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Editorial: Change from within

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 »

The recent pairing of an Amherst Boy Scout troop and a gay-friendly church is ironic given the Boy Scouts of America’s unapologetic stance that prohibits gay people from being Scouts or Scout leaders. But it also proves that people and groups are much more complex than labels.

Last year, Amherst Boy Scout Troop 504, a vibrant local group drawing 25 boys from Amherst, Hadley, Pelham, Leverett and Montague, lost its beloved Troop Hall at the North Congregational Church, its home for more than 80 years.

That put leaders on a hunt for new quarters and a new chartering entity.

After several months, Scout leaders found safe haven at the Immanuel Lutheran Church at 867 North Pleasant St. in Amherst, where Scouts will hold their weekly troop meeting today.

Ordinarily there would be no irony in this. Scouts and churches have gone together like horse and carriage over the years. But this partnership brings together a church that makes no bones about its acceptance of diversity in lifestyle and sexual orientation with a group whose national philosophy stands in direct conflict with that.

The church states it is a “welcoming place” — and asks for that same attitude from the groups that spend time there.

Going along with that philosophy, it turns out, is not a problem at all for the leadership and membership of Scout Troop 504. Its leaders have tried to distance the troop from the Boy Scouts of America’s policies excluding gays for more than a decade.

Troop 504 had called the North Congregational Church home almost continuously since the troop was founded in 1917, seven years after the founding of the Boy Scouts of America.

When troop leaders lost that space and set about finding new quarters, they knew it would not be easy. It takes a special organization to host and sponsor a Scout troop — the sponsoring group needs to be committed to Scout values regarding the development of leadership among young men, but also flexible in recognizing that Scout troops can be rambunctious and at times rough users of a space.

Given this context, the Scouts are rightly grateful to the church for making room for them so graciously. Immanuel Lutheran has encouraged the Scouts to settle in, offered a closet for storage, and invited the group to build a storage shed on the property.

The Scouts are being enthusiastically welcomed by the church despite the recommitment the Boy Scouts of America made in January to its long-held ban on homosexuals. Immanuel Lutheran’s pastor, the Rev. Steven Wilco, is a gay man who sees no conflict with providing a home to a group whose national organization would deny him the chance at leading a troop.

“Institutions are complex,” he said diplomatically. “One of the best things we can do is support it in taking a stand.”

That is precisely the approach leaders of the Amherst troop have taken for years.

They have written a public letter stating their disagreement with the national policy, promising to be a model for inclusion. They have explicitly extended an invitation to “all boys and their families to join us.”

Both church leadership and the Scouts are excited at the partnership emerging. One of the projects they may join forces on is an effort to change the national Boy Scouts discriminatory policies.

On this, they can be a powerful team.

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