The Final Years of Latter-day Saint Scouting: 2013 – 2019

Few chapters in the Latter-day Saint Scouting history have more flair than the final six years of the partnership, from 2013 through 2019. As both the Church and the BSA experienced major changes, relationships grew increasingly vital and—in some cases—became stronger than ever before.

~2013~

During January 2013, the BSA announced plans for a possible membership change, allowing youth to participate in the programs of Scouting without regard to sexual orientation.

At first, the announcement sparked strong dialogue from millions of people. Many felt that such a change was adamantly against the BSA’s century-old motto and Law. Others were in favor of the new bylaws. As discussions persisted, the benefits of a change became more and more obvious.

For example, within the Church, young men struggling with same-sex attraction were still allowed to attend Church meetings and participate in quorum activities. However, under current BSA guidelines, those young men could not actively register or participate in Scouting. Bishops and other leaders who worked closely with these young men were often placed in difficult privacy situations as they navigated the membership standards of the two organizations.

Ultimately, with guidance and verbiage from Church leaders, the BSA adopted the proposed change at their 2013 National Annual Meeting (NAM). The new bylaws passed with overwhelming support, even with crowds of reporters and protesters outside the Texan Gaylord Resort in Grapevine, Texas, where the vote was taken.

Several Church leaders attended the meetings, including the Primary and Young Men General Presidencies as well as Elder Adrian Ochoa, who had recently been released from the Young Men General Presidency and called as a Seventy.

At the annual Duty to God Breakfast, Presiding Bishop Gary E. Stevenson spoke, sharing thoughts about the importance of Duty to God and instilling values in youth. His comments were met with positive reviews. A choir of young men dressed in Scout uniforms sang, “I Am a Child of God” at the close of his comments.

Read more here.

As at past NAM events, an LDS Reception was held on Friday evening. Brother David L. Beck spoke at the reception, which was also attended by all three members of the National Key-3: President Wayne Perry, National Commissioner Tico Perez, and Chief Scout Executive Wayne Brock.

The year continued with record speed and historic events.

In June 2013 the book Century of Honor: 100 Years of Scouting in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was published, under the combined direction of the Young Men General Presidency, the LDS-BSA Relationships office, the National Scouting Museum, the Church History Museum, the Church History Library, and the Church Priesthood Department. A team of dedicated historians coordinated efforts in the monumental task of researching, writing, and publishing the book in just nine months. The book was printed on Church presses and first released at the Philmont Training Center during the Priesthood Leadership Conference on Scouting.

Read more here.

Dozens gathered at Philmont again for two weeks of inspiring training under the direction of the Young Men and Primary General Presidencies. This successful conference commemorated several anniversaries: 100 years of Scouting in the Church, 75 years of Philmont, 60 years of Cub Scouting in the Church, and 50 years of the Priesthood Leadership Conference on Scouting at Philmont.

Primary General President Rosemary Wixom and Young Men General President David Beck were on hand to cut a birthday cake during the Wednesday evening Buffalo Bar-B-Que on the Greensward at PTC.

Read more here.

As Philmont ended, Church leaders immediately flew to West Virginia for the first National Scout Jamboree at the new Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve. Two weeks with thousands of youth and adults proved thrilling and challenging at the same time, as participants and staff camped on new ground, recently acquired and continually improved by the BSA.

National President Wayne Perry spearheaded the monumental jamboree, known for new adventure and high challenges. Latter-day Saint highlights included a jamboree-wide family home evening featuring Baden-Powell and commemorating the Church centennial, as well as a keynote Sunday address by Elder Neil L. Andersen.

As Scouts sat on soggy ground in the main amphitheater, Elder Andersen stepped from under his awning out into the rain and expressed faith that the elements would pause while he spoke. The sun broke through the clouds and those in attendance were inspired and touched by a Sabbath Day miracle.

Read more here.

(BSA photo by Jeff Hattrick)

The Faith and Beliefs area of the jamboree included several tents hosted by Church leaders and volunteers. Visiting Scouts had opportunities to participate in the Family Life and Genealogy merit badges, as well as learn more about the Church. Thousands of visitors also earned the commemorative Thomas S. Monson Award.

In conjunction with the many centennial celebrations held during the year, Norman Rockwell Scouting paintings were historically exhibited at the Church History Museum on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Thanks to the diligent efforts of Church History Museum curators Ray Halls, Alex Stromberg, and Stacie Lusk, and National Scouting Museum curator Corry Kanzenberg, the exhibit was featured on the outside of the museum, with long banners welcoming guests at the main door—the first time such advertising had been allowed. Thousands of visitors came to view the original paintings and participate in Camp Good Turn as they practiced knots and other Scouting skills and learned about Scouting in the Church.

Christine Cox of the Church History Library discovered the original 1913 correspondence letters between Church and BSA leaders (in boxes owned by Elder Oscar Kirkham). These miraculous findings were cataloged and displayed during the museum exhibit. The unique exhibit ended with a special reception and dinner in the museum, where BSA and Church historians and curators came together to celebrate the historic partnership.

All three Church magazines: the Ensign, the New Era, and the Friend, published articles commemorating the Scouting Church centennial. Brother Beck called Scouting “an extraordinary bridge” and stated that “For individual young men, (Scouting) is a bridge that sets them on the path leading to self-reliance and manhood. For the Church, it is a bridge that has fueled real growth as thousands of individuals and families have joined the Church or become active again. For members of the Church, it is a bridge to join with good people of other faiths and organizations whose values and aspirations are similar to ours and to work together to bless all youth in our communities.”

Read more here.

Throughout 2013, Church and BSA staff were hard at work behind the scenes to produce a memorable centennial celebration. Original plans were made to celebrate in the Tabernacle, as the Church had done during the 75th anniversary. However, with urging from the Young Men General Presidency and other key Church leaders, the event was moved to the Conference Center. Under the direction of David Warner and Ray Robinson from the Church Priesthood Department, a massive and exciting production was written, practiced, and prepared in record time. Complete with an Eagle Scout Choir, vintage Scouts from previous decades, and dozens of Cub Scouts, the show was miraculously ready for production on October 29.

The event coincided with BSA National and Regional Executive Board meetings, and dozens of BSA officials and their spouses were in Salt Lake City that week to attend the historic event.

A private reception was held ahead of the evening in the Conference Center Theater, and Elders Christofferson and Holland greeted BSA personnel. Once the audience was seated inside the massive Conference Center, the production was broadcast to stake centers and churches all across the United States. Thousands of Latter-day Saint Scouts, leaders, and their friends viewed the proceedings, and the program reached over five million people.

After a hearty welcome from David Beck and Rosemary Wixom, Reverend Chip Turner, BSA Religious Relationships Committee Chair, offered the invocation. From the first moments of the production, the audience was in awe as vintage Scouts marched down the aisles, kayakers appeared from the ceiling, Cub Scouts raced Pinewood Derby cars, Scouts crossed a lashed bridge, and the BYU Drumline shared an impressive and stirring performance. Buglers called from all corners of the 21,000-seat amphitheater and the stunning 450-person Eagle Scout Choir performed stirring numbers. “Ma, You Earned Your Eagle,” an original song sung by cast members, soon made its way to the top of BSA song charts.

Watch it here.

A powerful retelling of the LDS-BSA partnership and celebration of Scouting filled the minutes, after which BSA President Wayne Perry invited President Thomas S. Monson to the stage and announced a new Thomas S. Monson Leadership Excellence Complex to be built at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia.

However, the highlight of the evening was a surprise appearance by the entire Tabernacle Choir, which suddenly started singing as a white curtain was opened on the choir loft. They ended the historic event with their signature “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

When the historic program ended, audiences around the world were left overwhelmed with the thrill of Scouting and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was an evening never to be forgotten.

The week-long board meeting events in Salt Lake City also included a ladies luncheon at the Relief Society Building, hosted by all three women’s auxiliary presidents: Sister Rosemary Wixom, Primary General President; Sister Bonnie Oscarson, Young Women General President; and Sister Linda Burton, Relief Society General President. After a delicious breakfast served by the Primary General Board, Sister Wixom and Christine Perry, wife of Wayne Perry, spoke to the ladies about the power of women.

And finally, at the board meetings closing banquet on Thursday evening, Church leaders were recognized for their diligence and support during the many events of the week.

Despite the fact that 2013 started with strong feelings and emotional discussions, it ended with a powerful bond of gratitude between the Church and the BSA. National BSA President Wayne Perry and Young Men General President David Beck were the heroes of the hour. Their combined vision, grit, and faith in youth literally changed the course of history, blessing lives and continuing the iconic relationship for several more years.

~2014~

Increased optimism and relationships between the BSA and the Church opened 2014 on a powerful note. Brother David Beck encouraged positive stories to be shared among youth and Scouting leaders, reflecting the value of the Aaronic Priesthood and Scouting among young men. Under his direction, stories were recorded and published via social media, Church News outlets, and other venues. The Bill Mallet Story, Queens Creek, and additional successes were shared. 

Brother Beck also launched and encouraged storytelling training and sessions to promote successes further and wider. Brother Beck often related that his conviction of Scouting came from the many stake presidents he met at Philmont who shared touching stories of gospel conversion which came through their Scouting involvement.

Although it was initially anticipated that the Young Men General Presidency would be released in April 2014, they were called to serve for an additional year, extending their callings to six full years.

At the 2014 National Annual Meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, Sister Rosemary Wixom was voted a member of the BSA National Executive Board, which was the first time since LaVern Parmley that a Primary General President had served in that position. While Primary leaders had served on the committees, it was the first time in decades that a General President was an elected board member. Sister Wixom and Brother Beck also received the Silver Buffalo Award.

Read more here. And here.

Additionally, the entire Primary General Presidency came to Philmont and attended the Priesthood Leadership Conference on Scouting—the first time all three sisters attended together. Sisters Rosemary Wixom, Jean Stevens and Cheryl Esplin, along with the Young Men Presidency, spent the week teaching and mingling with the families in attendance.

Read more here.

Both April and October general conferences were accompanied by an LDS-BSA Relationships Seminar. Attendees toured significant Church sites including the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Welfare Square, the Humanitarian Center, the Bishops’ Storehouse, the Family History Center at Temple Square and sessions of general conference. Non-member participants were impressed with what they saw, heard, and felt, and they returned to their homes with an increased understanding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Young Men and Primary General Presidency members continued attending BSA National Executive Board and Western Region meetings, flying to various conventions two to three times each year.

~2015~

During the April 2015 general conference, a new Young Men General Presidency was called: Brothers Stephen W. Owen, Douglas D. Holmes, and M. Joseph Brough. Sister Jean Stevens was released as the First Counselor in the Primary General Presidency and Sister Mary Durham from the Primary general board was called. Sister Stevens was assigned to accompany her husband in his new role as mission president in the England London Mission.

Read more here.

After the Saturday evening session of conference, dozens of former Philmont attendees gathered on the 10th floor of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building for a Philmont reception. The group enjoyed ice cream and cookies. Key BSA leaders presented Brother David Beck and his presidency, as well as Sister Stevens, with a special thank you recognition for their service with the Boy Scouts of America.

The 2015 National Annual Meeting was held in Atlanta, Georgia. Brother Larry Gibson received the Silver Buffalo Award. For the first time, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland attended the meetings and was appointed to the National Executive Board. While President Monson retained his status as a Board member, Elder Holland was called to be the acting liaison for the Church, due to President Monson’s failing health.

Elder Holland spoke at a Latter-day Saint reception, shaking hands with a choir of Young Men Scouts and sharing thoughts with the crowd.

Read more here. And here.

A new Chief Scout Executive, Michael S. Surbaugh, was appointed. Mike and his wife, Lisa, had both attended the LDS-BSA Relationships Seminar and general conference previously and had a good relationship with Church leaders.

The Priesthood Leadership Conference on Scouting at Philmont commemorated another successful year, as the new Young Men General Presidency attended Philmont for the first time and became acquainted with the conference. All three participated in an effort to record Scouting stories, sharing their own Scouting experiences from their youth with the film crew in the Villa Rose Garden.

Read more here.

The busy summer continued with the World Scout Jamboree in Yamaguchi, Japan. A team of over 20 volunteers flew to Japan to assist with the Church’s informational booth in the Faith and Beliefs area of the jamboree. Thousands of youth from around the world attended the jamboree.

Church events included a special sacrament meeting on Sunday, a Family Home Evening on Monday evening, and a tent exhibit where thousands came and learned about Jesus Christ. Attendees also had the opportunity to mark on a map where they were from and look up their family history.  Church members spoke and sang “I Am a Child of God” at a jamboree-wide religious service. Brother Stephen Owen and his wife, Jane, visited the jamboree along with local Church leaders, including Elder Koichi Aoyagi and his wife from Tokyo, Japan.

Read more here. And here.

It was during the 2015 World Jamboree that the BSA announced a new adult membership standard. The Church immediately expressed disappointment in a public statement. A few weeks later, the Church announced further support of the continued success of the BSA with a second statement, including the declaration that, “We want the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to succeed in its historic mission to instill leadership skills and high moral standards in youth of all faiths and circumstances, thereby equipping them for greater success in life and valuable service to their country.”

Read more here.

Another successful LDS-BSA Relationships Seminar was held in conjunction with October general conference. Also, in December, BSA Western Region leadership held a conference to discuss further relationships with the Church. Volunteers and professionals from the Western Region attended meetings in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building and heard messages from both Church and Scouting leaders.

~2016~

In April 2016, before general conference, Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh presented Sister Rosemary Wixom and her counselors with a thank you gift for their service to Cub Scouts. Sister Wixom was released the following day during the afternoon session of general conference. She had served faithfully at several Philmont training courses, on the BSA National Executive Board, and as an advocate for children around the world.

Read more here.

A new Primary General Presidency was called. Sisters Joy D. Jones, Jean B. Bingham, and Bonnie H. Cordon were called and sustained. Sister Jones and Sister Bingham had both served on the Primary board, and Sister Jones had previously attended Philmont as well. She attended her first National Annual Meeting in May 2016 in San Diego, California, along with Brothers Stephen W. Owen and Douglas D. Holmes.

Read more here.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland was the keynote speaker at the Duty to God Breakfast. Elder Holland’s comments were shared via the Church Newsroom and again emphasized the importance of duty to God in Scouting.

Read more here.

Charles Dahlquist, former Young Men General President, was appointed National Commissioner, the first time a Church member had filled that position.

Read more here. And here.

During June 2016, a special groundbreaking ceremony was held at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia for the Thomas S. Monson Leadership Excellence Complex. Elder Holland and his wife attended along with Elder D. Todd Christofferson and his wife. Brother and Sister Owen and Brother and Sister Jones were also in attendance. Elder Holland spoke during the services, and Elder Christofferson spoke at the reception afterwards. President Monson shared a recorded message during the ceremony

Read more here. And here.

Two more successful weeks of Philmont were held at Philmont Scout Ranch, with a record number of Church families attending. The entire Primary General Presidency attended both weeks of Philmont, providing a unique opportunity for them to become acquainted and unify their purpose and vision as a presidency. The three ladies later referred to their inaugural Philmont experience as a pivotal time in their presidency.

Read more here.

~2017~

In April 2017 Sister Bingham was released from the Primary General Presidency and called as the Relief Society General President. Sister Christina B. Franco, was called as the new Primary Second Counselor, and Sister Cordon became the First Counselor. Both Sister Jones and Sister Cordon attended various BSA board meetings and events during the year.

Dozens of Scouters again attended the LDS-BSA Relationships Seminar in conjunction with April general conference. Read more here.

In May 2017, shortly before the National Annual Meeting, the Church announced it would discontinue using the BSA Varsity and Venturing programs for Young Men teacher and priest quorums. This announcement sparked reactions from Church members, both positive and negative.

At the National Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida, an LDS Reception was again held. Elder Holland spoke words of comfort to the attendees, asking everyone to be calm and move ahead. He took time to greet attendees and visit with each one.

Church leaders also participated in a fun “chocolate-making evening” at an Orlando chocolate factory owned by Jon Lanenga.

Read more here.

The Priesthood Leadership Conference on Scouting was held for the final time at Philmont Scout Ranch. As the two-week conference concluded, Brother Owen shared touching remarks and wished participants well. 

Read more here.

The Church had a presence again at the 2017 National Jamboree, with a sponsored tent in the Faith and Beliefs section of the event and thousands of youth earning the Liahona Compass Award.

Read more here.

Another successful LDS-BSA Relationships Seminar was held in conjunction with general conference in October 2017.

Read more here.

In November 2017, the Church announced that it would not return to Philmont.  Later, fires during the summer of 2018 devastated the Philmont backcountry, cancelling all conferences and treks for the season. Relationships between the two organizations were strained as the Church’s sudden cancellation of Philmont, combined with the fires, sparked substantial financial setbacks for the BSA.

~2018~

In January 2018 President Thomas S. Monson passed away. He had served on the BSA National Executive Board since 1969 and was the longest-serving tenured member. BSA executives attended his funeral in the Conference Center. Afterwards a small reception was held in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building and attendees shared their memories of President Monson. Western Region President Wes Smith shared that President Monson was often called “Tommy” by close BSA friends, and was always friendly and jovial.

Sister Bonnie H. Cordon was released from the Primary General Presidency during the April 2018 general conference and called as the Young Women General President. This historic change meant that all three female organization presidents had attended Philmont.

Read more here.

A month later, on May 8, 2018, the Church and the BSA together announced their official separation, effective December 31, 2019. The news spread like wildfire through BSA and Church communities as both friends and naysayers reacted to the end of the iconic partnership. While many expressed “reasons” for the split, the official statement was clear–the separation came through mutual agreement.

We have jointly determined that, effective on December 31, 2019, the Church will conclude its relationship as a chartered organization with all Scouting programs around the world.

While the Church will no longer be a chartered partner of BSA or sponsor Scouting units after December 31, 2019, it continues to support the goals and values reflected in the Scout Oath and Scout Law and expresses its profound desire for Scouting’s continuing and growing success in the years ahead.

Read more here.

Three weeks later, at the 2018 National Annual Meeting in Dallas, Texas, Elders Jeffrey R. Holland and Ronald A. Rasband both spoke during the traditional LDS Reception, sharing words of comfort with the crowd and taking time to shake the hands of all in attendance. Sister Joy Jones and Mark Francis also spoke. Brother Francis shared an historic photo of President Ezra Taft Benson and Sister LaVern Parmley both attending the National Annual Meeting in Texas many years earlier.

Read more here.

Once the separation was announced, a flurry of activity began throughout the Church as young men rushed to finish earning their Eagle Scout Award. Young women also worked on their Young Womanhood Medallion requirements.

A new youth program was piloted in four stakes beginning in August 2018. This pilot program later expanded to other stakes around the globe as the Church wrote and refined their new Children and Youth program.

Accordingly, the BSA started a series of promotional messages to invite Church members to continue in Scouting, clarifying that the BSA would still be around and Church members could still hold membership in both organizations. Brother Doug Holmes of the Young Men General Presidency defined it best, explaining that the changes brought the LDS-BSA partnership from an “institutional” relationship to an “individual” relationship.

~2019~

While there were no LDS conferences held at Philmont during the summer of 2018, plans were quickly made for a “new” week of training beginning in 2019: Vision 2020. This course was spearheaded by the outgoing LDS-BSA Relationships Director, Mark Francis, and was an opportunity to support and train Latter-day Saints who wished to continue in Scouting.

During the 106-year LDS-BSA partnership, many aspects of Scouting had been simplified for Latter-day Saints. For example, membership fees were automatically paid by the Church, fundraisers were limited, leaders were appointed, and BSA units were naturally formed in each Church unit. With the changes, however, Church members needed new training on forming new units, recruiting leaders and youth, and organizing program.

In April 2019 the final LDS-BSA Relationships Seminar was held in conjunction with general conference. Approximately 50 Scouting leaders from across the nation attended. These leaders were once again privileged to tour the Missionary Training Center, attend sessions of general conference, receive training from Church leaders, and tour Church facilities. During the past decade, hundreds of non-LDS Scouting leaders and friends had their vision and understanding of the Church expanded through the seminar.

At the 2019 NAM in Denver, Colorado, Primary and Young Men General Presidency members attended their final round of meetings, including the Duty to God Breakfast with former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. They also spoke at the final LDS Reception, which included a closing tribute video.

Watch it here.

Brother Stephen W. Owen invited Church member Brother James Bean, longtime member of the BSA National Executive Board, to share some remarks. Brother Bean shared a personal and touching story about following the guidance of the Spirit to ensure that the words “moral and ethical” were included in the current BSA Mission Statement.

Brother Stephen W. Owen and Sister Joy D. Jones were the final Church leaders to vote on the BSA National Executive Board.

Vision 2020 made its inaugural appearance in June 2019 at the Philmont Training Center with Charles Dahlquist as course director. Over 50 participants attended with their families as dozens of participants in other courses also enjoyed Philmont’s inspiring views and energizing trainings. For the first time, Latter-day Saints were trained among non-Church members, and the synergy was inspiring.

Read more here.

The 2019 World Scout Jamboree was held for the first time in the United States, at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia. Like jamborees for decades before, the Church had an information tent in the Faith and Beliefs area, and hundreds of leaders and youth came to the tent to learn about Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon. Scouts from over 100 countries participated in the jamboree. Many attended a Sunday Church service which was addressed by Brother Stephen W. Owen. Participants also had the opportunity to earn the Come Unto Christ award, commemorated with a keepsake coin.

The Great Salt Lake Council hosted a final farewell commemoration dinner and show on September 3 at the Hale Centre Theatre in Murray, Utah. Multiple Church and BSA leaders attended the final gathering, including Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh and wife Lisa, Elder Ronald A. Rasband, Sister Joy D. Jones, Sister Jean B. Bingham, Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, Brother Mark L. Pace, and multiple former Primary and Young Men General Presidents and their spouses. Scout Executives and representatives from Utah and Idaho were also in attendance. After parting words from both organizations, guests were treated to Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella in the beautiful theater.

Read more here.

During the 2019 October General Conference, Elder Rasband shared words of gratitude for the BSA partnership and thanked Latter-day Saint Scouting leaders.

Read more here.

As 2019 came to a close, thousands of young men completed their Eagle Scout applications. Lines formed at BSA offices throughout the mountain west and a record number of awards were earned in the final days of the year.

Finally, on December 31, 2020, the doors of the LDS-BSA Relationships Office were officially closed. After decades of service managing and mediating relationships between the two organizations, the physical office space across the street from Temple Square was vacated. In all, nine directors had served in the office since it was first opened in 1952 by President David O. McKay.

~Still Scouting in 2020~

As the new decade dawned, many Latter-day Saints desired to continue the adventures of Scouting through an “individual” partnership.

On February 8, 2020—the 110th anniversary of the BSA—a new association for Latter-day Saint Scouters was introduced: Vanguard International Scouting Association. VISA was officially recognized by the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM) in May 2020.

Read more here.

Additionally, two new awards were announced for Latter-day Saints participating in Scouting. The Light and Truth and Vanguard Awards may be earned by youth and leaders. These awards were officially recognized and accepted by the BSA Religious Relationships Committee.

A virtual leadership training, “Virtual Vision 2020” was hosted online for Latter-day Saint leaders. Over 600 people attended the workshop, three times as many as attended each Philmont conference in person in past years.

The new Church Children and Youth program focused on four areas of development—Spiritual, Physical, Intellectual and Social—and aligned perfectly with the Aims of Scouting, naturally drawing many Latter-day Saints to continue their Scouting involvement and enjoy the adventure of the BSA programs.

As the world continues to change, many Latter-day Saints find that Scouting is still a viable and valuable tool in strengthening youth and creates a natural bridge to connect with the communities and people around us. 

Those who continue along the Scouting Trail find comfort and direction in Elder Holland’s words spoken in May 2018:

“We will be friends forever.”

~This historical overview was compiled through the efforts of Nettie H. Francis, Roma Bishop, and Mike and Judy Kigin.

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