Duty to God Program Anchors Instruction at Philmont Conference
By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer
- The priesthood leadership conference held at Philmont Scout Ranch is an opportunity for stake leaders, accompanied by their families, to receive instruction from youth leaders, make new friends, and build testimonies.
- Stake leaders spend hours each day in classrooms and in large halls, where they receive Scout- and priesthood-themed instruction.
- Much of the instruction focuses on the essential role of the Duty to God program.
“The fullest expression of the priesthood is fatherhood and motherhood. ... All that we have talked about this week is designed to strengthen relationships with God and family.” —David L. Beck, Young Men general president
Youth leaders such as David L. Beck, Young Men general president, and his counselors, Larry M. Gibson and Adrian Ochoa, can almost call the Philmont Scout Ranch their second home. Each year they spend a couple of weeks in the ruggedly beautiful lands of eastern New Mexico presiding over a priesthood leadership conference designed to help leaders assist their charges in the Aaronic Priesthood to become the best young men they can be.
It’s an inspiring experience that participants never forget. Hundreds of stake leaders from across the United States converge on the encampment for a week of training, fellowship, and fun. The stake presidents and their counselors typically arrive with their families, who also enjoy their time at the ranch as they experience the wonders of the “Land of Enchantment” while making new friends, strengthening family relationships, and building testimonies.
While the local leaders spend their time at Philmont dressed in Scout uniforms, the conference is very much a priesthood gathering. Hours are spent each day in classrooms and in large halls for Scout- and priesthood-themed instruction. There are also devotionals and mountain priesthood leadership training retreats taught by the Young Men general presidency and Young Men general board, along with Rosemary M. Wixom, Primary general president, and her counselors, Jean A. Stevens and Cheryl A. Esplin.
Families who gathered for one of the recent two Philmont leadership conferences functioned as a ward during their week at camp. Prior to the conferences, almost all participants were given traditional assignments in their new “ward.” A stake president from North Carolina may find himself in front of a group of Sunbeams, while a sister from Idaho may accept the calling of ward Young Women president for a few days.
Sundays are always a highlight at Philmont as families worship together, fulfill their weeklong callings, and spend time together with scripture study and quiet reflection. Philmont becomes a tent city during the LDS conferences, and a Sabbath-day walk through the peaceful encampment offers participants an opportunity to make new friends and build special family memories.
In a perfect world, every youth leader in the Church would have an opportunity to spend a week at Philmont. Local leaders return home with a better understanding of Scouting and its place in Aaronic Priesthood quorums in the United States. But much of the instruction also focuses on the essential role of the Duty to God program, which functions in wards and branches across the globe.
During his service at Philmont, Brother Beck was quick to note that Duty to God cannot be entirely defined as a “program.” Instead, “it is a resource to help young men become great fathers,” he said. “It is not something we can complete and not do anymore.”
During the training Brother Beck taught that “the fullest expression of the priesthood is fatherhood and motherhood. ... All that we have talked about this week is designed to strengthen relationships with God and family.”
Before young men can fulfill their duty to God, they must first understand their duties, he added. They need the support of wise parents, peers, and leaders. “This triangle represents the key relationships in the life of a young man: His relationship with God, his relationship with his parents, [and] his relationship with his peers,” he said. “Young men who successfully stay on the path and prepare themselves to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood go to the temple and on missions and prepare themselves to be wonderful husbands and fathers.”
Not all participants in the recent Philmont conferences camped at the ranch. Most of the older teens participated in a “trek” through the New Mexico backcountry. The young men and women enjoyed respite from their tiring sojourn by participating in Sabbath-day worship services in the woods. Members of the Young Men and Primary presidencies traveled to the makeshift outdoor worship sites to join the trekkers for the meetings.