By ALAN SMASON, Exclusive to the CCJN
Religious figures have always provided integral and necessary counseling at World Scouting Jamborees. Rabbis, rectors, priests, pastors, and imams representing all of the major established religions have dispersed spiritual guidance and pastoral support for the thousands of Scouts who make the journey from near and far to encamp with their counterparts in Scouting once every four years.
Such is the case again at this year’s 24th World Scouting Jamboree being sponsored by the World Organization of the Scouting Movement (WOSM) in the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia. Held at the Boy Scouts of America’s Summit Brecthel Family Scout Reserve, some 45,000 Scouts from 156 countries are actively camping for the fortnight period that ends on August 3 expressing mutual respect and love of Scouting.
For the first time this year’s Faith and Beliefs chaplain staffers are a part of the International Service Team (IST) at the Jamboree. Great strides are being achieved by ladies, who are assuming more responsibilities than ever before at this year’s World Scouting Jamboree.
As the leader of a small, pluralistic Jewish congregation mostly attended by octogenarians, Rabbi Susan Elkodsi’s new role as a Jamboree chaplain is a major change for her. “This is a big difference and I have to say it’s a wonderful experience to see all these young people behaving as though there’s no difference – the Americans in one campaign and the Senegalese and the Poles and the Galicianna – they’re behaving like teenagers and it’s just wonderful,” she said.
Elkodsi envisions bringing her years of experience as a rabbi to the Jamboree participants. “To me, a chaplain is someone who helps a person to access his or her own spiritual resources (and) to help that person cope with what’s going on,” she mused.
She believes that international events like the World Scouting Jamboree can have a positive effect on the world at large. “We hate what we feel,” the rabbi continued. “When we get to know each other and we realize what other people fee like, we can bond over the things that unite us rather than focus on the negativity.”
Although she is a veteran of the 2007 National Jamboree in her native Sweden, the Rev. Mali Karlsson is attending her third World Scouting Jamboree, having been to both the 22nd gathering held in Sweden in 2011 and 2015’s 23rd , but more importantly, her first as a Lutheran chaplain.
Karlsson sees her job as a chaplain as not much different from her male counterparts. “It’s mostly the same,” she considered. “I’d say when it comes to the chaplaining parts, there shouldn’t be any difference.”
Karlsson oversees Alpha Camp, one of four Scout encampments with a population of about 6,700 Scouts. he Scouts are amping at four camping sites at the Summit, the largest World Scouting Jamboree in history.
“I have two chaplains in every sub-camp,” she explained. “They are the ones who are primarily in charge of the people in their sub-camp. The way I’ve interpreted my role is I’m more in charge of them and, I think they will have more stress than me.”
Two years ago, at the 2017 Boy Scout National Jamboree (also at the Summit), United Methodist Church Scouter Tanya Edwards Evans was both the first woman chaplain and the first African-American to be selected to serve. A woman of French, Caribbean, Native-American and African heritage, Evans, a minister, was selected to serve Scouting by her UMC bishop after a long association as both a church member and a mother of Scouts.
It turned out that many Scouting units charter-partnered with the United Methodist Church were being run by women instead of the traditional male Scout leaders. As there was little or no female or African-American representation from the church, Evans was asked to help support the existing units.
“I’ve learned how to use coping skills,” Evans said in recounting her life’s struggles as a member of two minorities.
“A lot of countries accept women in this role,” Evans added. “It’s harder for Americans to accept this role,” she noted. “We’ve got to change the culture in this country.”
The World Jamboree has given Evans an opportunity to appreciate all the possibilities found in the Scouting program internationally. “It is wonderful to see the diversity of women that are here from India to Korea to Viet Nam. Some of them are wearing their native dress, but all of them are Scouts. All of them; have the (inter)national Scout symbol. All of them know the scout Law,” Evans observed.
She has accepted her position as a chaplain with gratitude and hopes to make a difference at the World Jamboree and beyond. “I fill that position, but I also know how to treat people with dignity and respect,” she commented and then added: “You tell me what you need.”
As a final comment, the chaplain issued a challenge to other churches to support Scout troops. “It’s mentoring young people. Period,” she explained. “It doesn’t matter if they’re male or female, find a group of young people and give them structure.”