The Order of the ArrowA Best Kept Secret

The second in a series designed to help Scout families, Scouts and those new to Scouting better understand what Scouting is, how it works, and how to get the most out of the experience. For past articles, see back issues of The Guide. Written by Paul Shrode, Bay-Lakes Council Family Friends of Scouting Chair, Member of the Board of Directors, and Gathering Waters District Chair. Contact Paul at

Whether you are involved in Cub Scouting or have moved on to Scouts BSA, Venturing or Sea Scouts you will undoubtedly hear of the Order of the Arrow. For more than a century, the Order has recognized Scouts and Scouters who best exemplify the Scout Oath and law, and encourage others to live the ideals of Scouting. Members known as Arrowmen honor the traditions and spirit of Scouting through promoting camping, providing service to others, and fostering leadership development. <Continued>

New members must qualify for election by individual units. Elections may take place as of February 1st each year and may continue into the spring of the year. To qualify, a Scout must have attained the Scouts BSA rank of First Class, Venturing Discovery rank, or the Sea Scout Ordinary rank or higher and must have completed 15 nights of camping within the past two years. Camping nights may be earned on weekend outings throughout the year, and up to 5 nights may be earned during a week-long summer camp program once in the two-year period. During the COVID pandemic restriction period, a special exception has been granted to allow Scout sponsored virtual camp programming to be counted. Within a year, one long-term camp may account for 5 nights and up to three nights per month may be counted toward virtual camping. When elected, parents are notified but election is kept from the Scout until he or she is “called out” in a ceremony where new members are identified, usually during a summer camp session.

Those elected may choose to join or may turn down their election. If they wish to complete their new member induction, they participate in an “Ordeal” which usually involves a day of service, self-reflection, and learning culminating in a ceremony through which they learn of the traditions and expectations of the Order. The ceremony is moving and is conducted by the youth officers in the presence of other youth and adult members. During the ceremony, new members learn a secret password and handshake and other signs of membership. The BSA does not permit any secret societies or organizations within Scouting, but the ceremonies and secrets are more meaningful to new members who have not been exposed to them in advance. Parents are permitted to attend ceremonies and observe the program first hand if they so desire.

Membership is organized into Chapters within a District, and the Chapters belong to a Lodge. The Order has over 150,000 members nationwide. Chapters meet monthly during the school year. Members pay dues annually, may attend Chapter meetings within their District, and may attend special Order of the Arrow outings including Chapter conferences in the spring and fall, Lodge fellowship gatherings, leadership development conferences and other service and social functions. A National Order of the Arrow Conference is held annually and features a week-long program with skill-building sessions, inspirational and motivational presentations, fellowship and service.

Membership within the Order of the Arrow is a great honor. Generally, new youth members are elected from among the youth members of the unit, although adult Scouters may also be elected and inducted into the Order, and membership may continue through life. Ordeal members, as new members are known, may remain at that membership level or may seek the next level known as Brotherhood after at least six months in the Order. Those members who have demonstrated devotion to fellow Scouts, exemplary service over time, and who are actively engaged in the Order may be nominated to a higher level know as Vigil after two years of membership. All three levels of membership are full members in the Order. There is no special uniform for members of the Order of the Arrow, but a characteristic white sash is presented to each upon induction into each level of membership. Special patches may be added to the Scout uniform to recognize membership.

The Kon Wapos Lodge serves Bay-Lakes Council and is divided into six chapters within the  eight Districts. The Lodge updates appear in every issue of The Guide.  If you have questions about the Order of the Arrow or you are notified that your Scout has been elected, you may contact your unit leadership or Lodge Advisor, Mike Mailand. For complete information, visit the lodge website.  Otherwise, contact Mike at