Celebrating 300 years

Regular Convocation 
11 November 2009 
An address by the ME Pro First Grand Principal 

Companions, those of you who were in Grand Lodge in June or September will know that the Preliminary Declaration to the Rules in the Book of Constitutions was amended by the removal of the additional sentence which had been added to it in 2003.

The Preliminary Declaration – defining pure Antient Masonry as the three Craft degrees including the Royal Arch – was composed in 1813 to enable the  of the two existing Grand Lodges to take place. By this declaration the Royal Arch was accepted by both contracting parties as an essential part of, and the means whereby, a Brother completed his journey through pure Antient Masonry by absorbing the practical moral lessons of the Craft, and the more spiritual message of the Royal Arch.

The addition of the Preliminary Declaration in 2003 was meant to strengthen the indissoluble link between the Craft and the Royal Arch, but it appears to have caused confusion and suggested to some Brethren that it was the first step to some form of separation of the Craft and Royal Arch. The latter was most certainly not the intention.

Despite the changes made in the Royal Arch in the last few years there is no intention of breaking this link that was so firmly established back in 1813.

In their Report to Grand Lodge in June the Board of General Purposes stated “The Board believes that it is a matter of common ground that the teachings of the Royal Arch enrich those of the Craft and vice versa. Properly considered therefore, each is inextricably interwoven with each other, with the result that no Brother’s Masonic experience can be considered truly complete unless he has been exalted into the Order of the Holy Royal Arch”. Those are sentiments, Companions, with which we would all heartily agree.

So important do we regard the 1813 Preliminary Declaration, and the acceptance by the Craft of the Royal Arch as an integral part of pure Antient Masonry, that the Committee of General Purposes is putting in hand plans to celebrate the Bi-Centenary of the adoption of the statement at the Convocation of this Supreme Grand Chapter to be held in November 2013. Further details on this will be given at the April Convocation.

Our Third Grand Principal has retired as Dean of Bury St Edmunds Cathedral due to his continued ill health. Many of you would have seen the moving article in Country Life about his farewell service which highlighted the enormous contribution he had made to the Cathedral in a sadly short space of time. I am sure you would wish me to convey greetings and support from you all here today, when I next visit him. And Companions, not a few minutes before this meeting I also heard that a Past Third Grand Principal, the Rev Preb Leighton Thomson, TD, had a nasty fall and he is in St Thomas’ Hospital. He has been spoken to from here, and he is in his usual good spirits.

Companions, what I am going to mention next refers very much to the Craft as a whole and not just the Royal Arch.

Many of you will be aware of the announcement made by the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, that judges and other members of the judicial system such as magistrates, will no longer have to declare that they are Freemasons. Nor will applicants for judicial office have to disclose that they are Freemasons on their application form.

This is as a result of action taken by the Board of General Purposes following a Ruling by the European Court of Human Rights on a case involving Italian Freemasonry that to single out Freemasonry and not include all other organisations was discriminatory, and in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Board made it clear to the Minister that unless the policy was changed it would institute proceedings on behalf of Grand Lodge and its members.

In his statement Mr Straw stressed that the Government’s policy requiring disclosure, which had been operating since 1998, had shown no evidence of impropriety or malpractice within the judiciary as a result of a judge being a Freemason, and that he had concluded that it would be disproportionate to continue the collection or retention of the information.

Companions, this does not mean that our members do not need to disclose that they are Freemasons; common sense will always dictate when it is appropriate to do so and, if there is any doubt, you should err on the side of disclosure. In any case, I hope we would all be proud to do so.

The Board will continue to monitor the situation and will not hesitate to take steps against any Public or Local Authority who discriminate against our members.

Finally Companions, as always I thank the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his team for the efficient way they have run the ceremony, and Grand Scribe Ezra and his staff for organising this successful meeting.

Published in Speeches

Annual Investiture 
30 April 2009 
An address by the ME The First Grand Principal 

Companions, let me begin by saying a very warm welcome to everyone attending our Royal Arch meeting today and I want especially to congratulate those whom I have had the pleasure of investing with their new ranks. Whether you have been promoted or appointed this morning, you will I know be aware that your rank brings with it certain responsibilities. In particular, I shall rely upon you to encourage members of the Craft to join this beautiful degree and then, once they have been exalted, to mentor and support them through their journey as Royal Arch Masons. You will also be expected to play a major role in helping them to clearly understand the meaning of the ritual.

As you heard earlier, on the eleventh of March I invested Most Excellent Companion Peter Lowndes as Pro Grand Master in the Craft and, on that day, he also became Pro First Grand Principal. It was therefore with great pleasure that I had the opportunity to formally invest and install him this morning. I know you would wish to join me in congratulating him on this important role. I also want to acknowledge the enormous contribution that the Past Pro First Grand Principal, Lord Northampton, made to the Order, for example, in creating an alternative ritual that has been adopted by many Chapters and is helping more of you take an active part in the ceremony. The result is that the work is shared with as many Companions as possible which is vital for the health of a Chapter. And it makes the ceremony more enjoyable for everyone.

Most Excellent Companion George Francis continues as Second Grand Principal, as does Most Excellent Companion Neil Collings, as Third Grand Principal. Many of you will know that Most Excellent Companion Collings has suffered from ill-health for some time, and we all wish him continued progress with his recovery.

You should all be aware that there are several initiatives under way for the good of the Royal Arch. I give you three examples of these. First, the Committee of General Purposes will shortly distribute a booklet entitled A Guide to Chapter. This will go a long way to explaining what the Royal Arch is all about.

As I mentioned earlier, I consider the Royal Arch a most beautiful degree – the culmination of the candidate’s journey through pure Antient Masonry – the climax of Craft Masonry. The booklet will explain the wonderful balance between the serious Mason’s degree, against at the same time the great friendliness of this degree.

Secondly, I am delighted that the majority of Lodges now have a Royal Arch Representative who can encourage those interested to complete their pure Antient Masonry. This is a very positive step, and I hope that such Representatives will also take responsibility for retaining new members once they have been exalted.

And thirdly, the Committee of General Purposes will soon agree a Royal Arch tie which, with the approval of the Board of General Purposes, you will also be able to wear in Craft Lodges. 

So, Companions, with your help and the support of initiatives such as those I have just mentioned, recruiting will, I am confident, increase, and the Order continue to thrive.

Finally, I would thank the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his Assistants for conducting an excellent ceremony; and Grand Scribe Ezra and his dedicated team for organising this successful meeting.

Published in Speeches

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