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Soon after their introduction to Scouting, boys and leaders learn that “Reverent” is the twelfth point of the Scout Law. It was added by our first Chief Executive, James E. West, along with “Clean” and “Brave” to the nine points inherited from the English Scouting movement. Since then, the Scouts have vigorously pursued and encouraged boys to better understand their family’s faith and to tolerate and respect the faith of others. This is substantiated by the establishment of the Religious Emblems program, encouraging camps to have an on site, trained and certified chaplain, creation of the Chaplain Aide leadership position in troops, consistent use of prayer before meals at camp, and so forth.
Many Scout leaders would like to be able to conduct a service for the boys while camping, but believe it to be difficult or fraught with “improper” ways. While the liturgical churches do have proscribed procedures, prayers, and blessings for certain services, such weighty matters do not concern us at an encampment! There are a number of ways that a service may be conducted with varying levels of skills of the leader and participants; all are good if the heart is right.
The purpose of any religious service is for the participants to become more aware of and join with the Holy as a community.
It may be added that the secondary purpose of such awareness is to direct our life’s actions in ways more attuned to God’s.
The intent and desire of the participants in a service is far more important than any procedure or protocol.
There are a number of factors that will determine the content of the
service. These include, but are not limited to:
Denominational mix or uniformity
Age and religious training of the Scouts
Aids, props, and printed materials available
Desired length of service
By far, the greatest of these factors for a troop or a camp is the denominational mix. If a troop is of one faith, there is no constraint on vocabulary, songs, or prayers. Most Boy Scout services do not enjoy this luxury, however, and they must accommodate all, regardless of tradition. The larger the group, the more likely it is to include less common faiths.
The Boy Scouts generally reflect the religious demographics of the United States. The exceptions would be a higher percentage of LDS (Mormon) Scouts, especially in the west, and perhaps less Muslim. This means that the majority of Scouts and Scout leaders are some type of Christian, whether Protestant, Catholic, or LDS. It is easy for those of us of this background to forget that a group may easily include Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and others.
Within a small group, such as a troop, the faiths of the boys can easily be determined by asking; or, the boys may just know who and what the “different” kid is. Many troops consist entirely of practicing and nominal Christians, which greatly simplifies the task of the leader. If one does conduct a survey, be aware that many boys at this age do not understand that many, many religions fall under the umbrella of Christianity. I’ve been told that, “I’m not Christian, I’m Catholic!” If the response is “Christian”, probe a little deeper!
This manual is written with the understanding that the majority of Scouts are inheritors of the Jewish or Christian faiths. They therefore share many beliefs, traditions, morals, and writings. I will include other materials and resources that will enable a leader to broaden the faith base, but the emphasis is decidedly Judeo-Christian.
Order of Services:
A typical Protestant Order of Service at church might run like this:
1. Welcome and greetings, the call to worship
2. Scripture reading (often topical to the sermon)
3. Music (May be reversed with #2)
5. Offering (and sometimes announcements)
6. Sermon or lesson
9. (Optional for announcements)
A Christian Scout service will typically follow the same format, with the exception of music (more on that later) and offering. The Boy Scouts of America does provide the opportunity to share with Scouts of other nations through the World Scouting Fund. Collections for this are encouraged, but optional. Monies collected for this purpose should be turned into Council headquarters.
I have found that the service is a very opportune moment to provide
information for the office of Chaplain Aide and the Religious Emblems programs.
This would more likely be done with a large, or inter-troop service than
a single troop. There are two forms included with this package that
I have successfully used in conjunction with the “Religious Emblems” foldout
illustrating all of them (feel free to alter or duplicate as needed.)
Welcome and Greetings, the Call to Worship
If the Scout’s arrival will be spread out over some period of time, I suggest engaging the arrived ones in minor, quiet conversation. This can be about their camping experience, what churches they go to, and so on. If the noise level increases to decidedly irreverent levels, try using the Scout Sign and then requesting that they prepare themselves for worship by silent mediation, prayer, or thought.
If the service is in a relatively large place, encourage Scouts to move to the front during this waiting period.
If the service is just your troop, try to ensure that there will be no surprises: fires out, tents secure, no ants where they will be sitting! Pending rain should be prepared for and the contingencies laid out just prior to the service.
The greeting itself may start with nothing greater than, “Good morning, boys.” It is important, though, because it does two things: 1) It effectively states that the service has started, and, 2) it starts an interaction between the boys and the leader, which is a very effective way to teach.
The greeting may be extended with statements or questions such as:
“This is the day that the Lord has made. Isn’t it beautiful (awesome, incredible)?
“What is the 12th point of the Scout Law? (Scouts respond) That is why we are gathered here today, to express and practice our reverence.” (Looking about) “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a (church, temple, synagogue) as incredible as where we are right now. Wouldn’t you agree?”
If all are Christians: “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matt. 18:20, NIV)
Call to Worship: O come! Let us worship the Lord, let us bow down to Him, who lives and rules. Let us listen for the voice of the Lord, that He might hear our prayers and that we might feel God’s presence amongst us.
Psalm 95:1-7 Come, let us sing to the Lord, Let us make a joyful noise unto the rock of our salvation; Let us come before His presence with Thanksgiving. Let us make a joyful noise unto Him with songs. For the Lord is a great God and a great King above all Gods. In his hands are the deep places of the earth; The heights of the mountains are His also. The sea is His and He made it; And His hands formed the dry land; O come let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the Lord our maker; for He is our God; And we are the People of His pasture and the sheep of his hand.
Psalm 100: See “Scripture Reading”
This will normally mean a reading from the Jewish Bible (a.k.a. the Old Testament) or the New Testament. (From here, the word “Bible” will carry the Christian connotation unless stated otherwise.) As always the faith(s) of those present will determine suitability. Some writings not to be found in the Bible, but reflecting the wisdom and intentions in the Bible, are an option; several are included here The Old Testament is a rich source of appropriate material, for it is automatically inclusive of Christians, Muslims, and even American Indian’s understandings of Lord, God, Allah, Watonka, or Tekashela.
Psalm 100: “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, her restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Jeremiah 17:5,7-9: The Lord says, “I will bless the person who puts his trust in me. He is like a tree growing near a stream and sending out roots to the water. It is not afraid when hot weather comes, because its leaves stay green; it has no worries when there is no rain; it keeps on bearing fruit.
Sursum Corda (Christian origin but universal) The Lord be with you. And also with you. Lift up your hearts. We lift them to the Lord. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give him thanks and praise.
Sanctus and Benedictus (Christian origin but universal) Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.
Magnificat (Christian origin but universal) My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.
by Martin Luther: This life is not a sate of being righteous,
but rather, of growth in righteousness; not a state of being healthy, but
a period of healing; not a state of being,
but becoming; not a state of rest, but of exercise and activity. we are not yet what we
shall be, but we grow towards it. The process is not yet finished, but is still going on; this
life is not the end, it is the way to a better. All does not yet shine with glory; nevertheless,
all is being purified.
Proverbs 4:1-9 and/or 20-27 The topic is the value of wisdom and
how it will benefit
your life. See your Bible.
Yes, some prayers and "pray-ers" are more eloquent than others! But what counts is what’s in ones heart. God does not rate us, “Hmm. Excellent diction and command of the language.” The opening prayer is a good opportunity to bring personal matters before God and the Scouts. Perhaps an absent Scout is ill, or someone’s grandmother died recently. It would be appropriate to recognize these events.
Someone raised in the Christian tradition will almost instinctively end a prayer with, “In Jesus’ name…” Of course, this is not acceptable in a non-denominational service, and it can take extra caution not to fall into the litany we are so used to. A straight “Amen” is perfectly proper, and indeed is the finish for most Jewish prayers. A way of inviting the participants into the closure is to enthusiastically say, “And all of God’s children said……….” Pause, and most will catch on that they are supposed to finish the sentence with “Amen.”
Some Jewish Sabbath Prayers:
Sabbath Prayer 1: Praised be our eternal God. Ruler of the universe, whose word brings on the evening, whose wisdom opens heaven’s gates, whose understanding makes the ages pass and the seasons alternate, and whose will controls the stars as they travel through the skies. You are the creator of day and night, rolling light away from darkness, and darkness from light: You cause day to pass and bring on the night, separating day from night. You command the hosts of heaven! May the living and eternal God rule us always, to the end of time! We praise You, Eternal One, whose word makes evening fall.
Sabbath Prayer 2: You set the seventh day apart for your service; it is the goal of creation, more blessed than other days, more sacred than other times, as we read in the story of creation. Now the whole universe - sky, earth, and all their array – was completed. With the seventh day, all the work was completed. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, this day having completed the work of creation. Our God, God of our fathers and mothers, may our rest on this day be pleasing in Your sight. Sanctify us with your Mitzvot (blessings), and let your Torah (Word, Bible) be our way of life. Satisfy us with Your goodness, gladden us with Your salvation and purify our hearts to serve you in truth. In Your gracious love, Eternal God, let Your holy Sabbath remain our heritage, that all Israel (your people), hallowing your name, may find rest and peace. We praise You, eternal One, for the Sabbath and its holiness.
Sabbath Prayer 3: Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the
universe who has sanctified us with His commandments and ordained that
we kindle the Sabbath light.
Sabbath Prayer 4: You shall love the Eternal One, your God, with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your being. Set these words, which I command you this day, upon your heart. Teach them faithfully to your children, speak of them in your home and on your way, when you lie down and when you rise up. Bind them as a sign upon your hand, let them be a symbol before your eyes, inscribe them on the doorposts of your house, and on your gates.
From the American Indians:
O Great Spirit of my fathers, this is my prayer. Help me to feel your urge and your message. Help me to be just, even to those who hate me; and at all times help me to be kind. If my enemy is weak and faltering, help me to the good thought that I forgive him. If he surrenders, move me to help him as a weak and needy brother.
The Omaha Tribal Prayer:
Wa-kon-da dhe dhu, Wapa-dhin a-ton-he.
Father, a needy one stands before You. I that sing am he.
Silent Prayer is not unique to any faith, but the sole form of prayer for traditional Quakerism and is common to all mystics, regardless of faith. It is very usable in a Boy Scout service with the following qualifications. One, the time should not exceed about two minutes. Two, the participants should be given guidance on the topic(s). For instance, after a sermon/discussion about the Scout Law, suggest that each Scout pick one point to meditate on. I have found it very effective to segue into the closing prayer while the group is silent. I would not recommend silent prayer for the first prayer.
Leader: Blessed be God, giver of all good things.
People: And blessed be his kingdom, now and forever, Amen.
Universal Prayer 1:
Almighty God, you created everthing that there is, all that we can see and all we can’t see, and you have created for us a new day with your mighty power. Help us in this day to do what you would have us do and to think thoughts you would have us think, that we may be worthy of being the creature you made in your own likeness. Make us heirs of your great kingdom forever and ever.
“Give us…” Closing Prayer: Give us clean hands, clean words, and clean thoughts, O God. Help us to stand for the hard right against the easy wrong. Save us from habits that would harm. Teach us to work as hard and play as fair in Your sight alone as if all the world saw. Forgive us when we are unkind, and help us to forgive those who are unkind to us. Keep us ready to help others at some cost to ourselves. Send us chances to do a little good every day, and so to be more like you.
“We thank you…” Closing Prayer: O God, we thank You for the world in which You have placed us; for the universe whose vastness is revealed in the blue depths of the sky; whose immensities are lit by shining stars beyond the strength of mind to follow. We thank You for every sacrament beauty; for the sweetness of the flowers, the splendor of the stars; the sound of the streams and swelling seas; for stretching lands and mighty mountains which rest and satisfy the soul, the purity of the dawn which calls to holy dedication, the peace of evening which speaks of everlasting rest. Above all, we thank You for the dignity You have bestowed on every human being as the crown of Your creation. We pray that Your glory shines through us and the power of Your spirit to be manifested in our thoughts, our words, and our deeds.
Sheila Cassidy Prayer (good closing prayer! )
Almighty God and Father of us all, have mercy upon this troubled world of ours. We are a pilgrim people, made of clay, captives of our own greed and frailty. And yet, we are the work of your hands.
You have made us in your own image, and we bear within us Your spirit of life, the seeds of immortality. Give us, we pray, a stronger faith so that we may walk joyously into the unknown, an unshakable hope so that we may comfort the despairing, and a love as vast as all the oceans so that we may hold all humankind in our hearts.
All powerful God, look in your love upon us, your pilgrim people, as we struggle towards you.
Be our food for the journey, our wine for rejoicing, our light in the darkness, and our welcome at the journey’s end.
Music, Hyms, and Chants
This particular part of a service can be quite a challenge. In a conventional service all can pick up a book, open it to the specified page, and at worst, hum and mumble along with the instrumentalist. Scout camps do not have hymnals. Scouts come in many flavors of faith, ability, and knowledge. With planning (!) and knowledge of the number of participants, music could be copied to be handed out at the time of service. Similarly, under some circumstances, there may be a Scout who plays guitar or harmonica and has enough repartee to contribute to the service. Be flexible and creative! I have had to change the music to fit the chords the guitarist knew!
There are some songs that many boys will know. Unless your troop is from a church or synagogue, I doubt if all boys will know a song or two. Chants are an amazingly simple device that can be taught in moments and can bring a group into a very contemplative mode open to God’s message.
It is helpful if the leader can get one or a few boys to participate in the singing or instruction. Besides the opportunity to be a leader, it will take some of the focus off of you and put it onto their peers for a few moments.
“Winging it!” If you have a fair sized group, try asking for a
volunteer to teach
a song! If the circumstances dictate, remind them that it must be inter-
denominational. Often a number of boys will know the song. Get them all to
come forward and help with the singing. Before asking if anyone would like to
share a song, joke a bit about not being able to sing or something. I have used
this technique very successfully.
Taize’ Monastery Chant: This is a great mood setter. Although the first word is “Jesus”, it may be easily changed to “O Lord” for interfaith purposes.
Jesus, remember me, in your kingdom.
I Know Where God Is!
I know where God is!
I know where God is!
He’s right here in my heart.
I know where God is!
He’s right here in my heart!
(Verse 2: replace “God” with “love”. Aren’t they interchangeable anyway?)
Faith of our Fathers
Faith of our Fathers, living still
In spite of dungeon, fire and sword
O how our hearts beat high with joy,
When e’er we hear that glorious word.
(Refrain) Faith of our fathers, holy faith
We will be true to Thee till death.
Faith of our Fathers, we will strive
to win all nations unto Thee;
And through the truth that comes from God,
Mankind shall then indeed be free. (Refrain)
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, y heav’nly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
As above, except change last line to: “Praise to our God, to our utmost.”
Do Lord, Oh, do Lord,
Oh do remember me. (Repeat three times)
(Refrain: Way beyond the blue.)
I’ve got a home in glory land
That outshines the sun! (Repeat three times, Refrain)
I took Jesus as my savior,
You take Him, too. (Repeat three times, Refrain)
More Music, Hymns, and Chants
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!
The Message, or Sermon
The purpose of a sermon is to teach. Just like in a class room, the best teaching is not done by an authoritative figure spewing information to a passive audience. Like a classroom, something taught well will be carried from that room and even better, raise issues that the listener will ponder and critique long after the moment. And a third similarity is that every teacher and every preacher will have his or her own style and technique.
One of the measures that I judge a successful sermon by is, “Did I learn anything from the listeners?” About the only way that this happens is by listening, and that generally happens by asking questions, although Scout interventions often result in the same exchange of ideas. If you have ever listened to a great preacher, they will ask questions for you to answer, silently if not aloud.
If your group is not large, “The Message” may perhaps be best exchanged
by just sitting in a “U” shape and having an enlarged conversation, with
the leader as a facilitator. Large groups probably should have the
leader standing and/or raised so that all have clear vision and hearing.
What to teach is often of concern. It shouldn’t be, for any lesson for a troop sized gathering. In a larger audience, a more in-depth discussion will probably hold attention better than a generic topic that may have been done previously.
As before, a denominational mix will require a more generic topic and handling, while a unified group can be done differently to match the faith of the participants. And once again, look to the Old Testament for materials that can apply not only to Jews and Christians, buy many other faiths. Topics will generally fall into one of two categories: Scout based and faith based. The two are actually co-mingled, for the ethics and morals taught in the Scout movement are not one bit different than any of the great traditions.
Possible Sermon Topics:
1. An item by item examination of the Scout Law.
2. Making decisions; recognizing that there is usually a right way (taught
by our faith) and a wrong way, which is usually what we want to
do. The stories of Cain and Abel or Jonah come to mind. Once
they get into it a bit, many Scouts will share stories of tough
3. An examination of the Ten Commandments. Make sure the Scouts
understand the terms “covet” (want)and “bear false witness” (lie) by
asking them what they mean – a way of interacting, as I mentioned
4. Pick a number of proverbs in advance from the OT book of the same
name. There are hundreds, most of which often great opportunity
for asking questions – both ways – and discussion.
5. Taking care of God’s gifts (stewardship). Our earth, ourselves, our
family, our faith.
6. Recent events may provide fodder for questions unanswered. A
tragedy like the Columbine shooting can provide a great
opportunity to learn what your kids are thinking.
Samples of Services:
At the back of this package are a few services that others have successfully created and used for Scouts. Also, there is an entire package of Jewish Shabbat prayers. Regardless of your faith, it is rich in prayers that you may use! (NOTE: I am working on scanning this material. Due to the Hebrew, I hav not decided how I will ultimately format this as it will not OCR well, if at all.. I will probably make it available in JPG format, one image per page, for either download or on CD. If this material is important to you, let me know. mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org). I am grateful for Peaceful Valley’s “across the highway neighbor”, the Jewish Community Camp (JCC) for providing me with materials to help our Jewish Scouts.
Closing and Benediction
The purpose of the benediction is more than just the end to the service. It is intended to instruct, command, and invigorate the participants to take the spirit of the service into one’s daily life. It is usually brief, although not necessarily. Here are some you may use:
(May) the Lord bless us and keep us;
(May) the Lord make His face to shine upon us and be gracious unto us;
(May) the Lord lift up His countenance upon us and give us peace. AMEN
Dear God, thank you for the wonderful opportunity to be here. Give us
the strength to endure, the wisdom to enjoy each moment, and the
courage to push ourselves further than we ever have before. Bless our
troops and their leaders as we continue our journey through Scouting.
Let us go forth with God’s spirit; to serve Him and our brothers and sisters with joy and gladness. AMEN
May the Lord bless you, protect you from all evil, and bring you to
everlasting life. AMEN
May God bless us and protect us;
May God show us favor and be gracious to us;
May God show us kindness and grant us peace. AMEN
Grace and Blessings for Food
About the time Scouting came to America, there was a young man who spent as many days as he could camping, fishing, and canoeing in the North Woods of Michigan and Canada. Although he did know the Scout Law, he lived by it. He spent his long life in service to others and in love with his wife, family, and God. That man is the father of my mother. He knew there was a time to be lengthy in words, and a time to be brief. This is his “I’m hungry” grace:
Good bread, good meat, good Lord, let’s eat. Amen
The William R. Kephart Dining Hall Grace (May be sung)
Be present at our table Lord,
Be here as everywhere adored,
These mercies bless and grant that we,
May feast in paradise with thee. Amen.
The Philmont Grace
For food, for raiment
For life, for opportunity
For friendship and fellowship
We thank thee, O Lord. Amen
Jewish Hamotzi (Blessing over the bread)
Baruch Ata Adonai,
Eloheinu melech ha-olam,
hamotzi lechem min ha-aretz.
Blessed is the Eternal, our God, Ruler of the universe, who causes
to come forth from the earth.
(The Rabbinic tradition tells us that, obviously, God grows the grain but does not literally make bread. Therefore, this prayer teaches us that we are in partnership with God on this earth.)
O Allah! Bless the food you provided us and save us from the punishment of the hellfire. In the name of Allah.
I am grateful for the contributions to this paper from the following publications. I do not know if any or all are in print.
Please feel free to contact me for suggestions, corrections, improvements, or questions. mailto:email@example.com
Across the highway from Peaceful Valley was a camp for Jewish kids, the J Bar Double C. I made many a trip over there to get materials for this paper and for our Jewish scouts. Thank you!
Eagles Soaring High: Trail Worship for Christians, Muslims, and Jews
(Philmont Scout Ranch) Boy Scouts of America, 1998, No.5-877
A Scout is Reverent: A Sourcebook for Scouts of Catholic Faith, 1982,
National Catholic Committee on Scouting
Irving, TX 75015-2079
BSA Catalog No. 3075
The Gospel of the Redman, Julia M. Seton, 1963
Available from your Scout store.
Not to be forgotten are Father Rocco Porter and unknown persons who left some of their services and other materials at Peaceful Valley for me to inherit. Thank you!
In particular, I would like to dedicate this aid to Father Jim Baker
of ???, Kansas. Father Jim was my mentor, friend, and instructor
during Western Regional Camp School at Peaceful Valley, 1999. His
love for Scouting and God shone through at all times, but never greater
than when I had to put together and conduct a service in a few hours!
His guidance and confidence in me led to an inspirational gathering of
leaders of all ages and both genders.