THE Synod debated a private member's motion concerning the new
promise instituted by Girlguiding.
Moving her motion, Alison Ruoff (London)
detailed her experiences as a Brownie, Guide, Queen's Guide, and
"I owe a great deal to the Guide movement. . . To be a Guide
helped me, I believe, and countless other girls over the century
since its beginning, to feel that as a young person I had worth,
and could - indeed was expected - to make a contribution in
society, to my country, not just my community.
"The fact that one made a promise at enrolment to God and the
Queen, and to be of service to others, seemed of huge importance
and gravitas. We learned so much, and had a huge amount of fun. It
has always been so."
Of the new promise, Mrs Ruoff said it "cannot be right" that
Guide units, meeting in church premises, should be banned from
promising "to love my God".
She explained that some units had "taken a brave stand" against
the decision. "A Brownie unit in Harrogate was the first to declare
publically that it would continue with the old promise, but
capitulated. Then, the units in Jesmond Church in Newcastle diocese
have said they wish to only use the old promise.
"I have to say the pressure on their leaders to change to the
secular promise has been enormous. Further, I understand that there
are many units who have no intention of using the secular promise
at all, but have said nothing openly. This surely must lead to
division in the Guide movement."
Mrs Ruoff said that she was "only asking that the girls and
their leaders be accorded choice when making or renewing their
promise. For this to be refused seems to me to be absolute
discrimination against girls and their leaders. "As Christian
people, we must stand against this."
The Revd Jeremy Fletcher (York) suggested that
it was "a bit rude to send Girlguiding's homework back saying
'Could do better'". He did not see the new promise as the "collapse
of Christian values in this nation". He suggested that instead of
"ticking them off", the Church should be asking Girlguiding how it
could help them develop their beliefs, including through the
Discovering Faith badge. "The way to get God involved in this is to
build on existing involvement and not worry about particular
Alison Wynne (Blackburn) spoke about the
potential consequences of the new promise. The promise to be true
to one's self and do what is right in one's own eyes "can only lead
to chaos". What if that led Guides or Brownies to disregard
leaders' instructions, or bring alcohol to a group meeting?
She argued: "No Christian girl can now join Girlguiding, and no
Christian parents can allow their daughter to belong to an
organisation which insists on a promise to reject God's rules from
all of its members." She wondered whether any church could continue
to allow such an organisation to meet on its premises.
Geoffrey Tattersall (Manchester) had married a
Guide who continued to lead a church-based unit today, and
encouraged girls to attend the church parade. In 40 years there had
been no objection to the promise or to attending the parade; "so I
am not quite sure what this is all about." He asked the Synod to
support the motion.
Emma Forward (Exeter) spoke as a former Guide,
Brownie, and Rainbow. She was disappointed at the change to "what
lies at the heart of the Girlguiding movement". To take the promise
to be true to oneself to its natural conclusion meant that "even
the most extreme or abhorrent set of beliefs can be justified." The
background paper produced by Girlguiding argued that the change was
to ensure that "all beliefs could find a place in the promise," but
she would argued that the prioritisation of the self was not
inclusive of Christians, as it was "not in line with the basic
principles of the Christian faith". The faith involved a struggle
between self and God. The promise was "at best an empty one and at
worst a dangerous one".
The Revd Andrew Dotchin (St Edmundsbury &
Ipswich) moved his amendment. This would commit the Synod to
applauding the work of Girlguiding, state its belief that "girls
and women of all ages in the Girlguiding movement should be able to
continue to promise to love God when enrolled, and suggest that a
member could choose to preface the promise with the phrase: 'In the
presence of God I make my Guide Promise. . .'"
He spoke as an ambassador for Girlguiding. The Church should not
condemn good work done by others. Girlguiding was a "grown-up
organisation, and perfectly capable of organising its own affairs
in its own ways". Although several of his Girlguiding friends would
have preferred to retain the old promise, they had said how
offended they were that the Church of England "has the audacity to
suggest how we should go about ordering their affairs". It was "all
too easy to sound like Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells rather than
Welcoming of Church House, Westminster".
Anneliese Barrell (Exeter) said that, though
she was not personally in favour of the new promise, Girlguiding
had spent much thought and time formulating it. They believed that
the old promise had been a barrier to those who did not have a
faith. She urged the Synod to support the amendment, even if
members disagreed with the new promise.
Joanna Monckton (Lichfield) said that she
thought Guides should have the choice whether to include God in
their Promise or not, just as Scouts had.
Mr Dotchin moved his amendment.
Mrs Ruoff urged the Synod to resist this amendment with "all
that it can", although "Mr Dotchin was right to praise
Graham Smith (Gloucester) warned that, if the
Synod did condemn the new promise, it would generate bad headlines
in the press, and look like meddling. He urged the Synod to pass
In a vote, the amendment was passed. In favour: 164; against:
154; abstentions: 15.
The Revd Amanda Fairclough (Liverpool) said
that God was "working throughout all these wonderful experiences of
our Monday-night activities". As a 12-year-old, she had not known
much about God, but rationalised the promise as a commitment to
finding out more. She doubted whether she would have visited church
as a teenager without the Guides. She wouldn't have been
comfortable with organised religion to have become a regular
churchgoer, let alone a priest.
Elizabeth Holdsworth (Peterborough) described
herself as a "terrible Brownie" who had got only one badge and
never learned to fasten the necktie; but 45 years later she still
remembered the Brownie promise, which "made explicit that which was
implicit". The promise was "the first and only time girls make a
public promise of that sort".
The Revd Richard Hibbert (St Albans) said that
he had "phoned a friend" for advice on the motion; and had been
told that the old promise "closed down conversations" because it
was a promise to "love my God". He welcomed the widespread
consultation carried out by Girlguiding before the promise was
changed, including the Guides themselves. "Their views were
important," he said.
The Revd Rosalind Rutherford (Winchester) moved
next business, saying that "the debate has made it absolutely clear
that everyone here values what Girlguiding does and our
relationship with Girlguiding." The Synod could share its concerns,
which it had done, without getting torn about "what sort of motion
The Synod rejected the procedural motion, and voted on the
amended motion, which was clearly carried:
That this Synod:
(a) congratulate Girlguiding on its recent Centenary and
applaud its work in helping girls and young women to take their
place as full and responsible members of their
(b) believe that girls and women of all ages should be able
to continue to promise to love God when enrolled; and
(c) commend the suggestion that, when a member chooses so to
do, the Promise may be prefaced with the phrase "in the presence of
God I make my Guide Promise."