Humanist leads first Guides ceremony

February 25, 2019

Guides, Rainbows and Brownies in Port Glasgow celebrated the first ever inclusive thinking day ceremony in the Scout/Guide movement.

Jennifer Buchan, Humanist celebrant and Scout leader was invited to write a lead a ceremony that celebrated the diversity of all the group members.

Jennifer Buchan dressed in Scout leader clothing

Growing up I was a Guide until I was nineteen, and have been a Scout and a leader for over ten years. I am extremely proud to have been asked to lead this new type of ceremony for the Greenock Division Guides and hope this is something that can be replicated right across the Scout/Guide network in Scotland.

The Guides and Scouts are a group that have the values of equality and help for others at the heart of everything they do, so I was delighted when this Guide Division wanted something different to celebrate the traditional Baden Powell anniversary weekend.

Jennifer Buchan, Humanist Society Scotland

Exerpt from the Thinking Day ceremony – written and led by Jennifer

Good afternoon everyone, and I would very much like to thank your Division Commissioner, Norma Ramsay, for inviting me to speak to you all today, here in Port Glasgow Town Hall. As you can see, I am a Scout Leader, but, I wasn’t always a Scout. Everything that makes me a good Scout Leader, I learned in the Guides.

When I started school, way back in 1973, there was no such thing as Rainbows, and I had to wait until I was seven, so that I could join the Brownies. But, I was the kind of wee girl who just couldn’t wait, so when I was five and six, I would hang about the door of the church hall, and listen to everything that was going on, with the Brownies. The Brownie Leader, Mrs Mitchell, eventually let me join the pack early, as long as I hid underneath the stage, when the District Commissioner came round.

I loved being a Brownie, and I loved being a Guide even more. My Guide Leader was obsessed with camping, and so me, and my pals became obsessed with it too. We were phenomenal at pitching tents, building gadgets, lighting fires, and cooking on the open fires. I must have also burnt about a million of my Mum and Dad’s tea towels. I went camping with my two very best pals, Jacqueline and Therese, and even after all of those years, my two pals, from the Brownies and the Guides, are still my best pals. And, we are fifty.

Now you might think, so, why are you not a Guide Leader? Well, I have a daughter, Ellys, and when she was in Rainbows and Brownies I helped with her pack. I went camping with her Guides, and I have cooked for hundreds of Guides at camps at South Newton, and Netherurd. However. I had a second child. And, that one turned out to be a different flavour. Ruari is a boy, so, so that I could do the same for him, as I did for his sister, I joined the Scouts. But, I am still a member of the Guide Association, because being a Guide is so important. Especially today.

As girls and women, we have come so far, but there is still a long way to go. And, as a Rainbow, Brownie and Guide, you will never have to make that journey alone. Because you are part of a world wide group of friends, and it is estimated that there are more than ten million Guides in the world, right now. Our flags represent our different units, within our districts, divisions, counties, regions and even countries, and we carry them with pride. Some of these flags are very old, and they represent tradition, and the girls and women who carried them before you.

This is the flag of my Scout Section, and because of the words on it, and because of who is carrying it, you can see that we are proud of the Scout traditions, but there has been a major change. The wording says “Boy Scouts”. You may have noticed that Katie is not a Boy Scout. The reason that I am showing you this, is to prove that if you want to make changes, you can. If you know that something needs to change to be better, then you can do it. You are strong Rainbows, Brownies and Guides. You are girls and women who can do anything. You just have to tell yourselves, that if you put your mind to it, you can do anything. All you have to say, is “Yes I can”.

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell

One of my favourite people who said “Yes I can”, is Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell. Many of you may not have heard of her, but she is a massive hero to many people that you will have heard of-Bill Nye the Science Guy, Prof Stephen Hawking, Prof Brian Cox, and, she has even been talked about by Dr Sheldon Cooper, on “The Big Bang Theory”.

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell is a hero to all of them, because she is recognised as one of the top ten physicists, who have ever lived. But, the chances of that ever having happened were tiny, because little Jocelyn Bell started high school, in Northern Ireland, in 1954.

Jocelyn was told, by the headmaster, that she could not do science, because, she was a girl. He told her that she had to go to cookery and sewing classes. She tried to reason with him, but he talked over her, and refused to listen to her. He said, “You can’t.” In her head, Jocelyn said, “ Yes I can,” So, she went and had a word with a man, who she knew would listen-her family doctor. The doctor went to the headmaster’s office, and he refused to leave, until Jocelyn was allowed to take science as a subject at school. The headmaster finally gave in. Jocelyn was the only girl in Science, and, perhaps it isn’t a surprise, she had the top marks in the whole class. The following year, she encouraged everyone, to say “Yes I can,” and half the class were girls. Jocelyn kept saying “Yes I can” and she went on to study astrophysics at Cambridge, Glasgow and Oxford. Jocelyn discovered so much about the planets, the stars and how the universe works, that she is part of a team that won a Nobel Prize for Physics. Jocelyn’s discoveries have literally changed the world.

Alfred Nobel's likeness on a gold Nobel Prize medal

What qualities did Jocelyn have as a girl? She was clever, quiet, determined, hopeful, optimistic and positive. She never gave up. She was told “Science? You can’t.” But, she knew she was right. She knew that the rules had to change, because she was a scientist, and a girl, so she said, “Yes I can”.

And all through history, the girls and women who have come before you were told,
“You can’t go to university”
“You can’t play football”
“You can’t be a doctor”
“You can’t be a pilot”
“You can’t vote”

The only reason that all of this changed, was because, girls and women made the changes. Women and girls just like you. Women and girls who said “I can”.

So how do we all know that we are heading in the right direction? As members of the Guide Association, we have Guide Laws, and we should follow them.
We should love to follow them.

It seems like “All You Need Is Love”. As Rainbows, Brownies and Guides, we have a promise, and it is always brilliant to renew our promise every year, with our friends. 

The Beatles hold banners that read "All you need is love"

We know our guide laws, we have retaken our promises, and we now have to remember our motto. Be Prepared. A Beaver Scout once asked me, “Jennifer, what am I being prepared for?” and at the time I had no idea. Then I thought about it. “Be Prepared to be Brilliant”. She then asked, “But what if I am not brilliant at anything?” to which I replied, “Everyone is brilliant at something, and as a Scout Leader, it is my job to help you find out what you are brilliant at. We will find it.” And, as Scout Leaders and Guide Leaders, that is what we are here for-to do so much, and find out what each young person is brilliant at. And, the best thing is that everyone is brilliant at something different, and no one is the same. And, that is fantastic, because imagine how boring it would be if we were all the same.

Imagine the whole world was a Guide and Brownie camp at South Newton. Within your patrols, you to have to work as a team, and for teams to be effective, each Brownie and Guide has to appreciate the qualities of every other team member.

We are all different-some of us are tall-some of us are not. Some are campers, some are singers, some are great at making gadgets, there are fire starters and cooks. But, we know that without everyone’s talents, the camp just wouldn’t work. We need everyone.

And, for any team to be truly effective, it has to be happy, and that means that every team member has to be treated with kindness, dignity and respect. And, each person has to be listened to.

Sometimes the most prominent member of the team is the one who makes the most noise. However, it is the person in the group, who listens the most that learns the most.

The person that learns the most is your ideas person. The ideas person, is the person who has the ability to make changes. Sometimes the quiet “ideas person” is the person who says “I can.” Like Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Why is it important that we embrace new ideas? Because without ideas our lives and society would not change-without change we cannot progress. Our society could not evolve. We would have no women doctors. We would have no women pilots. Girls would not be allowed to go to school or university. Women would not be allowed to vote. These things had to change.

Look at the changes within Guides-it was six years ago when the Guide Association led the way, and changed the Guide Promise, so that being a Rainbow, Brownie and a Guide was open to everyone, and our association, became fully inclusive.

And, why is that a good thing? Because as an inclusive group we can learn from each other-no matter our backgrounds, countries of origin, and if we are Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Humanist, Muslim, Buddhist. If we talk to one another, we can begin to appreciate each other, and understand each other. We can take the best ideas and use them to make our society better. Appreciation and understanding is the basis of peace, and when we can talk in peace, more ideas can be created.

Not all ideas change the world-but we should all be prepared to make positive changes. Changes that improve how we live. Changes to help us live up to our potential. Changes to help other people and out planet. So, as human beings we should be open minded, positive, hopeful and optimistic. We should ask ourselves what did I do good today? And, how can I do better tomorrow?

The planet earth from space, with the Americas visible.

Most of all, the best way to do better every day, is to believe in yourself. You are fantastic young women, and you should embrace each other’s differences. You should support each other to say “Yes I can.” But, to do that, first you really have to believe in yourself, and say “This Is Me”.

As Rainbows, Brownies and Guides you should be prepared to set your standards high, and be prepared to listen, be prepared to understand, be prepared to be the very best that you can be. You owe it to yourselves, and to your planet, to be prepared to be brilliant. You have to stand up, listen, speak up, be counted, make a difference, say “This is me, I am a girl, I am a woman”, Yes I Can”.

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