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Scouting and Funerals

All Program Terms Funerals

Scouting and Funerals

(the following is a chapter from a revision to the BSA's "Scout Courtesy, Customs and Drills" booklet first published in 1947 and will be complete and released to the public in 2016 by Mike Walton)

Scouting and Funerals

Because of the strictly nonsectarian character of the Boy Scouts of America, I nor anyone else should advise anyone about prescribing of any set funeral ceremony for a particular Scout or Scouter. This should be a matter between clergy and the family of the deceased to keep it within the boundaries of the deceased faith's religious customs and/or beliefs of those participating and/or of the relatives or friends of the deceased. In many instances however it will probably be found that the family and/or church will desire or urge the Scout or Scouter's unit -- or at least those members who are friends of Scouting -- to be present at the services and probably at the burial. In all cases, this should be arranged with the upmost of tact and discretion, and in a positive manner which will prove totally acceptable to all parties.

The following are offered merely as suggestions insofar these are not requirements nor "must dos" as far as Scouting is concerned. There is no official "Scouting funeral service", even though an outline of such a service is provided here.

Care and Precautions

Care should be taken in performing "rituals" associated with the Order of the Arrow or local camping honoraries. Instead of a "ritual" as part of a funeral service to which most people may not understand the significance of, the Lodge Chief or a representative of the Lodge may appear in costume and present a scroll or framed certificate to the family representative, acknowledging the service of the Scout or Scouter as a part of the Order of the Arrow (OA). I have witnessed two lodges provide a framed sash, flap and other items (neckerchief, back patch, slide, etc.) and certificate acknowledging the dates of OA membership, and the condolences of the Lodge to the family.

Care should be taken in performing special Wood Badge "ceremonies" during the funeral. I have witnessed several Wood Badge groups provide a framed set of the Wood Badge bead set the Scouter would normally wear, along with patches representing the Wood Badge Troop and Patrol the Scouter was a part of during that training experience; and a drawing or illustration of the hiking trail symbol for "I have gone home" (which is a circle with a dot in the center, representing a door bell) along with words of condolences (and perhaps signatures of those Wood Badgers the Scouter knew) would be an appropriate recognition item which could be presented. While I have personally witnessed it perform during a funeral, the singing of the Wood Badge Song is NOT APPROPRIATE no matter how much the deceased was "into Wood Badge".

Care should be also be taken in special unit "stories" or "remembrances" to share during the funeral. I have witnessed such touching and emotional testimonials to the Scout or Scouter's Scouting experiences -- unfortunately I have been witness to many other testimonials or reflections which should not have been brought up at such a tough time for the family and others. The recommendation is that before the funeral, the unit leader or others asked to make testimonials or reflections share the story or reflection with the family and let them make the decision as to whether or not it should be shared during the funeral, at another time before or after the funeral, or not at all.

When a Scout or Scouter is in Hospice Care

Hospice care is a type of care and philosophy of care that focuses on the palliation of a chronically ill, terminally ill or seriously ill patient's pain and symptoms, and attending to their emotional and spiritual needs. Within the United States the term is largely defined by the practices of the Medicare and other health insurance providers, which make this form of care available, either in an inpatient facility or at the patient's home, to patients with a terminal prognosis who are medically certified at hospice onset to have less than six months to live.

The actions which would be coordinated and performed after the death of the Scout or Scouter may also be performed while the Scout or Scouter is in hospice. Scouts and Scouters should be encouraged to visit with and spend time with the patient during the hospice care period. Coordination and monitoring of youth and adults should be arranged to insure that all are aware of the death process but Scouts, Scouters nor parents should not insist or demand that all members or all volunteers be pressed or forced to visit with a hospice patient.

Actions upon Death of a Scout or Scouter

When the death of a Scout occurs, the adult unit leader should be notified, in person if all possible. Telephones, texts, and even social media has a way of distorting the actual facts from suppositions, and it allows the family to inform what things they are asking for during the period before the funeral, the funeral or remembrance ceremony and the burial if one occurs. This will also allow that adult unit leader to best prepare those youth members who may have never experienced such a close or unexpected loss. Notices should be sent to all members of the unit -- even those who infrequently attends meetings or activities. A good way to inform each is to take a copy of the unit's charter and contact each family listed. In the case of a Troop, Team, Crew or Ship's loss, the Scribe/Secretary/Yeoman should also secure a card and write the family concerned a letter expressing condolences of the unit and ask the family if it will be okay to attend the funeral if such attendance is in the family's wishes. The communication will provide the opportunity for definite understanding and will make possible preparations for receiving the Scouts/Scouters if their presence is desired. The communication should also ascertain as precisely as possible how many members of the unit can be accommodated conveniently in the event the entire unit's strength is not desired or cannot be accommodated.

It goes without saying that the head of the chartered organization which partners with Scouting for your unit should be notified and informed of the loss.

Similar arrangements should be made in the case of a death of a Scouter through that unit or through a local Council with a local Council Scouter most closely associated with the deceased. Keep in mind that due to the manner of death or because of family or social concerns that a memorial service in lieu of a funeral may be offered for Scouters and others to attend and participate within -- the same arrangements should be discussed as to presentations, testimonials, and remembrances -- and the number of each.

Definite arrangements should also be made if it's desired that the Scouts or Scouters should act as pallbearers, active or honorary. In most cases it will probably be found appropriate to have the members of a Boy Scout patrol or Varsity Scout squad or a similar grouping of Venturing or Sea Scouting youth and/or adults server in this capacity. In such instances, youth pallbearers should be led by the senior-most elected youth leader; and adult pallbearers should be led by the senior-most volunteer or professional member.

In ALL cases, the adult unit leader should also contact by phone or email the Council's Scout Executive and inform him or her of the passing of the Scout or Scouter. There are administrative things he or she must do upon this notification and much of it is time-sensitive in nature. Among the things the Council Scout Executive must do is to contact the BSA's National Center and request a full refund of the national registration fees and cancellation of Boys' Life and/or SCOUTING magazines to lessen the bi-monthly reminders of that part of the Scout or Scouters' life to the survivors. The Scout Executive also requests a personal letter from the BSA's national Key Three (the National President, National Commissioner and Chief Scout Executive) as well as to prepare a personal letter from him or her to be presented before or during the funeral to the family of the deceased. The Council should prepare a Spirit of the Eagle recognition certificate (more on that below) for presentation by a representative of the local Council to the Scout's family. Finally, the Scout Executive has the responsibility to inform through his professional staff and the Council's Executive Board, the passing of the Scout or Scouter. A loss of a Scout or Scouter is a loss of that Council and all of us in Scouting.

Spirit of the Eagle Recognition Certificate

The Boy Scouts of America, in order to honor the loss of a youth member, created the Spirit of the Eagle recognition certificate (it is NOT an "Award" although in materials it is referred to as an award) in late 1997 and makes it available to local Councils upon request from the Council's Scout Executive. A parent, Scouting volunteer or Commissioner can request this certificate by filling out the application available here or within the BSA's Guide to Advancement and submitting it to the local Council for forwarding to the National Court of Honor. The certificate is sent along with a formal letter of condolence signed by the National "Key Three" (the National President, National Commissioner and Chief Scout Executive) to the local Council and should be presented at the time of the funeral or memorial service by a representative of the local Council.

Registered Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts, Venturers and Sea Scouts at the time of their death may receive this certificate. There is NO uniform item -- medal, patch, square knot, neckerchief -- which accompanies this certificate. Those who receive it are NOT recognized as "Eagle Scouts" nor "Honorary Eagle Scouts"

Spriit of the Eagle Recognition Certificate
Spriit of the Eagle Recognition Certificate

From the BSA: "The Boy Scouts of America has created the Spirit of the Eagle Award as an honorary, posthumous recognition of a registered youth member who has lost his or her life in an accident or through illness. This award is bestowed by the National Court of Honor as part of the celebration of life of this young person. It recognizes the joy, happiness, and life-fulfilling experiences the Scouting program made in this person’s life. The intention is also to help heal and comfort the youth member’s family and other loved ones over their loss. Because the Scouting program was so appreciated, loved, and enjoyed by the youth, this award will serve as a reflection of the family’s and friends’ wishes as a final salute and tribute to their departed loved one.

The award is limited to registered youth members - Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Venturers/Sea Scouts - who were under 21 years of age at the time of death. The application must be submitted within six months of the youth member’s death. The application must be certified by the unit committee as complete. The application is submitted to the council for approval by the Scout executive. Order the Spirit of the Eagle Award certificate, No. 921070, using the regular Supply order form from the Supply Group distribution center."

This certificate is not presented to adults. A suitable certificate, perhaps the BSA's Commendation Certificate (shown below) or a plaque may be presented to the family of the deceased by the local Council or the unit, along with condolence letters from the National and perhaps the local Council "Key Three" (President, Commissioner and Scout Executive).

Commendation Certificate
BSA Commendation Certificate which may be inscribed with condolences and recognition of service by the deceased Scouter

Full uniform

This is NOT a unit activity, even though the members of the unit are participating. A funeral is a formal occasion, so a Scout or Scouters' best dress is the full field uniform with medals, neckerchief and slide, and for youth, merit badge sash. Unless you are escorting someone during the funeral, or participating as a representative of the local OA Lodge, leave the OA sash at home or in the car.

If you do not own a full uniform, or choose not to wear the field uniform, the most appropriate dress for youth, male or female, is a dark (preferably black or a dark blue) two piece suit or a dress or long skirt. Funerals are attended by family members who do not know you for the most part, so an appropriate first positive expression speaks highly of yourself and the Scouting program in which the deceased was a member of.

A small rank pin may be attached to the left lapel of the suit or on the dress or skirt top.

The BSA officially does NOT approve of black shoulder loops for wear by youth and/or adults associated with participating in a funeral. If your unit can obtain them for EVERYONE in the unit or the official party, the recommendation is to ask your Council's Scout Executive for permission to wear the black loops. In most cases, that permission would be granted for a short period of time (normally up to 14 days after notification of death or seven days after the funeral/cremation and burial) for the loops to be worn; afterward, the loops must be removed and the regular shoulder loops reflecting the Scout or Scouter's status in the movement should be worn again.

The BSA does not have an official "mourning neckerchief" and recommends that Scouts and Scouters wear the neckerchief associated with the unit, a special non-unit neckerchief for those Scouters not a part of a unit; the Venturing or Sea Scouting neckerchief, the Kente cloth neckerchief, or the Eagle Scout or National Eagle Scout Association (NESA) neckerchief during the funeral and/or burial. The neckerchief is an official part of the BSA uniform and therefore formally should be worn during such instances.

A special black streamer with no wording upon it may be purchased through the BSA's Supply Group and attached to the unit's flag to denote and symbolize mourning. It should be placed as the front-most streamer on the unit's flag and remain there from the time of official notification of death until seven days after the burial of the Scout or Scouter. As a substitute, a two inch wide black mourning ribbon for attachment to U.S. or unit flagblack ribbon can be made/purchased from stores like Michaels' ™, Jo-Ann Fabrics™, Hobby Lobby ™ or similar-type stores.

Activity before, during and after the Funeral

The unit should assemble at the unit's meeting place an hour or so before the funeral starts. This is to give everyone the opportunity to arrive, change and get dressed, to have someone else to check their uniform and to insure that youth members will be okay with everything which will occur. Once everyone is present or accounted for, the senior youth leader and senior adult leader should lead the group to the church or be in the lead car to the church.

The character of the services shall be left entirely to the clergyman in charge. The youth and adults may stand on sides of the street or walkway facing each other, forming a line through which the coffin may be carried between the hearse to the church; or between the hearse to the gravesite. Scouts and Scouters stand, salute or present staves when the coffin is passing. At the grave, Scouts and/or Scouters may file past the coffin and place a sprig of Evergreen. As the coffin is lowered into the grave, Scouts and Scouters should stand if they are able, salute and the bugler sound "Taps".

Scouts and Venturers/Sea Scouts may serve at funerals in several other ways:

  • - Guards of Honor beside the coffin (2, 4 and six or more; in one case two Eagle Scouts stood constantly on guard day and night, supported by other Eagle Scouts to "spell them" in intervals. In other cases scouts have been requested merely at the funeral service)
  • - As buglers at the ceremony in connection with the burial service
  • - As traffic aides in connection with parking cars outside the church
  • - As ushers to help seat people
  • - As Color Guards during the funeral or at the graveside service

A memorial service may properly be held at the next regular unit meeting. This occasion would give the unit's Secretary/Scribe/Yeoman the opportunity to read aloud to the unit and to place on display afterward appropriate resolutions sent to the unit. Afterward those items are placed within the unit's official records. Copies of those resolutions shall be sent to the family of that Scout or Venturer.

An Outline of a Scout Funeral/Memorial Service

In general ceremonies of this type depend upon the family's consent, local conditions and talent available as well as the number attending. The program shall be nonsectarian and it is such a character as will not offend anyone in scouting holding a different faith to participate. If there is a unit band, a group of singers, or bugler within the unit, make use of them to open the program.

Follow this by group singing -- possibly a favorite song of the deceased.

This will be followed by a brief address by a Scout or Scouter who knew the deceased or by some of his associates in Scouting. The number of addresses is optional and should be coordinated by the family and the unit leader (see above). This may be followed by another song. The Scouts and Scouters formally get up and walk by the casket or grave and place a spray of Evergreen on the grave if the conditions are such that this can be done without confusion or crowding. A song by the group can follow, and the funeral is closed with the bugler playing "Taps".

(please contact me for additional suggestions on making this chapter from the booklet work for you and hopefully others who may be or were in this situation.)
Thanks to Scouter Martin Schmidt Jr. for asking questions which helped to reformat this topic to include the Spirit of the Eagle and hospice care.


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