One priesthood leader went to the 2008 edition of the Church's Scouting Leadership Conference at Philmont Scout Ranch admittedly "skeptical" that Scouting can really help young men become better priesthood holders.
A week of inspired training and fellowship under turquoise skies at the Cimarron, N.M., Scout encampment can turn skeptics into believers. "My vision has been exceeded," wrote that same leader following a week at Philmont.
Other comments about the annual leadership conference included this observation from a stake president in Colorado who had long believed in the power of Scouting: "But now I must convert others."
Once again, hundreds of priesthood, Young Men and Scouting leaders gathered at Philmont to make new friends, absorb a week of instruction of counsel from Church auxiliary leaders and celebrate Scouting.
"I believe that the hallmark of Philmont isn't the setting — it's the spirit," said David Pack, director of Boy Scouts of America/LDS Relations.
The always popular Scout leadership training drew more participants in 2008 than ever before. More than 300 priesthood leaders were enrolled in one of the two leadership conferences, running June 28-July 11. Joining most of the men were their wives and children. In all, more than 1,200 people enjoyed the Philmont experience.
"Philmonters" came from all parts of the country, stretching from Maine to California. In fact, the demographics of the campers "was disproportionately outside of Utah," Brother Pack said. Most were first-timers to Philmont.
The many stake presidents, bishops and Young Men leaders who went to Philmont also hail from a variety of professional and Church backgrounds. But unity was found as each man swapped the blue or white collars of the workplace in exchange for Boy Scout uniforms and Scout-themed bolo ties.
They were greeted at camp by a team of Philmont veterans, including Young Men General President Charles W. Dahlquist II and his counselors, Brother Dean R. Burgess and Brother Michael A. Neider, along with Primary General President Cheryl C. Lant and her second counselor, Sister Vicki F. Matsumori. Several members from the Young Men and Primary general boards rounded out the Philmont "faculty."
Each day other than Sunday, the men attended courses that focused on how Scouting can make better deacons, teachers, priests and future Melchizedek priesthood holders. "It's all about the priesthood," Brother Pack said.
The curriculum included class sessions on the various Scouting genres — Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Explorers, Venturers — along with instruction on utilizing the Church's Duty to God program. Other classroom topics included Scout financing, Scouting's relationship with the Church, teaching Aaronic Priesthood quorum presidencies how to preside and individual goal setting.
Meanwhile, spouses and younger children were kept busy with a wide variety of fun and instructional activities. Many teenagers participated in a multi-day, gospel-themed hike in the New Mexico backcountry.
While the classrooms offered instruction, the training session's many firesides provided inspiration and testimony building. Sunday at Philmont is always a spiritual day, as participants worship together as a "ward" during Sunday services. Most of the participants fulfilled a calling, perhaps as a Primary or gospel doctrine teacher.
And, again, there was no shortage of fun — including the annual camp barbecue, dance social, children's parade and screening of "Follow Me Boys."
Organizers are already planning for Philmont 2009. Information about next year's Scouting leadership conference can be found at ldsbsa.org.
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