Get Our Leadership Sourcebook | Sitemap | Contact Us |
Junior Leader Training -- White Stag Leadership Development

Ceeremonies in the Scout Program

By A.T. Benson
Scout Executive, Boy Scouts of America,
Pittsburgh, PA

From Principles of Scoutmastership, Boy Scouts of America, Two Park Avenue, New York City, New York, circa 1935.

Thanks to Lew Gardner for providing this article.

A forty-minute discussion will develop the principles of good ceremony, the value of ceremony as an educational method, its function and application to Scouting and the major Scouting events.

Use of Ceremonies

CEREMONIES have been in vogue since the dawn of history. They have played an important part in developing the romance, traditions and opinions of individuals, institutions and nations. Originally, they were of a religious character tending to express the admiration, awe and reverence for a Supreme Being. As time went on their scope of usefulness broadened to include features outside of religion itself. Knighthood, respect for womanhood, and chivalry constituted the elements of the ceremonies in the days of King Arthur. Plato led in the development of ceremonies which introduced the youths of Greece into the responsibilities of citizenship. The vigil of the Indian boy teaching self-reliance, resourcefulness and courage, followed by ceremonies, initiated him into the Councils of the Hunters, Warriors and Indian Chiefs. The scepter has been transferred from king to king in the elaborate ceremony of the coronation. The President of the United States takes his oath of office with an impressive ceremony.

Human Need for Ceremonies

Ceremonies have grown out of a desire on the part of the peoples of the world to express ideals in concrete form. Somebody has said that character is the sum total of emotions, instincts, and attitudes as modified by experience which governs the individual's response to a situation. We must, therefore, apply some other method of building character than by a simple, cold, scientific formula. We must create situations which are romantic, which live with the boy and stir his emotions. These ceremonies, through their appeal to the emotions, stimulate the ideals of patriotism, moral determination and spiritual aspiration.

Function of Ceremony

At a Scout Executive's Conference, Raymond Hanson, Scout Executive, San Francisco, made this statement,

"The primary function of ceremony is to organize the imagination, to emphasize fundamentals and to present in concrete form the abstract sense of idealism, which is inherent in the individual. Good ceremonials stimulate both thought and emotion, and provide a basis for an intelligent and sympathetic conception of one's duty to God, his country, his neighbor and himself."

Combining Senses of Hearing and Seeing

Ceremony not only reaches the boy through the sense of hearing but also through the sense of sight. Through action, the spoken word is written on the mind of the individual. For instance, let us take the word, "strike," one is passively interested, but if we use the word, "strike," and at the same time, strike the table, the impression is doubled. Or suppose, we use the words, "You go." If we point with the finger as we emphasize the words, it becomes doubly impressive. Again we may use the phrase, "May the Great Spirit watch over all." Add to this the action as taught by Indian Signs and we have increased the effectiveness.

The Boy Scouts of America has a two-fold purpose, namely to build character and improve citizenship. These are expressed in the Scout Oath and Law. They are supported by a program of advancement and activities in which the boy finds a keen interest.

Ceremonies that crystallize the Scout Oath and Law in the imagination of a Scout, that emphasize character ideals and citizenship performances, should have a place in the program of every Troop. Mere lip ceremony must be discouraged. Action should be the vehicle of the import of the ceremony. There should be a variety of ceremony to avoid monotony and the loss of values contained therein.

Quoting again from Mr. Hanson as to essential points of a good ceremonial:

  1. "It should be simple, not too elaborate.
  2. It should be reasonably brief, as boys will not sit quietly through a long ceremonial.
  3. It should be based upon established rules of boy nature.
  4. It should be dignified.
  5. It should have unity of action.
  6. It should permit a full participation; that is to say, every boy in the Troop, should have an opportunity to participate.
  7. It should be thoroughly rehearsed.
  8. It should be elastic so as to fit any situation in any Troop.
  9. It should dignify leadership.
  10. It should be charged with a Scouting atmosphere.
  11. It should be inspiring and impressive."

Opening and Closing Ceremonies

Each Troop Meeting should open and close with a dignified ceremonial, befitting the program of Scouting. Each member of the Troop should have a definite part in each ceremony, so that he will feel that he is a component part of the entire group giving expression to Scouting ideals. Only through self-activity will each Scout derive major benefits from ceremonies.

Flag Ceremony

Every Troop should develop some sort of a Flag ceremony. Unfortunately, in some instances, the type of Flag ceremony used and the leadership of the ceremony have not stimulated the emotions of patriotism and love for country. Even if the Flag is of a cheaper grade, it can be placed upon a home-made staff and properly presented with color guards. Follow by either a call to colors or a verse of the "Star Spangled Banner." Lift the Flag ceremony out of the medir ocre and place a high estimate upon the boy's duty to his Flag and country.

Scout Oath and Law Ceremony

Much has been written concerning the ceremony of the Scout Oath and Law. Perhaps the most common is that which uses candles and which has been so fully described in various types of Scout literature. Why not dramatize this a little further, so that when the Scout Oath is repeated, a boy dressed in vestments, will take his stand in front of the Troop holding an open Bible as representing duty to God; another holds a Flag of the United States, as representing duty to Country; a third a scroll, representing the Law of Scouting. There are many variations of the Scout Oath and Law ceremony, and perhaps the two mentioned will suggest others.

Develop International Scout Brotherhood

Internationalism, brotherhood, and international peace may be stimulated through ceremonial by the display of flags representing the Boy Scout Nations. The Troop could stand at attention and give the Scout Oath and Pledge of Allegiance to the Brotherhood of Scouting which circles the globe. The more we teach the boy of internationalism and human relationships, the stronger will be his appreciation of international peace and world brotherhood.

Tenderfoof Investiture Ceremony

It has been said that the great turnover in Scouting has been partially due to the fact that Tenderfoot Scouts have not been properly ushered into the Scout Program. This is undoubtedly true, for first impressions are most lasting. A boy's initial conception of Scouting, with its subsequent duties and obligations depends upon his introduction to the Troop. The mere filling out of an application form and the payment of the fifty cent registration fee will not create in him a very intensive desire to "Do a Good Turn Daily" and to "Be Prepared." When the lad has qualified in the Tenderfoot Requirements and is ready to be given his badge and received into the Troop, the Troop should stage a ceremonial which will make the candidate feel that he is becoming a part of a great National Movement and that whatsoever he may do will reflect credit or discredit upon that Movement. Much has been written and published on the investiture of the Tenderfoot. My one recommendation is that if you have developed something that has worked in your own Troop, transmit it to the National Council so that it may be given wider distribution in order to help others.

Higher Rank Ceremonies

A word of congratulation and public recognition of promotion goes a long way to stimulate Scouts and Scout officials to increased effort and activity. Would it not be a splendid practice for each Troop to recognize, through a brief ceremonial, outside of the Court of Honor, the promotion of any members to a higher rank of Scouting? This simple recognition, I am sure, will do much to develop the urge to go further. If a boy has been promoted in school or in business or has completed a worth while task, it seems to me that it should be recognized through ceremonial by the Troop. The effect is also manifest in the other members of the Troop.

Boy Officer Ceremonies

When a boy has been elected to Patrol leadership or to some other office in the Troop, a brief inaugural ceremony in which he promises to uphold the traditions of the Troop and the Patrol would be helpful to encourage him to a more definite leadership.

It so happens that we had the misfortune in Pittsburgh to lose the President of our Council. He died very suddenly while inspecting a cabin at one of our camps. A new president was elected at the annual meeting following. A brief ceremony was developed in which a Boy Scout, selected as "Pa Pitt's" favorite son was called to the platform by the newly elected president and repeated for him those stirring words from Flander's Field ending with: "To you with faltering hands, I throw the torch; be yours to hold it high." Following which, the new president took the torch and accepted the responsibility of leadership of the Council.

Recognition of Special Events

There are other little events which should be recognized, -birthdays, outstanding Good Turns of the individual Scouts, the Patrol or the Troop. In other words, a recognition of events in a boy's life indicates a keen interest on the part of others which will cause him to make a renewed effort to live according to the ideals of Scouting.

Parent Meetings

In Scouting, we have stressed Father and Son meetings and Parents' meetings, and in some instances we have followed the line of least resistance at such meetings by asking someone to make a speech. I attended such an affair not long ago in which the poor fathers and sons had to listen to thirteen speeches in one evening. They were tired; they were bored. If the Scoutmaster had presented Scouting in ceremony or had dramatized a story in which Scouting played a very important part, he would have done more to build up the interest of the fathers in the Boy Scout Movement.

Troop Installation

Any Troop which comes into being should be properly installed by the Council and Parent Institution. Recognition of the responsibility of the institution with which it is connected, the importance of the Troop Committee, the rare privilege of the Scoutmaster and the interest of the boy himself should play an important part in such an installation.

Boy Scout Week

The Anniversary Week of the Boy Scouts of America, which comes early in February (must include 8th and 12th days) ]ends itself nicely to ceremony. Many worthwhile things may be done during Boy Scout Week that will stimulate interest in Scouting on the part of the general public, if they are caught by the correct attitude, the reverential dignity, and the grip of a good ceremony.

Church Ceremony

We ask Scouts to go to church. Rather than just coming in and taking their places, why not occasionally have them gather in the vestibule of the church and march down the aisle to the stirring notes of some march, present the church flag and the Flag of the United States with color guards while the congregation joins in singing one verse of "America."

Camp Fire Ceremony

Camp fire ceremonies are the easiest to develop because here you have a natural setting; the woods, the fire, and the starlit night, all provide a natural atmosphere for ceremony. The camp fire ceremony should teach some of the outstanding characteristics of the Indian, the Pioneer of American History and of Nature. Each camp fire should close with a benediction, the Scouts standing with bared heads, in silence, each breathing his own prayer.

Court of Honor

The Local Council Court of Honor offers wonderful opportunity for ceremonies. Every Scout should be made to feel that he has taken an important forward step in his life when the First Class badge or the Eagle badge is pinned upon his breast. He should be made to feel that added responsibility has fallen upon his shoulders because he has now become an example for the younger Scouts coming up through the ranks.


Let us remember that we best retain that which we have the opportunity to express. It, therefore, behooves leaders of Scouting to create situations in which our Scouts will have an opportunity to express their ideals in tangible ways. Let us be again cautioned against the sameness of ceremony and mere lip service. We live largely by emotion and impulse. Reasoning has its place , but life situations with emotional responses, determine to a larger degree our attitude toward life itself. As leaders of boys, it is our duty to create romantic situations that will indelibly write themselves on the hearts and the lives of boys and that will determine trends in the development of their characters and responsible citizenship.

Questions On Ceremonies

  1. What types of ceremony have been developed?
  2. What is the function of ceremony?
  3. What features of the Scout Program are well adapted to
  4. ceremony?
  5. What are the essential elements of good ceremony?
  6. What ceremonies are more effective with adults than with
  7. children?
  8. Why is the Tenderfoot Investment Ceremony very important?
  9. How and where can ceremony be used to educate parents in
  10. Scouting objectives?
  11. What ceremonies are used by your Troop most effectively?
  12. What New Opportunity for Ceremony has this discussion re
  13. vealed to you?
  14. What are you going to do about it?


[These references were current as of the publication date of the original article in 1935.]

Handbook for Scoutmasters, Pages 45-49; 151; 153.
Community Boy Leadership, Pages 242-258.
Official Reports: Third Biennial Conference, Pages 366 and 367.
Fourth Biennial Conference, Pages 159-169.
Dramatic Instinct in Education, Curtis.
Investiture Ceremonies (Service Library).
Handbook for Patrol Leaders.


Lew Gardner

Lew Gardner, born in 1910 in Oakland, California, is the youngest recipient ever of the Silver Beaver, having been recognized with this award at age 28. He founded and continued for many years as Editor of the well-regarded and popular high-adventure newsletter Boots and Blisters. He has served in a wide variety of Scout roles, including Scoutmaster, District Commissioner, Training Chairman, and RoundTable Chairman, among many others. He helped more than 100 boys become Eagle Scouts. He remained active in Scouting through his late 80's, and passed away in early 2003.