Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge
9 December 2015
Report of the Board of General Purposes
The Minutes of the Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge of 9 September 2015 were confirmed.
Annual Investiture of Grand Officers (27 April 2016)
So that sufficient accommodation can be reserved for those brethren who are to be invested and their friends, admission to the annual investiture is by ticket only. Brethren to be invested for the first time may invite to be present with them.
Masonic Year Book
The next edition of the Masonic Year Book, 2016–2017, will be available next summer. the charge will be £14 per copy, plus postage and packing where appropriate. It is not proposed to produce a new edition of the Directory of Lodges and Chapters during 2016. Copies of the 2015 edition will still be available from Letchworth’s Shop.
The Board emphasises that these copies should be available to all the members of private lodges and not regarded as for the exclusive use of the secretary to whom, for administrative reasons, they are dispatched. As in previous years copies will be dispatched direct to Secretaries of lodges.
Prestonian Lectures for 2016
The Board has considered applications for the delivery of the official Prestonian Lectures in 2016 and has decided that these should be given under the auspices of the following:
Zetland and Hong Kong Lodge No. 7665 (London)
Bristol Installed Masters Lodge No. 8168 (Bristol)
Temple of Athene Lodge No. 9541 (Middlesex)
The lecturer, W Bro Dr R.A. Berman, states that the title of the lecture will be: Foundations: new light on the formation and early years of the Grand Lodge of England.
The Masonic Charitable Foundation
The MW The Grand Master has approved the name “The Masonic Charitable Foundation” as the title for the new umbrella organisation under which the existing main masonic charities will operate from 2016. He has also agreed that the President and Deputy President of the new charity should take precedence among the Grand Officers immediately after Past Grand Chancellors. The Board accordingly recommends a number of amendments which will be required to the rules in the Book of Constitutions and to the plates in the Appendix. The Board has also noted several existing anomalies particularly in the numbering and descriptions of the plates and recommends that the present opportunity be used to correct these.
Notice of Motion to amend the Book of Constitutions accordingly appeared on the Paper of Business.
It has been brought to the attention of the Board that many lodges are less meticulous than was formerly the case in recording, and subsequently preserving, minutes of their meetings. Rule 144 of the Book of Constitutions requires every lodge to keep a minute book and lays upon the Master or the Secretary the duty of regularly entering the names and particulars of all candidates, together with the names – and, in the case of visitors, their lodges and masonic ranks – of all those present at each meeting, and minutes of the business transacted. Any deficiency in this respect will inevitably have an impact on those who in later years may be charged with the duty of writing lodge histories and may even in an extreme case prevent a lodge from being able to establish its entitlement to a Centenary or Bi-Centenary Warrant. The Board therefore trusts that the Grand Lodge will endorse the following guidance which, apart from being largely a matter of common sense also draws in some respects on previous edicts of the Grand Lodge.
1. Every care should be taken to ensure the permanence of minutes or other records. In the present context a “Minute Book” is a permanently bound volume in which the particulars required by Rule 144 are entered either in handwriting or by affixing sheets by means of permanent glue or gum (and not by means of adhesive tape, which deteriorates over time and loses its effectiveness). A loose-leaf folder or binder is not a suitable substitute for a bound book and the Board recommends, for the avoidance of any doubt, that such folders and binders be not used.
2. Rule 144 is not complied with by keeping minutes exclusively or partly in electronic form. The Board feels impelled to point out that, apart from the inherent risk of corruption of electronic data, the software necessary to read an electronic document is liable to become obsolete within a relatively short time.
3. Where minutes are handwritten, record ink or some other permanent ink should be used.
4. No valid objection can be raised to the use of a typewriter or a word-processor, provided that each typed or printed sheet is irremovably affixed to the Minute Book and initialled by the Secretary before being submitted for confirmation by the lodge. Care should, however, be exercised in ensuring that the ink or other printing medium used in producing such sheets is itself permanent in nature and is not liable to deterioration in the conditions in which Minute Books are stored.
5. Similarly, loose attendance sheets may legitimately be used to record the signatures of members or visitors present at lodge meetings in numbers beyond the capacity of the normal signature or attendance book. The Board is of opinion that the requirements of the second part of Rule 144, Book of Constitutions, are met if these sheets are irremovably affixed to the minutes of the meeting to which they refer, provided that each sheet is initialled by the Master or secretary. In stating this opinion the Board does not wish to encourage the use of loose sheets to the exclusion of signature books, which serve a useful purpose as a record of the attendance of officers and distinguished visitors. The use of a signature book, however, does not obviate, and never has obviated, the need for the names and details of all those present at a meeting to be entered into the Minute Book: it cannot be too heavily stressed that all names appearing in the signature book must continue to be recorded in the body of the minutes.
6. Lodges are advised to take steps for the permanent housing of lodge records which have ceased to be of day-to-day use. The Board suggests that in order to ensure that future office holders or historians are aware of where the records have been deposited, a comprehensive list be placed in the current Minute book and transferred to its successor when its turn comes to be laid up in safe-keeping.
The Board has received reports that the following lodges have resolved to surrender their Warrants:
(a) Bergnet Lodge, No. 6841, in order to amalgamate with Mimmine Lodge, No. 4932 (Hertfordshire); and
(b) Shrewsbury Lodge, No. 7211, in order to amalgamate with Wentworth Lodge, no. 1239 (Yorkshire, West Riding).
The Board's recommendation that the lodges be removed from the register in order to effect the respective amalgamations was approved.
Erasure of lodges
The Board has received a report that seventeen lodges have closed and have surrendered their Warrants. The lodges are:
Lodge of Perseverance, No. 371 (Cumberland and Westmorland), Unity Lodge, No. 1637 (Middlesex), Bushey Hall Lodge, No. 2323 (Hertfordshire), Amatole Lodge, No. 2406 (South Africa, Eastern Division), Robert Mitchell Lodge, No. 2956 (Middlesex), Unity Lodge, No. 3044 (South Africa, Eastern Division) Vulcan Lodge, No. 3181 (London), Rebunie Lodge, No. 4279 (South Africa, Western Division), St Richard’s Lodge, No. 4469 (Sussex), Dulwich Lodge, No. 4616 (Surrey).
Beverley Lodge, No. 5006 (Surrey), Septem Lodge, No. 5887 (Surrey), Lodge of the Open Road, No. 5983 (London), Lodge of Meditation, No. 6747 (London), Perfect Ashlar Lodge, No. 6951 (Surrey), Legion Lodge, No. 8634 (Northumberland) and Harbour Lights Lodge, No. 8770 (Sussex).
The Board's recommendation that they be erased was approved.
Quarterly Communication meetings
9 March 2016, 27 April 2016 (Annual Investiture), 8 June 2016, 14 September 2016, 14 December 2016 and 8 March 2017.
Supreme Grand Chapter meetings
28 April 2016, 9 November 2016, 27 April 2017.
What unites us
Picking and choosing which principles of Freemasonry apply, such as discussing religion or politics, risks undermining the very essence of the Craft, argues Director of Special Projects John Hamill
Recently I had the privilege of presenting a new Master Mason with his Grand Lodge certificate. The recipient, afterwards, asked me why I had emphasised that he should contact Freemasons’ Hall before attempting to visit lodges overseas and what exactly irregular Freemasons were.
I explained that overseas there are many organisations that call themselves Freemasons and in many ways follow our practices, but they differ in that they have rejected what we would regard as fundamental principles of the Craft. In particular, they do not require their candidates to have a belief in a Supreme Being and allow their lodges to discuss matters of religion and politics, as well as make public comment on politics and state policy. We therefore do not regard them as true Freemasons and bar our members from associating with them.
The subject of regularity has been much discussed at meetings of European Grand Masters and at the annual meetings of European Grand Secretaries and Grand Chancellors, as well as being a topic of conversation when masonic leaders attend each other’s Grand Lodges. The rules covering regularity were developed over a very long period and were codified by the United Grand Lodge of England in 1929 when we promulgated our Basic Principles for Grand Lodge Recognition. They have since become the standard against which regular Grand Lodges measure new Grand Lodges seeking recognition.
So if there are rules, why does the subject have to be discussed? The short answer would be that Freemasons love to discuss and question long-held views. The more serious answer is that there are groups within regular Freemasonry who seek a more liberal interpretation of our fundamental principles and landmarks.
That, to my mind, is dangerous and will lead to there being no difference between regular and irregular Freemasonry. Regular Freemasonry has developed over a long period and imbues its members with a strong sense of morality combined with fairness and kindness to others. It seeks to bring people together so they can discover what they have in common, rather than what divides them, and how they can use that for the good of the community.
‘Freemasonry in no way replaces religious belief but its teachings of morality, tolerance, charity and kindness can support the individual’s personal faith.’
We insist that candidates have a belief in a Supreme Being because it is the one thing that unites us. Freemasonry draws its members from disparate backgrounds – the membership has always been a microcosm of the society in which it exists. The one thing we have in common is that we have a belief, however we practise it and whatever religion we may follow. Freemasonry in no way replaces that belief but its teachings of morality, tolerance, charity and kindness can support the individual’s personal faith.
The banning of religious and political discussion goes back to the earliest records. Most historians now believe that Freemasonry as we understand it developed in the seventeenth century, which was a period of intense religious and political turmoil. Those who developed Freemasonry were seeking to provide a setting in which men of goodwill could come together in peace. By knowing what divided them, they could discover what they had in common and use that for the good of the community.
Freemasonry became, in the words of the First Charge, ‘the centre of union between good men and true, and the happy means of conciliating friendship among those who must otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance’. That sentiment is worth defending.
Letters to the Editor - No. 29 Spring 2015
What unites us
I have always been an enthusiast for the papers of John Hamill, Director of Special Projects, and agree invariably with what he has written. His article, ‘What Unites Us’, in the winter issue of Freemasonry Today is no exception. He mentions: ‘The one thing we have in common is that we have a belief, however we practise it and whatever religion we may follow.’
Masonry is clearly not a religion but it does bear the imprimatur of religiosity.
It has long been my conviction that our beautiful rituals were written by clerics or men of a religious bent. If only the love and decency experienced in the lodge could be extended to the wider world, we would be giving a priceless gift to mankind.
Herbert Ewings, Septem Lodge, No. 5887, Surbiton, Surrey
Director of Special Projects John Hamill crunches the numbers to show why we should not hark back to a bygone age when Freemasonry was thriving
The sad aspect of reading the business paper for each Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge is the list of lodges that are closing. There is a perception that this is a modern occurrence linked to declining membership in the past thirty years, but this isn’t so.
That there was a golden age of Freemasonry during which the membership and the number of lodges was on a continual rise, is a myth. During this halcyon era, lodges had large attendances and many had enrolment waiting lists. While there have certainly been periods of expansion in membership – for example, immediately after the end of the First and Second World Wars – there have also been times when membership barely moved or was in a period of decline. A graph of membership over the past three hundred years would not show a gradually ascending line peaking in the late 1960s and then beginning to descend, but one of peaks and troughs.
The same would be true of a graph showing the number of lodges. Our perceptions have been coloured by masonic life in the late Victorian era and the early twentieth century – a period of stability in English Freemasonry. If we look at the period between the formation of the premier Grand Lodge in 1717 and the 1870s we get a very different picture.
The Cycle of Freemasonry
In the eighteenth century the average lodge would have about twenty-five members and a life of about forty years. Lodges closed so often that, from the premier Grand Lodge first numbering its lodges in 1729 until the of 1813, it renumbered its lodges on six occasions to close up gaps on the register.
When the last renumbering took place in 1863, the last lodge on the register was Pentalpha Lodge, Bradford, which was warranted as No. 1276 on 16 June 1863. When the renumbering took place later that year its number dropped down to 974.
With all the lodges that had existed before June 1863 having at least two numbers, the Library and Museum developed a serial number system so that all the material relating to a particular lodge is filed in one place. More than 2,500 serial numbers are used, which means that given there were just 974 lodges in existence in 1863, another 1,500 lodges must have gone out of existence, which had been warranted by the premier, Antients or United Grand Lodge between 1717 and 1863.
Mercifully for the lodges concerned and the filing systems at Grand Lodge, there has not been a renumbering of lodges since 1863. The latest warrant to be issued is No. 9884, which would imply that there is that number of lodges on the current register? Not so. In March of each year the Board of General Purposes gives a statistical table of the number of lodges on the register for the last ten years. The latest table shows that at the end of 2012 there were 7,696 lodges on the register.
Therefore, if 9,884 lodges have been numbered, but only 7,696 existed, we can deduce that between 1863 and 2012 some 2,188 lodges came into existence, flourished, waned and died.
Part of that figure is covered by lodges that were warranted to meet in the former colonies and withdrew from our constitution to form their own Grand Lodges. The majority, however, form part of a cycle that has always been present and, to my mind, paradoxically, are evidence that Freemasonry is very much a living institution.
All is not doom and gloom, as new lodges continue to be formed. However, the answers to why new lodges are made rather than old lodges preserved are many, complex and for a future occasion.
Letters to the editor - No. 23 Autumn 2013
I read with both interest and sadness John Hamill’s article ‘Rose-tinted Glasses’ (summer 2013 issue) regarding the number of lodges closing each year. Whilst I appreciate his comment that this in fact is ‘evidence that Freemasonry is very much a living institution’, it raises the serious question of why it is that once a lodge (or chapter) has handed back its warrant, it can never again be ‘resurrected’.
We would all accept that some lodges are not suitable for resurrection – for example a school lodge where that particular school had closed long ago – but some old and venerable lodges could surely be ‘put on the shelf’ and resurrected as the demand for a new lodge in the same area grew?
Martin Day, Cyngesburie Lodge, No. 5607, London
The director of special projects has written an uplifting paper, meaningfully entitled ‘Rose-tinted Glasses’ (summer 2013 issue), with an equally uplifting belief that Freemasonry continues to be a living institution. I heartily agree with both, subject to the following proviso.
Of recent years a notion has become rife that recruitment can be increased by decreasing standards of entrance. Who has not visited a lodge where the Festive Board has the ambience of a four-ale bar? However much recruitment falters, it must never be restored at the cost of reducing standards. To do so would be an affront to the brethren and Freemasonry alike.
Herbert Ewings, Septem Lodge, No. 5887, Surbiton, Surrey
With both Her Majesty The Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics, it has certainly been a memorable summer.
Since the last issue we have successfully released a new core leaflet. The title, What's It All About?, was inspired by our most frequently asked - and probably hardest to answer - question from non-masons. This is another milestone in our strategy for making people understand the relevance of Freemasonry in modern society which, in turn, will help both recruitment and retention. Do please look at the leaflet on our website. I think it is important to note that the leaflet is written in plain English for both the potential candidate as well as for all our families and friends.
It is a great 'myth buster'; showing that our values are based on integrity, kindness, honesty and fairness. Additionally, it talks about friendship, openness, giving, our purpose and how we all grow by our membership. Very different to anything we have done before, the leaflet has some outstanding black and white photography. Indeed, the initial distribution to London, the Provinces and Districts has proved so popular that we have already had to order another print run.
We have another thought-provoking issue of Freemasonry Today for you all, including a fascinating interview with the Pro Grand Master, Peter Lowndes. He talks openly about what he has got out of Freemasonry as well as the responsibility of this key leadership role and his hopes for the Craft. Dr Roman Hovorka goes on the record to discuss the creation of an artificial pancreas - the result of medical research that has been funded by the Freemasons and which could transform the way children with Type 1 diabetes manage this chronic condition. We spend a day on the lake with the Masonic Fishing Charity in Northamptonshire to see how young people are finding new ways of interacting with the world. Finally, ex-soldiers and Freemasons Michael Allen and Sandy Sanders reveal the camaraderie they have found in becoming Chelsea Pensioners.
Letters to the editor - No. 20 Winter 2012
In reading the Grand Secretary’s column and hearing about the new Core Leaflet it occurred to me that Freemasonry is not just a charitable institution – a view held by the mundane world and many brethren alike. We all know that charity is the distinguishing characteristic of a Freemason’s heart and most apply this virtue without vaunting it. It is natural that the Craft should defend itself against the many unfair accusations made against it, but in doing so in public our charitable virtues should not be overstated. The Craft is far more than a charity.
Letters to the editor - No. 21 Spring 2013
Keeping up standards
I read with great interest and agreement the correspondence from Herbert Ewings and Tom Carr in the winter 2012 edition and felt somehow that the two letters were intrinsically linked.