I do not talk much about the Order of the Arrow on this blog, and maybe I should. I have not received a lot of requests for OA topics, but over the past few months I have been giving the Order of the Arrow a bit more thought.
As many of you know (that follow me on social media) I have been elected to Vigil Honor.
The Vigil Honor is the highest honor that the Order of the Arrow can bestow upon its members for service to lodge, council, and Scouting. Membership cannot be won by a person’s conscious endeavors. (From the OA website) It is a great honor to have been chosen to be a Vigil member.
Since I have been giving more thought about the Order of the Arrow, I thought I would share some of my thoughts on OA membership and what the Order of the Arrow really means [to me].
First some background on the Order of the Arrow. And rather than rediscover the wheel, I am going to use information found at the Order of the Arrow website.
The Order of the Arrow was founded in 1915 by Camp Director E. Urner Goodman and Assistant Camp Director Carroll A. Edson at the Treasure Island Boy Scout Camp. Goodman and Edson were looking for ways to recognize campers that demonstrated a cheerful spirit and service. In those days there were many camp honor societies throughout the Nations Scout camps. Some of those were the Gimogash, Ku-Ni-Eh, Nani Ba Zhu, Firecrafters and Mic O Say. Over time many of those camper honor societies merged and became local Lodges within the Order of the Arrow. Mic O Say is still active and recognized by the Boy Scouts of America.
The Order of the Arrow became a part of the National Program of the Boy Scouts of America in 1934. By 1948, the OA, recognized as the BSA’s national brotherhood of honor campers, became an official part of the Boy Scouts of America. Since then the Order of the Arrow has expanded to over 300 Lodges, most Lodges representing a Council, although some Lodges make up multiple Council areas.
The mission of the Order of the Arrow is to fulfill its purpose as an integral part of the Boy Scouts of America through positive youth leadership under the guidance of selected capable adults. The Order of the Arrow is completely youth led. A member of the OA is consider a youth until his 21st birthday.
The OA is more than just an honor society. It has a specific purpose and looks to gain members that loyal live up to those goals. It is for that reason that members should be chosen from within their units that best exemplify the Scout Oath and Law in their daily lives. If the Scout is willing to not only live the Oath and Law daily, but dedicate himself to service than he is a good candidate for the Order of the Arrow. Arrowmen are known for maintaining camping traditions and spirit, you will find that many if not all camp staff at your local Scout camp are members of the OA. They promote camping and Scout spirit daily making our Scout camps fantastic. Arrowmen serve promoting year-round and long-term resident camping, and providing cheerful service to others. OA service, activities, adventures, and training for youth and adults are models of quality leadership development and programming that enrich and help to extend Scouting to America’s youth. One of the great ways that the OA promotes long-term retention in Scouting is through ceremonies starting with Arrow of Light and Cross Over ceremonies.
As Scouting’s National Honor Society, our purpose is to:
Recognize those who best exemplify the Scout Oath and Law in their daily lives and through that recognition cause others to conduct themselves in a way that warrants similar recognition.
Promote camping, responsible outdoor adventure, and environmental stewardship as essential components of every Scout’s experience, in the unit, year-round, and in summer camp.
Develop leaders with the willingness, character, spirit and ability to advance the activities of their units, our Brotherhood, Scouting, and ultimately our nation.
Crystallize the Scout habit of helpfulness into a life purpose of leadership in cheerful service to others.
Just like the Aims of the Boy Scouts of America, membership in the Order of the Arrow solidify in a Scout of Scouter the drive to be of service and grow in Character, Citizenship and fitness. The Order of the Arrow is summed up in three words, often seen as WWW. Brotherhood, Cheerfulness, and Service. In other words, the OA is the Brotherhood of Cheerful Service.
The OA is Local and it is National. What I mean by that is simply this. Just like your Troop is local and the programs offered at the Troop level are planned and executed locally, you and your Troop are part of the National Council or organization. This is strength in program and resources. The OA has many great local Lodge and Chapter programs, but the programs offered through the National Organization demonstrate the strength of the Order.
The support of the Order of the Arrow for the National Journey to Excellence program is one such program. JTE for the OA replaced the National Quality Lodge program and gave the OA a better tool of measuring the Quality program it offered at the National and Lodge level.
The National OA Endowment was formed more than 30 years ago as means for the Order to fund scholarships and special programs. The national Order of the Arrow committee oversees the annual program budget which is funded using the earnings from the national OA endowment.
And there are more programs at the Lodge level that benefit the local Council, Arrowmen, and Scouts in general.
The Order of the Arrow has its own recognition programs also. You can read all about the OA’s awards at their site.
OK… so that’s the Order of the Arrow from the book But where the Sash meets the Scout what does the Order of the Arrow mean and represent.
I won’t go into the ceremony of the Order of Arrow other than to say from the beginning the Order of the Arrow, through its ceremony and tradition call on the Scout/Scouter to Find the Arrow.
The Arrow is that symbol that we use in Arrow of Light ceremonies to signify a journey. An adventure that is straight and true. A trail that leads the individual to find the right path in life. One of dedicated service to others and the living of the Scout Oath and Law. So in finding the arrow, we strive daily to seek that which is an honorable way of living.
The Order of the Arrow uses the legend of the Lenni Lenape Indians of the Delaware to start the members of the OA on that journey. It is a journey marked by service to others.
Personal Thoughts on the Order of the Arrow.
As stated above, the OA has high-minded goals and bases its foundation on service. This is why I initially started to like the Order of the Arrow. Well, lets back up for a minute… This is why I started to like it as a Scoutmaster. I was first introduced to the OA as a youth at Camp Freedom in Germany. The initial impact of Indians coming across a lake at night in canoes holding torches to light the way. A Great Chief that called his Brothers to seek those that were worthy to join the tribe.. those things as a Scout fascinated me. It was mysterious and cool. It was special. When I went through my ordeal we were given an arrow carved from a piece of wood. We had to wear that arrow around our neck and if we violated any of the rules of the ordeal a chunk was cut from the arrow. This tested us as young men to be disciplined and live that part of the oath that called us to be obedient. For what ever reason, that is no longer a virtue that parents feel important these days and the cutting of corner or chunk of wood is recognized not to reinforce expected behavior but that of offending or hurting the feelings of the person in violation of the agreed rules. But the couple of days that we worked hard serving our camp, quietly laboring cheerfully left a mark on us.
I had the pleasure of becoming a Brotherhood member of the Order with my oldest son. Again, we renewed our commitment to service. John later became a Chapter officer and served the lodge as an Ordeal master as well as a member of the Pre Ordeal, Ordeal, and Brotherhood ceremonies teams. Josh, my youngest son also sealed his membership in the Order of the Arrow as a Brotherhood member and served as an Elangomate during an Ordeal. Having my sons as members made being a member of the Order special in a different way. Watching them grow with an attitude of service was a great thing.
John, our oldest son continues his journey, even though out of Scouting now as a Vigil member. Those values or Cheerful Service carries with him in his daily life. Josh, our youngest, although out of Scouting now also does not stray from his commitment to live the Scout Oath and Law and be of service also. Both look back at their Scouting life with fond memories of time spent with the Order of the Arrow.
Me, in my role as Scoutmaster value the added emphasis that the OA places on living the Oath and Law and being one that goes above and beyond that of an “average” Scout. That may be that thing that is to set Arrowmen apart. We are all called to serve and live the values of the Oath and Law… but as Arrowmen we commit to taking it a step further and making that a life long commitment. Being a Brother in Scouting and to our fellow-man. To serve cheerfully.
In a perfect world that meaning and those commitments would resonate within every Arrowmen. Often times it is lost in a sash and flap and just another Scouting thing. As is with those Scouts that say the Oath each week at their meetings, but fail to live the standard of it, there are Arrowmen that fall short. But the Arrow is within them. The need only to find it.
That happens when the mature and look into themselves and see where their lives are headed. It happens when they see examples of Scouts and Scouters that truly live those values. The example of leaders that proudly wear the symbols of membership and share the meaning and journey of seeking the arrow.
Elections are held annually for membership in the Order of the Arrow. The Scoutmaster sets the ballot of eligible Scouts. Scouts that have met the requirements of membership and more importantly are those Scouts that have demonstrated leadership in serving their fellow Scout. I think also that we need to look at the Scouts potential to lead and serve. I have seen Scouts that met the requirements but fell short in the service area that really took to the OA. Becoming members of ceremonies teams and working for their troop and Council at camps and within the service opportunities offered through the Lodge. The OA can enhance a Troops program because of the higher calling of the Arrowmen.
Now, I don’t want to sound overly dramatic here, but it does work. You can see it in the faces of a Scout called to serve. Reluctantly at first he finds success and meaning in his leadership and service.
The Order of the Arrow is good for Troops. I know of many Scoutmasters that feel that the OA takes away from Troop programs. When used correctly, the OA can be a game changer in a unit. It is not meant to be secret or exclusive. It is meant to enhance service and leadership. It is designed to give incentive to Scouts looking for more. In my opinion it is a great way to focus a Scout in the direction of finding the Arrow.
Where is the Arrow? It is up to you. We know that the foundation is a life that is right and true, but the Arrow is within each of us to seek and find. Once found, a life of cheerful service becomes the norm and our society is better for it. It makes the good Scout a Great Scout. In turn making Scouting better.
This organization, founded to honor those that served camps has grown into an organization that is looked to as the Honor Society of the Boy Scouts of America. That higher calling to serve, what more could Scouting ask for?
If you are a Scoutmaster not sure that support of the OA is the right way to go, rethink that. Get it into your unit and watch the difference come alive.
For those of you that are in support of the Order of the Arrow.. Thank you.. keep it up.
I look forward to going through my Vigil Induction. I don’t know what is ahead, but knowing the journey that I was set on at Camp Freedom those many years ago, I know that it will get me a step closer to finding the Arrow in me.
Have a Great Scouting Day!
**A note about the picture on top of this post.. From left to right in the picture are members of my Troop doing a Cross over ceremony. First on the left is James, now an Eagle Scout and Vigil Honor member, Second is my Youngest son Josh. A Brotherhood member and finished Scouting as a youth as a Life Scout. Third is my oldest son John. He is an Eagle Scout and Vigil Honor Member. Forth is Parker, he is an Eagle Scout and Brotherhood member. Finally is Lucas, he is wrapping up his Eagle Award right now and is a Brotherhood member of the OA.