My Philmont “Mistress”

Cliff Coan

Cliff Coan, at PTC

“So, I finally get to meet your mistress?”

When my wife said that to me, I was confused. Number one — I don’t have a mistress. Number two — we were talking about going to Philmont for a Methodist training conference.

“Philmont,” “Methodists,” “training” and “mistress” didn’t seem to fit together.

I’d seen the invite for the “Scouting Ministry in the United Methodist Church” conference, and thought it would be interesting. It would get me back to Philmont, Tracy could come along, and it would combine two organizations I hold in high esteem.

I guess all the stories I’ve told, or maybe the Philmont caps and t-shirts that spark instant, intense conversations with strangers made an impression on Tracy. We’d stopped briefly at Camping Headquarters before on our way to Taos for vacation . . . but walking around the base and browsing through the Tooth of Time Traders obviously didn’t impart a lot of the mystique.

I did get some cool swag, though.

I’ve been to Philmont a total of 10 times as a trekker (two as a kid, the rest as an adult leader), so its magic gravitational pull is strong — to say the least — and I was all up for the conference.

I’ve been involved in Scouting on and off (mostly on) since before the disco era — actually, since a year before Woodstock. Methodism I came to later — around the time we were all worried about the Y2K bug interfering with Napster. If any of those references confused you, you’re probably younger than I am.

I am, at the moment, an assistant scoutmaster in a troop, a Scouting Ministry Specialist, a Venturing Committee member, a troop committee member, a council executive committee member, a sometime-Sunday School teacher, a praise and worship band bass player, a nominating committee member, a lay speaker/servant/whatever-the-term-is-now, a member of the church audio/video team, the maintainer of the church website and Facebook pages, a member of the United Methodist Men, a Venturing crew advisor, and probably several other things I can’t think of at the moment.

It’s a small town, a small church and a small troop and crew. You wear multiple hats. Often at the same time.

I’d founded the local Venturing Crew (back when they were Explorer Posts) and kept it in (theoretical) existence up until my conscience and pocketbook told me that I could no longer maintain a “paper crew” for the few times we used it.

Trying to do things right, I’d worked to get the church on board with a new crew. This turned out to be a lot harder than I expected. I had one pastor ready to go, when the bishop relocated her and we ended up with a short-timer. Then he retired before I could convince him. The new pastor was a by-the-book, full-blooded, several-generations-born-and-bred, old-school Methodist and, frankly, didn’t have Scouting on her radar screen.

I needed to get all my little Scouting ducks lined up before we went marching into the church office.

So, when my wife Tracy agreed to go to the Philmont Training Center for the United Methodist Conference, I was happy. To say the least.

I bit the bullet and paid the (highly-reasonable) fee for the conference, threw down the (much-less-reasonable) cash for updating my “official” Venturing uniform, and we headed to PTC.

Like most Scouting events, at first, I was keenly aware that “these guys and gals know a lot more than I do, and a lot of them seem to know each other.” But, again like most Scouting events, everyone was very friendly.

We checked into our palatial (by my standards) tent, with a floor, cots, a closet and electricity early Sunday evening and dove in.

Beginning Monday morning, it felt like somebody had turned on a firehose — no, make that opened a floodgate — and I was trying to drink from it.

[cryout-pullquote align=”right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”33%”]Information came at us in tsunamis — not simple waves.[/cryout-pullquote]

At first, I felt like I was dog-paddling frantically around in a bowl of alphabet soup — GCUMM, FBI, K3, DS, DE, SMS, NAUMS, UMCOR, GBOD, UMW, UMM, COR, NAYLE. Did somebody spill their scrabble board? A couple of years later, I’m still wondering if a couple of those acronyms weren’t made up on the fly and didn’t have any meaning at all — kind of like my old Scoutmaster’s “magic circle game” that one of the other Assistant Scoutmasters is STILL trying to figure out years after (I’m talking to you, Johnny Martinez!).

Information came at us in tsunamis — not simple waves. I took notes frenetically, recognizing quickly that these old hands knew pretty much everything about these two organizations and how they were designed to work together, and the new hands had lots of ideas. And the exchange of ideas was a two- (or four- or six- or 20-) way street — everyone there was willing and eager to learn from each other. If somebody had a difficulty, somebody else had an idea of how to overcome that difficulty.

Meanwhile, Tracy played. We’ve now been to PTC twice, so I don’t remember which activities she did which year, but I know she has:

  • Whitewater rafted
  • COPE coursed
  • Pottery’ed
  • Beaded
  • Crafted
  • Painted
  • Welded
  • Shot .22s and shotguns
  • Taos’ed

Those are just the things she did — her compatriots did lots of other things, too.

I was in class.

But that’s okay, because that was the reason I was there — and it was definitely interesting and informative. Often, it seems those who know the most about our organizations think that everyone knows the things they know. We don’t, always. And any time I got stuck, or didn’t know something, (a) somebody else didn’t know it, either; and (b) somebody was more than willing to explain without making me feel like the uninformed idiot I apparently am.

My room at the PTC -- and COFFEE!

My room at the PTC — and COFFEE!

A typical day . . . mornings started early — but, in the mountains, I’ve never had a problem getting up early. I tried to run a little every morning — there’s a 5K route beginning at the flagpole at PTC — and, by the second day, one of my classmates and I waved and panted at each other each time we met. I watched the sunrise over the plains and glow on the Tooth of Time. I moved to the other side of the road to let the wranglers bring the horse herd in from the pasture to horse headquarters. I sucked in oxygen-scarce mountain air. Then I shaved and showered in the newly-remodeled shower houses (they’ve been remodeled and updated for privacy, but that means that you have to be a little more aware that EVERYONE is trying to use them first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening), and tootled off to breakfast and COFFEE.

Then I went off to class, and Tracy went off to play.

In the evenings, we all (spouses and conferees) went to the PTC opening campfire, a buffalo barbecue, the Camping Headquarters closing campfire, a cobbler night and concert, a performance by the Kwahadi Indian dancers and (for us, one of the highlights of the week) religious services at the Protestant, LDS, Catholic and Jewish chapels at CHQ — complete with free-ranging question-and-answer sessions that did an excellent job of bridging information between the religions.

Tracy and I even persuaded the Jewish Chaplain to give us a marriage blessing in Hebrew to commemorate our anniversary. He had to look it up (don’t get much call for marriage blessings at Scout Camps, I guess), but like every other Philmont Staffer I have ever encountered, he was more than willing to be of service, and apparently got a kick out of the service.

There was a day with no activities scheduled after noon for families to use however they saw fit — touring Cimarron, Taos, Angel Fire or Eagle Nest, taking a group hike into the edges of the backcountry, shopping at the TOT Traders, visiting the Kit Carson Settlement Museum or the Seton Museum or touring the Villa Philmonte (AKA “The Big House”), or going into town for the music at the St. James or the Colfax Tavern.

The week ended far too soon.

I came away with:

  • a major in understanding of how things are supposed to work when they involve the Methodist Church and Scouting
  • a minor in the two languages (Methodist and Scouter)
  • a ton of tools to help coordinate activities between the two
  • two tons of activities to coordinate
  • a bunch of awards that can be used to recognize those in the church and Scouting that help out or achieve something
  • a plethora of ideas
  • and, probably, tucked away in the footlocker somewhere, a partridge in a pear tree

Did it make everything daisies and sunshine when I got back to the church and crew? Honestly, no. I’m still trying to translate between two organizations I love that don’t speak the same language, and still trying to show how they can work together without encroaching on turf. But using what I learned, I was able to put together a killer proposal and presentation to convince the church to reinstate our lapsed Venturing Crew, and begin the hard work of actually being a chartered organization — rather than just sponsoring our Scout Troop.

And Tracy’s willing to visit my “mistress” — Philmont — any time.

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