After BSA allows gay scouts, UU Church of Fort Myers opens doors to three units.
The three units, a Boy Scout troop, Cub Scout troop, and a Venturing crew, had been sponsored by a Baptist church. When the BSA’s National Council voted May 23 to remove the restriction denying membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation, that church felt it could no longer maintain a relationship with the scout units. They parted ways.
What happened next was serendipity. One of the scout leaders, who had attended the UU church on a few occasions, made an inquiry. Church and scout leaders talked. A tour was arranged, followed by a unanimous affirming vote by the governing board and another by the scout leaders.
The units held their first meetings at the church in August. Scouts and their parents participated in the church’s annual ice cream social. The scouts also had their fall recruiting meeting at the church.
A number of years ago many UU congregations sponsored scout units. Then in the mid-1990s, the BSA took a hard line against LGBT scouts and leaders, in addition to requiring that scouts profess a belief in a supreme being. Most UU congregations severed their ties with scout units.
The Rev. Allison Farnum, UUCFM minister, said she is excited about the opportunity to engage with scouting. At the same time she notes that a relationship with the BSA can bring challenges, because the BSA still prohibits gay adult leaders and requires a belief in a supreme being.
“Hosting these troops is a pretty good move for us,” Farnum said, “but we’re also holding the tension around excluding gay adults. This is going to be a great learning opportunity for the congregation. We are, of course, hoping for the day when gay leaders are welcome as well. So we’re acknowledging the pain that some feel, while at the same time we’re hoping this opportunity will enliven the mission of this church. People are excited about this. We decided this is something we should support.”
The BSA has asked the scout leaders in Fort Myers to not speak out about their move until their contract with the Baptist church expires in January. Hugh Cochran, a member of the UUCFM board of trustees who has acted as a liaison with the scout units, said the scouts, in exchange for meeting space, have agreed to take care of the plantings and lawn areas in front of the church.
The congregation can easily accommodate the scouts in its physical space, he noted. The church has 12 acres that include an ecological preserve, a pond, camping areas, woods, and an amphitheater with a fire pit. “They just really fell in love with our place,” Cochran said.
According to Cochran, there are not a lot of young people in the congregation, and there are no UU scouts in these three groups. “However, a couple of people approached me and said that if the scouts come here they want their children to join. My guess is that we and the scouts are going to grow together,” he said.
Angela Melton, a church board of trustees member who is lesbian, said she’s happy to welcome the scouts. “We would not be living our values as UUs if we were to exclude them because they’re not totally inclusive themselves. They’re making steps in the right direction, and I think it’s important to recognize that. That’s our duty as I see it.”
Carey McDonald, the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Youth and Young Adult Ministries Director, said he’d not heard of any other congregations connecting with Boy Scout units since the May announcement. But he applauded UUCFM’s decision.
“Whenever we can provide a home for young people who are standing by equality that’s a good thing for us and for them,” McDonald said. “I also recognize the new BSA membership policy is not a perfect solution. Every congregation will need to find its own way in responding to it.”
Photograph (above): Hugh Cochran (center) helped find a new home for local Boy Scouts at the UU Church of Fort Myers, where he is a member. Matt Peterson (left) and Dennis Wisniewski are scout leaders in the Florida city. (courtesy UUCFM).
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Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.