Daily Hampshire Gazette - Established 1786
Cloudy
75°
Cloudy
Hi 78° | Lo 58°

Amherst church led by gay pastor charters Boy Scout unit

  • Amherst Boy Scout Troop 504 assistant scoutmaster Lyle Denit, left, and Rev. Steven Wilco, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Amherst, stand outside the church Thursday, which will be the scouts' new home.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Amherst Boy Scout Troop 504 assistant scoutmaster Lyle Denit, left, and Rev. Steven Wilco, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Amherst, stand outside the church Thursday, which will be the scouts' new home.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst Boy Scout Troop 504 assistant scoutmaster Lyle Denit, left, and Rev. Steven Wilco, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Amherst, stand Thursday in a room at the church that will serve as the scouts' new home.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Amherst Boy Scout Troop 504 assistant scoutmaster Lyle Denit, left, and Rev. Steven Wilco, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Amherst, stand Thursday in a room at the church that will serve as the scouts' new home.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Russell Kosuda, the scout master of Troop 504 out of Amherst talks to Pastor Steven Wilco  during the troops first meeting in their new space  at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Amherst.

    Russell Kosuda, the scout master of Troop 504 out of Amherst talks to Pastor Steven Wilco during the troops first meeting in their new space at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Amherst. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Pastor Steven Wilco, rear, joins Troop 504 of Amherst during the first meeting  in their new space at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Amherst where he presides.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Pastor Steven Wilco, rear, joins Troop 504 of Amherst during the first meeting in their new space at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Amherst where he presides.
    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Pastor Steven Wilco joins Troop 504 of Amherst and supporters in their new space at Immanuel Lutheran Church where he presides.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Pastor Steven Wilco joins Troop 504 of Amherst and supporters in their new space at Immanuel Lutheran Church where he presides.
    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst Boy Scout Troop 504 assistant scoutmaster Lyle Denit, left, and Rev. Steven Wilco, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Amherst, stand outside the church Thursday, which will be the scouts' new home.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Amherst Boy Scout Troop 504 assistant scoutmaster Lyle Denit, left, and Rev. Steven Wilco, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Amherst, stand Thursday in a room at the church that will serve as the scouts' new home.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Russell Kosuda, the scout master of Troop 504 out of Amherst talks to Pastor Steven Wilco  during the troops first meeting in their new space  at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Amherst.
  • Pastor Steven Wilco, rear, joins Troop 504 of Amherst during the first meeting  in their new space at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Amherst where he presides.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Pastor Steven Wilco joins Troop 504 of Amherst and supporters in their new space at Immanuel Lutheran Church where he presides.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS

But for the Immanuel Lutheran Church, the Rev. Steven Wilco and Troop 504, which will be partners, the long-term objectives are the same: giving boys a place to grow and learn leadership skills, teaching them an appreciation for the outdoors and advocating for a change in the national Boy Scout policy.

Wilco, pastor of the church at 867 North Pleasant St., said there is always a tension between those wanting to push for change, as leaders of Troop 504 have done, and larger institutions that aren’t ready to do that.

“We understand institutions are complex. One of the best things we can do to is support it in taking a stand,” Wilco said.

Troop 504, which lost its longtime space at the former North Congregational Church of Amherst in December, is expected to hold its first meeting at Immanuel Lutheran Monday night.

Wilco said he is “always for inclusion,” and he acknowledged there was initial hesitation from church members about becoming the chartering entity for an organization that still is required to comply with the national Boy Scouts of America policy related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered individuals.

“We want to be clear that this is a welcoming place. We ask that of everyone who uses our space,” Wilco said.

Lyle Denit, assistant scoutmaster, said Troop 504 endorses the church’s stance.

“We wanted an organization that would support us in urging change,” Denit said. “We basically don’t support the policy, we make that clear to families who are interested in joining, and we’ve made that clear to our previous chartering organization.”

The 25 members, who range in age from 12 to 17, come from Amherst, Hadley, Leverett, Pelham and Montague,

Taking a stand

In August, Denit and Nancy Bandman-Boyle, who serves as the troop’s committee chairwoman, signed a letter sent to the Gazette stating that they have been trying to distance themselves from the national policy for more than a decade:

“We are sorry for the pain this policy causes in our community, and we will continue to try to model a Scouting of inclusion, and invite all boys and their families to join us.”

Suzanne Seymour, executive director of the LGBT Coalition of Western Massachusetts, said she applauds both the church and the troop for their respective positions and thinks that the church is doing the right thing in chartering a troop, even if it has to continue complying with national policy.

“I think that is an effective way to go. It may be the only way to go,” Seymour said.

She cites her own experience as a young lesbian growing up in the Catholic church and how she depended on Dignity Boston to give her a sense of security. She said Troop 504, like Dignity Boston, is trying to change attitudes from within.

“Here are people who are willing to go out on a limb and don’t agree with a policy on the national level,” Seymour said.

New partnership

Aside from the policy regarding membership in the troop, both the church and the troop expect to benefit from their new relationship.

“It really is a partnership, in a sense a merging, of our organizations,” Wilco said.

The church has about 215 members, with 80 to 100 people attending the weekly services, he said.

After the congregational council, elected by church members, approved the Boy Scouts’ presence, the council had to determine whether sufficient space was available, as multiple groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, the Hampshire Birders, the Hampshire Young People’s Chorus and University of Massachusetts musicians use the building.

“For our congregation, it gives us a chance to interact with this long-standing organization and stretches us to see God in new ways and new places,” Wilco said.

Denit said the troop knew for a while that it might lose the area that had been called Troop Hall at North Congregational Church. Due to a shrinking congregation, the church was seeking to sell its buildings. Troop 504 had used the church almost continuously since its founding in 1917. But when the Korean Zion Church bought the church and parish hall last year, it informed the troop it wanted to use the space itself.

“We had known this would come up for a few years, so it had been on our radar for a while,” Denit said.

The discussion with Immanuel Lutheran began in earnest in the fall.

“It’s pretty close to our old home. Geographically we’re trying to say as close to our old North Amherst site,” Denit said.

Representatives of both organizations say they are excited about the opportunities the venture provides. The church owns nearby woods that Wilco said the boys may be able to use.

The church will provide a small closet for storage, while the troop may have a small shed built on the site. Denit said the troop could invest some proceeds from the annual Christmas tree sale to build it and offer the church some space inside.

Denit said he believes that members of the church can benefit from the troop’s presence.

“Ideally, a Scout troop is a part of service to the youth and to the community,” Denit said.

Since January, the troop has been meeting in various places, including the Hadley public safety complex meeting room, the Central Rock Climbing Gym in Hadley and at campouts.

Wilco said allowing the troop to remain in North Amherst was important for the church.

“We feel like it’s a bit of a statement for us — it’s about our vision to become an integral part of the community,” Wilco said.

“We’re happy to work with them,” Denit said. “This seems like a lot of energy that is useful for both of us.

There are no comments yet. Be the first!
Post a Comment

You must be registered to comment on stories. Click here to register.