June 19, 2013 by Rhi
Back in January, Girlguiding launched a consultation of all its members (and those who have an interest in the future of the organisation, such as parents and carers, and former members) about the wording of the promise. Today, the results of that consultation have been announced. And, honestly, I’m not surprised. This is from the email sent to members yesterday telling us about the outcome…
This was an important step for us as the Promise is our beating heart and underlies everything we do in guiding. That is why we knew that it was essential to ask every single member what they thought.
Nearly 44,000 people – girls and adults, members and potential members – took the time to consider the issues and give their views. Thank you for the passion and commitment you showed. There is no doubt that this is an organisation made up of dedicated members who care deeply about guiding and its ethos.
The outcome of the consultation is that the words of the Promise will change from 1st September 2013. Instead of promising to love your God, members will be asked to promise to be true to themselves and develop their beliefs. In addition, instead of promising to serve the Queen and their country, they will serve the Queen and their community. It’s being lauded in the media as the “biggest shake up in the 102 year history”. Close, but not quite. Let me explain.
Guiding started in the UK in 1910, that much is true. But we’re not alone anymore. Google WAGGGS and you’ll see how many countries around the world have Guides now, all from our brave girls who pitched up at the Scout Rally in 1908 at Crystal Palace to tell Lord Baden-Powell that if he wasn’t going to let them be Scouts, he’d jolly well better come up with something for them. And obviously, we’re almost unique in that world-wide movement in having a Queen to pledge allegiance to. We’re almost the last country in the world to hold onto the “God” part of the promise. Part of gaining membership of WAGGGS requires a movement to have a three-fold promise – a promise of developing belief and/or spirituality, of serving your country/community, and keeping the Guide laws.
Ah yes, the laws. A lot of the arguments against the idea of being true to ones one beliefs rest on those who say that some people might wish to kill someone, or be an alcoholic, or kill tiny creatures. That’s where a lack of knowledge of the movement comes in. The last part of the promise has always been (and probably always will be) “And to keep the (Brownie) Guide Laws. The Law and the Promise go hand in hand. Once upon a time there were 10 laws, now we’re down to six, and they are:
- A Guide is honest, reliable and can be trusted.
- A Guide is helpful and uses her time and abilities wisely.
- A Guide faces challenges and learns from her experiences.
- A Guide is a good friend and a sister to all Guides.
- A Guide is polite and considerate.
- A Guide respects all living things and takes care of the world around her.
So from that, hopefully, we can see that a strong moral code is still in action. Not only that, but the whole idea of Guiding is geared towards giving girls the chance to explore their own moral code; to discuss their beliefs and feelings with their peers and with adults, and to find their way in the world. We’re not a sewing group, we’re not into teaching girls how to be good little housewives anymore. Turn up at any Rainbow, Brownie, Guide or Senior Section night and you’re just as likely to find them doing science experiments, discussing world hunger, working out ways to fundraise for their own expeditions, or engineering a way to get their entire patrol from one end of the room to the other without touching the floor. Our young members petitioned Parliament on the issue of airbrushing in magazines, they represent themselves on the worldwide stage through youth forums. Girlguiding offers girls the chance to travel, within the UK and abroad. To go to developing nations and share their knowledge and skills. We are equipping girls and young women with the tools they need to stand out from the crowd. We’re still going, we’re still growing. You don’t last 102 years unless you’re doing something right.
I’m a Guider, and a Christian. I’m really very happy with the outcome of the consultation. My reasoning is simple: as a Christian, I don’t need to mention God in my promise in order to know that he’s there helping me keep it. It goes without saying. However, I know a number of excellent Guiders and girls who don’t believe in God. For the last umpteen years, they’ve had to resort to either crossing their fingers behind their backs, or attaching some other meaning to the word “God” in order to get away with making their promise. But more importantly, I’ve seen a lot of girls reach their teenage years, who decide they don’t believe in God. And because of the wording of the promise in the past, they’ve left altogether. It has been a massive sticking point in the movement. I’ve never been comfortable with that situation. We’re not a Christian organisation (not like, say, the Girls ‘ Brigade). There’s been an allowance for a number of years for girls who are of other faiths to change the word “God” to one which is their own deity (for example, Muslim Guides can promise to love Allah). For the last nearly 20 years, the only group who were discriminated against were atheists, which is ironic given that Girl Guiding was never an out-and-out Christian organisation to begin with.
As it stands at the moment, there are 50,000 girls in the UK alone who want to be members of our organisation. The only thing stopping them is lack of adults. God willing, this change in wording will mean that a number of people (both men and women, because men can be unit helpers if they so wish) will feel they can now be part in the movement. For anyone who is already part of the movement, most of us know that this is a very positive change. One that is inclusive, rather than divisive. One that means we no longer need to fudge meanings. We have a promise that is fit for purpose in the 21st century.
And, for those confused by media reports, the wording of the new promise is as follows:
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
To keep the (Brownie) Guide Law.
And the Rainbow promise will be:
I promise that I will do my best to think about my beliefs and to be kind and helpful.
I’m proud of what we do in Guiding. I always have been. Today’s news is another example of why we’ve lasted so long. We listen to our members. We discover, we grow.