I’ve separated this [rant] out from another blog as it seems to have taken on a life of it’s own!
Had the Church of England’s General Synod actually discussed Christianity being side-lined in society this week, when discussing the loss of the word ‘God’ in the Girlguiding promise, I probably wouldn’t have such a bug up my butt. When I read the background documents, spluttering at the inaccuracies and misrepresentations of the Girlguiding organisations, I was angry but I understood the intention. However, that intention never materialised.
That the Church of England recognises the importance of Girlguiding is great. We are the leading charity for girls and young women in the UK. We also have a massive worldwide presence working on equality, women’s rights, education and more by engaging with girls early. We teach leadership, build girl’s confidence and raise their aspirations.
No one from Girlguiding was consulted during the compilation of the motion and no one was asked to speak before the Synod. A few ambassadors spoke on our behalf but Guiding representatives had to queue for the public gallery along with everyone else.
The Synod may have intended to debate the promise as a reflection of the loss of God in the secular environment, but had seemingly (from the background documents) based their position on a few anecdotal conversations and newspaper reports, which are not reliable.
The Synod agreed to ask GirlGuiding to offer an alternative so those who want to can promise to God and the next day in the press there was a lot of claiming of victory. Girlguiding released a statement (reproduced in full below) responding specifically to one story in the Daily Mail but those doing the happy dance missed the fact that the position outlined was the current one. Any girl can say anything she likes as part of the promise ceremony but the promise wording is set.
Today the Daily Mail has printed a misleading and inaccurate piece suggesting that we have changed our position on the Promise and are considering offering an alternative. This is not the case.
While Girlguiding remains committed to ensuring all girls have the opportunity to be involved in guiding, we are also fully committed to one Promise for all and the wording that resulted from the consultation.
The article refers to guiding units in Jesmond Parish Church. We did recently meet with some of the members and leaders and suggested to them a way forward. However that suggestion did not include changing the wording of our new Promise or compromising Girlguiding’s commitment to having just one Promise for all girls. Discussions are continuing with the group.
The Chief Guide, Gill Slocombe has since written a strong piece in the Huffington Post reiterating that the option to include God in the promise ceremony that was celebrated as a victory was the one that was available all along.
I was really glad Guiding didn’t capitulate at all and were strong in their response even if it was spun in the media. There was a huge consultation on the changes to the promise, which was open to anyone inside and outside the organisation. The CofE could have and should have got involved then rather than passing judgement a year later.
For Girl Guiding to have offered any change at this point would have created a two tier promise, a “right and wrong” scenario and undermined the entire consultation process. It would have undermined their integrity and they wouldn’t have been able to run a democratic process like it again.
The National Secular Society accused the Synod of bullying and I this it looked that way too. You don’t stand on a stool and denounce something that was done fairly, openly and say you’re oppressing people if you haven’t taken the chance to speak when invited. Be really informed, and engage with the other parties. Listen to some people who have a different view. I couldn’t believe the spin in the Synod documents, talk of the old promise being ‘jettisoned’ and replaced with a whole new promise. It really hasn’t been.
It made the Synod look foolish. We all know they move glacially slowly, sometimes for good reasons, but to bring this motion a year and change after the event raises serious questions to be answered over how this motion got to the floor of the synod at all. If the only information the members of the Synod had were the background documents, they were all sorely mislead on facts and the hyperbole and scaremongering in the documents beggared belief.
“Most Guide units meet in church premises and for all these units to now be banned from being able to say in the promise that I ‘love my God’ cannot be right. …..They are being forced to choose between faith and Girl guiding. It is also a wonderful opportunity for girls to hear about God and the Lord Jesus Christ when learning to understand what the Promise means. This then is a serious Gospel issue.”
Not one girl is made to choose between Girlguiding and faith. I wrote a series of blogs last year about why I think this is the case. Links below.
I’m really not sure how the fact we meet in church buildinfs leads to a direct correlation that the girls in those units are going to be frustrated they can’t promise to God. Are the religious preferences of a person related to where the group they go to can afford the rent? My understanding is that Guides and Scouts meet in churches because historically they were the only places with large enough spaces for community groups to meet. My Brownie unit meet in a church because it was free (it’s not anymore, understandably.) We’re not named after the church but the neighbourhood in which we meet.
And as for the promise being a chance to evangelise, well we might well talk to girls about Jesus when talking through the promise or work towards or Discovering Faith badge, but equally we’d talk about other faiths and agnosticism and atheism. Girl Guiding is NOT an outreach mechanism for the Anglican church, thank you very much. Do the CofE really look at Girlguiding as a mechanism for conversion? This sort of underhand, opportunistic evangelism is part of the reason why I left the CofE.
I have even heard of a church putting attendance at Church Parade into the terms and conditions of rent with Guide companies, suggesting if they don’t attend, they won’t receive a discounted rent anymore. There is no grace or true generosity there. This also represents a shameful manipulation of girls, that they will have pressure put on them to attend church, not for reasons of faith. I can’t imagine how any church would want this to be the way to fill their building but it not an isolated occurrence.
Also can this really be representative of something a large proportion of the Anglican communion is worried about? If it had been about the secularisation of society I’d have understood (even if personally I struggle with the idea of secular v spiritual.) If it had been well researched, if someone had shown the motion to Girlguiding so they could help get it right before hand, it might have been a useful exercise for both parties.
But my conclusion from this whole event is that the Church are worried that they are losing influence and control over groups that have previously been thought of as ‘on their side.’ Maybe people did believe Girlguiding was a Christian organisations and therefore the church looked good by extension through the work Girlguiding was doing.
Perhaps Girlguiding has benefited from that arrangement too but now we finally stand alone, our position clear.
Whatever your beliefs you are welcome in Girlguiding. We’ll stand by you, encourage you, help you identify your passions and talents, develop them and hopefully set you on a course to be a confident, active member of your community however you define it. We won’t judge you or turn you away for living life differently.
I wish I was describing the church I was a member of for 30+ years but I’m not. I don’t want to tar all parts of the CofE with the same brush but as the representative body, the Synod did some significant damage this week.
See my other blogs on the promise itself and why I don’t think girls are being asked to choose between Girlguiding and faith:
The Girl Guiding promise is not an island
To do my best: further reflections on the promise
I promise, doubts flaws and all
Also see: Rev Miranda Threlfall-Holmes fantastic blog on her experience at a Girlguiding promise ceremony and why it made her think the church could learn from guiding.