When I moved to my present community in 1978, I was called to serve as assistant priest quorum adviser in my ward. The General Handbook of Instructions called for a weekly priest quorum presidency meeting to be held. I was invited to attend. Bishop Low, as president of the priest quorum, conducted those meetings and involved his two assistants and secretary in shepherding the members of the quorum, planning activities and quorum instruction. He attended quorum meetings and week-night activities. He loved those young men. And he appropriately exercised the priesthood keys he held.
The stake held a monthly Court of Honor under the direction of the stake Young Men presidency who was assigned by the stake presidency. Each ward troop lined up in the cultural hall side by side. Each took turns presenting the merit badges and rank advancements that had been earned. The stake awarded a prize to the troop who accumulated the most points based on awards, Scouts in uniform, ward members attending, etc. The member of the stake presidency assigned to the youth attended this event each month.
When I was called to serve as a member of the stake Young Men presidency and later as a member of the high council with an assignment to the youth, I was encouraged by the stake presidency counselor over youth to get involved in Roundtable each month. I served on the district Varsity Scout Committee and helped plan and implement a variety of activities. I’m grateful I was involved in that assignment. I also attended Philmont during the time I was district commissioner.
These observations helped me understand the righteous exercise of priesthood keys held by the bishop and stake president in fulfilling their priesthood responsibilities.
In 1991, I was called to serve as counselor to a newly called stake president, Stephen Studdert. Being new to the stake, he asked the General Authority what percentage of young men served missions from the stake. He was told 44%, which astounded him. We counseled together to find out what could be done to improve this percentage. Our analysis showed we were doing quite well with some of the methods of Scouting, such as advancement, patrol method and uniforms, but we needed to focus our efforts on all of them.
A dult Association
L eadership Development
S cout Ideals
P ersonal Growth
During the monthly Bishops’ Council meeting, one of the agenda items was Young Men and Scouting. Here are some of the areas we discussed:
Most of the bishops were conducting their regularly scheduled interview with the young men, every six months with the priests and annually with the teachers and deacons. We encouraged the bishops to interview them more frequently, including casual conversations as they had opportunity. They should not only discuss their priesthood responsibilities and assignments, but also ask them about living the ideals of Scouting, encouraging them to attend Timberline (NYLT = National Youth Leadership Training), and participating in their monthly and summer camps.
Emphasis was placed on making sure the weekly activities had a priesthood purpose, not just entertaining the young men. Opportunities for service were encouraged. Teaching a gospel principle and linking it with an appropriate activity during the week was also implemented. For instance, teaching about the plan of salvation on Sunday, then teaching about first aid during the week, can help them link the saving of physical lives with the saving of eternal lives.
About this time, we were counseled by the leadership of the Church to make sure we had the best people in the ward serving in the adult leadership positions of Scouting and Young Women. We were told that some less active members were being called to motivate them into a higher level of activity. It was suggested they could serve in other callings, but the youth should have the best kind of role models to help them reach their full potential.
Every Boy Deserves a Well Trained Leader became the theme from the leadership of the Utah National Parks Council. Emphasis was given to all aspects of training, including Fast Start and Basic Training, Roundtable (supplemental training), Commissioner College, Wood Badge and Philmont. Even though I had attended Philmont as a district commissioner, I needed to go again and experience LDS week as a member of the stake presidency. It was a marvelous experience for me and my family.
We also encouraged the bishops to call their deacons quorum president to serve as the senior patrol leader in the troop. The principle was to allow the person who holds priesthood keys to exercise them for the members of his quorum/troop. That way the quorum members had one leader to follow. The same assignment should also be given to the teachers quorum president – serve as the team captain in the Varsity Scout team.
With the help of experienced and trained adult leaders, we focused our efforts to improve delivery of the Varsity Scout and Venturing programs. We found great resources in our stake and in the district. This helped motivate the older youth to practice what they had learned as a Cub and Boy Scout, and to be involved in challenging high adventure activities. It also helped develop leadership skills of each member as they shared responsibilities in planning and implementing the activities.
Under the direction of the stake presidency, the stake Young Men presidency and stake Primary presidency formed an Aaronic Priesthood Committee with each person assigned as a unit commissioner. Each commissioner had responsibility for three units (pack, troop, team, crew), becoming their coach and mentor. Others were called to make sure each had an assignment of no more than three units.
As time went on, we improved our efforts in each of these areas and started to see the results we were working for – an increase in the percentage of young men serving missions. In hindsight, we saw adults and youth exercising priesthood keys and leading their quorum members.
In 2000, I was called as stake president. During my tenure, we continued our efforts in preparing the young men to serve missions. At that time, we had more than 100 young men serving as full-time missionaries. In 2006, we held a stake encampment where we conducted training courses for Timberline, All Stars, Kodiak and Wood Badge. Many of the bishops served as staff members on these courses. We involved members of the high council, stake Young Men presidency and Aaronic Priesthood Committee. As I visited each group, I witnessed the sacrifice made by these wonderful servants of the Lord. (Refer to the Stake Encampment blog article.)
The current stake president, Howard Bangerter, has continued to improve this effort. In 2012, the stake held another Stake Encampment, this time at Beaver High Adventure Base. It was a resounding success.
He attended Philmont a few years ago. During a meeting of stake presidents conducted by the Young Men General Presidency, it was reported that some stakes present were experiencing the percentage of missionaries serving as low as 17% and some as high as 95%. President Bangerter was asked how his stake was able to achieve 95% of their young men serving missions.
In a recent conversation I had with him, he reviewed some of the things they had done. One particular effort was bearing great results – Venturing. Over the years, a number of adult leaders, including bishops, had become trained in the program and continued to carry it forward for the benefit of those 16-, 17- and 18-year-old young men. He also talked about how close the bishops had come to the young men, particularly the priests, and how much the bishops loved them. He also reported that the percentage attendance in Primary, Young Women and Young Men continued to be more than 90%, which has been experienced during past several decades.
All of this could not happen without the support of loving and concerned parents. The stake is blessed to have those who are so devoted and concerned about their youth. It is a fulfillment of prophecy. In the mid 1930’s, President Heber J Grant, a relative of the Highland Utah Branch President, attended their sacrament meeting. He told the Saints that, if they were faithful in paying their tithing and keeping their covenants, their tiny branch would grow and one day a stake would be organized in Highland Utah. The people could hardly believe it. They struggled to earn a living, farming on the rocky ground and trying to irrigate their land. (A traditional saying indicates that the two best crops raised in Highland are children and rocks.) President Grant told them this would happen because parents would move to Highland in order to raise their children in righteousness.
The first stake organized in Highland was created in August 10, 1980, less than 50 years after the visit from President Grant. Now, some 80 years after the prophecy, there are five stakes located in Highland. They are filled with families who are doing their best to come unto Christ.
Over these decades, I have seen priesthood keys used in ways that have blessed the young men and their families. And I have witnessed hundreds of young men and young women respond to the call to be full-time missionaries for the Lord’s kingdom.
Author: Joel Zabriskie | CFO/Comptroller, Utah National Parks Council, Boy Scouts of America