SR-7A Ceremonies Weekend

By Ben Pycraft

On the weekend of April 15 - 17th, over 60 participants arrived at Camp T. Brady Saunders in the beautiful Heart of Virginia Council. Of that, over two-thirds were youth ceremony team members who enthusiastically arrived to deepen their understanding of ceremonies and to share their experience in brotherhood with others. 

Over the past couple of years, it began to appear that instead of working alongside one another, the lodges had a sense that each year at conclave, they would send their best team to ‘compete’ against the other lodges and discover which team is the best. This is a common trend found across the nation, and while this was great as far as a friendly competition to push each other to improve, it didn’t really appear to be the most beneficial approach.

Recently, the leadership has been pushing to transition from the idea of having competitions, to instead showcasing evaluations. These evaluations focus on valuable feedback for the participating Arrowmen on their performance and ability in portraying the important principals of our Order. This was the intent behind the SR-7A ceremonies weekend.

Participants started their adventure on Friday evening, when youth were organized in bunkhouses based on the ceremonial principal they identified. In those groups they were able to form the strongest bonds of brotherhood, and spend hours in conversation talking earnestly about how to portray the principal. After a night of OA jeopardy, Arrowmen rested up and prepared themselves for the day of learning ahead of them. Since nearly every participant was at a different skill level, all program activities were set up as learning opportunities. This made the time the Arrowmen had together worthwhile.

A major highlight was the “Or-Deal” tournament on Saturday afternoon. “Or-Deal” is a card game created by Jay Dunbar, one of the authors of the 1979 Pre-Ordeal ceremony and the 2015 Brotherhood ceremony, who was a special guest at the weekend. The game consists of players working to create the best “hand” of factors that go into planning an Ordeal weekend, including cards like “Elangomats” and “Ceremonialists,” with the goal of having the best Ordeal weekend setup as possible. Not only is it a fun game but also a fantastic learning opportunity on how to plan an Ordeal. As a prize for the first officially sanctioned “Or-Deal” tournament ever held, Jay Dunbar awarded the winner with the lodge flap he wore during the time he was a lodge chief.

After breakfast on Sunday morning, each participating team took part in ceremony evaluations. These were based on the NOAC honor lodge standard. Paul Lackie, head national evaluations trainer, was present during the evaluations, as he has been before for the previous six Section SR-7A Conclaves. The evaluations, although in depth, were not expecting an honor level standard from each team. Instead, the purpose was to use the guide to best help teams improve. This was accomplished by discovering parts of the ceremony that needed improvement, no matter what level the team is at as a whole. More great resources and coaches for the success of the weekend included Alex Deloach, Michael Todd, Johnny Cirillo and Ryan Showman, all of whom are experienced ceremonialists from Tipisa Lodge in Florida who served on ICE staff at NOAC 2015. They were present through the whole weekend and were a huge inspiration to the youth attendees. The evaluations were so widely enjoyed that SR-7A is even considering moving the official section ceremony evaluations from conclave to this ceremonies weekend in the future, to allow ceremonialists more time to participate in the conclave program. 

Like many memorable events, the ceremonies weekend started off as just an idea. It originated from an informal conversation between two advisers after a long day of section ceremony evaluations. Gary Harvey and Paul Teasley discussed the present problem of Arrowmen having difficulty getting kick-started in ceremonies. They realized it often takes a good amount of time that could be better spent taking skills to the next level, instead of fumbling through the motions of a ceremony text for the first or fourth time. That’s where the idea of the ceremonies weekend was born. Quite simply, it is a time dedicated to this entry level experience and knowledge passed down by the veterans that came before them. It was a phenomenal way for new enthusiastic Arrowmen to get involved and learn more about ceremonies.

From the informal idea, a healthy mix of team members from each lodge of Section SR-7A came together to make the event happen. The idea was presented and officially approved by the Council of Chiefs (COC), a gathering of leaders from each lodge. Nawakwa Lodge volunteered to host the event at Camp T. Brady Saunders, since the location is central and has great outdoor and indoor venues. Sheridan Parkison, who is the youth that served as the main organizer of the event and holds the position of conclave vice chief of ceremonies in SR-7A, deserves much of the credit for this weekend’s success.

According to Dave Pratt, SR-7A Ceremonies Adviser, there are two major reasons for the success of this event: the youth, and the time set aside to make it all happen. Dave succeeded Gary Harvey from Tutelo Lodge as the section ceremonies adviser, a role that he believes had the bar set high. “Gary was a tough act to follow” recalled Dave, and they worked closely together overseeing this vision that was laid out by the youth in front of them.

First, Dave is proud of the qualified youth that stepped up to organize the event. Experienced ceremonialists led engaging sessions that were informative and rewarding. The participants found the trainers credible and looked up to them with respect. Without the youth, the ceremonies weekend would have turned out entirely different. 

Secondly, because of how in-depth ceremonies are, Dave believes that the ceremonies weekend was a huge hit due to the fact they basically had a whole weekend to dive through them, instead of for most of us who may have gotten a five minute 'heads up' to learn a part for the first time and fill in a role for a ceremony on Friday night. If you have ever been in that situation, then you can imagine how beneficial committing time to walking through the motions, symbolism, meaning, emotion and message of the ceremonial texts will help you better understand them. That is the key to providing ceremonies that are pivotal in the Scouting careers of our members. It’s also what contributes to the success of some of the top nationally recognized honor lodges across the country. 

For more information about this event, or to stay updated and see when you can register for 2017, keep an eye on the Section SR-7A website!

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