The Order of the Arrow: Objections and elections

In the last article, I gave a general overview of the Order of the Arrow – what it is, how it started and how it’s organized. This time, we’ll cover overcoming some of the typical objections that troops might have and how youth members are chosen.

Troop objections to the OA

Although its tradition is well established, many adult leaders don’t have a good grasp on what the OA is all about, and as a result they misunderstand what having active Arrowmen among the Scouts means to the troop. Some believe that the OA weakens the troop by taking these Scouts away, and so they discourage participation or even allowing them to be elected. Others might feel that the induction process violates the parents’ right to observe because many of the OA’s rituals are cloaked in mystery for the participants. Still others think that there is a hidden religious aspect or that the OA smacks of a “secret society” like some adult fraternal organizations. Some feel that the OA is a “cult”, or that their Scouts aren’t interested in it, or that the Scoutmaster himself isn’t interested in it, or that he or the troop just don’t have time for it.

If you are an Arrowman, you know that none of the above are true. To be sure, there is an aspect of mystery behind the activities and ceremonies of the induction process; this is to gradually unfold the concepts of the OA in a logical and progressive manner that will help the new member more fully appreciate its purposes, and become more committed to the ideals of brotherhood and cheerful service. As with all of Scouting, there is an expectation that members fulfill their duty to God, but there are no religious undercurrents or overtones. And while it might seem like the OA’s ceremonies are similar to some fraternal groups outside of Scouting, the ceremonies are not meant to imitate them.

There is a well-defined process for explaining the OA to parents of candidates for membership, and a way for them to see and understand the “why” behind the process. It’s available to any parent by talking to the lodge adviser. It is fully in keeping with all aspects of Scouting being open to observation (but not participation) by parents.

The biggest objection, though, seems to be from Scoutmasters and others who are of the impression that Scouts who are active in the Order of the Arrow will leave their troop behind, taking away valuable leadership from older Scouts. This seems to be the opposite of what I’ve observed – a large number of  Arrowmen who completed their induction and rarely, if ever, took part in any chapter activities. This may have been due to a culture of thinking among the Scouts that the OA was something you earn once and walk away with a handsome red and white sash to wear at courts of honor, and nothing more.

Regardless of the “sash & dash” phenomenon, a Scout who is interested in furthering his fun and service in the OA can nearly always do so without interfering with troop activities – as long as the troop is aware of what the OA is up to and plans accordingly. A troop can avoid camping on weekends when the lodge is holding an Ordeal or fellowship weekend, and the troop’s OA Troop Representative (a youth position of responsibility) can keep the patrol leaders’ council informed.

But involvement by a troop’s older Scouts in the OA means much more than their being drawn away from the occasional troop activity. Scouts active in their chapter and lodge experience Scouting on the next level, beyond what happens in the troop. Friendships and relationships are formed, leadership is developed, outdoor skills are put to use, and Arrowmen learn what it means to be of service to others by doing and seeing the results. This makes them not just better Scouts but better people, and they share that level of commitment with the others in the troop.

Election fiction and fact

Many people view the process of electing Scouts to be candidates for the Order of the Arrow to be a popularity contest. Scouts might vote for their friends, or might not vote for those in another patrol or those who they don’t know very well. While it’s not intended to be a popularity contest, it actually is one in essence. Scouts who exemplify the Scout Oath and Scout Law, who help others, and who give leadership regardless of holding a leadership position in the troop are naturally going to be popular.

The election process is normally explained to the Scoutmaster at some point by the lodge or chapter adviser or the elections team. The process actually begins a couple months before the election itself, with the scheduling of the election date. The OA Troop Representative begins promoting the election to the troop and helps to explain the process and criteria by which candidates are nominated. A couple weeks beforehand – the monthly chapter meeting is a good opportunity – the Troop Rep confirms the date with the members of the election team. At the troop meeting the week before the election, patrol leaders are reminded to make sure their patrol members are present, because an election can’t be held unless at least 50 percent of the registered Scouts are there to vote. These are all things that the Scouts themselves can do.

The Scoutmaster’s role is to recommend candidates for membership. It’s mostly straightforward:

  • Review the troop membership roster.
  • Identify those who are already Arrowmen and rule them out.
  • Identify those who haven’t reached at least First Class and rule them out as well.
  • From those who remain, determine who has met the camping requirement: in the previous two years, fifteen days and nights of Scout camping, including one long-term camp of at least six days and five nights (such as summer camp or high adventure), and what amounts to at least five weekend campouts with the troop. Family camping or camping with the Cub Scouts doesn’t count – it has to be Boy Scout camping.
  • The Scoutmaster also gives his approval to the candidate based on Scout spirit – adherence to the Scout Oath and Scout Law and a satisfactory level of engagement with the troop and its Scouts.

There’s no minimum age requirement, so a twelve-year-old who meets the criteria is every bit as eligible for nomination as one who is seventeen.

With such standardized qualifications, you might ask why the Scoutmaster shouldn’t just submit the list of those meeting the requirements? This is because membership in the Order of the Arrow is not intended to be automatic, but a recognition by a Scout’s peers of his achievement and service to them, and of the expectation that he will further his commitment to helping others. It’s an uncommon arrangement where members are selected not by those who are already members, but by those who mostly are outside the OA.

In future articles, we’ll discuss the OA’s role in strengthening Scouting, what the membership levels are, how the sash is worn, what the Order of the Arrow does to help the Cub Scout program, and the adult role in the OA.

This post first appeared on Bobwhite Blather.
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