November 5th, 2020

rose window

Things I learned in Scouting: Hymns

I am a church orphan. My parents stomped out of our Methodist church (literally) when I was eleven. So I never did confirmation class, never did church camp, never did youth group. We attended the local Baptist church semi-regularly when I was a youth, but I was never one of the gang there, either. That didn’t mean I had no religious experiences in my adolescence; it just meant I wasn’t in church much. So I don’t have a lot of significant memories of church from that time.

What I have is a lot of memories of Boy Scouts. There was always a Sunday morning worship service of sorts at a camporee. And every Sunday evening at summer camp, there was a chapel service. It was there, at Camp Wapehani, that I learned how to sing “Fairest Lord Jesus” and a few other songs. In fact, when I went off to seminary to study for the ordained ministry, about the only hymns I knew were Christmas songs (everybody knows Christmas songs, even atheists) and the songs I learned at Scout camp.

We sang a lot in camp in those days. I developed my singing voice at campfires, chapel services, and dining halls. When I was on camp staff, I learned how to stand before other people and speak, too. (I also learned how to give clear and concise announcements, which is truly a lost skill these days.) The first time I ever led prayer in public was at a Scouting event. We were hosting an Order of the Arrow conclave, and somebody had to say grace before dinner. I got tagged by the Executive Committee to do it.

I had a lot of experiences that I later understood to be experiences with God, too. Even though I was disconnected from church, he was with me. When I finally found my way back in, I knew I was home. I also found that Scouting was invaluable in preparing me for ministry. A proper liturgy, after all, is more or less like a good campfire program. The flow is pretty much the same, and the same leadership skills are in use. I’ve been in a lot of churches where I observe the people giving announcements, leading singing, even preaching, and think, “Y’all have never been in Scouts, and it shows.”

When I was a student pastor working with youth in church for the first time, I had no clue what that experience was supposed to be like. So I took them camping. And just as I have transferred many things I know from Scouting to my ministry, so I have spent many years applying what I know of ministry to leading Scouts. There are a lot of lost sheep out there, just like I was, straying upon the hillside. They need people like me to go find them, because you can’t count on them making their way back home by themselves.