TUPELO – The future of Boy Scout Troop 85 is up in the air after the troop’s host church, Harrisburg Baptist Church, voted not to renew the troop’s charter.
The Rev. Forrest Sheffield, pastor of the church, said the entire congregation was invited to attend and cast their vote Sunday night.
“We had around 250 present Sunday night, and the vote was very one-sided,” Sheffield said. “It was a very heartbreaking decision for all of us, for our Scouts and our church family.”
The decision by Harrisburg, the largest congregation in Northeast Mississippi, was prompted by a change in Boy Scout membership policy allowing openly gay Scouts. Sheffield said the church has been deliberating heavily and prayerfully since the Boy Scout National Council announced the change in May.
“We felt like we had to take a stand, and this is the only way to do that. We felt backed into a corner on this,” Sheffield said. “I’m actually proud of my church for being firm on it.”
Sheffield said the congregation was made aware of the vote two weeks before hand, and he was not surprised by their decision.
As for Troop 85, Scout home to more than 70 Scouts, they face disbanding if they do not find another sponsoring organization.
“I’m confident some other group will pick up Troop 85’s charter,” Sheffield said.
A Troop 85 representative confirmed that contacts had begun with other churches to secure a sponsor.
The Southern Baptist Convention recently urged local congregations to reconsider their relationship with the Boy Scouts, but several churches of other denominations who sponsor troops in Tupelo have indicated they will continue to do so.
Sheffield said the church would now align with the On My Honor movement, a national coalition of parents, Scout masters, Eagle Scouts, donors and other Boy Scout members in the process of creating an alternative program to the Boy Scouts.
The Royal Ambassadors, the Southern Baptist Convention’s youth development program, was considered as a replacement, but Sheffield said it would be redundant.
“The Royal Ambassadors are heavy on mission teaching, and we already have a separate program at Harrisburg that does the same thing,” he said. “We are going to use this opportunity to be involved in a program that teaches our boys values.”