Church of England calls for re-think on secular Girl Guide promise

Published 12 February 2014  |  
(Photo: Girlguiding UK)

The Church of England has sent a clear signal to the Girlguiding movement that it wants a rethink on its recent decision to drop the reference to God in its promise.

The promise "to do my best and to love God" had been in place since the organisation was set up over a hundred years ago, until last year when Girlguiding UK decided to replace it with an entirely secular promise.

The Church of England General Synod urged the rethink after voting overwhelmingly in favour of a motion asking that Girlguiding UK to allow women and girls to promise to love God when enrolled.

The original motion was moved by Alison Ruoff and was passed amended to also "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".

The Church's call will be outlined in a letter to leaders of the Girlguiding movement

Speaking to Christian Today, Ms Ruoff appealed to the movement's leaders to listen to the wishes of over 1,500 people who have written to Girlguiding to ask that it reconsider.

"So many girls and leaders have been disenfranchised by this because they want God in it, they don't want it to be secular," she said.

"It's really important that we got this through. If Girlguiding have a rethink, it's worth it."

Some Synod members challenged whether the Church of England should interfere with the Girl Guide promise as the organisation is not part of the Anglican Communion.

Reverend Andrew Dotchin, who moved the adopted amendment, said: "Girl Guiding is a perfectly mature, grown up organisation, that is quite capable of managing its own affairs.

"It is all too easy for the church to sound like 'Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells', rather than 'Welcoming of Westminster'."

Jeremy Fletcher, of York Diocese said: "For the Church of England to give Girlguiding its homework back and say 'please do better' seems a bit rude.

"If we have to vote for something, let it be a positive engagement for the opportunities that the new promise offers," Mr Fletcher said.

Richard Hibbert, of St Albans Diocese, said that in his experience, the questions that the new secular promise often raised made it "an unhelpful phrase that led to a helpful conversation".

"The way to get God into this is to build on the involvement we already have, not to be so concerned about these few words," said Mr Fletcher.

Graham Smith, of the Gloucester Diocese, suggested that media reaction could be less than helpful to the Church: "We invite the headline 'Synod meddles with Girl Guides'."

Anneliese Barrell, of Exeter, noted that when Girlguiding ran a consultation on changing the promise, the majority of the 44,000 responses agreed that the words 'to my God' represented a barrier to many young girls from joining the Girl Guides.

Synod heard from others however that the new promise was self-destructive and discriminatory to Christians, because its promise of "being true to myself" is anathema to Christianity.

"In the middle of that little word sin is I, and we don't want any of that," Ms Ruoff said, commenting on the inherent selfishness of the new promise.

"To make this promise in the presence of God is offensive," said Elizabeth Holdsworth of Peterborough Diocese. "It is not philosophically neutral, it is not intellectually coherent, and on those grounds alone it should be rejected."

Emma Forward, of Exeter Diocese and a former teacher, said: "If it were possible to be true to such a transient, insubstantial and subjective entity as 'myself' it would not be something I would encourage any girl in my class to be true to, much less swear to."

Geoffrey Tattersall, of Manchester, told Synod members that in the 40 years his wife had been a Brownie leader, she had never heard any complaints about the inclusion of God in the promise.

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