Re: Order of the Arrow
Bob Vincent (rbvincent@LINKNET.NET)
Fri, 7 Nov 1997 11:36:43 -0600
Edward J. Line requested:
> Would like more information on the Order of the Arrow.
I wrote the following for our BSA council, Attakapas, to give to
prospective members of the Order of the Arrow and their parents.
I hope this is helpful,
Robert Benn Vincent, Sr.
4900 Jackson Street
Alexandria, LA 71303-2509
You are a candidate for membership in the Order of the Arrow and have just
been invited to attend something called the Ordeal. What is it?
The Ordeal is the Order's way of inducting new members. You will be asked
to do certain tasks, to maintain silence and to take time for solitude.
This will give you opportunity to reflect on the commitment you will be
making. What is before you is hard, but not impossible. It is shrouded in
secrecy. While it isn't appropriate for me to disclose all the secrets, I
would like to dispel some of the rumors you might have heard.
First, the fundamental reason for secrecy is to enhance your learning
experience: it isn't secret because something bad is going to happen. You
will not be abused in any way. You will not be asked to do something
contrary to the standards of your home. Nothing will happen that would be
against the teachings of your church, synagogue or other religious
Furthermore, if your parents or pastor have misgivings, the Lodge adviser
will be happy to meet with them. The Order of the Arrow Handbook states:
"We recognize and respect the right of any parent, Scout leader, or
religious leader to be concerned about the content of the ceremonies.
Lodge advisers will willingly discuss the content of the ceremony and any
other concerns brought to their attention. If after the discussion, a
request for attendance at an Order of the Arrow ceremony is received from
any sincerely interested adult, permission will be granted with the
understanding that the visitor must not interfere with the ceremony."
(Order of the Arrow Handbook, Boy Scouts of America, Irving, Texas: 1977,
So we see that while the OA keeps its ceremonies a secret from future
candidates, it is not a secret society. Its membership and leadership is
The Order of the Arrow is a part of the Boy Scouts and is designed to
promote the ideals of Scouting, particularly the outdoor program. The OA
began in 1915, when a summer camp director, E. Urner Goodman, saw the need
to establish a group of Scouts who would go out of their way to help
others: a brotherhood of cheerful service. While every Scout is committed
to "do a good turn daily," and the Scout Law affirms that "a Scout is
helpful," Goodman saw the need to find those Scouts who exemplified these
As anyone who has been involved with Boy Scouting very long knows, the
outdoor program is the most indispensable component. Remove the camping
and hiking, and it won't be long before a troop ceases to exist. But life
in the outdoors is a challenge to most people. Whether it's starting a
fire or cooking over it, a new Scout can become discouraged.
Mr. Goodman wanted to create a cadre of encouragement, a corps of young men
who had mastered certain skills and who were committed to helping others
learn them. He wanted to provide troops and councils with a core group who
understood the need to shoulder responsibilities cheerfully.
While a properly run troop provides boys with an effective program designed
to train them in citizenship and leadership, the Order of the Arrow extends
this program. All of the aspects of a Scout troop that provide leadership
training are intensified in the OA. It is truly boy-led; the adults are
there as advisers.
Leadership opportunities extend beyond a small circle of friends at the
troop level. Elections are held at the Council, Section, Region, and
national levels. Only the youth members may run for office and vote. The
service projects that the OA does are not those chosen by adults; they are
youth chosen and youth run. I know of no better program to train a boy to
become a community leader.
We call our council level organization a lodge. It has nothing to do with
fraternal organizations or secret societies; it is simply the most basic
unit of government for the OA and reflects our respect for Native American
Sometimes people have questions about our use of Native American culture.
This is not an effort to put down European American culture, nor is it
meant as a parody. Great care is taken to avoid even the appearance of
mocking the traditions of Native Americans. It is a way of inspiring
respect for the outdoors and for a way of life that seeks to live in
harmony with the environment. The ideal of bravery and the willingness to
stand alone are things that Scouting wants to encourage, and those aspects
of Native American civilization are values we hold up before youth. In
with our efforts to inculcate respect for Native Americans and to enhance
the learning experience, we use non-English words as part of our
While the Boy Scouts is founded on duty to God and the values that grow out
of that commitment, Scouting is not a religious institution as such. The
brotherhood in view is not a spiritual brotherhood, as in a church or other
religious institution; however, it does reflect a biblical understanding
that we have solidarity with others--to rejoice in their honors, support
them in their loses, and help them in their needs. God expects us to show
this kind of solidarity even where there may be significant spiritual
The Order of the Arrow, then, is not a religious institution, much less a
cult. There is no calling on spirits or occult powers. It does not seek
to supplement, replace or hinder the individual's religious commitment as
he expresses it in his local church, synagogue, or other religious
You are about to become a part of Scouting at its best. You have been
chosen as a Candidate for the Ordeal. You won't enjoy everything about it,
but I can assure you that when you look back on it, you wouldn't want to
have missed any part.
You won't be alone. There will be adults there as Candidates, too. That
adult may be your own Scoutmaster or even a professional Scouter. But
you'll be treated equally. Of all the opportunities that Scouting gives a
boy for positive interaction with responsible adults, nothing is as
effective as what takes place in the Order of the Arrow. It bridges the
gap between boy and adult better than any other organization of which I
know. So, welcome, to the Brotherhood of Cheerful Service.
Terry Howerton Sakima Group, Inc. SCOUTER Magazine Kansas City