When I made my Brownie promise as a 7 year old in 1979 I didn’t think twice about promising to “do my duty to God”, I remember being a bit concerned about the “serve the Queen” bit though. The Brownie handbook did a decent job of explaining that “serve the Queen” was shorthand for looking after the country around you and the people in it which seemed reasonable enough so I got over that. As the years went by and I made the same promise as I stayed in the Guide movement as a Guide, Ranger and Young Leader I got a bit more dubious about the “duty to God” part and by the time I left, a decade after I joined the Brownies, I would have described myself as agnostic. The process of changing from a child who accepted whatever religion she was given to a questioning adolescent was ironically accelerated by helping out as a Young Leader at a Brownie pack attached to a Roman Catholic church where the nonsense of different varieties of religion thing became increasingly clear to me.
Fast forward another twenty-something years and I find myself back looking at the Guide and Scout movements from a different perspective. As the atheist mother of a child being raised as a atheist who would like that child to have the benefits of those organisations but who knows the child would baulk at promising anything to do with God even if it were explained to not necessarily mean a religious Churchy version of God (neither Guides nor Scouts have ever been Christian organisations as far as I am aware, I knew that Guides encompassed all sorts of religions when I had my “Brownies around the world” posters as a child). Making promises you need to weasel your way round to fit yourself helps no one. So when the Guides openly asked for opinions on changing their promise earlier this year I was pleased to tell them what I thought, from both child and parent points of view (along with 44 000 others).
So I am really pleased to see the announcement of the latest revision of the Guide promise which includes the wording “To be true to myself and develop my beliefs”. It’s great to see that they have picked one promise for all that can be discussed and interpreted how you choose and ‘develop’ allows girls to change as they grow older; I certainly didn’t have the same beliefs at 7 and 17.
I entirely agree with Gail Edmans writing in The Independent that Guides have never been about religion. For me they were all about being outside with friends, camping, lighting fires, toasting marshmallows, tying knots, learning new stuff about the world, other people and myself. The Promise was one of the things that made the Guides special, it wasn’t just any old youth club, there was commitment involved, there was opportunity to think about things as well as do stuff. I’m pleased that the Guides are still thinking and still changing and still helping girls make the most of themselves.
I should probably add that my eight year old daughter is more interested in joining the Scouts at the moment… come on “boys”, catch up.