Serving our Youth through Scouting

In Father Alexander Schmemann’s important work, For the Life of the World, he teaches us that when we speak of “life” in the context of our experience of the Kingdom of God, we cannot separate “religious life” from our secular experience. Yet we slide easily into a weekly pattern of segregating our “religious life” into a “Sunday only” experience. Service through Scouting is one tool that we have to help “keep whole” or integrate a young Christian’s identity.

Parishes that support membership in community Scouting programs, such the Cub Scout Pack pictured, give rich character-development experiences to their youngest parishioners and also increase the visibility of the Orthodox Church in a supportive environment. (Pictured: a recent meeting of Pack 50 in San Anselmo, CA)

Scouting in North America has a rich history of cooperation with the Orthodox Church. Indeed, the Eastern Orthodox Committee on Scouting was one of the first significant efforts of the Orthodox in our land to work together. The model advocated throughout most of the twentieth century focused on the creation of Scouting units in the parish. This model has been particularly effective where the faithful live in geographically contained communities surrounding their parish.

Yet this plan is less workable when many of our parishes serve geographically dispersed families. I suggest that many parishes could purposefully encourage children to join local “neighborhood” Scouting units and create programming that brings together Scouts from these distinct local units as Orthodox Scouts in the parish. I write from experience with the Boy Scouts of America but other programs may also be effective tools for our parishes (see for more information on the various Church-supported programs).

Utilizing the Scout Oath and Scout Law, Scouting helps youth develop academic skills, self-confidence, ethics, leadership skills, and citizenship skills in a program that is based on service. The focus on character and service makes the Boy Scouts of America a uniquely compatible program for the Orthodox Church.

While various activities teach basic skills and promote teamwork, Scouting goes beyond that and encourages youth to achieve a deeper appreciation for service to others in their community. This service to the neighbor is foundational. The highest achieving Scouts lead a service project as the culmination of their programs. This happens in a movement that holds “reverence” as a core of the Scout Law. We cannot measure faith, but in a recent study of the general population, eighty-three percent of men who were Scouts five or more years say attending religious services together as a family is “very important.”

Rigorous outdoor activities and a commitment to service are hallmarks of Scouting. (Pictured: Sea Scout Ship Viking (100) of San Francisco, CA, and other Sea Scout ships competing in a high school-age pulling boat competition)

Orthodox Scouts are encouraged to work with their parish priests on earning a series of medals issued by the Church that help contextualize service in the faith of the Orthodox Church with age-appropriate content.

If we encourage our young parishioners to join “neighborhood” Scout units, the priest and other clergy and youth leaders in the parish can be visible in the life of these geographically dispersed units. Archbishop John (Shahovskoy) once noted “the purpose of ministry is to widen the Church beyond its material boundaries, to take it into the people’s homes, into their souls” (The Orthodox Pastor, p. 49). By utilizing and supporting membership in local units, the pastor has a new tool available to “widen” the Church both for his young parishioner and for other families in Scouting. In our Sea Scout unit in San Francisco, our bishop and other clergy have become “regular” presences at award ceremonies and other functions.  The families of that unit are – at the very least! – aware of the Orthodox Church, and our parish youth involved in Scouting have memories of the Church and her servants that are integrated into major accomplishments.

A parish or regional grouping of parishes can further support membership of their Scouts in local units by bringing Orthodox Scouts together for events that facilitates friendship and common effort with other Orthodox Scouts. The Greater St. Louis area Orthodox parishes are working with this model of combining the best of neighborhood troop affiliation with regional Orthodox Scouting programming.

Our children are “pulled” in so many praiseworthy directions: academics, sports, and all sorts of activities. Membership in Scouting helps raise up young men and women who know how to lead themselves in lives of service and faith in the Orthodox Church. We can be active participants in this “game with a purpose” and help show that the Kingdom of God is real life.

Archdeacon C. Kirill Sokolov (SVOTS ‘07) is Director of Diaconal and Late Vocations for the Orthodox Church in America, Director of Technology at San Domenico School, and a doctoral student in leadership at Pepperdine University. Fr. Kirill is a Quartermaster Sea Scout and served on the Board of the Eastern Orthodox Committee on Scouting (EOCS) from 2008-2010. He, his wife Sophia (SVOTS ‘05), and their three children live in California. Their six year-old “begins the journey” this year in Cub Scouts. This post is © 2011.

Author: Synaxis

Synaxis is a blog of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary.