It was a powerful moment, and it was a promise I held dear.
At 15, I became a Baden-Powell Guide, having worked quite ridiculously hard at tasks such as exploring the history of Guiding, learning about the history of the Commonwealth, doing my duty to God by serving as junior helper to Scramblers (the three year olds at church) throughout my time as a Guide and beyond, camping, crafting, laundering, attending junior councils and being involved in consultations on new uniforms, etcetera and so on.
At 15, I stayed with our church Guide Company, and became a Young Leader, remaking my promise with pride. At 17 and a half, I became an assistant Guider, again remaking my promise, and at 19, I was running my own Guide Company in Surrey.
We'll take a five year break from Guiding; my services were not required in my new job, and so I became an assistant Scouter for a while instead, having enjoyed being a Venture Scout myself age 15.
At 25, I came back to Abingdon, and stepped back in as an Assistant Guider once again, supporting Goldie at times, but continuing once she had left, spending Monday nights and summer weeks leading and encouraging girls to see what they could do, free from the distractions of boys and the pressures of the outside world.
And I have loved showing girls they can make fire, cook with it, look after themselves, make decision, teach others. I have loved watching girls climb walls, bake bread without an oven, turn three odd props into plays about current issues. I have watched girls grow from shy Brownies, scared of the bigger girls, into confident teenagers, capable of leading the younger girls. I have helped girls to write prayers and pitch tents, read maps and send messages in semaphore, raise money for others and apply for international trips themselves. I've watched girls do things they never thought they'd manage, I've seen bin bags become haute couture, and marshmallows become the epitome of haute cuisine.
I've watched sophisticated teenagers grow down and lose their self consciousness, go from girls who cannot face the world without mascara, to girls cheerfully leaping into the very centre of the deepest muddy puddle, secure in the knowledge that Guide camp is a place where they will not be judged and condemned for having fun.
It has been good. Very good. And I have helped a generation of girls prepare to make their own Promise, changed a few years ago so the girls promise to "Love My God" rather than "Do my duty to God," and I have been confident that this is a meaningful change, and one appropriate for today's girls. I have happily renewed my own promise at Thinking Day services and at Guides' Owns, knowing that I can still mean every word, and hoping that I can make it meaningful to the girls.
I can't do that any more. The new Guide Promise, designed to be more inclusive, now reads:
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
To keep the (Brownie) Guide Law.
Perhaps it isn't a huge change. I suspect serving the community is something which girls will understand more easily than serving ones' country. And for girls who may not be British Citizens, there's certainly less conflict of interest.
I understand the reasons why Girl Guiding wanted to take God out of the promise too. But I can't teach girls to be true to themselves. Not when I believe Christianity is about denying self in order to be true to God. My Guide company, the one I attended as a Guide, the one where I was a young leader, and then for 15 years an assistant leader, is a church sponsored group. I can't pretend that this new promise has anything to do with Christianity. And I suspect that's the point. Freedom of choice, encouraging girls to make their own decisions, not wishing to exclude anyone, girl or woman, who feels unable to make a promise to God.
But it isn't a promise I can get behind. Over the years, I've seen our inclusion within the church dwindle until we now have just one annual service where we are welcomed. It's a big change from 30 years ago, when we marched to the front to be welcomed to the services several times a year. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but for a number of our girls and their families, we are the one point at which they will ever connect with a church. Looser links mean looser connections. And now a Promise which invites girls merely to think about their beliefs, rather than directing them to our Heavenly Father, reinforces that separation.
I can't pretend that being a Guider is doing God's work for the youth of today. Which is not to say it is a bad thing to be doing. But as Imogen is ill, and I am tired, I no longer have the patience to be gentle with the girls who, full of youth and the joys of Spring, choose enthusiastic exuberance over listening to what they need to be doing. I don't have the energy to listen to good-natured girls grumbling about trivial inconveniences when I have left my daughter struggling to breathe in order to spend time with them. And I don't have the thinking power to find a dozen five minute activities when the planned activity turns out to be shorter than expected, to think on my feet when no one has brought blu-tac and the string is too short and all the pioneering poles have bent.
And so, tonight was my last night as a Guider. I'm coming home - I am home - and I will not now be committed to any regular evening activity.
It's not a sudden decision, and it's not solely about the new Promise. But there it is. I am no longer a Guider - something I didn't think I'd be saying for another twenty years or so.
I'm not entirely sure what I am now. Not a foster carer, not a Guide Leader, just a Mum. Let's hope I can be the Mum the girls need, for as long as they need me to be the just Mum.
Day is done,
Gone the sun,
From the sea,
From the hills,
From the sky.
All is well,
God is nigh.