Sunday, October 5, 2014

What? Scoutmaster. Me!!!

One the cruel twist of fate in my life was being called a Scoutmaster. Now, I had been raised never to turn down a calling. I had also been raised that all callings came from God. I had assumed, growing up, that “coming from God” meant God spoke directly the church leader extending the calling as He did to Joseph Smith.

Well, that illusion lasted until I served in Bishopric and saw how most callings were really extended. The Bishopric looks at the likes and interests of the person, discusses what positions are open, determines if the person has the time and can contribute positively to the dynamics of the proposed organization, then prays about it. Absent a lightning bolt, earthquake, or other tangible manifestation supporting or opposing the decision, the Bishopric extends that calling.

Now we can debate the true nature of inspiration or the vagaries of revelation, or we can just move on. I suggest we move on and have that conversation face to face.

In 1993 we moved from our Zion-like ward in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, back to Utah. I say back to Utah because Karen and I lived there for three years as we both competed our college education. Neither of us is from Utah or spent any significant time in Utah apart from our college years. This move was facilitated by being hired by WordPerfect as a technical writer. I am confident more will be said about that later.

Moving is an adventure. Sure there is the packing and the driving and the new destination. But beyond the mechanics of moving, there is the tumult of emotions which complicate the process. We had been in North Carolina for eight years. We loved where we lived. We loved those among whom we lived. We really found a great home there in the South.

But, we moved.

The major stress of moving is having to start all over.  You start all over at work, the kids start all over a school, and we all started all over at church. Which means all that you accomplished in your previous ward is basically tossed out the window and you start all over again.

On our first interview with Bishop Dowling as new ward members, he asked what types of callings we had in the past. Of course, Karen made sure he was aware that she loved to play the organ. In most wards, and organist who plays well and wants to play is tantamount to the goose who laid the golden egg. She was quickly called to be organist.

Bishop Dowling asked me where I had served and I mentioned how I enjoyed being with the youth. I had been in a bishopric, Young Men’s President, and an early morning Seminary teacher. So I had the youth calling qualifications. But I quickly learned such an admission was a mistake. A few days after that interview I was asked to be Scoutmaster.

You have got to be kidding. I was a horrible Scout. I knew only two knots – the square knot and the granny (the granny is the result of a knot failure.) There was no way I could be Scoutmaster. But, I was taught never to say no. So, reluctantly, (and I might add very reluctantly) I said yes.

Once I accepted, that was when the bad news came. Burt Conrad was the current Scoutmaster. Burt is one of the greats in the church. He is clam, reserved, and very knowledgeable. He is a master teacher and a deep thinker. I always enjoyed spending time with Burt.

But Burt lacked the ability to relate to the boys. Burt seemed the best choice.  He as a great Scouter. He knew everything about Scouting. He owned a uniform.  He looked great in that uniform. But he just couldn’t motivate the boys at all.

So, you have the great Scouter in Burt and the anti-Scouter in me.

The second bad news as that our troop would have a troop summer camp and not to go to the standard council camp. That meant I had to take a group of boys, whom I never met, for a multi-day camp somewhere in a state with which I as wholly unfamiliar. Once there, I had to teach them scouting skills that I did not possess.

Give me a break.

Luckily, we had a small troop. Luckier still, I was able to develop a rapid and strong relationship with those boys almost overnight. The troop consisted of Kelly Gardner, Chris Cameron, Justin Wiser, and Corey Direco. I count Kelly, Chris, and Justin still among my friends to this day. Cory moved soon after we arrived in Utah so I never had a chance to get to know him.

We first met in our home on a Sunday after church so we could all get to know each other better. As Scoutmaster, I was to attend and often teach in Deacons Quorum, so we already met earlier that day.  I knew that if I offered them food, then they would gladly come. I was right. Soon after church was over, all four boys were at our door step.

As we met, I asked them to tell me what they liked and disliked about Scouting. All of them said they hated the uniform. Then they said the hated merit badges, but they knew they had to get their Eagle or their parents would be disappointed. So, as boring as merit bags were, they could endure them if they had to. What they really hated was being bored. They just didn’t want to go to Mutual each week and be bored.

Well, I told that right away that I didn’t have a uniform and I didn’t plan on getting a uniform. So, if I didn’t wear a uniform, then they didn’t have to either. That got their attention. I also explained that we needed to work together to make our weekly activities fun but also these meetings needed to be a vehicle to earning merit badges and learning Scouting skills. They liked that idea.

Soon after we moved into the ward, the Freemans moved in just down that street. It just so happened that Dave Freeman was a professional Scouter. Scouting was his life. He was also recently released as a Bishop in Arizona, so he understood the importance of cultivating and strengthening relationships with boys.

I knew my weaknesses. There was no Scout skill I could teach those boys. But I had Dave Freeman and Burt Conrad who happened to have all the skills necessary. So, they were both called to serve in the troop. Now we had the best of both worlds – a leader who could work with the boys and reliable adults who could provide top-notched scouting skills.

To make things more exciting, we had a summer camp to plan. So from April until June, we focused solely on what type of camp to have. That meant we had to prepare the boys for all the activities and skills we wanted them to learn. Each week was a great experience because those boys were learning things and preparing themselves for the upcoming camp. 

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