English: Life of Princess Mary from the Sphere...

New Girl Guides and Brownies will no longer promise “to love my God, to serve my Queen and my country”. Instead a prospective Guide will be asked take the following oath:

“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.

A qausi-religious promise has been replaced by a functionally atheist promise. The National Secular Society,  the Humanist Society and the internet trolls are cock-a-hoop, whilst  those of a republican bent are still seething at the continued presence of HMQ.  It seems that the Almighty is an easier nut to crack than an 87 year old woman who’s life of exemplary public service has been informed by her own Christian faith.

Girl Guides in the Central African Republic

Girl Guides in the Central African Republic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t really see why the have to take an oath at all, but, if the organization they are joining is not inherently confessional, political or nationalistic  then an inherently religious (“God”) or political (“Queen”) or nationalistic (“country”) oath isn’t appropriate.

The truth is that the original “Church, King, Country” oath reflected the mindset of the imperialistic establishment figures who created the scouting movement in the early 1900s – we should probably be grateful that they opted for “Country” instead of “Empire”.  It was a product of its day (the original Guides were a distinctly un-girly element of the Indian Army).

The problem with the new promise is that it is also of its day. “Be true to myself” and “develop my beliefs” are nice sound-bites, but they don’t actually mean anything. It fits in with Chief Guide  Gill Slocombe’s assertion that “This was never a faith organization. It was always a spiritual organization.” – a  meaningless statement if ever I saw one.

Girl Guides: A Tea Hike

Girl Guides: A Tea Hike (Photo credit: Girl Guides of Canada)

“Community” (surely one of the most overused buzz-words of our age) is another thing that doesn’t actually mean anything when used in this abstract way. There are such things as communities  and communities can take many forms. A community can be a street, a village, an estate, a school, a college; people with shared interests, shared values or a bunch of regulars at the local pub. These ideas of community probably account for the enduring appeal of soaps like Coronation Street and East Enders and also, perhaps, for some of the nostalgia about the Second World War as a time when there was a strong sense of national community.

Girl Guides Uniform Canada circa 1987

(Photo credit: Girl Guides of Canada)

Although I was never a Guide, I had friends who were. For some of them it was just an activity. For others it was an important part of their life, giving them a structure and sense of belonging that may have been missing  from their families. I also remember Thinking Day, when Guides were supposed to think about their fellow Guides throughout the world.  On Thinking Day all  the Guides and Rangers  (and teachers who were involved in Guiding – they had time to do that sort of thing in those days) wore their Guide uniforms to school. It strikes me that this was a much stronger statement of community than any number of oaths.

 Links : Story (BBC News); Girl Guides Website; Gill Slocome, quoted in The Telegraph