Siblings in Christ,
As I begin a new year as your Bishop with a sense of hope, I’m writing today to pastors and key church leaders to share some important information, call for prayer, and request action.
Many of you have seen the articles and heard reports regarding the Boy Scouts of America. Both UMNews service and the secular press have covered the organization's legal issues Our weekly e-news on August 25 linked to a UMC press release about recent developments.
It is important for you to know that our denomination has convened an ad hoc committee to work diligently on this issue. This ad hoc group is providing guidance and leadership to bishops and designated conference leaders across the United States.
Whether your church has chartered a Boy Scout troop or not, I ask you to read and consider the following requests.
FOR ALL CONGREGATIONS:
- I call you to prayer. Pray for those who have been affected by sexual abuse – whether in this situation or any situation. The pain of abuse is deep and can often last a lifetime. We must continue to offer God’s grace and healing and pray for all who have experienced harm.
- Make sure that your congregation – whether you have a Scouting troop or not – has an up-to-date and active Safe Sanctuaries policy. It doesn’t matter whether you have few or no children/youth or a great number of children/youth – the Conference highly recommends that every church adopt and implement a Safe Sanctuaries Policy to create a Safe Sanctuary environment within your church facilities and throughout your ministry. You can find information at wpaumc.org/safesanctuaries
- If you do not have a Cub Scout pack or Boy Scout troop and your congregation is approached to start one, we advise you to consider waiting until more information is known about the current issues with the national Boy Scout organization and local Boy Scout Councils. Part of the bankruptcy process for the Boy Scouts of America involves a restructure of the organization. At this time local congregations cannot know what obligations and responsibilities a chartering congregation will have as the organization restructures.
FOR CONGREGATIONS THAT SPONSOR OR PROVIDE SPACE FOR A SCOUTING UNIT, THE AD HOC COMMITTEE ADVISES THE FOLLOWING:
- Agree to extend an expiring charter through December 31, 2021, rather than renew that charter.
- Replace an expiring charter with a Facilities Use Agreement that expires on December 31, 2021. (A sample agreement is being developed and should be available soon through your superintendents’ offices.)
- Terminate an existing charter and replace it with a Facilities Use Agreement that expires on December 31, 2021. (Again, a sample agreement is currently being developed.)
- If your congregation does not charter a Scouting unit, but a Scouting unit uses your church, you must have a Facilities Use Agreement to cover their activities.
All of these options allow more time to see how the bankruptcy will impact United Methodist congregations. The options also allow time for the Scouting organization to make clear the expectations/requirements of a congregation that charters a Scouting unit following the organizational restructure.
Scouting has been, and often continues to be, a part of the mission and ministry of many of our local churches. It has provided immeasurable ministry opportunities and taught life skills to untold numbers of young people. The action requested does not diminish Scouting. We expect to continue support for Scouting programs, but the type of support will depend on the restructuring.
Please know that I am praying for you and the congregations of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference.