Deputy Grand Master Jonathan Spence believes that it is vital to show the rest of the world why Freemasonry is enjoyable
I would like to share with you some thoughts on some essential aspects of ‘pure antient masonry’. I am prompted to do this after listening to an interview given by the Grand Chaplain to the BBC in May in which it became clear there are still substantial misunderstandings about the Craft, when frankly there ought not to be.
We need to be absolutely clear when we discuss our pure ancient masonry that we belong to a secular organisation, that is to say a non-religious organisation. This was a point made very eloquently by the Grand Chaplain in his interview. It is, however, a secular organisation that is supportive of religion: it is an absolute requirement for all our members to believe in a supreme being. As the late and sadly missed Dean Neil Collings so eloquently put it, this gives ‘a context and background to the individual’s way of life as they seek to live it’.
Freemasonry itself, as we all know, is neither a substitute for nor an alternative to religion. It certainly does not deal in spirituality – it does not have any sacraments or, indeed, offer or claim to offer any type of salvation. Freemasonry, in fact, absolutely fails to meet any of the tests of what it is to be a religion. The fact that men from different faiths can meet easily in harmony and friendship, without compromising their particular religious beliefs, demonstrates that one of the greatest strengths of the Craft, dating from its earliest beginnings, is that of tolerance. Therefore, to ensure this tolerance remains untroubled, discussions of religion, like discussions of politics, are strictly prohibited.
Encouraging our ideals
Organised Freemasonry, from its beginnings in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries – which was a time of religious intolerance – was always concerned with teaching and encouraging morality. Our forefathers were very aware of human nature and its flaws, particularly those of self-absorption and selfishness. The Craft sought to encourage men to be loyal to their country, to obey the law, to try to be better behaved, to consider their relations with others and to make themselves more extensively serviceable to their fellow men – that is to say their wider communities. In other words, to pursue a moral life. The ceremonies were used as the main means of teaching and illustrating the principles of the Craft: they were, and still very much are, a dramatic and effective set of morality plays.
The Craft, as a secular organisation, remains just as concerned today to encourage these ideals. In today’s language, we can articulate the fundamental principles to which our members subscribe as integrity, honesty, fairness, kindness and tolerance. These are principles that we should be very proud of and we should not hesitate to articulate them, when appropriate opportunities present themselves, to our family, friends and, indeed, the wider community in which we live. We should also make it very clear that we very much enjoy ourselves and what we do. I have no doubt that our principles will appeal to those who are not masons if they are aware of them.
The future of the Craft is dependent on attracting and retaining good quality candidates. Our principles should be attractive to many men of good reputation and integrity. The other side of this coin is that we should therefore be careful in our choice of candidates. This is something every new Freemason is told in the charge after initiation and for a very good reason – unsuitable candidates are likely to damage the Craft in general as well as their own lodges in particular.
Every one of us has an important part to play in articulating clearly what the Craft is and encouraging appropriately qualified candidates to be members. To support this, our strategic communications direction, together with the results from the working party on mentoring, will go a long way to help us to speak openly and in an informed way about Freemasonry. Our success will help to ensure Freemasonry’s long-term future.
Letters to the editor - No. 26 Summer 2014
A word of warning for younger Freemasons: be careful what you wish for! Eighteen months ago as part of the annual visit made by the masons of the southern area of the Province of East Lancashire, one of the younger visitors, Steve Stanley, was making his first visit. He was the Junior Warden of the Lodge of Union, No. 268, from Ashton-under-Lyne.
During luncheon, the Deputy Grand Master, Jonathan Spence, spent some time chatting to every brother who was present. When Steve took his turn to have a few words with such an eminent guest, he didn’t miss the chance to ask, ‘Would you like to attend my installation on 16 January?’ There was a pause before the Deputy Grand Master responded, ‘We’ll have to see what is possible.’ And that was that.
The Deputy Grand Master must get similar requests all the time and the other members of the lodge had to work on Steve to convince him that there was little, if any, chance of his actually receiving a visit from such an august Freemason.
However, some sixteen months later it became clear to one or two members of the Lodge of Union that there was a distinct possibility that something special might just be about to happen. On the evening of 16 January, after Steve was presented, it was announced that the Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies sought entry into our lodge! When he announced that Jonathan Spence, the Deputy Grand Master, demanded to be admitted you could have heard a pin drop. Steve looked up and I saw him mouth a few syllables that demonstrated that he understood what was about to happen.
The Deputy Grand Master entered with a small retinue, and as he walked past, he gave the Master Elect a clear and definite wink. Nor did the surprise end there. Right Worshipful Brother Spence accepted the gavel, took the Chair and performed the whole ceremony in a brisk, exact and perfect way that demonstrated to seventy-eight other masons just how it could be done. Steve was well and truly installed. The rest of us saw a ceremony that will not soon be forgotten.
Kevin Hall, Lodge of Union, No. 268, Ashton-under-Lyne, East Lancashire
Deputy Grand Master Jonathan Spence surprised a young Freemason at his installation