In wake of church break from Boy Scouts, community troops gatherJan 29, 2020 02:01PM ● By Alison Brimley
Scouts gather at the first meeting of West Jordan Community Troop 6, held Jan. 8. (Photo courtesy Jonathan Winn)
By Alison Brimley | [email protected]
When the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced in May 2018 that it would be formally ending their relationship with the Boy Scouts of America, members had mixed reactions. Some parents rejoiced at the knowledge that they’d never have to oversee another Eagle Project. Some were sad to see the partnership end.
The partnership has been in place for more a century, and scouting has played a vital role in many boys’ lives. But even though the church ended its status as a chartered organization of Scouting effective last Dec. 31, members remained free to organize and participate in troops of their own.
So West Jordan Community Scout Troop 6 was born.
Jonathan Winn, one of the scoutmasters of West Jordan’s new troop, is one of the many for whom scouting was an important part of growing up. He earned more than 60 merit badges during his time as a Boy Scout, completed his Eagle and volunteered at Boy Scout camps once he had graduated from the program. He describes himself as an outdoorsman for whom “camping is just a part of life.”
But even though Winn had sons he was excited to help through the Boy Scout program, he wasn’t upset when he learned his church would be cutting ties. His reaction was positive. He saw an opportunity for his boys to participate in a smaller, more independent Boy Scout troop that could better take advantage of all Boy Scouts had to offer.
Winn’s troop is small; it just includes Winn, his fellow scoutmasters Paul Emett and Brian Morse (all of whom have years of previous experience as scoutmasters), and their own sons. They meet every other Wednesday at the Sunridge Assisted Living Center. They expect their numbers will be smaller than previous church-affiliated troops, and they don’t see that as a negative.
When scouting was a part of church activity, Winn said, boys who weren’t necessarily interested in it were expected to participate. The same was true for some adults called to serve in scouting.
“People were ready to be done with it, so when they were called to serve, they wouldn’t give it their all,” said Paul Emett. So, I felt the program was suffering.”
Now, it will be more of an extracurricular event, just like anything else. “Some kids are basketball kids; some kids are computer nerds; and some kids are scouting kids,” Winn said. “It’s not for everyone, and that’s fine. We don’t want anybody here who doesn’t want to be here.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ scouting program also involved many rules that didn’t apply to BSA in general. For example, in church troops, a boy couldn’t become a Boy Scout until age 12. The BSA allows boys to join at age 10.
The Church also put restrictions on the distance troops could travel for camping trips and other activities. Now, Winn said, his troop could go to Florida if it wants, where a “sea base” sails the Caribbean, offering boys opportunities to learn navigation, snorkeling and fishing. If they can earn the money to cover the trip, it’s “on the table,” Winn said.
It might not happen in their first year. “Right now, we’re just trying to collect snowshoes for a snowshoeing trip,” he said.
The financial aspect of scouting will look a little different for independent troops than for church-affiliated troops. The activities of the Troop 6 will be 100% self-funded. And because their group, unlike the church groups, isn’t classified as a nonprofit (though it hopes to be someday), donations aren’t tax deductible. The troop will soon participate in a fundraiser selling beef jerky. Before its first meeting on Jan. 8, the troop was soliciting donations of scout uniforms. Winn guessed there would be plenty of used scout shirts floating around.
Right now, Winn said, they’ve got “literally zero dollars in the bank.” But he’s optimistic.
He anticipates other challenges too. As a scoutmaster, Winn sees his commitment to his troop as no different from the commitment of a parent with kids on a football or baseball team. But he understands some parents’ hesitancy to get involved in a scouting troop that isn’t part of a church activity.
“It used to be that their scouting time commitment was their church commitment,” he said. “Now they have both.”
And they don’t want their boys’ troop activities to compete in any way with church activities.
“If we had to compete, we’d choose church,” Winn said.
They remain “a religious troop,” Emett said.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ statement that announced its break from scouting explained that it needed a program that would better serve a worldwide membership and help youth focus on their faith. Some have asserted that the split resulted from BSA’s 2015 decision to allow openly gay men to serve as scoutmasters.
Emett emphasized that theirs is an “open troop,” and that they accept all the changes BSA has made to membership requirements.
“I’ve got a nephew who is transgender, and we’ve talked to him about joining our troop,” Emett said. “These are the types of life situations that we feel comfortable navigating under those more inclusive rules.”
The troop is also in search of people who can give back to scouting in any way, whether it’s donations of supplies or skills. And it welcomes any service opportunities for their troop as well. While the troop may not be an official part of the church, the members hope to remain a part of the community.