Philmont fosters 'a Zion experience'
It's easy. Send a link to the story you were just reading to a friend. Just fill out the form on this page and we'll send it along.
For almost half a century, priesthood leaders and their families have traveled from all corners of the United States (and sometimes Canada) to gather for a week or two each summer at a pristine encampment in northeastern New Mexico known as Philmont.
There they find gospel learning, new friendships, outdoor adventure and, in the words of countless LDS Philmonters, "a Zion experience."
Again this year, hundreds of stake presidents, counselors from stake presidencies and stake Young Men leaders gathered for the annual Priesthood Leadership Conference at Philmont Scout Ranch. Most were accompanied by their wives and children, leaving their homes for a week to populate sprawling tent cities and enjoy a week of spiritual and Scouting instruction. This year's leadership conference was held in two sessions from June 26-July 2, and July 3–9.
"It's been a wonderful experience being with these many priesthood leaders and their families," said David L. Beck, Young Men general president, who presided at the leadership conference. Brother Beck was joined at one or both sessions by his counselors in the Young Men general presidency, Brother Larry M. Gibson and Brother Adrian Ochoa. Rosemary M. Wixom, Primary general president, and her counselors, Sister Jean A. Stevens and Sister Cheryl A. Esplin, also participated, along with members from the Young Men and Primary general boards.
Philmont's Priesthood Leadership Conference is undoubtedly a Scout camp. Each day, the priesthood leaders pull on their Scout uniforms and gather together for training sessions on myriad aspects of Scouting. The sessions are taught by Brother Beck, Sister Wixom and their counselors and general board members, along with Scouting's LDS Relations director David Pack.
But the LDS gathering at Philmont is much more than talk of merit badges, rank advancements and troop activities. Participants in each session function as a ward for the week they are together. The leadership training is anchored in the Sabbath Day where families dressed in Sunday best gather for priesthood, Relief Society, Sunday School, Primary and sacrament services. LDS Philmonters even accept callings. A stake president from say, Kansas, may teach the CTR class out on the Philmont picnic grounds. A Relief Society sister from Arizona may be asked to lead the outdoor gospel doctrine class. Young Mia Maids and Beehives gather with other girls from around the country for Young Women instruction.
Sabbath worship extended far beyond the Philmont training facilities. Hundreds of Mutual-aged boys and girls participated in weeklong treks through the Philmont backcountry. During the trek, they gathered at various outdoor settings on Sunday to sing hymns and listen to instruction from Brother Beck, Sister Wixom and other youth leaders. The trekkers participate in the outdoor meetings offering impromptu talks. At one service, Brother Beck recognized the singing talents of one young woman from Texas — so he asked the girl and her sister to stand and sing a duet of "Joseph Smith's First Prayer."
It's also a week of bearing and sharing testimonies and spending time with families in a peaceful, natural setting.
This year's Philmont training was staged just as Church units throughout the world are implementing the new Duty to God program. Brother Beck said the local priesthood leaders arrived at camp enthused and eager to learn more about Duty to God.
"We've asked them to learn about the program and to develop a plan to implement Duty to God — and then to share their experience with others," he added.
Other annual Philmont traditions include a priesthood meeting in the Philmont woods and plenty of patriotic fun and family activities, including a colorful children's parade.
Priesthood leaders were also encouraged to return home and stage "Little Philmonts" in their wards and stakes so thousands of others can enjoy the spirit and instruction found at Philmont.