Sunday, 23 June 2013

I promise - a personal response

In 1984 a lot was going on in my world. I had a two year old little brother, I was playing a plum in the Christmas play (I'd been an angel the year before), scented rubbers had been banned at Upminster infants and we'd started to learn the recorder. I also started Brownies with Sarah, my dearest friend for the longest while (I only wish I lived closer to her now). 

On a sunny Monday evening I distinctly remember being enrolled (making my promise as we would say now). Dressed in my cousin Sarah's old Brownie dress, belt, purse and yellow crossover tie I was so excited. At our Brownie pack we also did our Hostess badge on that first night, inviting someone for tea, making fairy cakes, laying a tray, and serving them just before we made our promise. Our pack secretly adorned our Brownie pool (a mirror) with leaves and flowers that spelled out the name of the Brownie making her promise. And that's where my memory of the evening stops. However, the promise I made went like this:

I promise that I will do my best
To do my duty to God
To serve the Queen 
To help other people
And to keep the Brownie Guide law

Monday nights from that point on were a hotbed of excitement culminating in being made joint seconder (with Sarah) of the Kelpies and winning my only ever prize ever at designing a teddy bear on a Brownie revels.  We had one particularly dreadful term where our maths teacher made us write out all our times tables (backwards and forwards) on a Monday night if we got any wrong in our tables test that day, but we continued to love our time as Brownies. 

As you know my Guiding journey didn't end there - and 7 years ago I remade my promise as a leader, with my Brownies, slightly shaking of voice and pink of face. I've remade it many times since then, on Thinking Days or special occaisions - the promise I make now goes like this:

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 Guide law

A few differences - I don't do my duty any longer but love instead and I don't just serve the Queen but my country too. 

And now Girlguiding has made it's eleventh (in over 100 years) update to the promise, after September it will become:

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 Guide law

Of course, there's been much in the way of sloppy, biaised journalism around our decision - well it wouldn't sell papers if people wrote - 'Girlguiding consult 44000 before updating promise to become even more inclusive' when of course you could tell your readers that... Shock! Horror! pagans can now go camping *eye roll* In my eyes, to my mind the small change is wonderful, by taking out the concept of a specific deity we serve to include so many more people who felt conflicted at the prospect of promising to love an entity they weren't content with acknowledging. Perhaps they don't believe in a formal deity, for them spirituality may be personal, quiet, may not require a structure. Others may be unsure of their faith, have waivered. And with our memberships increasing I welcome all of those girls and adults. To be true to yourself is surely the highest indictment of good judgement and thoughtfulness. 

And I suppose I have a small confession to make - despite being brought up a Christian who attended church weekly, sang in the choir, and had a strong and true faith, that's just not the case any longer. The God I believed in pushed things too far, and for a long time I said that we just weren't speaking. Well, I wasn't speaking to God. Over time that's changed, I've realised that I don't think the God I believed in would have been so unkind and so my belief in a deity has wavered.  I truly don't believe that the God we're taught about would hurt the people we are told he loves so very much. Especially not when so many of those people are good and kind. Faith wise I've been lost for some time time, and there is a small pang of regret each time I've remade my promise so for me this is a relief. A relief that until such time as I find some answers or no longer feel the need for them I wont be making a promise that I take very seriously where I have to interpret a line to make it not a lie. 

I truly hope that this update opens the doors to welcome more girls and women into GirlGuiding by reassuring them that neither your faith nor lack of faith preclude you from membership and that the updates which come after it continue to reflect the communities we live in to make this an inclusive and supportive organisation.

Comedy photos included to lighten the tone... 


Seren said...

I was both a Brownie and a Guide and it was a wonderful experience and am so glad that girls today still have that opportunity because of people like you.

Incidentally - Upminster? That wouldn't be Upminster, Essex by any chance? I grew up there - thankfully I went to primary school in Hornchurch (St Mary's) where they didn't do anything so contentious as ban scented rubbers!


Penny Aylwin said...

Thanks Seren, thats a lovely thing to say.

It is that Upminster, what a small world! And the rubbers were a big thing. They were confiscated, people cried! Our 6 & 7 year old selves were outraged!


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