With a decision by Statesboro Primitive Baptist Church as sponsoring organization not to renew the charter of Boy Scout Troop 342, a relationship going back 54 years will come to an end Dec. 31.
Unless another organization takes up the mantle, the number of the troop a regional scouting staff member called “an Eagle factory,” will be retired. Two plaques from the Boy Scout hut on church property carry the names of more than 50 men who achieved the top rank of Eagle Scout over the years. Among them are two Atlanta physicians, two of Statesboro’s firefighters and the director of its natural gas service, a Primitive Baptist elder, current and retired military officers, a retail company executive, a hedge fund manager and a law school student.
Some of those are older, but for the past 13 years, a steady march of young men have become Eagle Scouts under the guidance of Troop 342 Scoutmaster Lovett Bennett Jr., who said that five of the troop’s dozen or so current members should make Eagle by the end of the year.
Contacted Thursday, Lindsay Walker, chairman of the board of deacons at Statesboro Primitive Baptist, said the church’s decision followed from “just some of the decisions that the Boy Scouts of America made, not the local troop but the Boy Scouts nationally.”
Asked if the church’s choice had to do with the BSA’s 2015 decision allowing gay adult scout leaders or the announcement at the beginning of 2017 admitting transgendered Scouts, Walker said, “I think it was the leaders, more than anything, just with our church. It makes it difficult for them to put the two together.”
Church board’s statement
He then offered to consult the minutes and issue a statement on behalf of the deacons. This is the statement received Friday:
“The Statesboro Primitive Baptist Church is blessed to be able to support, sponsor, and partner with various organizations that have common beliefs and pursuits. A group's needs, values and our ability to help are all factored into the church's decisions regarding these organizational relationships. The SPBC loves Boy Scout Troop 342 and they continue to be in our prayers. We look forward to many more opportunities to serve the community and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
To God's Glory,
Lindsay Walker & The Board of Deacons of the Statesboro Primitive Baptist Church.”
Bennett, a local lawyer, is not a member of the Statesboro Primitive Baptist, but has attended services there for decades while remaining a member of First Baptist Church.
Walker said, “Oh, we love Lovett” and acknowledged the church’s long history with Troop 342.
Contacted first, Bennett declined to comment on the church’s reasons, saying that would need to come from the church leadership. He instead praised the church’s longtime support.
“It’s pretty rare to have one troop sponsored continuously for over 50 years by one organization, and they’ve been very supportive and very, very beneficial to our troop, obviously. Great people,” Bennett said.
Bennett first joined Troop 342 as a young Scout around 1967 and participated for two to three years, advancing to First Class Scout, the fourth of the seven ranks, but three short of Eagle. He returned in 1999 as an assistant scoutmaster when his son William joined as a Scout, followed by his other son Michael in 2002. Both became Eagle Scouts, “unlike their dad,” he remarked.
When Troop 342 ceases to meet there, the scout hut will remain property of Statesboro Primitive Baptist Church, Bennett said. The hut is located on East Main Street, across from Primitive Baptist.
The van the troop sometimes uses also belongs to the church. But the troop owns a trailer, a portable smoker, and many tents, lanterns and other camping equipment. Bennett said he is looking at passing on to one or more of the items to other troops.
In particular, Bennett has been talking with Alex Grovenstein, cubmaster of Cub Scout Pack 337, which is sponsored by Brooklet United Methodist Church, about growing Boy Scout programs in that area. The younger of Grovenstein’s two sons is in his Cub Scout pack, while his older son is part of Boy Scout Troop 413, which is sponsored by Nevils United Methodist Church but meets at the old Brooklet Airpark.
“That troop in Nevils is a good strong troop, and it would be a good home for those guys,” Grovenstein said. “Of course, there are others in Statesboro as well.”
Cub Scout Pack 935 relaunched last year under the sponsorship of Pittman Park United Methodist Church. It now has 25 members, and a Boy Scout troop there now has six members, after the troop received its new charter this spring and the boys “crossed over” from Cub Scouting, said Kate Bupp, a Statesboro Herald employee who is membership chair for the troop and pack.
Other units in the area can be found by ZIP code search on the internet at https://beascout.scouting.org
So, Grovenstein said the boys and young men can find a new home in scouting, and he hopes Bennett will, too.
“The biggest travesty on that is losing Lovett Bennett as a leader, I think, really more than anything else,” Grovenstein said. “Lovett’s kind of legendary in the scouting world in Statesboro and with others that have been involved with him, too. That’s the part that’s going to hurt the worst.”
The “Oh, it’s been an Eagle factory” remark about Troup 342 came from Susie Curtis, assistant scout executive for the Coastal Georgia Council of the Boy Scouts of America. If the church agreed in writing to release the troop number, it could be reassigned to another sponsoring organization, if one is interested, she said.
“That’s what we hope,” Curtis said. “I don’t know who that’s going to be yet, but we’d love for someone else to step up and say, ‘You know what, we’d love to sponsor the troop.’”
Statesboro Primitive Baptist “has been a fantastic charter partner over the years,” and the council can only accept the church’s decision, she said.
“They have that right, and we only wish the best for them and hope that in the future, that maybe they’d come back around and see that scouting is strong, our kids are doing great things in the community, we’re building leaders,” Curtis said.
Bennett referred to his no longer being a troop leader somewhat like a retirement, saying his wife wants to give up some organizational commitments and he wants to spend more time with their brand-new granddaughter. He also serves on the BSA Coastal Georgia Council board and said he will probably stay involved in that way.
“Boy Scouting has been good to me and I’ve enjoyed it,” Bennett said. “I’ve enjoyed helping the young guys, and we’ve been very successful in helping these young boys become young men, so in my estimation there’s not a better organization in the world.”
However, Bennet disagrees with some recent BSA national leadership decisions. This week, after news organizations reported that Girl Scouts of the USA President Kathy Hopinkah Hannan accused the BSA of plotting to recruit girls into Boy Scout programs to bolster a declining membership, Bennett agreed with the Girl Scout leader.
“Rather than pursuing young ladies, the BSA should be more actively pursuing many other important potential sources of recruits (primarily young black and Hispanic males),” Bennett said in an email to the Statesboro Herald.
He supports the scouting groups’ traditional identity as “single-gender organizations” for developing young men and women.
“Also, the BSA does not seem to be willing to discuss or admit the effects of recent controversial changes to the organization. …,” Bennett wrote. “Currently, hundreds of thousands of Scouts are leaving the BSA, but very little is being said about this issue by the national BSA organization.”
There has been little or no open discussion of this or of losses of church sponsorships in national BSA publications such as “Boys Life” and “Scouting,” he asserted.
The Statesboro Herald’s emailed request to the BSA national public relations office for an interview, and for data on trends in membership and church sponsorships, did not result in either.
But a spokesperson sent this statement:
“The Boy Scouts of America deeply appreciates our religious partners and are heartened by their commitment to Scouting. Our religious chartered organizations continue to have the right to make decisions based on religious beliefs and we will work with families to find local Scouting units that are the best fit for their children.”