“We simply cannot continue the relationship with the BSA as it has existed in the past,” say Bishop David Bard and Chancellor Andrew Vorbrich. Here are their recommendations.
LANSING, MI — On July 21, 2021 Bishop David Bard and Andrew Vorbrich sent an important email message to pastors, trustees, and other leaders of United Methodist churches in Michigan. Vorbrich, Chancellor of the Michigan Conference, joined the bishop in recommending that local churches change their relationship with their scouting units.
They began their email with their own personal experiences in scouting. Bard said, “I am the Bishop of the Conference. As a youth, I was active in Boy Scouts in my home state of Minnesota. I attained the rank of Life Scout before summer jobs and other activities prevented me from continuing with the scouting program. But I have fond memories of campouts, friendships, and learning skills that I still use. I even preached my first sermon on a Boy Scout camping trip.”
Vorbrich added, “I became an Eagle Scout in 1980 with my troop in Des Moines, Iowa. Both of my sons are also Eagle Scouts with Troop 205 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I learned leadership skills and independence through scouts and experienced many adventures that would not have been available to me otherwise. And my boys are better people because of scouting.”
Current reality with the BSA
They continued with an explanation of the present position of The Boy Scouts of America (BSA).
“The Boy Scouts of America is overwhelmed with potential liability exposure from sexual assault allegations nationwide. The BSA has filed for bankruptcy protection. Under both proposed plans that the BSA has suggested as a way to continue after the bankruptcy, they are leaving their Chartered Organizations out on a limb by themselves. The Chartered Organizations are the local churches, schools, and civic groups that sponsor or host a Scout Troop, Pack, Crew, or other unit. The details of these plans are still being played out, but the BSA is placing all our United Methodist churches who have ever been involved in scouting in a very difficult position.
“Despite their consistent past assurances that they held enough insurance to cover their chartered organizations in case of injured scouts, we now know that the BSA did not have enough or sufficient insurance. The local churches are at risk of having to pay significant sums to victims to compensate them for the damages they suffered at the hands of some scout leaders. In addition, the local churches will have to pay for the cost of their own attorneys to defend those claims. All of this is because the BSA did not fulfill their promise to have enough insurance to protect the local churches.”
Future Relationship with the BSA
Bishop Bard and Chancellor Vorbrich recommend that local churches change their relationship with their scouting units, as follows:
If your local church currently charters a scout unit
“We recommend that you NOT renew that chartering agreement when it is up for renewal or re-chartering this fall. Instead, we recommend one of two options, the choice of which is up to you.
- Tell the local scout council that you will NOT renew that chartering agreement but will only extend the current agreement until December 31, 2021.
- Tell the local scout council that you will NOT renew that chartering agreement but will enter into a Facilities Use Agreement with their unit until December 31, 2021. This will act similar to a lease allowing the scout unit to use your space, but they will be responsible for everything else, including the selection of leaders.
“After December 31, 2021, we should be in a better position to see how the future will unfold. Once a BSA plan is approved by the bankruptcy court, we will know better how to proceed.”
If your local church does not charter a scout unit at this time
“We recommend that you NOT consider chartering a unit until the bankruptcy case is finalized and we have an understanding of how The United Methodist relationship with scouts will continue in the future.
“We understand that these suggestions are dramatic, but we think them to be the prudent course of action currently. We want to protect our local churches from costly litigation.”
The value of scouting
Bishop Bard and Andrew Vorbrich concluded their message with a word of cautious hope.
“We know the value of scouting. It has played a very large role in the mission and ministry of The United Methodist Church for a very long time. But the BSA is not proving faithful to The United Methodist Church as they are leaving us without the protections that they promised. We simply cannot continue the relationship with the BSA as it has existed in the past. Until we know how the BSA will be organized and operate in the future, we must make some changes.
Hopefully, we will be able to continue our long connection with scouting in a more robust way in the future, but we need to make some changes today to protect our congregations.”
Those with questions should contact the Rev. Dr. Jennifer Browne, Clergy Assistant to the Bishop.