What is the Order of the Arrow?

(Taken from the National OA web site)

…The Order of the Arrow is Scouting’s National Honor Society.

It is a society of Boy Scouts that functions as a part of the regular camping program of the Boy Scouts of America. Its foremost purpose is to promote and enrich Scout camping.


The purpose of the Order of the Arrow is fourfold:

To recognize those Scout 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 a part of the unit’s  camping program, both year-round 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.

Mission of the Lodge
The reason for, or objective of, a lodge is critical to achievement of the purpose. Therefore, the following mission statement should be used as a basis for lodge operating practices and structure.
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.

Principles of the Order

The Order of the Arrow was founded upon the principles of brotherhood, cheerfulness, and service. These principles form the foundation for the Obligation of the Order. In pledging this Obligation, one promises, “On my honor… to be unselfish in service and the devotion to the welfare of others.” This is not an easy pledge to fulfill, for there are few who live a life of cheerful service in our world. One is not inducted into the Order of the Arrow “not so much for what one has done, but for what one is expected to do.” Election in the Order is unique. There is no other organization in which members are elected by nonmembers. Any organization that inducts from the inside is prone to lose touch with society. Election into the Order is based on standards set by fellow Scouts. Thus the Order, grounded in outdoor camping, will continue to be relevant to today’s society.

Camping and the Order

Camping is a method of Scouting, but camping is not Scouting’s purpose. Scouting aims to build character, citizenship, and fitness. When Scouts go camping, this growth just seems to follow. Patrol and troop camping are models and a testing ground for life in society. In a small group, each member is dependent on the others. Each learns to accept responsibility and to exercise good judgment. Even a stubborn or selfish person finds himself interacting with others in helpful and supportive ways. Scouts who camp will sooner or later come face to face with practical applications of the Scout Oath and Law. Cheerfulness, trustworthiness, courtesy, helpfulness, and all the central virtues of Scouting are necessary survival skills. Thus, we promote camping, and camping becomes more effective in achieving the aims of Scouting.
The principles of Scouting are central to any kind of successful camping. The Order of the Arrow arose in a Scout camp, and it keeps camping promotion as a major service. Arrowmen encourage Scouts to go camping. In camp, we maintain the best traditions and the highest spirit.

The Order of the Arrow (OA) was founded by Dr. E. Urner Goodman and Carroll A. Edson in the summer of 1915 at the Treasure Island Camp of the Philadelphia Council, Boy Scouts of America. It grew out of a desire to emphasize that the good Scout camper is not only proficient in the skills of Scoutcraft, but also practiced the principles of the Scout Oath and Law. It was intended to make these Scout principles more effective in the lives of Scout campers. It focuses particular attention on making cheerful service and brotherhood working realities to its members.

As a means of establishing all this without preachment and within the understanding of Scouts who go camping with their troops, it was announced to them at the outset that at the end of their camping experience, each troop might choose those who best exemplified these traits to become members of the Order of the Arrow.

Other Order of the Arrow lodges were soon organized in nearby councils, and in 1921 representatives of those lodges met together in Philadelphia for the first national meeting. It became an official program experiment of the Boy Scouts of America in 1922. In 1934, the Boy Scouts of America officially approved the Order of the Arrow. In 1948, the OA, recognized as the BSA’s national brotherhood of honor campers, became an official part of the national camping program of the Boy Scouts of America. Since then, it has become a recognized part of the Boy Scout program and is used in all but a few councils throughout America.

The OA has more than 176,000 members located in lodges affiliated with approximately 327 BSA local councils.

Scouts and Scouters under the age of 21 are elected to the Order by their fellow unit members, following approval by the Scoutmaster or Varsity team Coach. To become a member, a youth must be a registered member of a Boy Scout troop or Varsity Scout team and hold First Class rank. The youth must have experienced fifteen days and nights of Boy Scout camping during the two-year period prior to the election. The fifteen days and nights must include one, but no more than one, long-term camp consisting of six consecutive days and five nights of resident camping, approved and under the auspices and standards of the Boy Scouts of America. The balance of the camping must be overnight, weekend, or other short-term camps.

Adults 21 and older are selected based on their ability to perform the necessary functions to help the Order fulfill its purpose, and not for recognition. Selected adult Scouters must be an asset to the Order because of demonstrated abilities, and provide a positive role model for the youth members of the lodge.

The induction ceremony, called the Ordeal, is the first step toward full membership. During the experience, candidates undergo a number of ‘tests’. The entire experience is designed to teach significant values. The induction is not a hazing or an initiation ceremony. The Order is not a secret Scout organization, and its ceremonies are open to any parent, adult leader, or religious leader. Since there is an element of mystery in the ceremonies, for the sake of their effect on candidates, Order of the Arrow ceremonies are not conducted at public gatherings.

Brotherhood Membership
After 10 months of service and fulfilling certain requirements, a member may take part in the Brotherhood ceremony, which places further emphasis on the ideals of Scouting and the Order. Completion of this ceremony signifies full membership in the OA.

Vigil Honor
After two years of service as a Brotherhood member, and with the approval of the national Order of the Arrow Committee, a Scout may be recognized with the Vigil Honor for outstanding service to Scouting, his lodge, and the community. This honor is bestowed by special selection and is limited to one person for every 50 members registered with the lodge each year.

Each local Boy Scout council is encouraged to have an Order of the Arrow lodge. Each lodge is granted a charter from the National Council, BSA, upon annual application. The OA lodge helps the local council provide a quality Scouting program through recognition of Scouting spirit and performance, development of youth leadership and service, promotion of Scout camping and outdoor programs, and enhancement of membership tenure.

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 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.

Region Leadership
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.

National Leadership
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.