How the OA enriches Scouting

The first article in this series gave a general overview of the Order of the Arrow – what it is, how it started and how it’s organized. Last time we discussed possible objections by troop leaders and outlined the election process. This article will cover how the OA complements the Boy Scout program, the levels of membership and insignia, and how Arrowmen impact their fellow Scouts, their troop and the greater Scouting community.

Too many Scoutmasters and adult leaders are of the opinion that the Order of the Arrow siphons off the best Scouts from the troop, leaving the younger ones behind to fend for themselves. This attitude generally comes from those who are not Arrowmen or who have not had any contact with, or understanding of, the Order. Much of the time it comes from a perceived notion, rather than actual experience, and it can be a self-perpetuating phenomenon in cases where the Scoutmaster either fails to approve candidates for election or refuses to allow an election in the first place.

The OA is structured as an auxiliary program for the youth, but one with benefits that enhance the troop program. Arrowmen are expected to live by a code of honor that includes putting others first and taking the Scout Law point of A Scout is Helpful to a higher level. Arrowmen are reminded that their first responsibility is to their troop, but to make time for chapter and lodge activities as their busy schedules permit. Once an Arrowman discovers that he’s learning to be a better leader while serving Scouting and others in an environment of camaraderie with his brothers, he’ll want to participate – and as a result, he’ll bring that enthusiasm back to his troop.

Since cheerful service is the hallmark of the Order, members are encouraged to find ways to help others in everyday life. This is as simple as individually doing things that make someone else’s life better, and can range to planned activities by chapters and lodges, all the way to the national levels. Some recent examples of nationally-coordinated service include Arrow Corps, which helps the U. S. Forest Service on conservation projects, and Dare to Do, which challenged the twenty-five thousand Arrowmen attending the 2015 National Order of the Arrow Conference to do a daily act of unselfish service large or small. Lodge level activities include Scout camp improvement projects, getting properties ready to host summer camp, and helping with camporees, Cub Scout day camp and resident camps. Chapters conduct elections and help Cub Scout packs with their ceremonies.

Membership levels

Simply being elected by his fellow Scouts doesn’t make one an OA member. It means that the Scout has been identified by his peers as one who is worthy of consideration to join the Order. Upon election, a Scout is called out in a brief ceremony, becomes a candidate and must complete a series of challenges and ceremonies to demonstrate sincere dedication to the principles of the OA leading up to his induction as a member. These take place during what’s known as the Ordeal. The Ordeal unfolds as a series of events, each building on the other, that reinforce the customs and traditions of the Order. Lodges conduct the Ordeal process usually several times a year, following a typical time frame of a weekend troop campout (Friday evening to Sunday afternoon). A candidate must complete his Ordeal within twelve months of his election or his candidacy lapses – though he’s eligible to be elected again if he meets the membership requirements. Once his Ordeal is completed, he’s officially an OA member for life.

There are no “ranks” as such – an Ordeal member is every bit as much an Arrowman as any other – but there is a means by which a member can complete his induction and solidify his commitment to the principles of the OA. Once an Ordeal member has served his troop for ten months and learns more about the OA and his role in it, he can pursue Brotherhood membership. As with the Ordeal, Brotherhood membership is conferred after meeting specific challenges in a solemn and deeply meaningful ceremony that the Arrowman will remember long afterwards.

There is one more level of membership, and it is not sought after by an Arrowman in any way – rather, it is a recognition of a minimum of two years of unselfish service as a Brotherhood member to his lodge, camp or Scouting. Candidates for the Vigil Honor are identified by the lodge and recommended to the National Order of the Arrow Committee.

The OA Sash

Because Arrowmen serve quietly, often in a manner that isn’t noticed outright, their uniforms don’t reflect their level of membership. The only recognition is from the symbols on the sash – the white band of cloth with the red arrow that you’ve seen from time to time. An arrow alone signifies Ordeal membership, while a bar at each end of the arrow indicates Brotherhood. Those who have received the Vigil Honor display a small triangle in the middle of the arrow shaft.

There seem to be a few fine points and popular misconceptions among Arrowmen and others about the sash. I’ll clarify a couple:

  • The sash is only worn when participating in OA activities or when rendering service as an Arrowman. I’ve seen sashes incorrectly being worn at weekend troop campouts, courts of honor, boards of review for rank advancement and even at weekly troop meetings. The sash doesn’t become an automatic part of the uniform. It should only be worn at specific times, such as to chapter and lodge meetings and outings, while performing a ceremony, or participating in a service project. The correct way to indicate membership in the OA at all times is by wearing the pocket flap of the member’s home lodge.  
  • The sash, when worn, is placed over the right shoulder. Every Arrowman learns that there is a meaning to wearing the sash pointing upwards and to the wearer’s right – not down, and not on the left.
  • The sash, when worn, is worn alone. A Scout should not wear his merit badge sash at the same time as his OA sash is also worn. – and neither one is worn over the left shoulder. These two sashes have distinctly different meanings: the merit badge sash is worn to formal troop occasions as an indication of his level of enthusiasm and achievement in the Boy Scout program. The OA sash is worn for the reasons stated above – when acting as an OA member.
  • The sash is not worn draped from the belt. Yes, you see that too, usually at a court of honor. Neither the OA sash nor the merit badge sash is worn on the belt.

Next time we’ll look into how the Order of the Arrow provides service to Cub Scouting.


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5 Replies to “How the OA enriches Scouting”

  1. I am an adult leader, AND OA member. However, I do still agree with those SM’s you mention that feel OA just siphons off the best scouts, hence leaving the others to fend for themselves. OA Scouts DO NOT put troop activities first, and just end up attending numerous “leadership trainings” but are “too busy” to spend any time with the younger scouts and actually do any “real leading”. I think it’s just a total distraction from the program that scouting volunteers are trying to scrape enough time together to run as it is.
    Personally, I dread the elections. If the OA really wanted to be helpful, they would do more to encourage OA Scouts to actually help their units, but I find it’s the total opposite.

  2. One question. I do understand the situation. Did anyone ever explain that the arrowmen have the primary underztanding that the Troop has to take priorty over all else. Sounds like you need to talk to the Chapter Chief.

  3. Both sides could address these concerns by better communication. When Troop OA members take a weekend to setup the campsites their Troop members will use later that summer at resident camp, the SM should announce that, both before they go and afterward– to thank them! Those OA members could post or instagram photos of their work for their Troop to see–where appropriate. When the SM prepares the list of eligible scouts for an OA election is the perfect time to advise them how important they are to the Troop– no matter whether they are elected to the OA this year or not. After the Tap-out is completed, both the SM and the OA members should stress the importance of the Troop to the OA candidates– after all, they can’t be in OA with out belonging to a Troop or Crew. If the SM needs more from his OA members, he should ask them — or his OA troop rep., a youth position of responsibility. And finally, BSA allows for an adult Troop/OA member to serve on the Troop Committee, where these issues and concerns can be effectively addressed.

  4. My boy joined to enhance his Scouting and wanting to expierence high adventure. But what he experienced was a bunch of boy that were lazier than what he was currently dealing with in his troop. Their interpretation of camping or high adventure was a lock in in a facility with running water, listening to music and eating pizza. Then at one of the OA events it was as if he was back in webelos. He has just lost interest with OA.

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