CLEVELAND, Tenn. (April 3, 2019) -- It’s not easy being one of the first female Scouts BSA troops. But the six girls who formed Troop 1010 didn’t let the naysayers or their lack of experience keep them from making an impression at their first scouting event.
Two weeks after reciting the Scout Oath for the first time, Troop 1010 came in first place at their district’s “Winter Camporee” on Feb. 17. The new troop, sponsored by Broad Street United Methodist Church, excelled against six other troops by performing such skills as starting fires, throwing knives, and tying knots.
Scoutmaster Shannon Ward said she tried to prepare the girls for the situation. “Look, we want you to know you’re going to be at a disadvantage,” she told them. “These boys have been doing this for years.”
The girls weren’t having it. They divvied up the skills among themselves, assigning instructional YouTube videos to watch so that they could teach each other what to do.
“They’re kind of rock stars because they stepped out and did it,” said Ward.
Troop 1010 is not only the first female Scouts BSA troop for Broad Street United Methodist Church. It was the first female troop in the Cherokee Area Council as the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) officially began accepting girls ages 11-17 into its program on Feb. 1. As a result of the change, the national program known traditionally as Boy Scouts was renamed “Scouts BSA.”
The Cherokee Area Council includes about 200 troops, involving more than 6,000 youth and adults in 11 counties across Tennessee and Northwest Georgia, according to a press release from the council.
“With their rich history of Boy Scouting, I’m proud that our congregation has been willing to embrace this new opportunity for the young girls in our community,” said the Rev. Betsy Switzer, associate pastor at Broad Street.
Cooper Hill, a church member at Broad Street, worked to get the paperwork in so that the new troop could be the first. He’s an Eagle Scout from a family of Eagle Scouts, all members of the oldest troop in the Cherokee Area Council. Started in 1924, Troop 10 currently has 30 boys enrolled and is also sponsored by Broad Street United Methodist Church.
“With us being the oldest troop, we said, ‘We’re going to do this first, and we’re going to do this right,’” Hill said.
Hill said he noticed that single parents, in particular, struggle to help their children stay involved in scouting. Sisters often accompanied their brothers to scout meetings and events but couldn’t participate. He saw an opportunity to involve them, when their parents might have limited time and resources to keep their children involved in character-building organizations.
“Let’s bring these girls into the fold. Why not?” he said.
Hill also said he’s a firm believer in the Scout Oath, “to do my duty to God and my country,” and the Scout Law, which includes virtues to aim for, from being trustworthy to reverent. “They’re 12 amazing things to live your life by.” He wants to share that with girls as well as boys, even though he has no daughters in the troop.
Ward said she was impressed to see Troop 10 “embrace it wholeheartedly and blaze the trail,” although the decision to include girls, on both the national and local level, has been met with criticism from some.
“There’s been quite a lot of pushback. We’re trying to hide it from our girls because of the sheer vitriol,” she said.
Between Feb. 1 and this week, more than 13,000 girls have registered in Scouts BSA in more than 1,800 troops nationwide, according to a spokeswoman for Boy Scouts of America. The BSA’s annual report showed a membership of more than 834,000 scouts ages 11-17 in 2017. The organization began accepting girls in its Cub Scouts program in 2018.
Other churches in Holston Conference have also formed or will soon begin new girls’ BSA troops, including Keith Memorial United Methodist Church in Athens, Tennessee; Sycamore Tree United Methodist Church in Maryville, Tennessee; and Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Wesley Memorial’s troop 137 is almost as old as the church, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this month, said the Rev. Clair Sauer. The group started a female troop when a girl asked to join during a recruitment event held at a school.
“She also recruited her brothers in the troop after joining herself, and according to the scout leaders, they have been involved in everything,” Sauer said. “Her whole family was recently present for our community garden work day, and she served as an usher on Scout Sunday back in February.”
The United Methodist Book of Discipline states, "Civic youth-serving agencies and scouting ministries offer another setting for ministry to children, youth, their leaders and their families."
The General Commission of United Methodist Men counts the Boy Scouts of America as an affiliate. Of all the youth who join scouting through the church, 25 percent are United Methodists, 25 percent are members of other denominations or faiths, and 50 percent come from unchurched families, according to the United Methodist Men website.
Whitney Winston, director of Holston Conference’s Camp in the Community ministry, said that although she is a lifelong Girl Scout, she appreciates the value in allowing girls to benefit from the BSA experience.
“I love anything that brings kids into safe, enriching communities and matches them with caring adults,” she said.
“It’s just another ministry of the church,” said Hill. “All churches need to recognize scouting as a ministry of the church. It has potential for Kingdom work, if we can expose more people to Broad Street.”
Ward compared the work of scout leaders to that of missionaries. “If you were a missionary in Africa, would you stop doing it if your demographic changed?" she asked.
The United Methodist Church is second only to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the number of congregations that host BSA units. At the end of 2018, United Methodist youth and volunteers made up more than 15 percent of the total membership of the BSA, according to Steven Scheid, scout ministries staff for the General Commission on United Methodist Men.
In May 2018, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that it will discontinue its relationship with the BSA at the end of 2019.
Contact Annette Spence at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scouting Ministry, United Methodist Men
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.