LDS church to form its own uniform youth leadership program, will discontinue Boy Scout charter end of 2019
By Linda Petersen
A new change announced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will dramatically impact the face of scouting in Utah and in Sanpete County.
In a joint statement on May 8, the LDS Church and the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) announced that effective Dec. 31, 2019 the church will end its relationship with the organization.
“In this century of shared experience, the Church has grown from a U.S.-centered institution to a worldwide organization, with a majority of its membership living outside the United States. That trend is accelerating. The Church has increasingly felt the need to create and implement a uniform youth leadership and development program that serves its members globally. In so doing, it will be necessary for the Church to discontinue its role as a chartered partner with BSA,” the statement declared.
Since the vast majority of Boy Scout troops in Utah are sponsored by the LDS Church, this represents a sea of change for BSA.
BSA Arapeen District Executive Rawlin Bagnall acknowledged the change came “very, very quickly” and compared it to coming down to breakfast to find out your parents are getting a divorce.
However, “People don’t realize BSA is not dying; this is not an obituary notice,” he said. “Scouting is still very much alive; in fact it’s growing in many parts of the U.S.”
Bagnall said while 93 percent of Scout units in the Utah National Parks Council are sponsored by the LDS Church, they represent just 18 percent of the national total of 2.7 million BSA members.
Currently there are approximately 89,000 boys from 270 LDS stakes enrolled in Scouting in the Utah National Parks Council. This is the local council of the BSA that serves Utah youth who live south of Salt Lake County. It is headquartered in Orem.
With the change, Bagnall anticipates there will be at least one community-sponsored troop, possibly more, in bigger towns in the Arapeen District, which is comprised of Sanpete, Sevier, Wayne and part of Garfield and Millard counties. Sanpete County has approximately 4,100 registered Scouts.
His best guess is that about 20 percent of the boys currently enrolled will join those troops and remain active in Scouting.
In Sanpete County that’s about 800 boys. Bagnall also anticipates an influx of girls with the recent change in BSA allowing girls to join the organization. The LDS Church did not incorporate the change with its sponsored troops.
Bagnall said while the organization will definitely be leaner, it will be filled with individuals who are passionate about Scouting and its principles, which will be a win for enrolled youth.
“Utah has had a Scouting tradition for more than 100 years,” he said. “You don’t just turn the spigot off on that. Many Scouting families want to know what to do.”
He also anticipates a greater commitment from parents who choose to enroll their children in the community units.
“People are going to commit where they find value,” he said.”For people who want to focus on Scouting, this is a wonderful opportunity to sink their teeth into it and see what happens.”
He said the new troops may also appeal to some who do not want to be affiliated with the church and even to those who, while active in the church, do not want to participate in its youth programs for various reasons.
“You’ve got to remember that 10 to 15 percent of LDS chartered units have boys who are not church members and have been involved because of Scouting,” he said. “They have to have a place to go. Their interest is likely to remain unchanged.”
He also thinks there will be a resurgence of Scouting’s visibility in the community. In LDS troops, many youth and leaders have not bothered wearing uniforms while performing service in the community, for example.
Over the next several months, Bagnall will be reaching out to local community organizations such as Lions and Rotary clubs, masons, Elks Lodges, chambers of commerce and even schools, cities and businesses to sponsor community units. He has already been contacted by several people who have expressed interest.
Bagnall said the future of Scout camps like TIFIE will not be jeopardized by the change. TIFIE, which is paid for, is owned and operated by the BSA National Parks Council. Three years ago BSA started marketing the council camps to non-Scouts. Now one third of groups who utilize them are non-Scout groups.
The TIFIE Scout Camp is located at 7500 feet above Mount Pleasant. It is a full service camp that provides merit badge and adventures for Scouts.
Since the LDS church has said its new youth initiative will have a strong outdoor component, Bagnall said its likely there will be a strong need for facilities like the 12 council camps so he anticipates most of them will continue to operate.