Article on Religious Emblems

The following article written by Bill on the Religious Emblems Program was submitted for publication to the Minsi Trails Council newsletter as part of Bill's Wood Badge Ticket

THE TWELFTH POINT –
REVERENCE THROUGH THE RELIGIOUS EMBLEM PROGRAM
FOR SCOUTS AND SCOUTERS

By Bill Brodniak, NE-IV-207

Scouting can be an effective way to help youths to do their duty to God and to their country. Scouting builds character and teaches devotion to God in an environment that provides wholesome fun under the guidance of strong adult role models. But is the Scouting program enough when it comes to religious principles and devotion? Depending on the unit the Scout belongs to, it can be; but it might also be the farthest issue being encouraged by the unit. Fortunately there is a program sanctioned by the Boy Scouts of America that allows Scouts to build and develop their faith even more - all within the confines of the Scouting environment. That program is the religious emblems program.

The religious emblems program enables a Scout, his family, and even Scouters, to make the choice of incorporating their own specific faith into their Scouting experience on a deeper level. To encourage members to grow stronger in their faith, religious groups have developed thirty-five religious emblems programs, so there is bound to be a program for you. While the Boy Scouts of America has approved of these programs and allows the emblems to be worn on the official uniform, the programs themselves are developed, maintained and administered by the various religious groups.

Most of the emblem programs have multiple awards for every level of Scouting, from Tiger Cub right on up through Boy Scouting and Venture Scouting. Within the specific Scouting level, again most programs offer more than one award. An example is for the Roman Catholic Faith. A Cub Scout has the opportunity to earn the “Light of Christ” award as a Tiger or Wolf Scout, and then can earn the “Parvuli Dei” as a Bear or Webelos Scout. When they enter Boy Scouting, they can earn the “Ad Altare Dei” award, and then as they get older and more mature, they can work on their “Pope Pius XII” award. All of the emblem programs are geared toward specific age groups and have workbooks for the Scouts to follow as they complete the requirements for the specific emblem. Cub Scouting generally requires the Scout to work with his parents while the higher level awards in Boy Scouting require the Scout to work with some type of counselor or religious mentor who monitors their progress and acts as their “Merit Badge” type counselor.

To work on a religious emblem, the Scout will need the consent of his parent, religious leader, unit leader, and emblems counselor, and also be required to hold periodic conferences with his Scoutmaster for Boy Scout level awards. By doing this it involves all relevant adults and reinforces the importance that all of these key people play in the Scouts life. Upon completion of the workbook, the Scout will need adult confirmation once again and may also have to go through some type of review with his religious leader or a Board of Review established by the particular religious committee. Each progression of emblem increases in difficulty and content, as well as approval method, thereby making the religious emblem a coveted award.

So how does one get started on their religious emblem? The steps are pretty easy and straightforward.

  1. 1. Youth members must obtain the specific booklet for their religion, which can be obtained at your council store, or you may have to contact the religious organization directly. You can find out more about contact information in the “Duty to God” brochure, which can be downloaded at http://www.praypub.org/pdf_docs/DutytoGod2014.pdf. Praypub.org is an excellent resource for answering many religious emblem program questions.
  2. 2. Each youth member needs his or her own booklet to document progress.
  3. 3. Some religions offer adult manuals for counselors and mentors. This is a highly recommended resource for the adults who participate in this role.
  4. 4. Parents must review the program guidelines and be supportive of their Scout in the pursuit of his emblem.
  5. 5. Some programs require participants to be official "members" of the religious institution. This information can be found in the “Duty to God” brochure or through the religious organization.
  6. 6. Age/grade requirements vary from program to program.
  7. 7. Each program sets its own guidelines as to who may serve as counselor. Some programs require clergy to serve as counselors; other programs allow parents or other family members to serve as counselors.
  8. 8. Families should talk to their religious leaders and show them the booklet before beginning any program. If the religious leader is unfamiliar with the program it would be beneficial to obtain a copy of the booklet for them so they too can promote the program to their congregation.
  9. 9. Most programs require that they be completed under the auspices of that religious organization.
  10. 10. Many programs require the signature of the local religious leader.
  11. 11. The youth member needs to complete the requirements, obtain the proper signatures, and follow the instructions to order the emblem.
  12. 12. These emblems are not available from your local council store (follow the instructions in your booklet).
  13. 13. The emblem should be presented in a meaningful ceremony, preferably in the member's religious institution.

So now that you know about the religious emblems program and how to have your Scout work on and earn it, lets take a look at some concerns and issues regarding this program.

Since it is not an official part of the Scouting program, the religious emblems program is not utilized and participated in nearly as much as it should. The primary reason this occurs is that many, if not most, adults and leaders involved in Scouting are not aware that the program even exists. Every once in a while an adult stumbles across literature or a Scout wearing a religious emblem knot or medal and the spark gets ignited. The luckier Scouts are in units that are well informed and make it a part of their overall Scouting program. Such units are generally ones chartered by religious organizations that have emblems of their faith such as Roman Catholic Churches, Jewish Synagogues, Masonic Temples, LDS, etc. The units that suffer the most from the lack of religious emblems knowledge tend to be the units chartered by non-religious entities.

So how can the religious emblems program become more of a staple experience for Scouts? The answer to that question is really not that difficult to answer, but it is difficult to implement, and that is because it takes volunteers! Yes, the dreaded “V” word. How many of us have too much on our plates already and just can’t find the time to devote to a tangential program to Scouting? Yes, it’s easy to say it’s not worth the effort, but I for one have to disagree. I found the spark long ago with my first son who was just a Wolf Scout in Cub Scouting and helped him and several of his fellow Scouts earn their “Light of Christ” emblem. Since then I have grown in Scouting and devoted much of my free time not only to Scouting but also to the Catholic Committee on Scouting. As an adult, I found that by getting involved in the religious emblems program, it also helped me in my own faith and spirituality. Knowing too that by helping the boys work on their emblems, it might also deepen their own faith and touch their souls in a way that just being in Scouting would not do.

It really doesn’t take much from an organizational standpoint, just some key people. At the pack and troop levels, each unit should have a Religious Emblems Coordinator. This position is a registered adult who would present a brief overview of the religious emblems program to the unit each year. They would also provide supplemental information on each religion and how the Scout could work on that emblem. They could also work with the Cubmaster in ensuring that upon completion, the Scouts that earn an emblem would be recognized in a fitting ceremony at a pack meeting or Blue & Gold. That’s it! They don’t need to know anything about the religions, nor do they need to be involved in the Scouts quest for the emblem. They are simply there to educate and direct. At the Cub Scout level, the parent must be involved and take ownership of working with their son toward earning his award. For Boy Scouts, the Religious Emblems Coordinator has the same responsibilities, but works with the Scoutmaster and SPL to make sure the Scout gets recognized at a Court of Honor or troop meeting.

The next positions are harder to fill because they require a deeper commitment and more time, and those are the positions of Religious Emblems Counselor and as a member of a specific religious committee. As both a member of the Catholic Committee on Scouting and as a Religious Emblems Counselor, I have to say that this is a very rewarding effort. It gives me the opportunity to work with some great Scouts and Scouters, and I get to see up close how their faith touches their lives. We get to share some very meaningful times through discussions, debates, and retreats. As a Catholic, I find that by being involved in this program, it has drawn me closer to my own faith and allows me to experience it at a level that I never would have if I did not get involved. It wasn’t difficult in becoming a counselor; all I needed was to have an understanding of my faith, a desire to teach others and share my faith, and to attend a counselor-training course. The programs are laid out in the workbooks, so everything is right there step-by-step. Many programs offer a counselor guide so they fully explain any issues or questions that might arise for each topic covered. I find that I actually play a minor part in working with the boys, as my role is really more a facilitator and guide than a teacher. They make the program work and move forward, just as in Scouting with the patrol method.

Becoming an active member on a religious committee is really the ultimate opportunity for adults. Here you get to work with other adults in the planning, implementing, and progress of the entire program within the realm of your religious organizations boundaries, in my case that is the Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown. You become an instrumental part of the success of the religious program in your area. Some of the important positions that each committee needs filled involve: promoting the program to units, educating adults and training them for either the Religious Coordinator or Counselor positions, planning retreats or events for the Scouts and Scouters, coordinating the religious emblems program, obtaining and awarding the emblems to the Scouts and adults, and building the relationship with the religious committees’ regional or national organization.

So as you can see, there is much more to the religious emblems program than just a little purple knot on a Scout shirt. That is only the end result - that knot could never get there without adult participation and support. A parent must support their Scout to work on the emblem of his faith, A Scout leader must support the Scout to work on the emblem, adults must take the time to learn about the programs and educate others to ensure that the program remains vibrant, religious leaders must take an interest in the program for their faith and willingly work with Scouts who seek their guidance and assistance, and above all, adults must get involved in their own faith committees and make sure the program is made available to all Scouts.

Young people experience Scouting as a growth into personal maturity and social responsibility. They learn to assume their role in life with a high degree of commitment, and to care for others who are less fortunate. They develop a strong desire to build a culture of goodwill, respect for the environment and acceptance of duties. Participating in a faith-based program only deepens these traits and qualities in the Scout and serves to build the correlation between the Scouting program and the faith of the Scouts.