By Darryl Alder
Sep 20, 2015

A Chapel in the Woods—What BP Thought

Last Saturday morning, during the first weekend of our Woodbadge course, I had a singular spiritual experience at Tifie Scout Camp’s outdoor chapel. There among the reddening maples and in the crisp morning air, our Wood Badge staff presented these words from our founder, Baden Powell, in a Scout’s Own Worship Service:

BP OvalFOR an open Troop, or for Troops in camp, I think the Scouts’ Own (religious observance) should be open to all denominations, and carried on in such manner as to offend none. There should not be any special form, but it should abound in the right spirit, and should be conducted not from any ecclesiastical point of view, but from that of the boy. Everything likely to make an artificial atmosphere should be avoided. We do not want a kind of imposed Church Parade, but a voluntary uplifting of their hearts by the boys in thanksgiving for the joys of life, and a desire on their part to seek inspiration and strength for greater love and service for others. A Scouts’ Own should have as big an effect on the boys as any service in Church, if in conducting the Scouts’ Own we remember that boys are not grown men, and if we go by the pace of the youngest and most uneducated of those present. Boredom is not reverence, nor will it breed religion.

To interest the boys, the Scouts’ Own must be a cheery and varied function. Short hymns (three verses are as a rule quite enough — never more than four); understandable prayers; a good address from a man who really understands boys (a homely “talk” rather than an address), which grips the boys, and in which they may laugh or applaud as the spirit moves them, so that they take a real interest in what is said. If a man cannot make his point to keen boys in ten minutes he ought to be shot! If he has not got them keen, it would be better not to hold a Scouts’ Own at all.

November, 1928.

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Philmont Chapel at sunrise

As I wrote, this was the last day of part one in our Weekend Wood Badge. I was sore and tired beyond words, but this hour together in the woods was a soul-renewing experience. It was the best I’ve ever attended, even better than the one I did at Philmont!

I feel and find God in the woods and love B-P for making Duty to God key to our program.  This Sunday morning, pause and reflect on what outdoor worship does for you and your Scouts. Tell us about it in the comments section below:

(Chris Blitzinger, the Fox Patrol Chaplain, shared his thoughts below and then went on yesterday to run an interfaith service for the course along with the other four patrol chaplains. The power of the one minute personal silent prayer had the same effect on me both weekends. Thanks Chris for sharing!)

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Author: Darryl Alder | Director of Strategic Initiatives, Utah National Parks Council, BSA, has served on multiple Wood Badge Staffs and as Philmont Chaplain for a week last spring.

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4 thoughts on “A Chapel in the Woods—What BP Thought

  1. Cool Chris

    I was there at the Interfaith Service as a relatively new Scoutmaster trying to learn the duties of my responsibility. I certainly did not expect what happened during the service. I work for a local government and therefore am Hypersensitive to being presumptuous about the religious affiliation of those volunteers and colleagues I work with. The interfaith service included a 1 minute pause halfway through the service to offer our own prayer or take the opportunity to meditate based on our individual feelings. I was overwhelmed with emotion as I sat on a bench in the middle of a Grove of Trees and listened to the words spoken to our troop. During the first weekend at Wood Badge, I realized the true purpose of scouting, as well as Lord Baden Powell’s intention for Scouts to focus on God…….. and Country.

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  2. Gerratt

    Thanks so much for posting this and being so active in your blog and w/ scouting. I loved BPs words and feel strongly that people of all faith should feel comfortable in a scout service.

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  3. Susan CheeverSusan Cheever

    I have a lot more experience being at camp with teen-aged girls than with Scouts, but I have seen some beautiful spiritual moments happen with some girls who don’t really go looking for spiritual moments. There is something about being in the woods that allows people, especially youth, to drop their pretenses and be who they really are for at least a short time. Sometimes it really has a lasting impact on them.

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  4. Randy A. Wardwell

    It was my pleasure to serve on the staff of the Wood Badge Course mentioned above by Daryl and Chris and Gerratt, and it was a great experience. Both of our Interfaith Worship Services were extremely well done and just the right touch of heaven and earth to enable reflective, inner thinking. It was great to be part of it.

    The whole course and the experience was great for me. It was my third Staff experience and 4th Wood Badge overall. This time, more than any other, the experience seemed to slow down enough for me to be able to view, ponder, reflect, and frame effectively that what and the why of what we are doing with this awesome leadership experience. I am all in.

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