Some years ago we started a tradition in our troop called Scout vespers every Saturday evening when the troop is camping.
“Vesperas” is a Latin word that means “evening” and is a root of the English word “west” where the sun sets. Gathering for a moment of reflection or a religious service in the evening has a long history in practice and symbolism;
- The Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday.
- Christians of many denominations observe evening vespers services.
- Muslims pray five times a day, the forth being the sunset prayer
- Hindus practice Puja or prayer facing west in the evening.
- The medicine wheel of the Native Americans recognizes the west as the direction of change and reflection.
The evening is often the best time for Scouts to assemble while camping and reflect on that part of the Scout Oath that pledges Duty to God and that part of the Scout Law that encourages us towards reverence.
Where to assemble
Depending on the time, season and setting Scouts can gather around a campfire, on a hillside as the sun sets, in a grove of trees, or in the warmth of a cabin. Sitting or standing in a circle puts no one in the background and encourages everyone to participate.
Three ingredients to successful Vespers
- Solemnity- Maintaining a respectful, reverent atmosphere is important.
- Brevity – To be effective reflections should be focused and relevant. Exactly how long it lasts depends on the setting, the group, and the level of participatio, but it should be lcear that this is not something presented to the Scouts as they sit and listen, it’s all about participation.
- Predictability – The welcome familiarity of a formal opening, predictable progression and closing encourages Scouts to participate.
Suggested Vespers Outline
Before assembling the troop patrols get together to record their thoughts for the day in their Patrol Log. Discussing and reflecting on what they learned, observed and did prepares patrol members for Vespers as well as benefit from keeping a log of their activities.
Once the Troop assembles the Vespers leader (preferably a Scout but it could be the Scoutmaster, or another Scouter) shares a brief inspirational thought or reflection focused on why we are doing what we are doing. The thought can be something general, or directly related to the day’s activities, but it should only take moment or two. A simple statement of what is about to happen serves as an effective opening;
“ Whenever we are camping we set aside some time to remind us of that part of the Scout Oath in which we pledge to do our Duty to God and help other people at all times and that part of the Scout law that encourages us to be reverent. For the next few minutes we will all have the opportunity to reflect and share on why we are Scouts and what it means to us.”
The leader shares a brief reflection on something they have observed, discovered or thought that day to focus the group – for example:
“Today on our hike I watched as you all followed the trail blazes along the way. These blazes help us follow the trail, alert us to changes ahead like turns and crossings. I couldn’t help but think, while they may not be painted on trees, there are trail blazes we follow as we live our lives. The Scout Law is like a set of blazes that guide us, as are your families, your friends and your beliefs. Can any of you tell me a trail blaze that you follow?”
“When we were swimming today I watched Mark being our lookout, and how well he did keeping track of everyone, and sorting our a couple of arguments. I thought that he was a fine example of courtesy and kindness. I’m interested in what you think about when you repeat those things in the Scout law.
“We all repeat the Scout oath and law regularly, but we don’t often get the chance to talk about it as a group. Did anyone see the oath and law in action today? Who would like to choose one point of the Scout law, or one part of the oath to discuss?”
At this point several scouts usually have something to say. The discussion is open, but guided, so that we reflect on not only the events of the day, but the reasons we are scouts and the intention of our activities. Reflection is a powerful tool to draw Scouts into a discussion and help them shape their own understanding of the oath and law.
Scouts are encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas. The job of the leader is to focus these reflections and guide any discussion that arises. It may take some effort to get Scouts to speak up, if there are no volunteers the leader may call on a Scout that has been prompted in advance. Usually once one or two Scouts participate others will follow.
Tips for leading the Refection
Focusing the exchange of ideas may be challenging: “That’s a worthy subject for discussion, but just now we are talking about X. Do you have thoughts on that?”
It is important that all thought be respected so long as they are sincere. Jokers (every Troop has at least one!) can be encouraged to participate sincerely with kindness: “Do you really feel that way or are you just kidding us? I appreciate your cheerfulness but I am more interested in what you really think.”
Once several Scouts have shared their thoughts the Leader should ask if anyone else has a thought to share. They should also inquire if there was anything recorded in Patrol Logs that should be shared with the Troop. If there is still much to say the Leader may extend the reflections, or may defer it to a later time:
“We have a lot to do this evening, lets close our Vespers first and we can continue to discuss this as we work on other things.”
The closing can be the Scoutmaster’s benediction, a prayer or a moment of silence.
“Let’s close with a moment of silence in which we remember why we are Scouts and take the time to concentrate on what we have shared today and on what we have heard this evening”
Scouting has vast potential to foster understanding in a world that is sharply divided over matters of religion. It is incumbent on Scout leaders to conduct religious observances that are nonsectarian and inclusive.
Reflections Ideas for Vespers Leaders
One Fire, Many Logs
As we stand around our fire I am reminded of the importance of teamwork. If we take one log away from the fire what will happen? It may burn a while on its own, but it will go out before too long. How is your patrol like a campfire?
Strength in Cooperation
I can break this stick with my bare hands, but I can’t break a bundle of ten sticks. Would anyone like to try? The only way we can break this bundle is to snap each individual stick one at a time. When the sticks cooperate with each other they are all strengthened, how is this true of our troop, or your family?
Promises to Keep
We are in the business of fulfilling the Promises of Scouting. These promises are adventure in the great outdoors, friendship, opportunities to work toward the Eagle Scout rank, the tools to make the most of family, community, and nation, experiences and duties for growth. How can we rise to this challenge ?
Reverence means respect, and respect is an important part of Scouting. We have respect for leadership, for nature and, perhaps most importantly, for each other. As scouts we respect that people are individuals with their own physical, mental and spiritual abilities and limitations. Everyone wants to be respected as a person, to be accepted by the group. It takes maturity to resist the temptation to gain acceptance or popularity through ridiculing and ostracizing others. How can we be brave and reverent in our attitudes and actions in relating to everyone in and out of Scouting?