Left: Five of the newest members of the Tannu Lodge in Nevada.

It’s not the easiest weekend of camping a Scout will experience, but it might be the most meaningful.

After a Scout, Venturer or adult volunteer is elected by their peers into the Order of the Arrow, Scouting’s national honor society, they don’t become an official OA member until they complete the induction, also called the Ordeal.

During the Ordeal weekend, candidates maintain silence, receive small amounts of food, work on camp improvement projects and sleep apart from other campers. It’s a safe but challenging experience that teaches you about yourself and inspires you to bring back to your unit everything ]you’ve learned.

Like innumerable activities during the pandemic, in-person inductions have been put on hold in many OA lodges. But when Scouts reach a roadblock, they don’t turn around — they find another way.

In August, embracing the flexibility afforded by the OA’s induction guidance during COVID-19, the Tannu Lodge (Nevada Area Council) held the first virtual induction event in lodge history.

Instead of sleeping at camp, Scouts spent Saturday night under the stars in their own backyards. Instead of meals provided by the OA, parents were given a sample menu of what food to provide their Scouts. And instead of a service project at camp, induction candidates completed projects within their local communities.

“Despite the modified delivery, it was clear from the reactions of the Scouts involved that the same feeling of accomplishment and seriousness in returning to their units in a spirit of service was preserved,” says Ross Armstrong, Tannu Lodge adviser. “There was pride in their accomplishment and excitement about the adventures ahead.”

Congratulations to the 23 Scouts, Venturers and adult volunteers who completed the virtual induction in August. And welcome to the Order of the Arrow!

“We are excited to see the resilience that local lodge leaders have shown during the pandemic and their ability to think outside the box and reach out to the national leadership to request a variance,” says OA Director Matt Dukeman. “Our common goal in the end is to help Scouts and Scouters to join the Order of the Arrow and be recognized and for those individuals to give back to their unit, council and community.”

We talked to two of these new OA members — plus their lodge adviser and lodge chief — to learn more about this inventive event.

Planning the induction weekend

The OA’s COVID-19 induction guidance offers detailed instructions for planning this event virtually.

There’s a big emphasis on communication and transparency. Scouts and their parents are told what to expect and given a thorough explanation on how a virtual induction differs from an in-person one.

Parents played a critical role. While the events of the induction weekend aren’t a secret, the impact is stronger if candidates don’t know exactly what is going to happen at each moment. Each candidate’s parent or guardian received an induction packet the week before containing everything their Scout would need.

“The parent involvement was key, since we weren’t going to be with the candidates to tell
them what they needed to do,” says Lodge Chief Austin Hawkins.

The logistics involved in planning the event were complicated, but — as you’d expect in Scouting — the youth did the majority of the planning themselves.

“Youth planned and executed the substance of the weekend,” Armstrong says. “Advisers assisted with logistics and communication to help make the youth’s plan a success.”

The induction weekend

During the weekend itself, youth leaders explained the mission and purpose of the OA, covered the importance of entering the BSA’s national honor society and shared the history of the OA’s commitment to cheerful service — all through videoconferencing.

Next were the four tests. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you this is the most memorable and challenging part of the induction weekend. During the virtual version, parents were given guidelines to ensure successful completion of these tests:

  • Scant food: Parents were given a sample menu along with an explanation of why this is being done.
  • Silence: Candidates were asked to be silent throughout the night alone and during the day of service — unless communication was necessary to successfully complete the service project or in an emergency.
  • Service projects: Instead of a group project at the site of the Ordeal, candidates completed community-based projects, such as cleaning a public park, performing maintenance at their place of worship or picking up trash.
  • Night alone: This was meant to be completed outdoors if at all possible.

After completing the four tests, candidates were invited to an Ordeal ceremony — also conducted virtually. In addition to the traditional ceremony performers, a fifth person served as a moderator to explain how the online ceremony differed from a traditional ceremony.

Remember those packets given to each parent? Inside was the candidate’s OA sash, presented with pride during the ceremony.

In the Tannu Lodge induction in August, all 23 registered participants successfully completed the weekend’s activities. Combined, they provided more than 270 hours of community service.

“From the Scouts I talked to, they said they enjoyed watching the ceremonies and were able to still feel the symbolism they are meant to have,” says Austin, the lodge chief.

What two Scouts said

Dylan Cooley, a First Class Scout in Troop 341 has enjoyed a positive Scouting experience so far. He liked the virtual induction and was pleased to learn that he can help at future inductions now that he’s an OA member.

That desire to serve is likely what led Dylan’s troopmates to elect him into the OA in the first place.

“Service is what I owe to others,” he says. “Service is payment for what they have done for you.”

Rebekah Douglass, a First Class Scout from Troop 850, was the first girl from her troop elected into the OA.

She has enjoyed camping, playing games and spending time with her friends in Scouts BSA but also appreciates the opportunities to serve, which she says “keeps the world clean, safe and helps build character.”

A Scout is cheerful, but that doesn’t mean every moment in Scouting is going to be a breeze. Rebekah says it was difficult to stay quiet and eat less food than normal for one night. The Ordeal was a bit of an ordeal, she says.

“But I did like the night sky,” she says. “It’s hard, but don’t get discouraged. Keep climbing and growing with your adventures. It will be worth it in the end.”

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