In 1915, at a scout camp near Philadelphia, a young camp director founded an honor society of honor campers and leaders in boy scouting. For years, from that first simple induction on that first night in a scout camp, the program called the Order of the Arrow (OA) grew and expanded.
(From the OA’s website:) “It became an official program experiment in 1922 and was approved as part of the Scouting program in 1934. In 1948 the OA, recognized as the BSA’s national brotherhood of honor campers, became an official part of the Boy Scouts of America. In 1998, the Order of the Arrow became recognized as Scouting’s National Honor Society when it expanded its reach beyond camping to include broader service to Scouting and the community.”
Today, the OA has more than 170,000 active members located in lodges affiliated with over 295 BSA local councils. One interesting hallmark to the Order is that, contrasted against many organizations in which members elect or select new members, in the Order of the Arrow, the members of a scout’s own troop (many non-OA-members, in fact) elect the new members to the Order of the Arrow.
I spent much of my young life growing in leadership and service in the Order of the Arrow. In 1990, I was elected by the members of my troop and served my ‘Ordeal’ (my induction weekend.) My dad and I also drove, with two other members of our troop, to Indiana University to explore a day of the 75th Anniversary “National Order of the Arrow Conference” (NOAC), at which over 7,000 Arrowmen from around the country gathered to learn, network, have fun, and be inspired. I was hooked!
Through the years, I worked at the 1992 NOAC (Publications, writing for the conference newspaper), 1994 (actor in the Theme Show, the major theatrical production the final night written and produced to impart the conference theme to the participants in a unique and powerful way), 1996 (co-director of the Theme Show), 1998 (technical director for shows), 2000 (shows technical staff), 2002 (author of the Theme Show), and 2004 (shows support staff director), and 2006 (again shows support staff director), at which I was also able to push my firstborn son across the stage in a stroller as part of the mall scene in that year’s Theme Show.
I also helped to produce and operate the Order of the Arrow’s major theatrical production (including building a theater on-site) at the National Scout Jamborees in 1997, 2001, and 2005.
But at the more local level, I was honored (and learned a lot) serving as lodge chief (the youth leader of our local organizational unit, a lodge, covering roughly a 10-county area) for two years and various other positions for several more years. Most importantly, in that work on the local level I made true, deep, lasting friendships that remain to this day – my very best friends in the world were co-leaders in our local lodge and the surrounding area. Additionally, two of my fellow scouts from my own parish and troop who served in the OA by chairing important lodge committees while I was lodge chief are now Priests of God (Father Robert Lampitt and Father Jason Nesbit.) I was also very involved in helping to lead shows and/or publications at many section conclaves, regional gatherings of handfuls of lodges, through which I formed several other great friendships. Another very good friend from a neighboring lodge, a past section chief, is now another one of my own sons’ favorite priests (Father Arisman, ordained this last spring.)
All this came flooding back to me earlier this morning when I took some time to reply to a survey that had been emailed last night to “Section chiefs, national OA committee members, and key volunteers [they must be casting the net wide to include me],” to provide input to help provide the OA’s theme for the 100th Anniversary national conference (NOAC) next summer.
Here are my two replies to two of the questions that I hope can adequately sum up the real, lasting impact that the Order of the Arrow had upon me as a young man, and I hope that my ongoing work in scouting can also help to have:
Question (paraphrasing): Express your own experience in the Order of the Arrow and the impact it has had on you in two sentences or less.
The Order of the Arrow was THE most formative program in developing and reinforcing the leadership skills that I now use every day, and in firming up the moral fiber that Scouting in general started to build up in me. It also provided the strongest network of like-minded men I now have in my adult life & career.
Question (paraphrasing): Express the message the Order of the Arrow should impart to a member in 10 words or less:
You were made for love and service. Go lead.
Quite simply, in the Order of the Arrow, anything I had learned growing up in my family, in my church and school, and in scouting, about leadership or service, was cemented and given a very real structure and context in which to practice, exercise, and grow in it. I grew into being a confident and competent servant leader in the OA.
I’m super-excited to have been asked to help with a key area of next summer’s 100th Anniversary NOAC at Michigan State University, and look forward to helping to prepare for the Arrowmen who will be coming, whether it’s their first or their last.
That, my friends, sums up the Order of the Arrow to me, from my own experience with it, and my growth and learning in it. Here’s to the chapter of the first 100 years (almost completed) and to the next 100, and the 100 after that…