Many readers will know that from time to time the United Grand Lodge of England recognises and very occasionally withdraws recognition from another Grand Lodge. Peter Roberts explains why this affects us all
In September, the United Grand Lodge of England adopted the resolution to recognise the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Indiana, bringing the total now recognised to 136. This may sound just like high-level masonic diplomacy, but in fact it can make a very real difference to our members if they travel abroad. When another Grand Lodge is recognised it means that United Grand Lodge of England members can visit its lodges and their members can visit ours.
Freemasonry over the centuries has had plenty of imitators and splinter groups which have established their own self-styled forms of Freemasonry. Some of them allow or even encourage their members to become involved in politics or ethically dubious practices which are unacceptable to the United Grand Lodge of England.
Some people might argue that there is no real harm in quietly visiting a lodge under an irregular or unrecognised body. But just as in football, where it only takes one player to bring the game into disrepute, so someone visiting an unrecognised body could be misinterpreted as the United Grand Lodge of England tacitly approving the irregular body and, by extension, the rest of its members condoning it too. The United Grand Lodge of England is rightly scrupulous about not allowing this to happen.
It is with these bodies in mind that recognition becomes particularly important and why we spend a very great deal of time and effort looking into an individual Grand Lodge's wish to be recognised.
To be recognised by the United Grand Lodge of England a Grand Lodge must meet certain standards. These standards - the basic principles of Grand Lodge recognition - are published in the Book of Constitutions, the Masonic Year Book, in the booklet Information for the Guidance of Members of the Craft and Grand Lodge’s leaflet Freemasonry’s External Relations.
The most important standards are that the petitioning Grand Lodge must have undisputed authority over Craft masonry in its jurisdiction. Furthermore, its members should not be racists or atheists, nor should they practice religious intolerance. Its members must also only be men who take their obligations on a book held sacred to them. They must also not discuss religion or politics in lodge.
Important too is regularity of origin - in other words a Grand Lodge must have been formed either by a recognised Grand Lodge or by at least three regularly constituted lodges established by an already recognised Grand Lodge or Grand Lodges.
An example is the Grand Lodge of Russia (recognised in December last year) which was formed from four lodges set up in Russia by the already recognised Grand Loge Nationale Française. Although United Grand Lodge of England members were able to visit the lodges before the Grand Lodge of Russia was formed, after it was formed they were not allowed to visit until recognition had been granted.
The Grand Lodges of England, Ireland and Scotland are the exception to the principle of regularity of origin because they were formed by lodges which had already existed before any Grand Lodge (commonly known as time-immemorial lodges). These three Grand Lodges went on to form lodges all over the world, many of which later formed their own Grand Lodges.
It is also important that members of the subordinate lodges of the Grand Lodge seeking recognition can show that they were made masons under the Grand Lodge which sponsored it or a Grand Lodge which was recognised by the United Grand Lodge of England at the time of their becoming masons. One difficulty that can arise here is that the sponsoring Grand Lodge may recognise a Grand Lodge that the United Grand Lodge of England does not.
A yet further aspect is exclusive territorial jurisdiction (particularly practised in the United States) where one Grand Lodge claims masonic sovereignty within the state it covers and does not accept the existence of any other masonic body in that state. Although the United Grand Lodge of England accepts this policy, it does not conform to it itself, believing that masonic sovereignty is over members and not geographical territory.
If a Grand Lodge does not meet all of the basic principles it is considered irregular. An irregular Grand Lodge cannot by its nature be recognised but Grand Lodges and their members which fall within this category can vary in degrees of irregularity based on what is known about a Grand Lodge’s origins, practices and professions.
Regularity is sometimes confused with recognition. Although a regular Grand Lodge may meet the basic principles of Grand Lodge recognition, it can still nevertheless be unrecognised. This sometimes happens when a regular Grand Lodge works within an area where another recognised Grand Lodge already operates. The United Grand Lodge of England will usually only recognise one Grand Lodge in any one particular country, state or territory, unless with the express agreement of the Grand Lodge already recognised in that area.
France is a good example of this where there is the Grande Loge National Française (which is recognised), the Grand Lodge of France (regular but not recognised) and the Grand Orient of France (irregular).
Now and then restrictions have to be imposed on United Grand Lodge of England members visiting recognised Grand Lodges around the world. This can occur because a particular Grand Lodge has recognised another Grand Lodge which we have not and there is a strong possibility of our members attending a meeting where members from that unrecognised Grand Lodge may be present.
When granted, recognition takes immediate effect, and means that the United Grand Lodge of England believes that the Grand Lodge and its members profess and practice Freemasonry as it has been practised since its inception. The members of the two Grand Lodges can then truly regard each other as brethren and be permitted to visit each others lodges. It does not in any way mean, however, that if you find yourself talking about Freemasonry to someone in your local bar who happens to belong to an unrecognised constitution that you have to stop talking or walk away. You are obviously free to carry on talking about whatever you wish.
So if you are ever planning to going abroad and want to visit lodges of other constitutions it is therefore vital to check with Freemasons’ Hall first, otherwise you could not only end up in an embarrassing situation, but also inadvertently bring the United Grand Lodge of England and the rest of its members into disrepute.