By Matthew Oates
LINCOLN CITY, Ind. - "It's going to be a good day today," proclaimed Randal Craig as he looked out the Little Pigeon Creek Welcome Center overseeing several scouting troops coming and going.
Approximately 4,000 Boy and Girl Scouts and 300 volunteers descended upon Lincoln State Park and the Lincoln National Boyhood Memorial from May 9-11 to celebrate the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth at the Lincoln Bicentennial Encampment.
The 16th president - while born in Hodgenville, Ky., in 1809 - called Southern Indiana home from 1816 to 1830.
Craig, senior district executive for the Lincoln Heritage District of the Boy Scouts of America and a member of Shiloh UMC in Jasper, Ind., served as one of the organizers of the encampment.
"The National Park Service wanted to do something to mark the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth," said Craig. "We thought we could make this event large and we jumped on the bandwagon.
"We looked at this as an opportunity to share with our youth today what life was like back in the early 1800s," he said. "We had a lot of input form people who have studied that time period, sharing of various events such as log cabin building, living history lessons and 53 other demonstrations."
With it being Mother's Day weekend, the scouts also took the opportunity to honor Lincoln's mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, who is buried at the Lincoln National Boyhood Memorial.
The Scouts learned about the types of things Lincoln learned, the influences on his life that helped shape him from Lincoln the boy to Lincoln the man. It was here that he learned the core values of his life, said Craig.
"The experiences they are learning and the memories that they are making, how many of these young men and women are going to remember and pass these memories onto the next generation of youth as they grow up?"
Brian Williams, encampment chairman and member of Trinity UMC in Evansville and chairman of the Board of Trustees for the South Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church, said the event serves as a great way to remember a great president. "He still provides outstanding leadership skills to our youth even today."
One of the highlights for Williams happened earlier on May 9 when 4,300 scouts and volunteers saluted the flag as it was raised near Lincoln's home.
"Certainly United Methodists are critical to Scouting in many families' homes in Indiana and the U.S.," said Williams. "United Methodists are the second-largest denomination supporting scouting programs. Many scouts have their first experience with a church through Scouting."
As part of the experience, Catholic and Protestant worship services were held Saturday evening. Indiana United Methodist Bishop Michael Coyner preached on the shores of Lake Lincoln in Lincoln State Park. Coyner talked about Lincoln's mother, life in Indiana and the four things that guided Lincoln during his life: faith, failure, family and forgiveness.
Lincoln read his Bible daily because of his mother. "God had called him in his life," said Coyner. "He also learned about dealing with failure," he shared with the Scouts, citing the list of things Lincoln had failed at: business, farming, running for political office, losing appointments, but then winning the presidency. "Failure is not the ending."
Despite all that happened with his family - losing his mother at a young age, losing children to illness and other tragedies, "Lincoln learned to stand by his family despite the hard times," added Coyner. Finally, Lincoln can teach us about forgiveness, as he pardoned more prisoners during his presidency than other presidents. "Life is lived best when you are compassionate."
Greg Graham, director of creative arts at Blue Grass UMC, and Adriane Beasley of Blue Grass UMC provided the music. The Rev. Glenn Howell, superintendent of the Evansville District welcomed participants.
Matthew Oates serves as the North Indiana correspondent for Indiana Area Communications and lives in Lafayette, Ind.