like to see us active in the Central Conferences. I would like to change the Church, to make her grow again.
The UM Scouting ministry community – all those kids, all those families, all those leaders – is one of the largest, most exciting groups of people in The UMC, but they are underserved by the Church. Stupid, hurtful turf wars fought by petty office-holders and bureaucrats (and vain and lazy volunteers – let’s be fair) result in a harvest that is ours for the reaping being left to rot in the field. And so long as the UMM Treehouse remains for the last few Old Guys to sit in, the voices crying, This ought not to be will not be heard.
At the end of it all, I don’t know that I’m angry. Sad, mostly. So much that I spent so much effort trying to help with is coming to naught. But the real field of ministry was never in Nashville. It still isn’t. At the end of it all, I look back over my adventures in church bureaucracy, and I think of several guys I know from UMM that I remember fondly. They weren’t all toads, to be sure. And there are some UM Scouters who were mean or two-faced, though for the most part, I have found brothers and sisters all over the country and they count for more than the others.
This July, I’m heading up a Scouting mission trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s something the guys at Nashville could never pull off. (For one thing, they're all about the funding, and they don’t have the funding to do ministry; they only have the funding to survive.) It’s basically a Conference-to-Conference trip. The last Conference Scouting Coordinator started it, and the current one has been supportive; meanwhile, the Pathfinder Chapter of NAUMS is the only group in the Conference with the connections and expertise to plan something like this. Everybody is welcome to get involved, and does. We do the good stuff up here in Indiana, and we’ll work with everybody; we don’t set conditions on others that make it impossible for them to come with us. Because, as a very wise man once said to me, “Each of us is the only one who can give to the other what both of us want to have.” Which is how things ought to be, but aren't, down at GCUMM.
*GCUMM publishes a very fine glossy quarterly called UM Men's News. It has lots of Scouting articles in it; however, only paid UMM members and officers receive it, so the greater part of the UM Scouting ministry community never receives any Scouting ministry news from The UMC.