The Order of the Arrow is the national honor society of the Boy Scouts of America.
It was founded in 1915 at the Treasure Island Scout Camp of the Philadelphia Council, Boy Scouts of America. The founders of the Order of the Arrow, E. Urner Goodman and and Carroll A. Edson, were professional staffers at the Philadelphia Council who were also serving as the directors of the camp. As they developed the summer camp program, they wanted to find a way to recognize those Scouts and Scouters in camp who, in living the Scout Oath and Law, brought the principles of brotherhood, cheerfulness, and service to the camp lifestyle.
The Order of the Arrow spread quickly from camp to camp and council to council in the 1910's and 1920's. In 1922, the Order became an official program experiment of the Boy Scouts of America, and was approved as part of the Boy Scout program in 1934. In 1948, the Order of the Arrow became an official part of the Boy Scout camping program as the BSA's national brotherhood of honor campers.
Known as "Arrowmen," OA members have service obligations to both their local unit and the council camping program. Membership in the OA does not replace an Arrowman's membership or responsibility to their local troop; in fact, members are encouraged to give even greater service to their units. Besides assisting the camping program, councils will call upon the OA lodge for all manner of special services, as the young men in the lodge represent the best among Scouting's youth.
As the symbol of the Order, the arrow is a logical choice. Its point keen, its course steady, pointed onward and upwards, it represents the life the member strives for in the giving of cheerful service.
The Purpose of the Order of the Arrow
To recognize those campers -- Scouts and Scouters -- who best exemplify the Scout Oath and Law in their daily lives, and by such recognition, cause other campers to conduct themselves in such a manner as to warrant recognition.
To develop and maintain camping traditions and spirit.
To promote Scout camping, which reaches its greatest effectiveness as part of the unit's camping program, both year-round and and in the summer camp, as directed by the camping committee of the council.
To crystallize the Scout habit of helpfulness into a life purpose of leadership in cheerful service to others.
Membership in the Order of the Arrow
Membership in the Order of the Arrow is open to youth Scouts and adult Scouters who are registered members of the Boy Scouts of America.
Youth are elected by their peers (fellow Scouts) in their troop in an election conducted by a trained election representative or team from the Lodge. Scouts are asked to select those Scouts who are good campers, and who show the Order's ideals of Brotherhood, Cheerfulness, and Service. Any Scout who
- holds the rank of First Class Scout
- who has 15 days/nights of camping (including one long-term camp of 6 days / 5 nights, the balance is weekend / overnight camping)
- and who is approved by his Scoutmaster
may be a candidate for an election; and any candidate who receives a majority vote of the Scouts voting is elected (A Scout can vote for more than one person.) Additionally, each troop can nominate an adult Scouter to become a member of the OA as an adviser to youth leaders.
Once elected, a youth or adult candidate undergoes an induction process called the Ordeal.
Starting with an inspiring ceremony, the candidate is presented with four challenges to help him understand the obligations of a member of the Order to show brotherhood, cheerfulness, and service. Once the four tests are completed, the member takes an obligation of service, and becomes an Ordeal member of the Order. Note that nothing in the Ordeal is considered hazing; the "tests" are exercises intended to promote self-discovery and inspiration, and all ceremonies are reviewed regularly by Scouting and religious leaders. The experience of the Ordeal is to challenge one's self to understand an obligation of life-long cheerful service.
About a year after the Ordeal, Ordeal members who have developed an ideal of cheerful service to others can "seal" their OA membership through the Brotherhood Ceremony.
This second ceremony is a rededication to the original principles of the Ordeal, and carries an additional obligation to cheerful service.
Brotherhood members who devote years of service to the lodge, to the camp, to the council, or some other part of Scouting may be awarded the Vigil Honor, the lodge's highest award for exceptional service.
The Vigil Honor
However, Vigil members carry an even greater obligation to service, for the honor is bestowed not for what one has done, but for what one is expected to. Vigil Honor members understand that they are examples of leadership in cheerful service to others.
The Mission of the Lodge
The mission of the lodge is to achieve the purpose of the Order of the Arrow as an integral part of the Boy Scouts of America in the council through positive youth leadership under the guidance of selected capable adults.
Lodge, Section, Region, and National Structure
Each of the approximately 325 chartered councils of the Boy Scouts of America (the organizational body that serves and supports the Cub Scout, Boy Scout, and Venturing units in a geographic area of local communities) is encouraged to charter an Order of the Arrow lodge. The lodge is the basic unit of OA program; each lodge is assigned a number, and lodges develop a name and totem based on local traditions. The OA provides service to camping and opportunities for youth leadership to experienced Scouts in Boy Scouting. The lodge is led by a lodge chief, a youth Arrowman under the age of 21. He and his other officers give leadership to the lodge and its program. The lodge chief is assisted by a volunteer adult Lodge Adviser and a professional adult Lodge Staff Adviser. Other youth serve as officers and committee chairmen, each with a corresponding adult adviser. However, only youth members vote in lodge elections or on lodge business. The Order of the Arrow is a youth-led program, under the guidance of selected capable adults.
An Order of the Arrow section consists of lodges within a geographic area of the region. Once every year, representatives of lodges in the section come together for a Section Conclave to share in fellowship, skills, and training. A section is lead by three youth officers, the Section Chief, Section Vice-Chief, and Section Secretary, who are advised by an adult Section Adviser and professional Section Staff Adviser. All of the elected section chiefs are invited form the conference committee for a national Order of the Arrow event, which is held under the guidance of the national Order of the Arrow Committee.The region chief is the youth leader of the region elected by the section chiefs in his region. This election is held in conjunction with called meetings of the section chiefs to elect the national chief and vice-chief, as well as to plan a national Order of the Arrow event. The region Order of the Arrow chairman is an adult appointed by the region director. The professional adviser for the region is a staff member assigned to the position by the region director.
The national chief and vice-chief are Arrowmen elected by the section chiefs during the annual national planning meeting. They serve as members of the national Order of the Arrow Committee, providing the opinion of youth on national OA policy. They also serve as the presiding officers for the national OA event. Their term of office is specified by the national committee, and is currently one year. They are advised in their responsibilities by the national committee chairman and national director of the Order of the Arrow. The national OA committee chairman is appointed by the chairman of the national Boy Scout Committee. The professional adviser is the national director of the Order of the Arrow, a member of the national Boy Scout Division staff.