This week, some 15,000 Scouts and Scouters have descended on Michigan State University for the National Order of the Arrow Conference. NOAC is traditionally the BSA’s second-biggest event (after the national jamboree), and this year’s edition is roughly twice as big as usual because 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the Order’s founding. (It would have been even bigger if registration hadn’t been capped due to space constraints at MSU.)
Despite–or perhaps because of–its success, the OA is viewed with suspicion by some troop leaders, who are afraid the OA will “steal” their older Scouts. (They level the same charge at Venturing, which has the additional enticement of being co-ed.) While it’s undoubtedly true that some Scouts’ participation in their home troop wanes as they get more involved in the OA, you shouldn’t think of the local lodge advisor as a mortal enemy. Instead, you should think about how the OA can actually enhance your troop program. Here are three ways:
1. Expect active participation. A Scout can’t be in the Order of the Arrow unless he is registered in a troop or team. To seal his membership and become a Brotherhood member, he must log at least 10 months of active service to his unit. In a recent “Ask the Chairman” column, OA Chairman Ray Capp addressed a situation where an Arrowman was criticized for going to troop meetings instead of OA meetings. Here’s the key part of Capp’s response: “I think this Arrowman made the right choice to participate in his unit, as our founder admonished: the Arrowman’s first duty is to his unit.”
2. Use the OA’s training courses. At NOAC, at section conferences, and at the National Leadership Seminar, the OA offers a wide array of leadership training that supplements what your Scouts learn at Introduction to Leadership Skills for Troops and National Youth Leadership Training. After troop members attend such training, sit down with them and talk about what they’ve learned, just as you would after Scouts attend NYLT. While some training topics are specific to the OA, many apply to the troop as well, such as understanding people or building a social media platform. Find ways for them to share what they’ve learned with their peers (and with adult leaders), perhaps by taking a few minutes at a PLC meeting to share a new leadership technique.
3. Leverage the OA’s high-adventure program. The OA offers impressive high-adventure programs at each of the BSA’s high-adventure bases. If you’re a small troop or just can’t muster enough interest in mounting your own trip to Philmont or the Summit, get your older Scouts plugged into OA Trail Crew or the Summit Experience. For very little effort on your part, those Scouts will have a mountaintop experience and will come home fired up about Scouting.
It’s easy to look at the OA and Venturing as competitors–just like the high-school band, the traveling soccer team, and the infamous fumes (perfume and gasoline). But they are actually part of Scouting and can be partners with you in turning ordinary boys into extraordinary men.
A Scouting friend told me recently that the OA and Venturing represent the last two cards in our deck when it comes to older Scouts. I hope you’re playing those cards well.