On a Saturday afternoon in July, carloads of travel-weary but excited families drive up a tree-lined road at the Philmont Training Center in northeastern New Mexico. Members of the Young Men and Primary General Presidencies greet the vehicles of parents and children as they arrive at the Priesthood Leadership Conference on Scouting, a week-long training experience for stake presidencies and their families.
The conference occurs under the direction of the Young Men and Primary General Presidencies and the Young Men general board, with support from the LDS-BSA Relationships director and administrative assistant. This year marks the 54th anniversary of the event. During the two sessions, 275 priesthood leaders from 108 stakes and 46 BSA councils participated, with attending family members totaling over 1000 people.
“The Priesthood Leadership Conference on Scouting is the ideal example of the Church and the Boy Scouts working together to strengthen young men,” observed Mark Francis, LDS-BSA Relationships director. “This summer there was a particularly powerful, sweet, unifying spirit throughout the conference.”
The conference is hosted by the Boy Scouts of America at its premier training facility at the Philmont Scout Ranch. Each summer nearly 25,000 Scouts hike the wilderness backcountry of the 140,000-acre ranch. The stunning landscape, blue skies, and grand mountains create a beautiful environment for attendees at the adjacent training center.
During their week at Philmont, families live in a “tent city,” eat meals together in the dining hall, participate in activities, and make friends from across the nation. Bringing good families together creates an extraordinary environment.
“I sent two of my youth out on the trek,” participant Chris Chase, a stake Young Men president from Bismarck, ND, said. “I have one daughter and my wife here in camp, and they’re having an excellent time. They’re making friends with people that they’ve never met before. It’s awesome.”
Families arrive on Saturday afternoon and spend Sunday attending and participating in church meetings in the “Philmont Ward,” efficiently organized with callings filled by participants. They then have ample time on Sunday afternoon to be with family members and rest on the Sabbath Day.
Classes for the brethren begin early Monday morning after a camp flag ceremony. Fulfilling My Duty to God, Strengthening Deacons Quorums Using Scouting, Primary and Scouting for 8- to 11-Year-Old Boys, and other Aaronic Priesthood topics—including the new activity program for older Young Men—are the subjects of formal class sessions for the brethren. Additionally, “Q&A with presidency and board” sessions provide a circle setting in which to discuss with and learn from Church and BSA leaders.
“Questions come in during the week relating to the priesthood, to Scouting, to Cub Scouting,” shared Brother Francis. “The faculty answers those questions with particular input from General Church leaders.” The feedback from participants in these round-robin sessions has been very positive.
“The purpose of these two conference weeks at Philmont is to help the stake leaders understand how the Gospel directly relates and correlates with Scouting,” observed conference participant David Wilding, from Brigham City, Utah. AJ Gilmore from Corinne, UT said. “There’s a reason that the Church leadership has chosen the Boy Scouts of America as the activity arm for young men. It’s because they’ve looked at the program, and they see that it has good values.”
This summer, interest was piqued regarding the recent changes in the Church activity program for older boys.
“Everyone has questions about the new program,” commented Brother Francis. “Everyone wonders ‘why’ the changes, and ‘how’ do we implement them. First of all, we follow the prophet. Additionally, these changes simply reflect what has already been taking place in most teacher and priest quorums. Young men who want to continue in Scouting still have that opportunity, while the older boys can plan their own activities with the direction and guidance of their leaders. Each of us should implement these changes with full purpose of heart.”
While the brethren are in classes, children go off with their age-group leaders to ride horses, do crafts, hike, play games, tour museums, and participate in other activities including a week-long backpacking option for teens ages fourteen and older. Mothers are free to also enjoy camp activities, attend sessions with the Primary General Presidency, or just read a book and relish a quiet moment.
“How can we as women and mothers assist young men in preparing for their priesthood roles?” asked Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, 2nd Counselor in the Primary General Presidency, during one women’s session. “Our little ones are facing huge challenges. They need the Savior. Sometimes we underestimate the abilities of our boys and we overestimate their experiences. As we give them opportunities to lead they will gain confidence. Oh how we want boys—and girls—to be disciples of Christ because they have taken upon themselves at the age of eight the name of Christ. What our children were once facing in their early teens they are now facing earlier. We’re stepping up our game in this war.”
Morning flag ceremonies involve Boy Scouts, 11-year-old Scouts, and Cub Scouts. Evening family activities include campfire programs, a camp-wide family home evening, family banner parade, Primary parade, and a western buffalo barbecue.
“People call Philmont a Zion place, and for us it is,” participant Kristi Wangsgard, whose husband serves on the stake high council, from Ogden, UT said. “People are just cooperative, the nature is beautiful, and the staff is hardworking and attentive. But probably more than that it’s just that there’s a feeling of peace and friendliness here, and the beauty that’s all around you, it just can’t be beat.”
“We have had our hearts connected this week,” noted Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary General President, during the closing graduation ceremony.
“Remember this one, brief shining moment called ‘Philmont’,” added Brother Stephen W. Owen, Young Men General President, referencing the story Camelot during his closing remarks. “Things matter in our lives. Remember what you learned here. Eternity will be like this.”
~contributed by Nettie Francis, LDS-BSA Relationships volunteer