As my son approached the ripe old age of six, I knew I wanted him to be a part of a “scouting” group. The Boy Scouts (now renamed Scouts BSA) appeared, even back in 2014, to be an organization adrift – and this was before they brought in openly homosexual adult leaders, embraced transgenderism as healthy, and went co-ed. The Knights of Columbus were winding down their Columbian Squires program. This left, from my perspective, two options – Trail Life USA and the Troops of Saint George (TSG).
Let me begin by saying that any boy would benefit from being a part of either Trial Life or TSG. They both have the potential to provide solid Catholic catechesis, enliven the faith of the boys, and strengthen the relationship between father and son. Boys are different from girls and need to have a place where they can learn what it takes to become a Catholic man. My following reasons on why I chose Trail Life over TSG is not meant to disparage the TSG, but to answer a question I have been asked many times.
- Organization. Trail Life is very organized, and I appreciated the breadth and depth of support within Trail Life. I knew that I would not have a lot of time to “create” wheels with a demanding job, large family, and small farm to run. Trail Life has lesson plans (hundreds) that provided a 95% solution for every meeting preparation. I found that each meeting was well thought out and provided a great balance of teaching, faith formation, and fun! The entire program, from K through 12, is well-structured and weaves several important elements together. The program provided by the TSG appeared more generalized and aspirational – and while the aims are good – I wanted practical assistance preparing for a meeting.
- Insurance. This is not every exciting, but it shows how well-run/mature an organization is. Trail Life provides a $1,000,000 policy of primary insurance. This protects the church if there is an accident, and accidents may happen when you are camping, canoeing, etc. At the Archdiocesan level, the insurance issue was very important, but they approved of the insurance provided by Trail Life. The TSG offers $25,000 of secondary insurance, which means the church – or possibly adult volunteer – gets sued first. That is not a position I want to be in or place my parish in.
- Structure. For Trail Life, each Troop is sponsored by the parish and is a part of that church’s ministry. A Trail Life Troop cannot form without the pastor’s support. I had to wait over a year to get the green light from our pastor, but in the end I feel this was appropriate. With the Troops of Saint George, each Troop is encouraged to become a 501C3 or LLC, and is defined as an apostolate. There is no requirement that the TSG Troop is sponsored by a church, but they do need to have a priest from within the diocese. This might be bad advice, but forming an LLC doesn’t seem appropriate under Oregon law for this type of group. In fact, the lack of primary insurance and subsequent exposure of leadership to lawsuits seems to be the only reason why an LLC would be formed.
- Size. Trail Life USA has over two dozen Troops in the Northwest. Oregon alone has three Catholic Troops and ten other Christian Troops. When I was looking, TSG had only two troops within 500 miles of me – in Eastern Washington – and they never responded to my emails or phone calls. To this day, I have no idea if they are active or just exist on paper. Nationwide, there is a vibrant Catholic Trail Life movement, with three amazing bishops as members of the Trail Life Catholic Committee, in addition to the dozens of Bishops who have supported Trail Life. I feel that Trail Life is working within the Church at the National and Local level before moving forward.
- Ecumenism. Let’s face it – among many orthodox Catholic circles, ecumenism has gotten a bad rap. Often the term is used to disguise support of anti-catholic left wing organizations. However, true ecumenism – rooted in a shared love of Christ and the reality of one baptism – is very good – and I believe that Trail Life USA embodies the best of ecumenism. The shared Statement of Faith is the bedrock of understanding, and because each Troop is a part of their Church’s ministry – there is no concern of a watered down Catholicism for the Catholic Troops. At every campout we have prayed the rosary and sang the Salve Regina at the campsite.
- American Heritage Girls. Although I was looking for a program for my sons, I also have two daughters. Trail Life USA has a formalized agreement with AHG, the premiere girls organization. Therefore, having a Trail Life Troop lends itself to eventually adding on a program for girls, and let’s face it – today’s culture attacks both sexes.