Alumnus Archpriest Eric Tosi Gives Bird’s-eye View of Boy Scout Jamboree

Author: 
Archpriest Eric Tosi

Fr. Eric serves Divine Liturgy with scouts from across the globeFr. Eric serves Divine Liturgy with scouts from across the globeThe National Boy Scout Jamboree, held July 19–July 28, 2017, drew more than 35,000 scouts from across the country (and globe) to West Virginia, for training, service, and loads of fun—and our Alumnus, Archpriest Eric Tosi (M.Div., 1996), played a major role in that hugely rewarding effort. Father Eric acted as Assistant Chief Chaplain at the gathering, which means he organized and assigned 87 other chaplains, dealt with the procedures, and interacted with the leadership of scout activities during that week.

In this interview, he describes his involvement with the scouts throughout his childhood up to the present, and gives us a window into this year’s national jamboree: witnessing youth grow in confidence, faith, and strength as they tackle everything from archeological restoration projects, to building houses, to cleaning schools—over 100,000 volunteer hours in 10 days!

And, at the next national jamboree in 2021, Fr. Eric will be even more heavily involved. He has been asked to be the Chief Chaplain for the boy scouts. And, he’s calling for helpers for that event! (Chaplains and/or priests may contact him: egtosi@oca.org.)

Enjoy Father Eric’s interview, as he provides a bird’s-eye view of scouting both in words and images—literally, since he was also able to survey the event from the vantage point of a helicopter!

INTERVIEW

1. When did you begin your involvement with the Boy Scouts of America, and for how many years did you participate as a scout? Did your involvement go back as far as being a Cub Scout?

I started as a cub scout when I was 7 years old and was involved in scouting until I was a senior in High School. I received the Arrow of Light award (which means I completed all of the Cub Scout/Weblo requirements).

I made Eagle Scout in my junior year of High School (the highest award in the Boy Scouts), and I also earned the Alpha Omega medal. I was also a senior patrol leader, Brotherhood member of the Order of the Arrow (the Scouting Honor Society).

Actually my son became the 8th Eagle Scout in the family when he finished the award requirements in his junior year. So scouting is a big part of my family.

2. Is your highest rank in the Boy Scouts of America "Eagle Scout"?

Yes...cant go any higher!

3. I see you served as Chaplain at the National Boy Scout Jamboree in Summit, WV, in 2013, and at the World Scout Jamboree in Yamaguchi, Japan in 2015; now you've just attended the National Boy Scout Jamboree July 19–July 28, 2017, at the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in West Virginia. How are the National and World Jamborees related?

The National Jamboree happens every four years and is now in the new home at the Reserve. It is a remarkable place in that it was a converted strip mine and now has become a nature reserve with every activity you can imagine. The World Jamboree happens every four years, but like the Olympics it occurs during off years, so every two years you either have the national jamboree or the world jamboree. The next world jamboree will be 2019 at the Summit, and I will be heavily involved with that as well. At the next national jamboree in 2021 I will be the chief chaplain for the Boy Scouts.

The 2017 Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia included 35,000 scouts, and 5,000 staff members, among them Assistant Chief Chaplain, Fr. Eric TosiThe 2017 Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia included 35,000 scouts, and 5,000 staff members, among them Assistant Chief Chaplain, Fr. Eric Tosi4. What's been your role at these jamborees? Has it been the same each year, i.e., as Chaplain? And, what do chaplains do at these Jamborees?

A chaplain serves in an important role for scouting, as a scout is "reverent," in accordance with the Boy Scout Law.  Part of a Scout’s duty is his duty to God. So we help connect the youth to their faith traditions.

But we also serve as a counselor, advisor, and worship leader. Most of our work is pastoral, in that there are always a host of issues and concerns regarding the scouts. You get 35,000 and 5,000 staff together in one place: well you can imagine the pastoral challenges! I was constantly on the move throughout the camp dealing with issues ranging from getting a scout to a local hospital, because a relative had suffered a serious heart attack, to bullying, to working with Orthodox scouts on earning their “Duty to God” badges. On top of that we had Vespers one evening and Liturgy on Sunday morning.

As well, all the chaplains took turns serving in the hospitals and medical centers that had been set up. Those were often intense, as kids came in with all sorts of medical matters, ranging from broken bones to medication issues. We also interacted with the mental health personal and dealt with issues such as homesickness as well as more serious issues. Plus we worked with staff and dealt with their concerns, which ranged from delivering news about a loved one reposing, to overwork and stress. Personally, I dealt with just about every problem you can think of, while meeting and working with a whole number of amazing scouts and adults.

As Assistant Chief Chaplain, I had a more managerial role. I helped manage 87 chaplains from all denominations at this jamboree, organizing and assigning them. I also dealt with procedures and interacted with the leadership of other scout activities. Moreover, I worked with the many other denominations (about 50 or so represented), checking on activities and assigning resources as needed. Additionally, I acted as the emergency contact person and had a team ready to deal with emergencies.

I have been asked to be the Chief Chaplain at the next National Jamboree, and I will deal with recruitment, organization, and the operations of the entire jamboree as regards chaplain services. This usually takes over a year of work prior the Jamboree. So any one who is interested in being a chaplain, let me know, as I can use the help!

5. What's your most memorable moment from this year's Jamboree?

My best memory was serving the Liturgy and having over 100 Orthodox scouts gather from around the country (and the world, as we had Orthodox Christians from Ethiopia, Egypt, Azerbaijan and Poland), and being able to bring them together. Since we comprise a small number among all scouts, many of us Orthodox never get to meet one another, so it wonderful to gather. And they were all shocked that in many cases I knew personally either their priest or their parents! Those relationships form a strong connection between scouting and Orthodoxy.

My other most memorable moment occurred when the scout leadership invited me to survey the site by helicopter. It was amazing to see the size of the Summit and the entire nature reserve!

6. What positive growth have you noted over time in the organization of the Boy Scouts, as witnessed at the jamborees? Does anything strike you in particular?

The amazing thing is to watch these young men become self-reliant and confidant. They look so young (and they are) but as the days go by, I watched them tackle everything from zip lines, to climbing a wall, to kayaking, to STEM projects. They are not the same when they leave the jamboree.

Another amazing aspect is that every scout does a day of service. So think about this: 35,000 scouts spread throughout West Virginia and working for a full day, on everything from archeological restoration projects, to building houses, to cleaning schools. Over 100,000 volunteer hours in 10 days! That is astounding. When they get off the bus and they are hot and sweaty and tired...they have the biggest smiles on their faces and can't wait to tell everyone what they got to do that day. That is extraordinary, and something we can all emulate in our lives.

7. Over the course of the years, you've continued your involvement with the Boy Scouts. Can you tell me why your involvement is important personally for you? And, how do you continue to contribute to the Boy Scouts of America by your presence at the jamborees? Are you involved in any other Boy Scout activities on a regular basis, besides the jamborees?

Scouting gave me so much personally and contributed to the person I am today. I am giving back to them. Granted, sleeping in a tent after a hot, sweltering day is not for everyone, but to me, it is great fun. I love being around the youth and helping them to develop into the next generation of leaders. I am energized by being with them and by seeing some amazing young men being developed. So if I can contribute back, then I am doing my duty. There is a common phrase you see everywhere (It was on a big sign in the Eagle Scout area.): once an Eagle Scout, always an Eagle Scout. That is how we are trained and wired; we give back to our community. Just read the statistics on the accomplishment of Eagle Scouts, and you will be amazed at what they have done. I am proud that this part of my family and my own tradition.

I am involved on a local level to a degree. Once my son graduated high school, I stepped back to allow the other parents to have the same experience with their own son. But I still advise and assist as I can. Clergy have a hard time, because when the scouts are out on the weekends, we are in church doing the services, so we have to find that balance.

Currently, I am working with the Eastern Orthodox Committee on Scouting (EOCS), which is under the Assembly of Canonical Bishops and going through some changes. I also have begun work with DESMOS, which is the International Orthodox Scouting movement. So my work is now on a national and international level.

I would encourage all former scouts out there to get involved with your local troops. I especially would like to recruit some younger clergy who have scouting experience to start working with me, so the next generation of Orthodox scouts can continued to be served.

8. Tell me how your involvement with the Boy Scouts, from the days of your youth up to the present, is entwined with your spiritual life as an Orthodox Christian. How do the influences of each overlap and/or enhance each other?

A Scout is reverent (part of the 12 points of the Scout Law), and so my faith was always intertwined within scouting. I had the opportunity to earn the different religious medals and learn about my faith.

As an adult leader and priest, I’m required to give in a different way, and the spiritual aspect takes a new turn: I become part of the scouts lives, both Orthodox and non-Orthodox scouts. (Scouting is a great complement to any youth program. The Methodist Church, for example, has made it their official teen program.) All scouts look to me as an example, and I pray I can live up to that ideal.

Also, I have chaplain friends in every denomination, and we look forward to getting together and working with the youth. (You should witness the routine I have with my roommate and friend for the past 2 jamborees, Rabbi Joseph!) We chaplains all support one another, and we remember: this not about us but about the scouts, the youth. We are raising the next generation of leaders and are humbled and motivated by that thought.

View a video of Fr. Eric serving Divine Liturgy with the Orthodox Scouts.

Father Eric is also the Secretary at the Chancery of the Orthodox Church in America, as well as Assistant Professor of Liturgics here at St. Vladimir’s Seminary.