Friday, 31 January 2014

The New Girl Guide Promise


The New Girl Guide Promise: from static duty to dynamic faith.

This evening, I was a guest at our local Girl Guides. And I heard the new Girl Guide promise being made for the first time. Not only was it the first time I'd heard it, it was the first time Guides in this unit had become members with the new promise.

Oh, yes? I thought. This is the promise that got rid of God, and replaced it with some vague stuff about 'being true to ourselves'? The one that General Synod are debating the week after next? How ironic, that my visit as vicar coincided with it being used for the first time...

But then, I heard the new Guides rehearsing it. And I was struck by what it had actually changed, and why. Because I hadn't actually realised, in all the rhetoric and fuss about 'duty to God' being replaced by 'being true to myself', that the sentence doesn't end there.

What the promise to do my best to do my 'duty to God' has actually been replaced by is 'to be true to myself and to develop my beliefs'. Well now - that is rather different.

Hearing these young girls promise that, I was struck by a profound sense that this new promise was actually very fitting indeed, and a huge improvement. Not just because it avoids the charge of hypocrisy (and here I hold up my hands - I was an atheist Girl Guide who perjured myself with the old promise!)  - after all, one at least of the girls making the new promise tonight is a regular member of our church.

No, the improvement that struck me is that it replaces a static sense of duty with a commitment to development. It is now much more akin to the promises made at baptism or confirmation.  

'To do my duty to God' is a promise that embodies a very static, hierarchical view of God and our relationship with him/her. The implication is that this 'duty' is a given, and our only valid option is to obey and do what we are told. Whereas the new promise embraces an understanding of faith and life as something that is, ideally, always growing. I'm still not entirely sold on 'being true to myself', but the more I think about it, the more I love the promise to 'develop my beliefs'.

In fact, this is a far more significant and far more religiously profound promise to make. It commits the new Guide to taking faith seriously, whatever their current beliefs. It commits her to working for her faith development, to accepting, and desiring, that her beliefs will change and grow.

In the church, we spend huge amounts of time and energy trying to achieve culture change from maintenance to mission, from a consumer view of church to a participant view, from a static receptive idea of being a member to a dynamic proactive one. Even among the clergy, we strive - often with little success - to create a culture of continuing professional development, life long learning. The change we want to see is one from seeing faith and discipleship as static reception, to dynamic growth. This change of promise has achieved that at a stroke. It would be not only churlish but perverse for the Church to reject it.

22 comments:

  1. While I agree that the new promise is far more dynamic and the phrase 'develop my beliefs' is very much in keeping with the Christian ethos as I see it, I cannot help but wonder why there is constant reference to 'duty to God' in this post. Surely some research would have been a good idea before writing this. The promise changed from 'duty to God' to 'love my God' in 1994!

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    1. Thanks for this correction! The simple answer is because that's the promise I have memorised from my own Guiding days!

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  2. The promise, then, was not as static as you percievef, as promising to 'love my God' is a growung relationship. Love is not a static and 'obey and do ehat you're told' experience. Many youngsters interpret ''be true to myself and develop my beliefs' as 'do what you want'. The onus is on the leaders to help the girls understand it better but I've heard from quite a number of leaders who struggle with that so it just gets learnt and recited and diesn't have clarity.

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  3. Sorry for the typos. Dratted touchpad.

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  4. I think the change from 'love' to 'develop' is as stated in the original article.
    To love is an emotion, to develop involves a thought process too; to think and feel our way through our beliefs rather than accept them as a given. I have mixed views on the promise as I realise it has such a profound meaning for so many. I do not think that the word 'God' would exclude any faith, however I understand that this is my personal belief. I do think this change is a good opener for conversation around faith and how we accept it into our lives. I know there is a lot of talk about having an alternative option of a promise to include 'God' into the promise, however I do not think that Christianity has been excluded, rather embraced in a different way that can ecompass thought and conversation. A great article to read.

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  5. I hope that you are able to share your thoughts with other members of the church, who appear not so keen on the change.
    It should also be remembered that the last line of the promise is "to keep the Guide law" a law that that includes being honest, reliable and trustworthy, qualities that are very important.
    Context is important :D

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  6. Certainly something to think about, it has changed my view of the change.
    Would you mind if I copied this to pass around our district for those who do not have access to a computer. ?

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    1. Certainly,feel free to share (would appreciate attribution!).

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  7. As a Brownie (rather than Guide) I really struggle with the new promise. The first time I introduced and discussed "belief" I found myself in a position of wondering how I could help a 7 year old develop her beliefs in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. Because when you ask a 7 year old what she believes, this is what she tells you! I agree that it is the place of the leaders to help the girls explore what this means, but the language is largely in accessible for ones so young. Like an anonymous previous poster mentioned that some guides interpret "be true to myself" as do what you want (although an understanding of the guide law should counteract that), however my 7 year olds were talking about not letting yourself be bullied into doing things you didn't think were right, being honest when you'd made a mistake and believing you were capable of doing something if you tried hard enough - which gave me hope!

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  8. Both my Brownies and Guides totally "got" the change and the reasons for it as soon as we started talking about it. Which, as an agnostic RE teacher really pleased me. I wish that some local leaders could have been so open minded! And I'm not too worried about the girls "developing their beliefs" about the tooth fairy or Santa because they will eventually realise that the evidence doesn't support these beliefs. This is what "developing my beliefs" means.

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  9. YOU WILL DIE IN YOUR SINS

    Many, who profess to be Christians, claim the Jesus is just one of many ways to heaven. If men would simply believe that the Bible is the only inerrant source for truth they could not reach that conclusion.

    John 8:24 "Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins;for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins."(NKJV)

    If you do not believe that Jesus is the Christ you will die in your sins. No man-made creed book can change that fact. To reject Jesus as the Messiah is the clear path to dying without forgiveness from sins.

    John 4:25-26 The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). When He comes, He will tell us all things." 26 Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He."(NKJV)

    It does not matter how many Bible commentators or self-proclaimed Bible scholars believe Jesus is one of many ways to heaven, Jesus is the only Messiah.

    John 14:6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (NKJV)

    One way Jesus.

    Acts 4:10-12.....name of Jesus Christ....12 "Nor is salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."(NKJV)

    Pope Francis says atheists who do good works can go to heaven. Billy Graham proclaims that you do not even have to know the name of Jesus to be part of the body of Christ. Joel Osteen say he does not know if unbelievers will be lost or saved because he cannot judge. These professing Christians are not alone in their views. How sad is that?

    PEW FORUM OF RELIGION AND PUBLIC LIFE: 57% of the evangelical church believes there are many religions that lead to eternal life.

    IF YOU TRUST THE BIBLE AND THE BIBLE ALONE FOR THE TRUTH, YOU WILL BELIEVE THE WORDS OF JESUS. "IF YOU DO NOT BELIEVE THAT I AM HE YOU WILL DIE IN YOUR SINS."

    YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY BLOG. http://steve-finnell.blogspot.com

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    1. Steve, I respect your right to believe passionately in a Christ centred life absolutely. However, Guiding (and Scouting before it) is not a Christian organisation but a youth movement that has a SPIRITUAL element to it. Baden-Powell believed that a spiritual element to the life was very important to developing the whole child but he never said that it had to be the Christian God, simply that having a belief system is important in the development of the whole.

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  10. What has the last comment got to do with this blog. Although I am a practising Christian I find it offensive as it as so "in your face". We had ac good discussion with our Brownies about things people believe in and got evviromental issues, girls education an dinosaurs among other things. You have to work to make it clear -- but that was true if the old one too.

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  11. I wish others would read your Blog and see what you are say and understand the Sense it makes

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  12. I feel sorry for the poor little Rainbows. They have to 'do their best to think about their beliefs...'. That's a lot of conditionality for little people.

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  13. Thank you, Miranda, for your thoughtful article. I wish everyone would look at the new promise in the same way and try to understand the thinking behind it and the need for it. As an atheist I am relieved to be able to make a Promise properly again.

    I just don't understand what it has to do with the synod.

    W

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    1. Thanks. The question of what it has to do with Synod is an interesting one. On the one hand, nothing: the Guides is not an organisation of the Churchnof England and is not answerable to it. On the other hand, everything, because the Church of England is perfectly reasonably interested in the whole of life

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  14. I think the wording of the new promise is awkward but the wording of the statement to be debated is not helpful. How can the new promise discriminate against Christians? It's just very vague. I am all for guides considering belief but it's asking too much to ask for the statement of belief required by the old promise.

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  15. Thank you for writing this. I have quoted you in my blog and linked back to you. As a movement we do so much to develop girls in the 'right' direction, we work hard. In all of our aims, vision statements, methods, programs etc I see a solid underlying religious ethos. Whether that is Christianity or any other. We have a core of 'be nice to your fellow human, do nice stuff, learn how to make a difference and be part of that difference'. It seems we are taking a bit of flack right now for a few words but if the actual difference we make as a movement was viewed, it would look like a huge iceburg with a few words poking out of the water with a world of good underneath.

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  16. I wish that all the people complaining about the new Promise were either active members of Guiding, or like Miranda regularly supported and was involved with the movement. I would have more respect for their views, but there has been a lot of criticism from people who give nothing to the girls, leaders, or Guiding in general.
    Guding has never been an exclusively Christian organisation - for over 100 years we have had members of the World Association and UK Guiding who have been Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, of all religions and none.
    I was a Ranger Guider for many years, and some of my Rangers never made their Promise. This was not a problem, as they followed and supported the guiding ethos and programme. They were actively examining their spirituality, but not all had clear beliefs at the time. The new promise extends this to all our members. I too had concerns when it first came in, but the Brownies have no problem understanding about beliefs, and the difference between God and the tooth fairy. I think we patronise them by expecting otherwise.
    The idea that Christians are discriminated against by the new promise is outrageous, and the Synod should be ashamed. The new promise is includive, not exclusive.

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  17. Just to clarify, the Promise changed from 'To love my God' and not 'To do my duty to God' (the latter of which I did say and was very happy with). To love my God is very simple and very easy to discuss with Brownies. I haven't got a clue what these new words mean and neither have my Brownies. When it changed my Brownies could not understand why it had changed. They are certainly not a religious bunch.

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  18. I was wondering what it had to do with Synod as well, and was pointed to the regulations about 'Private Members Motions' which enable any member to table a motion about anything they want Synod to debate, to which other members may then add their names, Ultimately it's down to the Business Committee to decide if they ever get debated.

    http://www.churchofengland.org/about-us/structure/general-synod/agendas-and-papers/private-members'-motions.aspx

    It's been put to me that this was important because it represented the secularisation of society and/or the marginalisation of God in society. I can only wonder - without expecting a reply - how on earth anyone involved thought the debate could possibly to anything to reverse that, or why the Girl Guides should be held responsible for that.

    I can see no reason why General Synod members - who meet on behalf of the rest of us - should give up any time in a crowded agenda to the private interests of individual members, however many other Synod members support their view. I can see the parallel with parliamentary procedure, but parliament has a lot more time at its disposal than Synod does.

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