Are you in the "order with the arrow?" Do you wear the red arrow and the white sash? Do you take part in the secret meetings and ceremonies, and why is it all secret anyway? I thought that the Scouts had no "secret groups"? If you are not in the OA, then why aren't you? I am sorry...why would you, a Black man, knowing the history of our people being killed or maimed "while out in the woods alone" condone such a program? I have grown up with stories about how Black boys and men would "go out into the woods" and never come back. What guarantee does the BSA have that such things WILL NOT happen to my son? My husband? Are you a "virgil"? What did you have to do to get it? Did you cut your thumb and do "blood brothers" with someone or is that a secret?
I am a member of the Order of the Arrow (OA). The OA is the BSA's national camping and service honorary organization and a part of the BSA's Boy Scout program. I do wear a white sash with a red arrow, along with two bars (one above and one below the red arrow) emblematic of a Brotherhood member of the Order of the Arrow. I only wear the sash during ceremonial occasions and during Order of the Arrow activities locally and nationally. At all other times, I wear a special patch over my right pocket flap, which tells Scouts and Scouters that I belong to the OA and in particular, to a particular Lodge. If I don't lose it, I also wear a red and white ribbon suspended from that same right pocket which universally "marks" me as a member of the Order of the Arrow.
The meetings and ceremonies of the Order of the Arrow are NOT "secret". They are safeguarded only to the extent to allow a slight bit of mystery associated with being curious about OA membership. Any parent, religious leader, or chartered organization adult may attend and witness any ceremony and they are NOT held to "some sort kind of code" not to reveal elements of the various ceremonies with others (we do ask that they not share the elements of the ceremonies with youth whom may become members; we want the mysterious nature of the OA to work it's magic toward getting youth interested and retaining their interest in the organization).
You are absolutely correct: the Boy Scouts of America has NO "secret societies", "secret ceremonies" or "secret meetings". If an organization does otherwise, they are in direct violation of the BSA's Charter and Bylaws and may risk having their unit or Council charter pulled (revoked) by the national organization.
There are three "levels" or "degrees" in the Order of the Arrow, and I along with many OA members, male and female, serve as "brothers".
In my personal case, I was elected by members of my Troop when I was a Scout. The first time I was elected in Germany, I turned down the nomination because I felt it was a "popularity contest" and I was relatively new in that Troop. If I had went ahead, I would have been a Vigil Honor member by now as many of my peers became later. The second time, I was elected and participated in the Ordeal but records of my participation was lost when I returned to the States. The third time (in the spring of 1976), I was again elected and participated in the Ordeal at Cardinal Point, located on the former Camp Covered Bridge reservation in Oldham County, Kentucky. A year later I became a Brotherhood member at that same location.
OA members initially serve as Ordeal members after their election and successful completion of the Ordeal, a 24-hour period of service and reflection. After a year or so, Ordeal members whom choose to do so, "seal their membership in the Order" by participating in another 24 hours of service and reflection and participating in the Brotherhood ceremony. Selected Brotherhood members later may receive the Vigil Honor, the highest "level" within the OA. I am not a Vigil Honor member; I was "called" to become one in 1986, but I was unable to participate in my Vigil due to a military relocation. I have the rest of my life for a Lodge to "call" me again for that honor.
All of the ceremonies and activities of the OA conform to BSA and several religious bodies' policies. There is no intentional shedding or sharing of blood, human nor any other kind. There are no "ceremonies to the Father of the Earth" or anything like that, either. The BSA is very concerned about the emotional health of its members and those members participating in OA activities cannot wear "face paint" or have an arrow or any other symbol placed on their bodies.
I talk with and escort several Black families and religious leaders concerned about the OA, what it is and what it is NOT ; and I would be happy to share my own personal experiences with you no matter what color you are. I key in on Black/African American families because as this question illustrates, there was a time in which my mother (and other moms), only hearing of "being out in the woods by yourself", "boys wearing white sashes", "no talking", "cannot tell what happens" and other things, put "two and two" together and got "nine". Until after a Black OA member (and a member of my high school's football team - a good quarter of the team are also Arrowmen) talked with her about the Ordeal and what I would have to do (without revealing the elements of the ceremony to me so that I would not know everything!), my mother did not want me a "part of some secret society or club", even if it was "part of those Boy Scouts".
In 1998, the BSA produced a videotape that has been lukewarm in its usefulness. Called "Brotherhood of Cheerful Service", the videotape explains the Order of the Arrow program, the ceremonies, and the levels of service as evidenced by the sashes. It does do a decent job of dispelling rumors and half-truths about the OA and its role within Scouting. If your Council has a copy of the videotape, I would get it and view it. For some reason it has not found its way onto YouTube(tm) -- it should be posted.
In the meantime, a former OA National Chief and the volunteer OA Chair created separate videos which ARE on YouTube(tm) and while brief, gives "okay, what now?" and "why is this important?" answers.
https://youtu.be/rlSJSPaEJyo A Message for New Ordeal Candidates (for youth; Matt Brown 2013 National OA Chief, talks)
https://youtu.be/R4Kb4R3sqDo A Message for Parents of New Ordeal Candidates (Ray Capp, National OA Chairman, talks to the parents of new ordeal candidates)
The Order of the Arrow has enhanced my personal life. Like so many things associated with Scouting, it allowed me to meet and share life experiences with so many others over the years. During a REFORGER military exercise in 1984, a young Black lieutenant shared soup at 2:45 or so in the morning with a White full Colonel while he was waiting for my Battalion Commander to come back from a meeting with his boss. The full Colonel and I talked "shop" but then the conversation quickly turned to "Were you ever in Scouts? In the OA? Do you remember those crackerbarrels after the Ordeals whereby everyone would basically stand around and trade stories and patches? Isn't this bit like that?"
Both of our faces lit up and smiles formed across our faces as we quickly flashed back to younger days...days whereby we were standing around, containers in hand, blowing the steamy soup so we could drink it...while talking Scouting. And the Order of the Arrow!
If your Council does not have a copy of the videotape, ask them why not or purchase a copy of the videotape from the Order of the Arrow, Boy Scout Program Division, Boy Scouts of America, 1325 West Walnut Hill Lane, Irving, Texas 75015.
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