On a Saturday afternoon in July, carloads of travel-weary but excited families drive up a tree-lined road at the Philmont Training Center in northern New Mexico.
Members of the Young Men and Primary general presidencies greet the vehicles of parents and children as they arrive at the Priesthood Leadership Conference on Scouting, a week-long training experience for stake presidencies and their families.
“When the families come, the Spirit comes with them,” commented Sister Joy D. Jones, recently sustained Primary general president, who attended both sessions of the conference this year with her counselors. The conference occurs under the direction of the Young Men and Primary general presidencies with support from the LDS-BSA relationships director. This year marks the 53rd anniversary of the event. During the two sessions — held June 25-July 1 and July 2-8 — 391 priesthood leaders from 121 stakes and 58 BSA councils participated, with their attending family members totaling over 1,267 people.
The conference is hosted by the Boy Scouts of America at their premier training facility near Philmont Scout Ranch. Each summer nearly 30,000 Scouts hike the wilderness backcountry of the 140,000-acre ranch.
During their week at Philmont, families live in “tent city,” eat meals together in the dining hall, participate in activities and make friends from across the nation.
“The priesthood leaders come to Philmont thinking they will be taught to serve better in their callings, but they leave wanting to serve better in their homes,” observed Sister Jones.
“Questions come in during the week relating to the priesthood, to Scouting, to Cub Scouting,” said Brother Stephen W. Owen, Young Men general president. “We answer those as a presidency, but then allow others who have experience to lend their strength and counsel together to truly build each other.”
Morning flag ceremonies involve Boy Scouts, 11-year- old Scouts, and Cub Scouts, and evening family activities include campfire programs, a huge family home evening, family banner parade, Primary parade, and a western buffalo barbecue. During the week, Brother Owen shared the story of Nephi following the Lord’s command to build a ship. He compared the Scouting program to part of that ship — a tool to help carry Lehi’s family to the Promised Land.
“The tools of seminary, Come Follow Me, Scouting, Duty to God and other wholesome activities are parts of the ship that carries young men to that Promised Land,” explained Brother M. Joseph Brough, second counselor in the Young Men general presidency. “Much of the week was focused on the mentoring relationships that foster youth developing personal religious behavior.”
Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, second counselor in the Primary general presidency, explained, “Scouting is the tool we use in shaping boys through activities. The more we understand how to use a tool the better we can use it effectively.”
Sister Jones added, “In Primary through Scouting we’re seeking to support boys in keeping their baptismal covenants and prepare for the Aaronic Priesthood and, ultimately, we see them as righteous husbands and fathers. We hope that when the priesthood leaders walk away they see that whole vision.”
“The hearts of the brethren participating here are being softened and changed …,” said Brother Douglas D. Holmes, first counselor in the Young Men general presidency. “As the gospel works from the inside out, changed men have power to change others.”
During her closing remarks, Sister Jones said, “Internalize the things the Spirit has taught you this week. Discuss these with your wives and act together. You have great power as couples to do great things in the Church and in your homes.”
“We are the shepherds,” concluded Brother Owen. “We know who the Good Shepherd is and we invite all to come unto Him. Now it’s time to go back and bless young men and other leaders. Some of us are in wonderful families with a father and a mother, but some over whom we have stewardship do not have a father in the home. We need to reach out. Let’s go out and reach all.”