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SYNOD: Guides criticism toned down

21 February 2014

Guides' promise


Resisting the pressure on Guides: Alison Ruoff, diocese of London

Resisting the pressure on Guides: Alison Ruoff, diocese of London

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 Sea Ranger.

"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 words."

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 Girlguiding."

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 the amendment.

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 we pass".

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 communities;

(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."

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