1 July 2013

Has God been dumped by the Brownies?


Making my Brownie Promise back in 1978!

"We're Brownie Guides, we're Brownie Guides, we're here to lend a hand.
We love our God and serve our Queen and help our homes and lands. 
We're Brownie Guides, we're Brownie Guides from North South East and West.
We join together in our wish to try to do our best"

When I think back to my old Brownie days, this little dittie immediately springs to mind - the words, the tune and the image of girls skipping around in a circle, holding hands. Strange how the mind works and what you remember.... 

My sister and I both spent a good part of our childhood as members of our local Brownie pack and my memories of these times are strong and hugely significant.  One thing I don't remember however, is questioning the meaning of the words above or indeed the Brownie Promise.  The presence of God was as much a part of Brownies, as the brown bobble hat.

As with most 7-10 year old girls in Britain, my daughters were both a part of Brownies and are now Girl Guides. Upon joining both organisations, they were expected to make a pledge; a slightly updated version of the one that I had made some 35 years before. Their promise went like this:

I promise that I will do my best,
to love my God,
to serve my Queen and Country
and to keep the Brownie Guide Law

One of the many things I have always admired about the Girl Guiding movement is that it  has an element of spirituality. Whether your God be Allah or the Christian God, the acceptance of a higher 'being' has always been present - their colours are 'nailed to the mast' as it were.  The Promise is clear, concise and easy for the girls to remember....or at least it was. 
 
Last week, I received an email informing me that the Girl Guiding movement has decided to change the Promise once more.  Why? Because the girls "are struggling to understand what it really means". The email went on to say...."we can now open our arms to embrace even more girls from all faiths and none, and bring them into the Guiding family".
 
In other words, like many other British institutions, the Girl Guiding movement has bowed to the pressure of society and changed their Promise to something which quite frankly is wishy-washy at best and cowardly at worst.   If you're not familiar with the new words, here they are:
 
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 (Brownie) Guide Law.
 
I know that the Brownie uniform was updated to bring it in-line with current trends and let's face it, ditching the brown bobble hat and desperately unattractive dress was probably the best thing they ever did, but are we now dumping God out with the bobble hat?! When did God become old-fashioned?!

I accept that schools need to consider carefully what they teach, making sure that no nationalities or religions are alienated or insulted, but belonging to the Brownies is not compulsory; it's a decision that you make for your own child, just like attending a Judo class or taking up horse-riding.  If you don't agree with the morals behind an organisation or feel that it's too one-sided, then perhaps don't send your child there! 

I know of many people who opted for 'Woodcraft Folk' over Brownies, because of their religious beliefs and I totally respect that.  I also know others who chose Brownies because they wanted their child to have a spiritual influence in their lives and the Girl Guiding movement was always very transparent about that being important.
 
Reading between the lines, I think they hope that by changing the Promise, more girls will want to join; perhaps they worry that by mentioning God, they are alienating themselves from new members. The strange thing is that our local  pack has an enormous waiting list and it's been this way for decades; even when the old Promise was in use and God was still in vogue.

Do you send your child to Brownies or Guides? What do you think of the updated Promise?  Do you think it's important for organisations like this to change with the times?    Have you ever even considered the words in the Promise?  I would love to hear your views....


themondayclub

39 comments:

  1. I was a brownie and girl guide and as a Christian, I am sad to hear the change of motto. I agree with what you said,that if you don't agree with an organisation then don't send your child there. Ridiculous!

    www.AAUBlog.com

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    1. And really that's my main point Rebecca - it's never been compulsory to send your child! However, I think it's a great opportunity for people who aren't church-goers or Christians to open their child up to an alternative view point. Obviously the choice is theirs as to whether they believe it or not. Very sad.

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  2. I was getting mad as I listened to an article on the radio about it. Apparently the children believe it would be better not to have God in there, sorry when did children know best.

    It is a complete cop out and very wishy washy!

    Mich x

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    1. OOh - this is getting interesting. I know the leaders were consulted but I didn't know that the girls were. I think this is actually better than "love my God" which was seen very much as a 'cover all' patch to get over the accusation that Guiding was discriminating against non-Christian girls. I would also add that the church that was associated with the Guide unit I ran said that they didn't want to be involved with the Unit any more (as did many others)and I think that was a motivating point for GirlGuiding to rethink.

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  3. Interesting to hear your thoughts! As a Guider I had a sneak preview of the new promise and put it up on my Facebook page the day it was released. The response was really interesting, those of my (our!) age really strongly associated themselves with the promise we made. Those who made the next promise preferred this new one.

    As more and more units meet away from churches (or the churches who originally sponsored them no longer want to be involved) I think it was time for Guiding to move on. When I was asked in the consultation whether I thought the promise should change, my response would have been yes, but back to the old one! (traditionalist that I am!)

    There are some units still very successfully working within a Christian framework but those numbers are dwindling. As we become more multi-cultural in our society, it is more and more important that Guiding adapts so that we can provide girls with their own space to learn, discover, grow and become rounded individuals with confidence and determination. I think promising to be "true to yourself" is a wonderful way of instilling this thought from an early age.

    As for waiting lists and demand, sadly there are not enough volunteers to run the units and to create large units is simply not safe or entirely beneficial for the girls. Certainly around here, getting a Brownie place is/was seen as a definite "playground point" amongst parents - something that gave bragging rights, often coming with assumption that leaders get paid and it is therefore a right that by virtue of being female, their daughter should have a place. It doesn't work like that - we have families, jobs, other commitments and we give our time to Guiding for free. It is a rewarding role but it takes up far more time and energy than just running the 90 minute meeting each week!

    I've been a leader for over 20 years now - things have changed and, as much as I never thought I would say this, I think the change in promise is well timed and shows that Guiding is still leading the way - not stuck in the past.

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    1. Wow Jenny, I take my hat off to you - 20 years?! Our Brownie leader has also been running her pack for a similar length of time and as she gets older, I know she finds it a 'challenge'. I also agree that there should be a cut off point on numbers and understand why there is a waiting list. I think it's a shame that the church has disassociated itself from the Girl Guiding movement - I wonder why? However does it matter if it's run in a church or in a school hall? God can still get a mention! I liked the fact that children from all walks of life could go and get an element of spirituality to their week, something which is no longer present in most school or many homes. I suppose I'm a traditionalist!

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    2. The church involved didn't feel it could commit the time, energy or resources to the unit and also didn't feel that making the girls come to church (church parade, harvest festival etc) did anything to advocate a Christian belief. Keeping their congregation happy and supported was their priority, they didn't want coming to church with Brownies/Guides to be a chore or something that caused resentment.

      I'm not sure that too many units now have that element of spirituality any more - certainly the days of us each taking turns to say a prayer at the end of the meeting have gone in most units I know of. We work on the basis of shared values; honesty, trust, respect, love etc and as much as they so easily translate into most religious values, we don't mention it as such. We have girls from all walks of life and religions and we work on getting on with each other, whatever - and having fun whilst doing so.

      And as for the 20 years - I haven't been out of uniform since I was 7 - and I'm 38 on Wednesday!

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  4. Whilst I can see where they are coming from, it does seem a bit odd. I mean what about the "serving queen and county" bit, I'm sure that can be just as confusing to young girls as to what exactly it means to them as "love my god". I would have thought that it would be better to spend quality time with the girls discussing what the words of the promise may mean to them rather than making it rather wordy and even more ambiguous! I mean they have taken out the word God but left ij the word beliefs, which for many includes God. I was a Brownie and then a Girl Guide at our local church but my family weren't religious at all... I never questioned it, I just developed my own understanding of what it meant to me. I think sometimes we underestimate the ability of our children to build beliefs and opinions of their own... Changing the semantics won't change that!

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    1. I agree that this change makes it far more ambiguous and I don't feel it achieves what they set out to do - make it more accessible to the girls. I personally think that suggestion is a 'cover up' for wanting to move away from God and being associated with Church. Some of the girls that go along never set foot in a church other than for the Harvest festival that they're asked to attend as a Brownie/Guider - I wonder if this tradition will also be lost?

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  5. I am not a religious person, and I can quite understand that the Brownie movement would want to embrace all comers, rather than just the minority who believe in a god (any god). I think its very healthy that children are allowed to make up their own minds about whether or not to believe what their adults tell them they should or must believe.

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    1. And I think that's why a lot of people sent their children to Brownies Joy, so that they could see another side, one that is no longer taught in schools. The Girl Guiding was always 'known' for this and respected for it. I think it's a shame but you know that from my ramblings!

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  6. Loving the old brownie pictures! I must have been a year or two older as we had berets not woolly hats. I still have my promise badge! To me it is a shame to lose God from Brownies, it never felt over religious just doing a good turn every day.

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    1. Oh I'd forgotten about the beret! I agree with you, I think 'doing a good turn every day' was what it was all about. Why lose the word God...and country for that matter?!

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  7. I just don't understand the point of taking away the mention of God.

    Have the waiting lists suddenly disappeared to make way for the influx of non God believing girls wanting to join up. I doubt it, to me it seems another way of dumbing down and trying to appease the masses who weren't even offended by the pledge in the first place.

    They try to broaden their horizons by taking away the reference to God, thereby not alienating those who are non believers, yet keep "serve the Queen and my community", not everyone is a royalist so why should they have to pledge to the Queen?

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    1. I imagine it won't be long before that's removed too Amanda - what will be left?! I know they want to keep up with the times but God's been around for centuries and I don't imagine He is about to rush off anywhere in the future either! Why erase God altogether?

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  8. My daughter is being enrolled as a Brownie this week, still using the old promise for now, so this feels very timely! I don't mind the removal of "God", as many belief systems don't have a god as such, never mind the people with no religious beliefs.

    However, the phrase "be true to myself" is like nails down a blackboard to me! I'm a teacher and it's a phrase you increasingly hear older kids using to explain all sorts of behaviour because "You've got to be true to yourself, yeah?" regardless of whether that self is being a nice person. My true self is a bit lazy and slovenly, and I do my best by trying not to be that true self. :)

    PS I also love the bobble hat pics. I looked in the water and there saw....

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    1. The thing is, as Brownies, there is an expectation that the girls attend church at least 3 times a year - Harvest, Christingle and Easter, I believe. If people don't believe in God or aren't prepared to make that part of their Promise, why are they going?! I imagine the whole church parade/service element will also die out soon. Like you I am vehemently against the empty words of 'be try to myself' - what does that mean anyway?! I thought the change in Promise was so that the girls can understand it better!

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    2. Totally agree with Bird's comments in second para. Meaningless psychobabble replacing the recognition of a higher authority than ourselves. I was a Guide in the 1950's when we happily promised to do our duty to God. My school motto (state grammar school) was "Serve God and be cheerful"! I don't think any of my fellow Guides or school mates felt they were being indoctrinated. The Baden-Powells have probably turned in their graves.

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  9. Interesting post! We've stopped with the Guiding stuff now - my daughter did Rainbows but it's been dumped in favour of dance. If she goes back to uniforms she's already said she'd prefer Cubs. Cubs and Scouts still have God in their promise, but I'm guessing its days are numbered now. I'm not a Christian like you, but I see God as part of our culture and part of the culture of organisations like Scouts and Guides. My son has chosen to be an atheist - I don't know why and I don't feel comfortable with it - and he moans about God in the Scout promise. I say it is there, it's a part of where Scouts comes from and what Scouts stand for, so he can just say the promise and believe in what he is saying!

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    1. That's interesting that he has chosen to be an atheist. What I like about it is that children get a chance to explore a belief in God, which is sometimes not discussed in the home or at school. My son goes to cubs and there are a few girls who go along, I wonder if the Brownies will start accepting boys soon! I also imagine that the church parades etc will die out too, which I think is a shame.

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  10. I'm not religious and don't mind the god part being taken out of the promise. I've never been in Brownies so don't have the emotional attachment to any of the promises and I suppose I see Brownies as a place where my daughter goes to learn social skills, be able to work as a team and a place to help her grow in to a valuable member of our community. I don't think she needs to make a pledge to any god to be able to do any of the above.
    I totally agree with the following extract of Jenny's (Cheetah in my shoes) comment...
    "As we become more multi-cultural in our society, it is more and more important that Guiding adapts so that we can provide girls with their own space to learn, discover, grow and become rounded individuals with confidence and determination. I think promising to be "true to yourself" is a wonderful way of instilling this thought from an early age"

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    1. I guess it depends if you know, at the age of 7, what 'being true to yourself' means....but hopefully that will be explored in depth as part of the meetings. I think it's strange that they have decided to move away from the religious element all of a sudden. Thanks for commenting :)

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  11. I liked the fact that Brownies has/had a spiritual connection and I agree, Suzanne, that the wording - 'God' - is fairly open to other religions other than just Christianity. It does seem though that it is a definite move away from any connection with the church. Personally, I don't mind the exclusion of God from the new promise but I really object to the nonsense of 'Be true to myself and develop my beliefs' which to quote the vicar of Evesham means "anything and nothing"!! Helen

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    1. That's how I feel Helen, just wishy washy in my opinion! I haven't read many other commentaries on it but I guess the vicar of Evesham is likely to agree with me too!

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  12. I'm almost lost for words, and this is one of the reasons I do not miss the UK. I was a Brownie in the 80s, I'm not from a religious family but happily promised to Love my God and serve my Queen etc . If you'd have asked me at the time I probably would have said take it out but I can't say it bothered me having it in there! We went to church parade once a month and hated every boring second of it (execpt whoever got to carry the flag, that bit was fun) but it was just what we did and we didn't mind.

    Now, it seems they are just taking it out for the same reasons Christmas becomes 'Winter holidays' in case they offend someone.

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    1. My kids find the church services pretty boring too but I think it's tradition and once in a while kids should respect that the society/organisation they belong to has certain values and that they are expected to go - it certainly doesn't do them any harm and hopefully it might even do them good!

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    2. Exactly, my son now goes to school in Cyprus and religion is very much part of everything. We are not religous but respect it and he will do what is expected as that is the way of life here. He doesn't have to believe it but respect it.

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  13. I'm not religious in the slightest but I too think this is ridiculous. I went to Brownies as a child and had absolutely no problem with the Brownie promise despite not being Christian.

    I'm probably jumping the gun, but to me this just seems like another way to alienate Christians in their own country. Don't talk about God for fear of insulting someone. I agree with you, if you don't believe in it or you have a problem with it, don't go.

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    1. I definitely think people are scared of mentioning God for fear of alienating - Political Correctness rides again!

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  14. I am not religious, but I didn't care when my daughter said god in her promise. I don't recall them doing any overtly Christian activities or preaching apart from occassional church parade. I think whether they are right to change their promise comes down to where they sit as an organisation. If they are a 'Christian' group, then don't remove it. If they are not a religious movement, then they have probably done the right thing in removing a specific faith name from their promise, it means the group is more welcoming to all, and I quite like the way they have left a spiritual reference, but of more of an individual nature. Are they a religious organisation, or is their association with church a reflection of a bygone age rather than a specific affiliation? Be interested to find out actually!

    An interesting post, with lots to think about!

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    1. I think you're right Sonya. As of yet, they haven't removed their affiliation with Christianity and until that time, God should not be removed. If they do then they need to communicate that with their members!

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  15. I am a Christian and in favour of the Royal family, so I am rather sad that both these traditional British elements of life here are being phased out of the great character building organisation that Guiding is. We all realise that Britain is very multi-faith and multi-cultural now and we move on accordingly but as previous folk have said, sending children to these organisations is almost part of their education and should be respected for their traditions and not some wishy-washy so called promises to whom?

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    1. Agreed! I think the idea is that they're making the promise to themselves....which at 7 years of age, I'm not convinced that this is likely to be any more clear than the previous one. Thankfully they are still keeping the Queen in there which is, as you say, a tradition of this country and not to be ignored, whatever our feelings are about it.

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  16. Suzanne this is a really thought-provoking post. I read it yesterday and have been mulling it over since. I think Sonya has really captured the essence in her comment - that Brownies and Guides need to decide whether they are Christian organisation, and then take it from there and 'be true to themselves'. I can understand their desire not to put other faiths off, and yet I feel sad that the institution is changing (I'm a bit of a traditionalist).

    On the matter of the words 'be true to yourself' I'm so sorry but I disagree that they are wishy-washy. I talk to my children a lot about being true to themselves and its something I want them to grow up doing. To me it's about not following the crowd if they don't want to - about respecting themselves and it being ok to be different. I think it is great that they have included this in the promise - but it needs to be backed up with discussions around what this means to them as individuals.

    Lots to think about Suzanne and good for you for posting about it xx

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    1. I agree that the organisation needs to decide on the fundamentals of what they do - are they no longer affiliated with the church? Not something which they have yet communicated on....which they should hurry up and do in my opinion! I do agree that 'being try to myself' is very important, we all want that for our children but their argument is that this is 'clearer' for the girls, which I'm not sure that it is (think this is a cop out and an excuse!). If they have a lovely mummy like you, explaining what this means and encouraging them to think about the consequences then yes, but I doubt all have! Thanks for commenting :) x

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  17. Omg this brings back some serious memories! I was a Brownie once upon a time too. I remember being SOOOO nervous up there saying my Brownie promise! I also remember getting clothes lined during a game that looking back I was clearly too tiny for, lol! All good memories though {bar the clothes lining! lol} Great post!

    Thanks for linking up with this weeks Mad Mid-Week Blog Hop! xx

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    1. I loved the way that we had to do the old traditional things too - how to hang washing on a line being one of them lol!

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  18. I liked your post, and I agreed with though I wasn't a brownie (first of all because I didn't grow up in the UK, and second because I was never good in organised groups) I totally agree with you about the point you made - it is a choice. You can choose to enter and than respect the place you enter into for its beliefs and traditions, or you can find another place to go to that is more fitting for you.

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  19. My daughter goes to Brownies, and I personally think it is a good way to open it up to more people, and children from other religions and cultures

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