Conference at Philmont Ranch Focuses on Aaronic Priesthood
By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer
CIMARRON, NEW MEXICO
These are historic times for the Church and its ongoing relationship with Scouting. Young men and their leaders throughout the United States are celebrating 100 years of Scouting in the Church during encampments and other activities.
Meanwhile, hundreds of stake presidents and other local youth leaders from across the country gathered here recently for the 2013 edition of the LDS Priesthood Leadership Conference on Scouting at Philmont Scout Ranch. This year’s conferences marked the golden anniversary of the partnership between the Church and Philmont. For 50 years, Aaronic Priesthood leaders have come to this iconic Scout ranch for a week of intense training, fellowship, and outdoor fun.
“I think this was our best Philmont yet,” said Brother David. L. Beck, the Young Men general president who presided over the two training sessions (June 29–July 5 and July 6–12).
The Primary general presidency and board again played a pivotal role at Philmont. Sister Rosemary M. Wixom and her counselors, Sister Jean A. Stevens and Sister Cheryl A. Esplin, each participated in a weeklong session of the conference. The general auxiliary presidency and general board also served as the faculty at the annual leadership conferences, teaching participants through classroom instruction and during daily devotionals and Sabbath services.
Participants at the Philmont conference wear Scout uniforms—but each session is, first and foremost, an Aaronic Priesthood training for local youth leaders.
“Our focus was on talking about the preparatory priesthood,” said Brother Beck. Much of Philmont’s instruction, he explained, concentrated on both the short- and long-term benefits of proper priesthood development.
“Ultimately, the Aaronic Priesthood is training for young men to become great fathers,” he said.
Sister Wixom said that Primary plays an essential role in the Philmont priesthood training.
“Primary is a time for preparation—and the time of preparation is as critical as the time of performance.”
The Primary leader noted that half of all Scouts in the Church (including the Cub Scouts, Webelos, and 11-year-old Boy Scouts) are of Primary age. She echoed Brother Beck’s sentiment that Scouting, particularly Cub Scouting, is a proven bridge that can bring together Church members and others from the community. She added that boys of Cub Scout age have proven to be the most willing of all Scouts to reach out and invite others to join with them. Such fellowshipping traits are invaluable when boys reach Aaronic Priesthood age and, just six years later, begin full-time missionary service.
Lessons from the Young Men and Primary leaders also highlighted the essential role that devoted men and women play in helping young men integrate the Duty to God program and Sunday quorum instruction into their day-to-day gospel living.
Sister Jean A. Stevens of the Primary general presidency utilizes Primary materials to instruct a class at the Philmont leadership training. Photo by Robyn Beck.
Men and women called to serve in Young Men and Primary groups share a sacred duty to become shepherds to the youth they serve, said Brother Beck. The youth of the Church are then well equipped to become shepherds themselves, serving others at school and through Church duties.
As expected, much of the discussion at Philmont focused on recent age changes for full-time missionary service. Success will come to an 18-year-old elder when he has learned to be resilient, confident, and concerned for others, Brother Beck said.
Instructors anchored their lessons in Doctrine and Covenants 84:106: “And if any man among you be strong in the Spirit, let him take with him him that is weak, that he may be edified in all meekness, that he may become strong also.”
The young men of the Church, observed Brother Beck, “need to understand that, as priesthood holders, they are responsible for ministering to others.”
Sister Wixom said Primary-age Scouts require the same training and shepherding as Mutual-age Scouts. These are perilous times, and Primary-age Scouts must be included in the frank discussions that were once directed only at older boys. She noted that on average a boy is first exposed to pornography at age 9.
Many of the participants at Philmont, she said, have caught “the vision of Primary” and its role in preparing young men for priesthood service.
Sister Wixom also spoke of the “spirit of Philmont” that allows families to be joint participants in gospel learning. That spirit, she added, can be felt far from camp when families choose to study and celebrate the gospel together in their homes.
Scores from Philmont’s most recent “class” returned home with scrapbooks—be they physical or digital—stuffed with priceless family memories. Beyond the daily instruction, participants enjoyed family time together at talent shows, western hoedowns, barbecues, worship services, and quiet cool evenings under eastern New Mexico’s vast skies.