The Brownies don’t do God.
They used to, when I was the half-hearted seconder of the pixies in a town-centre church hall. Having been brought up without the smallest smidgen of religion, I used to find the pledge (“I promise that I will do my best: to do my duty to God, to serve the Queen and my country, to help other people and keep the Brownie Guide law”), with its God-and-country business, faintly baffling. As for the bits about serving the Queen, I wasn’t too sure about her, either. Both she and God were grey-haired, grandparent-ish figures in my head, quickly forgotten once we started playing tag and learning how to do blanket stitch by making piglets out of felt. Occasionally, we’d troop into the church next door, which was mildly diverting, except when we had to reach out and hug other parishioners. What was that about?
Now, though, 21st-century Brownies are being let off the God bit. They still have to promise to do their best, but now they have to be true to themselves, to develop their beliefs, to serve the Queen and their community. “We can’t ask the kids to lie,” Gill Slocombe, the Chief Guide, has said, in explanation of the new wording.
From what I’ve read recently, I rather like the groovy direction the Brownies and their big sisters, the Guides are being taken in. The new chief executive of the Girl Guides described it as “the ultimate feminist organisation”. Stirring stuff. But as for not asking the girls to lie? Well, we all have to learn a bit of hypocrisy somewhere. As a non-believer, true, it always felt a bit weird promising to do my duty to someone I didn’t believe in, but then we also had to pretend that a bit of mirror was a pool of water every week.
Brownie meetings are hardly the only places where what you believe and what you do disconnect. On Saturday night, I spent a two out-of-tune hours comparing the songs I had sung at junior school with the ones my stepdaughter does now. Despite the fact she’s Jewish and has friends of many different faiths, they all sing away to the Christian tunes I had to: “Lord of The Dance”, “If I Had A Hammer”, “Give Me Oil In My Lamp”, and, like I did, they snigger at the bit in “When I Needed A Neighbour” when it goes “I was cold, I was naked”. Bums!
Neither of us believe in Jesus but we like a singalong to a catchy tune. So essentially I was, and she is, fibbing every time the hymn books come out. It’s good that the Brownies and Guides are moving with the times, and want to be inclusive, but I’m proud to say they helped make me the hypocrite I am today.