The Priesthood Leadership Conference at Philmont was not something I had ever planned on attending. I am embarrassed to admit it, but an outdoor camping experience at my age scores modestly below a tooth extraction on the enjoyability index. In contrast, during dinner the first evening, I heard a number of wide-eyed fellow participants speak in reverent tones about fulfilling a life’s dream of finally arriving at the premier BSA venue in North America.
“They have the same excitement about Philmont as I did about walking down Magnolia Lane at the Augusta National Golf Club during the Masters last year,” I told my wife, Michele. She smiled, but I knew she had serious doubts about whether I was fully committed to making the conference a positive leadership experience.
I am not entirely sure at what moment during the conference it happened, but it did happen. The spirit of Philmont became overwhelming, and the experience of spending time, shoulder to shoulder, with wonderful men and women consecrated to helping bring young men to Christ was transforming.
I felt the spirit of Philmont during the morning flag ceremony while wearing the Scout uniform and as feelings of gratitude washed over me for the privilege of living in a free country. I felt it during every training session as I listened to inspired leaders teach with great insight and clarity about how Scouting can assist parents and priesthood leaders to help young men fulfill their duty to God. I felt it during meals in quiet, intimate conversations with new friends. And I felt it kneeling in prayer on a wooden floor in a tent while the wind whirled around our encampment.
In the process I learned that this extraordinary conference really does have power to change the lives of leaders and young men in our stakes. I also learned that if you are willing to give your heart to the experience, even reluctantly at first, there is something at Philmont that will change you.
Part of it is in the sheer enormousness of its 137,500 acres. Part of it is in sharing the experience with your spouse. Part of it is in the laughter and the tears. And part of it is in recognizing that God’s hand is in this work and that He can perform miracles in our lives—especially in a mountain setting where the splendor of His creations evidences His work in rich abundance.
While I may always feel more comfortable at Augusta National than in a walled tent on a desert plateau, I will never be the same. I will forever cherish this shared experience with remarkable people, inspired leaders, gifted teachers, and a humble tent that surprisingly started to feel like home.