In the wake of the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to allow openly gay Scouts into its ranks, two Johnson County Scout groups were left without a place to meet or the supporting structure needed to operate.
But one local church has stepped in to support the two troops and allow Scouting activities to go on.
St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Franklin will be the home base of Boy Scout Troop 229 and Cub Scout Pack 617. Both groups lost their charters with other churches this summer.
With a focus on inclusion, St. Thomas officials believed it was important to provide a welcoming sanctuary for all Scouts, regardless of their sexual orientation.
“The job of a Boy Scout leader is to help young people grow, and you don’t help them grow by stopping them from participating,” said the Rev. Tanya Vonnegut Beck, the transitional rector of the church. “The Episcopal Church really believes in addressing all and welcoming all. They’ve gone a long way to do that.”
The Boy Scouts of America national council announced in May that it was removing sexual orientation as a restriction to joining. Previously, openly gay members were not permitted into the organization.
The announcement was opposed by some churches and religious organizations that sponsor Boy Scouts. Religious leaders felt that the decision contradicted their Christian values. Throughout the country, churches have ended their affiliation with Scouts.
Boy Scout Troop 229 had its charter revoked in June by Franklin Christian Fellowship Church. The troop has 12 members, though only six are active, and focuses on being inclusive, particularly to boys with special needs.
Scoutmaster Larry Lynch has been specially trained through Indiana Resource Center for Families with Special Needs and at Philmont Boy Scout Reservation to work with special needs Scouts.
With no chartering organization, Lynch had to search for another group as a sponsor.
Cub Scout Pack 617 will be absorbed into St. Thomas as well. The pack previously was chartered at Grace Assembly of God in Whiteland. But when the national Assembly of God leadership decided to end its relationship with the Boy Scouts, the group dissolved and its charter was not renewed.
Every Scout troop has to be chartered by a local organization. Those sponsors offer meeting facilities, provide leadership to the pack and appoint a representative to work between the larger Scouting leadership and local activities.
Most Scouting packs and troops are sponsored by religious organizations, but other civic and school groups serve as hosts.
Both Troop 229 and Pack 617 were brought to St. Thomas Episcopal Church by Danny Bachman.
He has been involved in Scouting since he was 8. The program taught him to be confident, work toward a goal and build character.
“Scouting has helped me become the person I am today, the father and husband, to support my family, the building of character,” he said.
When he learned that some churches were revoking charters based on the Boy Scouts’ decision, he wanted to offer his own church, St. Thomas, as a new meeting place.
“I’m an Eagle Scout and a longtime supporter of the program. Between being a youth and adult, I’ve been involved with it for almost 30 years. It’s something that means a lot to me. I knew that we had the place and the facility to support a group, and it worked out that way,” he said.
Bachman went to church leaders and asked that the church charter the two Scouting groups.
St. Thomas leaders describe their congregation as being “radically welcoming,” Beck said. The Episcopal Church has a policy of tolerance and openness to all people, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation.
So opening its doors to an organization that has decided to be tolerant of all Scouts made sense, Beck said.
“Our pews are full of people of great diversity,” she said. “This was a shoo-in. We all felt that this couldn’t happen to these Scouts.”
In June, the church vestry approved holding the charter on both Troop 229 and Pack 617. When the issue was presented to the congregation for approval, it was met with an overwhelmingly positive reaction.
“Sunday, they were clapping to show their support,” Beck said.
Troop 229 started meeting Wednesday at the church and will meet every week, Bachman said. Pack 617’s charter transition will be formally completed in August, and Bachman is planning a parent meeting Aug. 28 to start planning its next steps.
Bachman also is working with the Crossroads of America Council of the Boy Scouts of America to change the number of the pack to 229, so the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts are one entity.
Since the initial announcement to include homosexual Scouts, the organization has been working to find new sponsors for troops and packs that have lost their charters.
Churches and organizations such as St. Thomas Episcopal Church have been instrumental in taking in Scout groups, said Debbie Davis, spokeswoman for the Crossroads of America Council.
“There have been some chartered organizations who no longer wish to be sponsors, and in every case thus far we have found new ones willing to step in. Every family who wishes to remain in Scouting has an available pack or troop,” she said in an email.