Over the last couple of weeks or so many people, and of course the local media, have asked me about my thoughts on the 2020 departure of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a chartered organization from the Boy Scouts of America. So much has gone through my mind, but I have hesitated so I could be sure I had my thoughts in order.
I hope I do have them in order now.
Janet and I agreed to interview for the Scout executive position in the Great Salt Lake Council two years ago because we loved the beauty of Utah and the West, and we already had many friends here in the Valley. I thought I would like serving in this council because I have enjoyed working with the LDS church and its members my entire professional Scouting career. Actually even before that.
My first connection to the LDS Church was as a Scout. My best friend in St. Paul’s United Methodist’s Troop 800 in Coronado, California, Ivan Hinckley, invited me to Sunday services at his ward so he could earn his God and Country award. As a 12-year-old in 1970 it was a bit scary to go to a “Mormon” building, but like countless others who visited for the first time through Scouting, I learned it was pretty okay.
Over the last 40 years I have been able to work directly with every young men general presidency since Elder Jack Goaslind’s and every general primary presidency since Sister Michaelene Grassli’s. I visited or served as a guest instructor at BYU from 1995 to 2007, and have attended general conferences off an on since 2004. I have worked closely with countless bishops and stake presidents, dozens of area, auxiliary, and general authorities, and one president of the church.
At my initial National Executive Institute course (the BSA professional “basic” training) an Explorer executive – I wish I could remember his name – from Salt Lake took any of our classmates who served LDS units aside and shared the why, how, and who of Scouting in his church. He taught us words to use, and avoid, with ward leadership. It really helped as one of my largest packs was chartered to the ward in Crestview, Florida. Ken and Martha Wilkes were great leaders who had an outstanding pack, mostly made up of other faiths and unchurched youth.
As a district executive in the Gulf Ridge Council headquartered in Tampa, I worked with a district commissioner named Norm Gore. He was LDS and taught me more about how to work with LDS Scouters and members. I became the advisor to the LDS Relationships committee and worked with many wonderful LDS Scouters, including Marshall Nuccio who impacted my life in many ways until his passing last year. Actually, he still does through his daughter Andrea Watson.
When I was in the Cub Scout division and at the Philmont Training Center I was blessed to work closely with the primary presidency. I got to know wonderful women I really respect including Ruth Wright, Coleen Menlove, and Sydney Reynolds (who first introduced me to Thomas Monson), as well as Elder Melvin Hammond, who was the first to call me “Brother Griffin” without it being a joke, and other young men presidencies.
I worked with Hart Bullock to keep the LDS Conference at PTC in 1995 when the church wanted to cancel it – not because of today’s issues, but because of some registration and support problems at Philmont. Together, we fixed all of the problems and our work led to full weeks, and eventually two weeks of conferences.
While in volunteer training I wrote and introduced “LDS language” training for their Cub Scout leaders. I made the decision to fully adopt Varsity Vison and make it part of the BSA’s official training continuum. I suggested Elder Adrian Ochoa and Sister Jean Stevens become full members of the National Volunteer Training Committee.
As an area director I had the pleasure to help Bruce Priday and others organize the Mormon Trail District in the Heart of America Council.
I have no doubt all these wonderful men and women Scouters, and all the experiences of my life with the LDS church, played huge roles in my getting the Scout executive positions in Kennewick and Salt Lake. I think I have become as close to the LDS church as one can be without being a member, which many people assume I am.
All of these connections have been a blessing to my life, and they will continue to be.
So, am I sad? Very. This has been a wonderful partnership which I believe has benefitted the LDS church and the Boy Scouts of America. It has benefitted our communities, our nation, and our world. And me.
I will dearly miss the connection to wonderful people who work for, or are part of the leadership of, the LDS church. If not for Scouting I would not know those I have already mentioned, nor Doug Holmes, nor Joy Jones, nor Mark Pace, or Charles Dahlquist, nor Rosemary Wixom, nor Bonnie Cordon, nor Alan Rogers, nor so, so many more people I consider dear friends. And will consider my friends forever.
And of course I would not have known thousands of great Scouters nor my beloved BYU-PTC staff members.
I will miss visiting the MTC, talking about Scouting at BYU, and general conferences.
Yet I do understand their decision. I knew back in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, while talking to Elder Robert Dellenbach and Mel Hammond during the development of Duty to God, it was the desire of the LDS church to have a consistent world-wide program, and this day would come. The growth of the LDS church outside the US over the last two decades made it even more likely.
I had only hoped it would happen after I retired.
Am I mad? No. I do what I do because I want to help kids. I am glad they are planning a program which will continue to do that and I know they are not leaving because they are mad at us. As long as a young person is participating in a quality program I am good. While I an convinced we are the best youth development program out there, others do good things which help kids too. Their programs for young men and young women have good intentions, and will be led by people I respect.
I also know many LDS youth, families, and Scouters will stay in Scouting. Last week at the BSA National Annual Meeting two Apostles of the LDS church made that clear. They said: “We are friends now and we will be friends forever.” Members were encouraged to stay engaged and involved, and move forward with faith, confidence, and optimism. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland told us he still wants all of his grandsons to be Eagle Scouts.
In our council I, and we, are committed to the concept that for the next year and half we will continue to devote our efforts toward supporting our council’s stakes, wards, families, and young men with a vibrant, strong Scouting program. We will provide all of the services, training, staff support, advancement, projects, background checks, camps, activities, insurance, etc. the LDS church asks us to provide for them. As we have for generations.
We are also going to work with other chartered partners, current and new, to serve all the youth and families in our area who want to be Scouts, now, next year, in 2020, and beyond. We will help the tens of thousands of Scouts who are members of units chartered to the LDS church but who are not members of the LDS church to find new packs, troops, ships, posts, and crews when theirs go away. We, and they, will also welcome LDS youth, like Elder Holland’s grandsons, who wish to remain in Scouting – just as the LDS church has welcomed youth of other faiths into their Scouting units for 105 years.
Our camps will stay open. We will continue work on building the new Thomas Monson Youth Leadership and Service Center. We will continue to serve schools through Learning for Life. We will continue to work with refugee communities to help their youth. We will continue to do service projects which make Salt Lake City and the surrounding communities better places to live.
We may be smaller membership-wise in the future, but we will continue.
We will continue to be the Great! Great Salt Lake Council.
When I was growing up Scouting was not part of my church, usually the Protestant church on the Navy base, youth program. But my parents thought it would help me so they always found a pack and then a troop for me to join. I am glad they did because I had a lot of fun, and it turns out I learned quite a few things that make me a better person today. Combined with sports and my own church youth programs Scouting really made a difference in my life. As a result I think I have been able to make a difference in other lives.
As many people did for me decades ago, I want all that to happen in the lives of boys, girls, and families here in the Great Salt Lake Council, and it will.