I promise: doubts, flaws and all


1st Booker Brownies on our teddy bear picnic

As the new Girl Guiding promise gets another slating in the press (must be a slow news day) I have had another few chats with people about why they don’t like it. Some think the wording is wishy washy, confused and doesn’t reflect the hard work done by Guiders and leaders throughout the organisation.

One major concern seems to be that the new wording shows the organisations is bowing to current pressure to be inclusive to the point of being amorphous. I believe that fear probably, understandably, fuels a lot of the concern from our members who have religious faith.

Indeed, when the changes were first announced, the majority of concerns I saw raised came from the Christian community, often finding the removal of the word God from the promise very difficult to accept. I understand that worry, and just saying Guiding is not, and never has been a Christian organisation isn’t really enough.

I went back again to the little book I found, published in 1996, not far off 20 years ago. The author is making points which are now being repeated in support of the changes to the promise, which gives me hope that the new wording wasn’t a knee jerk reaction, or made solely in deference to the changing nature of religion and spirituality in our society.

I have published bit of it before, craving forgiveness for any copyright breaches I might be making, but I hope the encouragement and clarity they offer is of use:

The job of an adult leader is to provide a sound base from which to question:

I would like to think that no one would repeat the guide Promise and Law without thinking about what she was saying, but young people need to feel confident about themselves before they will start to question their beliefs.

It is never easy for parents and leaders to stand back and allow those in our charge to query that which we have taught, but it is necessary to allow young people to develop as they go through phases of discovery about themselves.

I should have the confidence to question my own beliefs before I can accept questions from others.

I love this reflection because it reminds me as a leader, that I don’t have all the answers. It reminds me that I went through, and still go through, periods of doubt, about myself, my abilities, my career path, my friendships and loves.  And, something I’m not really meant to admit, my faith.

A comedic blog I read recently called 10 Things Christians Should Say More included this at number 3:

“I don’t know.” Some of us have been raised with the misapprehension that we always have to have an answer to every question having to do with our faith. But better than pat, rehearsed (or worse, pulled-out-of-our-asses-on-the-fly) answers is the humility of admitting we have no idea sometimes.

It takes a great deal of humility to admit we don’t know everything. It isn’t weak or a sign of unbelief. And even if it is unbelief, faith is a gift. We are meant to ask for help with our unbelief. Sweeping doubts under the carpet, or pretending we don’t ever wobble clearly causes damage.

We don’t, through our example, want to model what it is to be a citizen who has never thought about what we’ve been taught and inherited. Do we? We certainly don’t approach teaching in schools that way so why would we want Guiding to?


Me, my Brown Owl and young leader c.1986!

As an adult leader, and as a Christian, I want to love my girls as the gorgeous, flawed, grumpy, happy, worried children they are. I want them to know I am there when they want to show me what they made at school that day. I love to watch the dance routines they learned in Tap this week. I want to  to hear about how their little brothers broke their favourite toy. I want to hear their worries about the new baby on the way, how they are being bullied about their dad being in prison, their utter grief about Grandma passing away.

My Brownies are not abstractions and I’ve been there for girls as they’ve gone through those things. Our girls need consistent, unblinking support. I don’t want to turn them into little versions of me. I want to learn from them and yes, I want them to be ‘whoever they are’.

But of course, some of them are bullies and terrors. It has been suggested that if we say “be true to yourself” and the girl is a horror, then that will be supportive of them being badly behaved.  This argument against the promise wording smacks of desperation. Of course we don’t accept all behaviour, or say anything goes.  We may have a few true psychopaths in the movement, who knows, but most girls are just going through what girls have gone through forever!  So my hope is that my love for them will be unconditional and that by my example and leadership they will leave negative and undesirable behaviours behind.  That isn’t fundamentally interfering in ‘who they are’ but accompanying them on a journey they’d not necessarily have any company for otherwise.

I come back to the promise and its new wording about developing our own beliefs and being true to ourselves. Rather than wishy washy, there is solidarity in joint exploration.  There is comfort in knowing someone else has the same questions as you. There is empowerment in shared journeys of discovery.  There is love to be modeled and given to all girls, without condition. 

In 2014, Brownies are celebrating their 100th birthday.  I really hope this risky change, and it is risky, will strengthen and make the Guiding movement more inclusive and attractive.

Guiding has moulded my life for the better in so many ways and I hope, and pray, it will continue to for another 100 and more.


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