Invoking a Great Court of Honor Invocation


Several years ago, I asked our associate pastor at the time, who happened to be a young single woman, to give the invocation and benediction at an Eagle court of honor. She was more than happy to do so, but she admitted that she didn’t know very much about Scouting or exactly what an Eagle court of honor was all about.

To reduce her anxiety level—and to make sure her prayers fit the texture of the ceremony—I gave her a draft of the ceremony script a week or so before the event. The resulting prayers were beautiful; they echoed the theme of the court of honor (“The Eagle Mountain”) and brought the ceremony up to a higher level.

When you recruit someone to offer the invocation and benediction at a court of honor–or to offer any other unscripted comments–give them a copy of your script or take the time to explain what an Eagle court of honor is all about. You (and they) will be glad you did.


For more great ideas, check out my ebook, Showtime: 45 Top Tips from and The Eagle Court of Honor Book; it costs just $2.99 and is available for immediate download from both and


President Trump, the Jamboree, and Me


I’ve worked with young people my whole adult life, both in Scouting and in church, so I’m very good at keeping my political opinions to myself—and certainly off social media. As I said in a blog post several years ago, “You’ll never see me post anything online that wouldn’t be appropriate for the youngest Scout to read, and if you want to know about my political leanings or adult-beverage preferences, you’ll have to ask.”

That said, I’ve had enough people ask me about President Trump’s speech at the 2017 National Scout Jamboree that I feel compelled to say something. Or a few things actually.

My first thought is that Mr. Trump’s political comments were absolutely inappropriate—just as political comments from a Democratic president would have been in this setting. The Boy Scouts of America is, by its very nature, an apolitical organization, founded to “to promote, through organization, and cooperation with other agencies, the ability of boys to do things for themselves and others, to train them in scoutcraft, and to teach them patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred virtues,” according to its 1916 federal charter. Beyond congratulating the Scouts on their achievements and encouraging them to continue to serve their country, there’s nothing more a president should say in this setting. (By the way, the jamboree included more than 700 international Scouts, making Mr. Trump’s “America first” message even more inappropriate.)

My second thought is that I HATE these presidential visits to jamborees—and I’ve been through a few of them, having attended six jamborees from 1981 through 2013. They are logistical nightmares that turn the program upside down. Mr. Trump’s visit required several program areas to shut down as early as 10 a.m. on the day of his visit, and many troops had to leave their campsites as early as 2 p.m. in order to get through security. And that’s not even as bad as the jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill where we had to do an extra mobilization because the president’s schedule didn’t align with the two planned arena shows. My biggest memory of that day is the Scouts who were passing out in the blazing Virginia heat.

My third thought—and probably the most important—is that the furor surrounding Mr. Trump’s speech has obscured what a diverse organization Scouting is today. Because Mr. Trump got some of the Scouts to boo President Obama, there’s a sense that all Scouts are Republicans. Because he talked (for some odd reason) about Christmas, there’s a sense that Scouting is an exclusively Christian organization. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

As Mr. Trump was speaking, I happened to be transcribing an interview with a Scouter who works with an inner-city troop in Massachusetts where families speak at least six languages. She described in moving terms how these children of immigrants are going on to become the first members of their families to graduate from college. In the past, I’ve interviewed Muslim and Sikh Scouters who have found Scouting to be a warm, welcoming place.

At the 2010 jamboree, for example, Abdul-Rashid Abdullah helped run a mosque set up on site, where kids of all faiths could learn about Islam. He told me later, “Through Scouting, people of diverse cultures and diverse faiths can come together and learn from one another, learn to respect one another, and live together.”

At the 2013 jamboree, volunteers at the Sikh exhibit helped 1,500 Scouts learn to tie turbans. “We had turbaned kids running up and down the slope playing Frisbee,” Kavneet Pannu told me. “The zip line was above us, and we could see turbans on the zip line. Some kids didn’t remove their turbans for two days because they thought it was the coolest thing.”

In our hyper-politicized age, groups of all stripes want to use Scouting to advance their own purposes. As Scouters, it’s our job to keep our purpose clear: to help boys grow up to be men—regardless of how they worship, who they vote for, or what adult beverage they prefer.

Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at

Tooting Your Troop’s Own Horn


One of my volunteer roles in Scouting is to serve on my council’s marketing committee. At a recent meeting we talked about fall recruiting for Cub Scouts and kept returning to the idea that most packs seem to rely on the council’s fall recruiting program for new members–effectively outsourcing this most critical function.

I think a lot of troops do the same thing, either relying on their local council or not doing any recruiting whatsoever. While it’s true that a strong program will draw new members, you really can’t rely on the Field of Dreams philosophy of “If you build it, they will come.” (In case you’ve forgotten, the actual quote is “If you build it, he will come,” which is perhaps a better indicator of how effective that philosophy actually is for recruiting!)

So how can you effectively market your troop? I’ve seen a couple of great examples recently that you can learn from. Although they mostly focused on Cub Scouting, they could easily be adapted to Boy Scouting.

First, my church’s pack and troop worked with the children’s children’s ministry to run a “what Scouts do” program during the Sunday school hour one Sunday in July. All the children’s classes came to the fellowship hall for a round-robin of activities that included games, crafts, knot-tying, tent-pitching, and fire-laying. The troop’s color guard did an impressive flag ceremony, and Girl Scouts were on hand to talk about their program. (Note that this event was separate from Scout Sunday in February, when our units will have another chance to show their stuff.)

Second, Lisa Fields, a colleague from the American Society of Journalists and Authors just published a first-person essay in her community’s Jewish newspaper about her experience as a Scout mom. In it, she talks a lot about how the Scouting program supports faith development, something that’s important for that publication’s audience. I thought she did a great job of both selling the program and reassuring parents who may be on the fence about Scouting and/or camping.

There are lots of other ways to promote your program, of course, but  these are nice examples of inexpensive, highly targeted efforts to reach potential members.

So what does your troop do to recruit new Scouts. You’ve already built it. Are they coming?

Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at

Eagle Palms and Courts of Honor


If you thought the big news out of Irving this summer would relate to the National Scout Jamboree, think again. Effective August 1, the requirements for Eagle Palms are changing in three significant ways:

  1. Scouts who earn extra merit badges prior to their Eagle boards of review can receive Palms at their Eagle courts of honor; the three-month requirement doesn’t apply in such cases.
  2. The leadership requirement has been expanded to include responsibility beyond the local troop (the logic being that many Eagle Scouts are as involved in the Order of the Arrow or a Venturing crew as they are in their home troops).
  3. A board of review is no longer required for Palms, although a Scoutmaster conference still is.

You can read all the details about the changes in this Bryan on Scouting post (although I advise skipping the comments!). But the changes raise the question of how to present Palms at an Eagle court of honor, something that has been relatively rare in the past.

Under the new requirements, a Scout with 26 merit badges at the time of his Eagle board of review–which isn’t all that uncommon–would automatically qualify for a Bronze Palm. Ten merit badges would equal a Gold Palm, while 15 would equal a Silver Palm. (Beyond that, you apply multiple Palms as appropriate. The blog post above has a handy chart if you don’t want to do the math.)

So how should you present one or more Palms at an Eagle court of honor? To me, the process is pretty simple. After the presentation of the Eagle badge, the certificate, and the parent pins, the emcee should say something like this:

As we’ve already heard tonight, our honoree has never been one to do the minimum amount of work required. In fact, although he only needed 21 merit badges to earn Eagle, he had actually earned 33 by his board of review last month. That total qualifies him for a Gold Eagle Palm, which I’d like to present now.

You could make a bigger deal of this, but I don’t think you need to. After all, the big deal–and the thing he’ll be proudest of a decade from now–is that he’s an Eagle Scout. His Palms, while significant, pale in comparison to that achievement.

That’s my take; what’s yours? How have you recognized achievements like Palms at Eagle courts of honor?

For more great ideas, check out my ebook, Showtime: 45 Top Tips from and The Eagle Court of Honor Book; it costs just $2.99 and is available for immediate download from both and


These Are Scouting’s Good Old Days


Recently my wife and I caught a movie we missed when it first came out. Called “Midnight in Paris,” it tells the story of a contemporary writer who gets to travel back in time to the Paris of the 1920s. When he gets there, he runs into all sorts of famous people, from Ernest Hemingway to Cole Porter to Salvador Dali, and pretty much thinks he’s in liberal-arts-major heaven.

But he also encounters a young woman who longs for the Belle Époque, the period around the turn of the 20th century that her parents and grandparents had lived through. As the two discuss which period is more idyllic, our hero gradually realizes that every generation looks back toward some “better” past. In doing so, they forget the bad things about their preferred time–like no penicillin and no air conditioning–and they fail to look around them at the wonders of the current age.

Which brings me to Boy Scouting.

I had a discussion earlier this year with a fellow Scouter about whether former Scouts or newcomers to the program make for better leaders. We didn’t come to a firm conclusion, but we did agree that the worst leaders may be those former Scouts who can’t stop pining for the good old days.

Of course, the Scouting program back then–whenever then was–wasn’t as perfect as they remember it to be. (Segregated camps, anyone?) Moreover, what worked a generation or two ago would probably not work as well today.

So who are the best leaders? Those who recognize, as Carly Simon once sang, that these are the good old days.

Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at

Your Eagle Court of Honor’s SECOND Most Important Moment


The most important moment of any Eagle Scout court of honor is, of course, when the badge is finally presented—that moment that represents the culmination of three or four or seven years of hard work.

But there’s a second part that I think is nearly as important. And that’s the part where someone—typically a troop leader—reviews the honoree’s Scouting journey. This part is important because it personalizes the honoree, crystallizes his experience into a few hundred words, and explains to the audience why exactly this event is so special. (It may also help the honoree put his Scouting experience into context.)

Many troops use a fill-in-the-blank description of the honoree’s Scouting history or stick to meaningless facts and figures: joined the troop on X date, became a First Class Scout on Y date, etc. In other troops, speakers ramble on and on, offering disjointed anecdotes that may or may not help the audience get to know the honoree. With a little extra work, however, you can do a whole lot better than that.

Perhaps an example will suffice. Below is a lightly edited version of a bio we used in my troop several years back (with the Scout’s name changed to protect his privacy). In just 235 words, you’ll learn about the honoree’s Scouting accomplishments, Eagle project, and outside achievements. Mostly, however, you’ll learn what makes him special—and what makes him an Eagle Scout:

Chris Smith has participated in Scouting at all levels. He’s been a member of Pack 317, Troop 317, and Explorer Post 517, an engineering post chartered to the Metropolitan Sewer District. As a Cub Scout, he earned the Arrow of Light; as a Boy Scout, he served as librarian, assistant patrol leader, patrol leader, and assistant senior patrol leader; and as an Explorer, he served as post treasurer.

Chris has also been active outside Scouting. He is active in the church’s high school choir, handbell choir, and praise band. He also plays J.V. soccer and maintains a 3.9 GPA at duPont Manual High School.

Among Chris’s fondest memories of Scouting is participating in Project COPE at Camp Daniel Boone three summers ago along with several other troop members. As Chris said at the time, “The COPE program has you doing things you never thought you could do. But with teamwork and a lot of trial and error, you’re able to complete the seemingly impossible tasks.”

That experience probably helped Chris last year when, for his Eagle project, he cataloged and reorganized more than a thousand books and audio cassettes in the church’s teacher resource room. Chris originally planned two, maybe three workdays but ended up spending 12 days on the project, amassing 165 volunteer hours. Chris has also continued his commitment to that project by requesting donations for the resource room in lieu of gifts today.

So what should the audience hear about your next Eagle Scout?

For more great ideas, check out my ebook, Showtime: 45 Top Tips from and The Eagle Court of Honor Book; it costs just $2.99 and is available for immediate download from both and