Last weekend I was at the Naguonabe Lodge spring Conclave. The candidates from my troop went through their ordeal to become members of the Order of the Arrow. While they were busy with their projects it gave me a chance to work with other adult leaders on one project and time to visit them.
It also gave me time to reflect on how the organization has changed during the last twenty years. Oh, the basic ideas are still there such as helping out the troop, promoting camping, and service to others. I was thinking more about the ceremonies and the ordeal itself.
I remember in the mid-seventies, when I was a Boy Scout, that it was almost frightening to be called-out at summer camp. The “Indians” would plow their way through the crowd standing around the council fire ring, practically pick up the candidate by the arms, and then nearly drag him to the front to meet with the chief and his assistants. The chosen one would get slammed on the shoulders as he was presented to the lodge officers. My heart was pounding rapidly one year when they shoved their way through the crowd to me. They chose a scoutmaster who was standing behind me. I was relieved that they did not grab me, but at the same time I thought it would be nice to be chosen.
I was finally nominated to become an OA member after I was a scoutmaster for several years in 1986 (I think). And I soon noticed things had changed since I was a Boy Scout.
The first difference was that instead of standing around the fire ring we now sat around it, on benches! There was no more plowing through the crowd to get the candidates. Now, the names were called out and the candidate stepped up to the opening to the council ring. From there he was escourted to the chief and lodge officers. There was no more shoulder slamming with the outstretched arm. It was now shoulder tapping. Things had become a lot less frightening, and a lot more friendly.
Of course, the night I was called out we candidates stood there in a rain storm and were soaked to the skin, and cold. The ceremony was pretty short that night. It was definitely something I will remember for the rest of my life.
Over the years I have noticed that the ceremonies have been toned down to the point where I am beginning to think of the ceremonies as pretty wussy compared to the past. During my ordeal we were not allowed to speak. We were told three strikes and you were out! I never saw any Scout get booted out of the ordeal but you can be sure the candidates took the threat seriously. Lately, even though candidates are told to be quiet I do see a lot of the speaking and whispering to each other.
Lastly, I remember as a youth that the Order of the Arrow was very secretive. You needed to be an OA member to know what happens at the ordeal weekend. Very hush hush stuff. Of course, now we tell the boys they will not be eating very much for breakfast and lunch, they will be sleeping under the stars the first night, and they will be working their butts off for a good portion of the day. I suppose this change was made to keep it from sounding like some sort of hazing ritual.
Over all, I think the changes made were for the better. But you know, I still think a little mystery can be a fun thing.