The Girl Guiding promise is not an island

13_06_18Today, Girl Guiding UK announced the wording of their new promise. Much time was spent in consultation and over 44,000 members voted overwhelming for the revised oath:

I promise that I will do my best:

To be true to myself and develop my beliefs,

To serve the Queen and my community,

To help other people

And to keep the (Brownie) Guide law.

I’ve been in Guiding since I was 7. I was a Brownie, a Guide, a Young Leader, a Ranger and am now a Guider. I help run a Brownie pack, which is currently full and has a waiting list. The Brownie section of the Guiding community, is for girls aged 7-10 and has a waiting list for places across the UK of over 50,000.

I’ve seen ‘disappointment’ today regarding the removal, once and for all, of reference to God from the promise. This is the outgoing promise:

I promise that I will do my best:

To love my God,

To serve the Queen and my country,

To help other people

And to keep the (Brownie) Guide law.

I think the new wording has massive scope to be an outward focused statement when taken within the context of what Guiding actually is today (and what it has always been).

Thinking Day 2103

Thinking Day 2013

We Brownies still do our Craft and Hostess badges and sing and dance in a ring round our toadstool!  But we now have more badges and activities that befit the diversity and challenges of the 21st century. We can work together for badges in World Issues, Culture, Disability Awareness, Discovering Faith, Science Investigator and World Cultures, all of which have been around for years.

I think it is important to remember that the promise isn’t an island. It comes at the start of what is an active immersion in service, in enjoying the world, building friendships, having adventures and ongoing discovery.

As leaders, we aim to accompany our girls and young women on a journey of self-discovery through service, which really is what Guiding has always been. I read a comment on Facebook today said that the wording “be true to myself” risks girls becoming inward looking and that they will lose the ability to see things greater than themselves. The change apparently poses a risk to that purpose.

But, I don’t think there is a better place to start learning how to serve others than by looking inside ourselves at our gifts, our talents, our interests and becoming aware of the volume of love that we have to give.

Encouraging girls to investigate and embrace their individual and identity is crucial to their development.  Looking inside ourselves is the best place to start when looking at where we can serve and fit in the world.  Fit, in this world, where girls are still being told that they must be pretty and slim to be of worth.  This world, where they still won’t be paid the same as a man for doing the same job. This world where they won’t be given the same opportunities.

1st Booker Brownies, Christmas 2012

1st Booker Brownies, Christmas 2012

I still think we can easily be too focused on what Girl X will be when she grows up, when she can finally give something of worth back to the society that raised her. But, these girls are worth something now. They have something to teach us now. We should be listening to them now.

Whenever I have been asked who has been the greatest influence in my life I have no hesitation in saying Lynn, my Guide leader who nurtured me from the age of 10 into my 20s. She taught me, through wonderful example, what service, self-sacrifice and honest love for others looks like in ways far above and beyond most other influencers in my life.

Lynn was interested in me. She encouraged me to stretch myself to gain places on international trips, to throw myself from the top of a zip line, and more often than not, put me back together when I bumped and bruised myself on the way down.  She conquered her fears in front of us, investing Rangers as she dangled from the top of an abseil tower. She led us in dancing and singing when really we shouldn’t have been inflicting that sort of mess on anyone. Because of these shared experiences, I have friends now whom I met through Guiding, as far back as when I was 8, that I still count as some of my greatest.

Me and fellow Rangers, Switzerland 1994

Me (far right) and fellow Rangers and still friends,                   Switzerland 1994

When as a Ranger or Guide company, we agreed to do something she led us into doing it to the best of our abilities. We were the first on site at fundraisers to set up and not leaving until the last floor was swept. We were awake at 3am flipping burgers for squaddies night hiking for charity. We were there pushing ladies and gents from the local home for the elderly and mentally infirm around Tesco so they could do their Christmas shopping.

Lynn, whom we sadly lost to cancer, taught me how to put others first. As the Brownie Guide Law says, we must think of others before ourselves (and do a good turn every day.) I do not think any of this is truly threatened by looking inside ourselves and being true to who we are made to be.

Then, there’s the faith aspect of it all: A spokesman for the Christian Concern campaign group said to the Telegraph:

“Taking ‘God’ out of the promise denies the history and foundations of the movement without offering anything in its place, with the result that the organisation will lose its distinctive ethos and end up meaning nothing.”

About 5 or so years ago, my church’s Mission statement was similarly changed. It use to read: In obedience to Christ, whom we worship, we aim to be a transforming presence at the heart of our community.  We lopped off the front of that and it now reads “to be a transforming presence at the heart of our community.”

Do people get confused that we are no longer a church? Do they think we are ignoring our history and are no longer worship or are obedient to Christ?  I don’t think they do. I do think the removal of the word God is more at odds with an evangelical approach to Christianity, where, unless we’re adding the word God/Jesus to everything, and plastering Bible verses and witty acronyms on T shirts and wristbands, no one will get it, or why we’re doing it.  But I think people see us for what we do as well as what we say and as Jesus said: They will know us by our love.

I should add, I was always slightly squeamish about the wording of the outgoing promise. To love ‘my God’ always smacked somewhat of encouraging idolatry: love whatever it is that makes you happy. There’s nothing wrong with loving stuff, but even having God with its capital letter, the nuance was a bit much for our youngest members.

I also probably need to drop in the aside that I’m just not keen on getting people wedged into some sort of religious faith or experience of Christianity, through getting them to say words that categorically don’t mean anything to them. I’ve heard enough stories of Guides leaving the organisation because they just can’t align themselves with any god. Brilliant, good for them.  We want them thinking for themselves.

I am also sad about the fact it took me until I was in my early thirties until someone on a course (related to my faith) asked me – what is it that you are that will benefit your community. This was the first time I’d been asked to look at my identity in Christ as something of value rather than being  asked to look and see what roles needed filling in whatever it was my church was already doing. A light went on that said, I am valued by God for how and what He made me and how and what he made me was no mistake. I can squish myself out of my shape and my comfort zone if need be, but I am much more valuable serving in the shape I was made.

Brownies having just made their promise

Brownies having just made their promise

So, I like the new wording because I hope it will encourage girls and young women to seek out what matters to them, what will nourish them and moreover it allows them to know their growth, their faith and spiritual life (whatever that looks like) is an ongoing story. We don’t ever reach completion.  I am sure that is something we could all commit to, a promise to keep adventuring on.


4 thoughts on “The Girl Guiding promise is not an island

  1. Beautifully put Heather. If I can help enrich just one girl’s life like Lynn did for you, me and many others, I will consider myself a lucky person. And I think the new promise helps us do that even more. It makes me sad to read of people who say they will leave the organisation due to this change because it is at odds with their Christian values. But I hope we will gain many more leaders who will help girls grow like Lynn did and hopefully we do.

    • Thanks Libby x I find it very sad people would reject everything guiding is and can be over this issue. I hope we can keep talking about it and see how to make them feel honoured too. And from what I’ve seen and heard, I think you do an amazing job as a leader 🙂

  2. What a wonderful blog post: inspiring and uplifting. Having spent yesterday losing faith in humanity with all the spiteful and ignorant comments left on comments boards of news articles its so nice to read something that illustrates to the world what Guiding really stands for. 🙂

    • Aw thank you so much. I am very sorry you’ve had such a horrid experience. I really hope after the initial shock and anger dies away people will be able to come together to continue to celebrate Guiding.

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