Thursday, 19 April 2007 14:42

Reviewing the Charities

Julian Rees on the Story of Iain Ross Bryce

Iain Ross Bryce, one of the most instantly recognisable figures in English Freemasonry, retired last year after fifteen years as Deputy Grand Master. It is probably fair to say that most Freemasons in England have either met him or heard him speak, but without doubt his lasting legacy to the United Grand Lodge is the way in which he has re-modelled and vitalised the charity system, turning it into a far sleeker, more productive organism than it was.

He was born in Bridlington Yorkshire in 1936 of parents who originated from the Argyll area. He went to school locally, afterwards doing articles to become a Chartered Accountant. In 1958, prior to National Service in 1959, he enrolled in the Territorial Army in a Royal Engineers airborne unit ‘so that I wouldn’t have to go in the Pay Corps or RAF admin.’ and qualified as a parachutist. He stayed on for another twenty years in the Territorial Army. 

In 1960 he was initiated in Burlington Lodge, No. 3975, in Bridlington. This Lodge, founded in 1919, is distinguished by its founders’ jewel being worn with a black ribbon to commemorate the fallen. He was then only twenty-four years old at a time when his father thought he was far too young, and he became Master of the Lodge at the age of thirty-three in 1969. In the same year he became a partner in his firm of Chartered Accountants. The firm was little more than a small town firm, but in time Iain became a Partner in the huge international accounting firm of Ernst and Young. 
Iain had met his future wife, Jan, some years before. They weren’t always close however, and it was only the night before he was commissioned in the army, in 1960, that they became engaged, and married in 1962. His father in law was a Freemason, so there was a great deal of masonic influence on both sides of the family. Jan has had to cope with masonic and military activities throughout their married life. ‘Wives,’ says Iain, ‘have an important part to play in bringing us down to earth.’ 

A Masonic Career

His rise in Freemasonry began when he was made Master of his mother Lodge at its fiftieth anniversary, and Brigadier Claude Fairweather, Deputy Provincial Grand Master for Yorkshire North and East Ridings, was present. Years later Iain got a phone call. It was Claude Fairweather. ‘I want you to do a job,’ he said. What is it? Iain asked. ‘I’ll decide,’ was the reply, ‘will you do it?’ As a result, Iain was duly appointed Provincial Senior Grand Warden at the age of forty-one and appointed Deputy Lieutenant in Yorkshire the same year. 
From Provincial Senior Grand Warden, he became Assistant Provincial Grand Master, and then Deputy Provincial Grand Master. ‘I had only been Deputy for a quarter of an hour, when the then Provincial Grand Master, the Marquess of Zetland, announced that he wanted to retire, and wanted me to take over.’ 
Appointed Provincial Grand Master in 1984 he found the Provincial finances in a shambles, so he appointed a working qualified accountant as Treasurer. He introduced ‘open days’ for lodges, against huge opposition. For this to happen, a lot of work had to be done. Many of the lodge buildings were in a terrible state, dirty, with facilities that didn’t work. 
Many had to be re-decorated. ‘There wasn’t a shortage of money: it was a shortage of attitude. We had huge opposition from those who said “we’ve never done it”. It was easier to say no than yes. Saying yes meant that somebody had to do it.’ 
‘At this time,’ he said, ‘I introduced an eight minute limit on after dinner speeches.’ There was a pause. ‘I later wished I had made it four.’ He also introduced Master Masons conferences and the first one was a sell-out – a huge number attended. 
The idea for these conferences came when Iain and John Hamill were present at one that had been held in Northern Ireland. ‘I’m going to do that,’ he thought. ‘I was frightfully brash – I was a very young Provincial Grand Master.’ 

Royal Masonic Hospital

The then Pro Grand Master, Lord Cornwallis, asked him to chair a committee to look into the Masonic Foundation for the Aged and Sick, and to split the Royal Masonic Hospital from the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution. He was given six months to settle it, but achieved it in three. ‘If we don’t get the thing done quickly, we’ll be into the summer, and then nothing will get done,’ he remembers thinking. 
On the Masonic Foundation for the Aged and Sick, there had been a lack of balance. Iain decided on a committee of one each from the Hospital and the RMBI plus a few others, and he got the Chairmen of both the RMBI and the Hospital on his side in this decision. After a few weeks, he told the Grand Master what they were doing, and he was very supportive. The Grand Master said, ‘Will you think about what more we can do for the sick?’ 
The committee concluded, in March 1988, that the RMBI and the Royal Masonic Hospital should each raise its own funds. The Masonic Foundation for the Aged and Sick had to suspend its fund-raising, and the RMBI would have an annual festival. But in order to do more for the sick, Iain, with the then Grand Secretary Michael Higham, set about formalising the haphazard Festival System into a matrix, which now forms the base programme for the Provincial Festivals. 

Deputy Grand Master

In April of that year, Lord Cornwallis, then Pro Grand Master, took him on one side and said ‘You’re going to be Deputy Grand Master’. There was no discussion – the decision had been made, and that was that, although the actual appointment was three years away. 
Lord Cornwallis was very grateful for what the committee had done. They had been swift, but now in addition they had to decide what could be done for the sick. One problem was that the Hospital was a totally commercial enterprise, with its own Samaritan Fund under its wing. The two had to be separated, but by then the Hospital had appointed independent management consultants, so the commmittee had to stand back and wait to see what happened. 
Their conclusions therefore were that the gap between the RMBI and the MTGB had to be filled, that a new Samaritan Fund should be created, the viability of the Hospital should be considered, and the Grand Charity should be asked to review its objectives to help those not supported by the other charities. This second report was thus the embryo of the New Masonic Samaritan Fund, which was founded in 1990. 
Iain was appointed Deputy Grand Master in 1991 and later, when Lord Farnham became ill, Iain deputised for him at home and abroad. After the death of Lord Farnham, Lord Northampton became Pro Grand Master. ‘With his appointment,’ he says, ‘we went down a generation – went down ten years.’ 

Bringing Charities Together

The most tangible result of the second report is bringing all the Charities into Freemasons’ Hall – the administrative costs of the Charities in their present fractured configuration costs several million per year. Iain encouraged the Presidents of the Charities to meet together under his chairmanship. It is a testament to Iain’s skills that they got to know each other better, and when they went back to their council meetings they all knew what the other Charities were doing. Now, for the first time, they share a common responsibility. 
But the paramount benefit of the Bryce committees’ reports was the setting up of the New Masonic Samaritan Fund, with the benefits that flowed to those needing medical treatment. The ground for the setting up of the NMSF was laid on the demise of the Royal Masonic Hospital. 
Iain was also involved, with the other Rulers in Grand Lodge, in the reorganisation of the Board of General Purposes, reducing its number from sixtyplus to twelve. ‘It was,’ he recalls, ‘a little like turkeys voting for Christmas’ but it has led, under its present Chairman Anthony Wilson, to a leaner, more efficient Board 

Freemasonry in his Life

‘I feel very inadequate when trying to explain my personal feelings about Freemasonry.’ It has meant different things to him in each stage of his life, and the meaning behind the words did not at first play a great part. A knowledge of the true secrets of masonry has only come slowly over the years. All the time, without realising it, the experience improved his social skills, awareness of the problems of others and taught him to speak in public. He began to listen to what he was saying and reciting, and absorbed more of the often hidden meanings. This is a common experience. 
‘Representing United Grand Lodge of England all over the world has been a privilege, at times a heavy burden.’ He has, he thinks, that great intangible asset of Freemasonry and its life blood that is fraternity and brotherhood. ‘The phrase from the Ancient Charges “the means of conciliating true friendship among persons that must have remained at a perpetual distance” cannot better express one of the meanings of Freemasonry.’ 
He also strongly believes that Freemasonry is just as relevant today as it always was, especially as it is not a religion but multi-faith. Its relevance is more enhanced as society is becoming more violent and with few moral limitations. It is time, he believes, to engage the minds of academics and the educated to show that Freemasonry does have a purpose and an important part to play in modern society.

Thursday, 19 April 2007 14:17

The Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London

Freemasonry Today seeks some answers about its formation 

At a convocation of Grand Chapter on Wednesday 13th November, a notice of motion was given for changes to the Royal Arch Regulations in order to allow for the formation of a Metropolitan Grand Chapter. On December 11th a similar motion was put forward at the Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge in order to make it possible to form a Metropolitan Grand Lodge.

These are radical moves: even though the first Grand Lodge was formed by four London Lodges, London has never before had a Grand Lodge or its own Ruler as have the Provinces since the first was created in 1725. Initially London was administered by the Grand Secretary and his team in Freemasons’ Hall; since 1937 it has been the specific focus of the Assistant Grand Master. 

When Lord Northampton became Assistant Grand Master in 1995 he realised that London was a very special case and needed a more professional and focussed administrative team. Accordingly, he guided London Management into being in 1997 which, under the leadership of Rex Thorne, has gradually developed both financially and administratively. An important function since London has 1585 active lodges and some 50,000 masons. 
But this process towards self-determination for London Freemasonry has now moved a stage further, for the first time in English masonic history there will be two completely new Masonic entities: a Metropolitan Grand Lodge and a Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London; and it opens the possibility that there might be others in the future. This change will allow the Assistant Grand Master to withdraw from his involvement with London and serve the entire Craft as one of the Rulers. 

Creating such Masonic entities has not been easy. The new administration and structure had to find ways of fulfilling all the tasks faced by Provincial Grand Lodges while managing, in addition, to remain true to the unique character of London masonry. While the Committee chaired by the Assistant Grand Master made its proposals it was early realised that a widespread and comprehensive consultative effort would be needed amongst London Freemasons in order, on the one hand, to introduce them to the proposals and possibilities, and on the other, to provide a means by which all criticisms and suggestions might be returned back to the Committee and the Rulers for consideration. Accordingly, open letters were sent to all London Lodges and Chapters for distribution to their members with an invitation to comment on the proposals. Visiting Grand Officers were fully briefed and requested to explain and listen to comments. 

That there were fears cannot be denied. The latest edition of The London Column, the newsletter produced by London Management, carries a number of responses. The Visiting Grand Officers too reported disquiet in some quarters particularly concerning changes to the London Honours system. There were fears that the London Grand Rank Association would disappear and the value of receiving London Grand Rank would be diminished. This is easily dealt with: the Association will continue its existence as it is now. London honours will remain based entirely upon merit retaining its significant distinction from the Provincial honours system by having no Past Grand Ranks: such ranks are not a London tradition. Visiting Grand Officers have reported that London Masons are happy with the present system of honours and do not wish to adopt the Provincial practice of awarding Past Grand Ranks each year. 
Early on there was a proposal to create a fourth level of London honours, that of Junior London Grand Rank. Consultations over the last few months have revealed that few Brethren wish this to be adopted, and the Pro Grand Master announced at Grand Lodge in December that the proposal had been abandoned, so the Committee has now dropped the idea. The London system will remain, as now, based around London Rank, London Grand Rank, and Senior London Grand Rank. Those who take an active office in the Metropolitan Grand Lodge for their term of one year, will be awarded a collar jewel at the end of their service – but emphatically this is not a separate rank. 

Is the new Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London a "done deal"? That is, has everything been pre-arranged with all remaining but to rubber-stamp the details? Along the way ignoring any fears that the London Freemason might have? 
Not at all. While the leadership of the Craft must indeed accept their responsibility and lead, consultation with members of the Craft is both a necessity and a requirement of acting in such a prominent position. As a result of the consultation process, concessions and amendments have been made following discussions with the Visiting Grand Officers. Indeed, over the past ten months, every group which has been appointed to look after Freemasonry has had the chance to deliberate on these proposals and make recommendations. But this very process has raised another criticism: that non-London Freemasons, attending Grand Lodge, can thus affect the future of London. 

Voting for Change

The truth is that a large number of Freemasons throughout England could affect the future of Freemasonry in general, not just that of London. Since 1717 Grand Lodge has made the decisions which affect Freemasonry; Masters and Wardens of every lodge and all subscribing Past Masters working under the English Constitution have the right to attend a meeting of Grand Lodge and to vote on any of the proposals. In March 2003 at a meeting of Grand Lodge, a vote will be taken on changes to the Book of Constitutions in order to allow the formation of Metropolitan Grand Lodges. All present on this occasion will be able to cast their vote. It is not a "done deal". 
It is proposed that the new Metropolitan Grand Lodge and the Metropolitan Grand Chapter for London will be formally inaugurated in the Albert Hall on 1 October 2003. All the Rulers of the Craft will be present, as will most Provincial Grand Masters. Every Lodge in London will be entitled to three places, and spare places will be balloted for – any more and the Albert Hall would overflow! 

Lord Millett, one of the highest ranking Appeal Judges and a Life Peer since 1998, has been asked to be the first Metropolitan Grand Master of London. Brother Millett is no less distinguished in public life than in the Craft. He was called to the Bar in 1955, took Silk in 1973, and was appointed a High Court Judge in the Chancery Division in 1996, receiving the customary knighthood. Thereafter he became a Lord Justice of Appeal and Privy Councillor in 1994 and a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary (or Law Lord) in 1998. In the Craft, he was made a Mason in the Chancery Bar Lodge, No. 2456, in 1968, joined the Old Harrovian Lodge, No. 4653, in 1971, and is a Past Master of both those Lodges. He served as Assistant Grand Registrar in 1983 and was promoted to Past Junior Grand Warden in 1994. He has also found time to be a Member of the Panel of the Commission for Appeals Courts since 1991. Rex Thorne, present Chairman of London Management, will be awarded the unique rank of Past Metropolitan Grand Master in recognition of his important role over this transitional period. Lord Millett has chosen as his deputy, Russell Race, a London Mason and Deputy Provincial Grand Master of East Kent. The task confronting them is the invigoration of London Freemasonry. Their challenge is to increase the integration of over 50,000 London members without destroying its unique brand of Freemasonry. 

The transition is to be simple: the present management of London Freemasonry is being transferred into the Metropolitan Grand Lodge/Chapter since the officers involved all have the experience and expertise to assist the new leadership, as custodians of London Freemasonry. A pattern has been set which will ensure that London Freemasonry remains dynamic and fulfilling for many years to come, particularly in order to attract more younger members.

Thursday, 01 March 2007 10:56

The Heart of Freemasonry

The Pro Grand Master in conversation with Michael Baigent

"Freemasonry is a system of becoming; becoming something better than you are now". Lord Northampton spoke with great enthusiasm. "And above all, Freemasonry is a system which teaches us to be openhearted".

Rather than rush through an interview in the midst of a frenetic day at Freemason’s Hall, the Marquess and Marchioness of Northampton invited me to stay at their home in southern Warwickshire, Compton Wynyates, in order that we might be able to discuss Freemasonry in a relaxed and congenial manner. I welcomed the opportunity to see them in the home they love, amongst the countryside where twenty-eight generations of Lord Northampton’s family – the Comptons - in direct male descent, have lived since at least 1204. 

Compton Wynyates is settled – or, more accurately, centred – in an artificially levelled and terraced bowl below wooded ridges. From the road, through large gates, the house is visible at the end of a long curving drive. It is a large Tudor country house of pink brick, with steep gables, towers, and a forest of extraordinary slender chimneys, each apparently different with their ornate twists and curves; around the house climbing roses creep up much of the brickwork. An ancient wooden door gives access to a large inner courtyard gazed upon by tall windows; a flagstone path crosses through a lawn and garden. From here the basic house design can be seen; it is built around the sides of a square. Very fitting, I thought, for the Pro Grand Master of Freemasonry. But, as I was to discover, there is much more about this house which reveals that the Compton who built it and his immediate descendants were deeply immersed in something very interesting; even, perhaps, an early form of Freemasonry. 
Lord Northampton took me around the outside of his house to show me something curious: a tower stands at the middle of the western face of the house, another stands at the north-east corner and yet another at the south-east corner. We began at the latter: embedded in its Tudor brickwork is a design picked out by much darker bricks. It depicts a key with two bits at the end of its shaft. 
We then looked at the west tower: it too had a key picked out in darker bricks, but this key had three bits at the end of its shaft. And at the north-eastern tower there was yet another key but, due to reconstruction in the past, only the shaft was visible. But it would seem logical that this key’s shaft would have held one bit. Were we seeing connections with masonic ritual? The First Degree being marked by the key in the north-east, where today a candidate is placed in the lodge after initiation; the Second Degree marked by the key with two bits in the south-east, exactly where the candidate is placed after having passed through his Second Degree ceremony; and the Third Degree marked by the key in the west with three bits. But why should this be placed in the west rather than in the east where the Master is placed in the lodge? Well, perhaps, as the opening of the Third Degree states, a mason goes to the west to seek the genuine secrets of a Master Mason. Does our ritual preserve some ancient residue, one which gave rise to this curious feature embedded in the walls of Compton Wynyates? 
Within the house, a first floor drawing room holds an elaborately carved chimney-piece. By the irregular nature of the curious symbolism it is clear that a message is being conveyed but without the key to the symbols and their meaning, its full extent cannot be established. But this panelling is known to have come from Canonbury House, Islington, the remaining tower of which now houses much symbolic carved panelling and is the site of the Canonbury Masonic Research Centre. 
There is something else which also seems to have come from Canonbury: a pair of carved chairs, the first dated 1595, with a design on the seat back showing, through two pillars, a chequerboard floor and an archway entrance veiled by partially drawn curtains. One is encouraged to seek entrance. The second chair, dated 1597, also shows the chequerboard floor but visible through the archway is a Christian cross: curiously, the vertical post is black, the cross-bar is white and there is no figure of Christ on it. In addition, the theme of black and white is repeated in the design. Put these two chairs together and they reveal a progression, a symbolic journey into a veiled mystery. Every indication is that these two chairs were used as part of an Order working a ritual involving a symbolic journey into the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Temple wherein resides the key to the mystery of Golgotha. 
I was immediately curious about the owner of Compton Wynyates at the time; what might he have been involved in. Could it have been some sort of proto-Freemasonry? The house had been completed by Sir William Compton in the time of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, both of whose arms appear above the main door. His great-grandson, William, 2nd Lord Compton, later created 1st Earl of Northampton, married the daughter of Sir John Spencer, Lord Mayor of London and owner of Canonbury. Lord Compton had been a friend of Sir Francis Bacon to whom he let rooms in Canonbury for a time. Lord Compton must have been a man of great depth. 
"What papers remain from that time?" 
"Unfortunately, none relating to the building of this house. They may have been destroyed in the civil war when the house was attacked, bombarded by cannon, and the family expelled. They fled to join the Royalist forces in Oxford." 
But the family regiment still survives – now as part of the Sealed Knot society, which re-enacts civil war battles. Lord Northampton, as Honorary Colonel, three years ago led his troops with their black-powder weapons in a smoky re-enactment of the battle for Compton Wynyates. 

A Vision for Freemasonry

I broached the subject of the role of the Pro Grand Master: I confessed rather sheepishly that I had little idea of what task this office demanded. Lord Northampton explained: the Pro Grand Master acts on behalf of the Grand Master. The rulers of the Craft, provide the vision, and direction in which Freemasonry moves forward. 
"And we have the possibility to create an inspiring future for our Order." He spoke with certitude. "We must look forward with a vision which will re-enchant the Craft. The key of course, is how to get there. The ritual describes the key as the tongue of good report and the future depends on the quality of our candidates!" 
He explained though that we cannot ignore our history, "We must look back and see what was in the minds of the people who created this system but we need not become stuck in this investigation. We cannot enthuse people with historical facts alone, people are inspired by experiencing what Freemasonry has to offer them. It is only through participating in the ceremonies that we can turn knowledge into a felt experience." 
Of course, Freemasonry is also a large and complicated organisation with an extensive internal hierarchy. Its executive structure is represented by the Board of General Purposes which runs the Craft on a daily basis. But Freemasonry is not like a public company, rather, it is like a shareholders cooperative with the Grand Master representing the interests of the shareholders. 
"We need to use best business practices to run the organisation which is there to provide the framework in which the ceremonies can take place. For it is here that the meaning of Freemasonry resides." Our First Degree teaches morality and an understanding of how to act within society. Our Second Degree concerns the importance of knowledge, and our Third Degree leads us to contemplate our own mortality. 
This brought us to a consideration of the difference between the form of Freemasonry and its content: "The form", explained Lord Northampton, "is the structure within which the rituals take place. The content is in the rituals themselves." And in these resides the mystery of Freemasonry. A mystery which must be experienced. 
It is quite possible for a non-mason to buy a book of ritual and read the words and directions but such a person learns little of value. "The mystery is protected from the uninitiated. We have to take part in the ritual to understand it by experiencing it." 

Spiritual Values

"Freemasonry has an important spiritual significance; even though the rituals have been clouded by later additions, enough remains for us to see what our forefathers were trying to do. What I like is that there is no dogma in Freemasonry – it is not a religion – it says only that if you practice its tenets and principles you will become wiser. Its final goal is the Wisdom and Truth to which we dedicate our hearts. It is a system with philosophical principles which has psychological effects on those who practice it." Lord Northampton pointed out that our three Grand Principles, as stated in the ritual are Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. You cannot be openhearted unless in a trusting environment but once you are, compassion is a natural consequence and the pursuit of Truth becomes the quest. 
As one of many examples of precisely phrased wisdom in our rituals he pointed to the `long’ explanation of the Working Tools of the Second Degree – that dedicated to "the hidden mysteries of nature and science". This explains to the candidate that, 
"To steer the bark of this life over the seas of passion without quitting the helm of rectitude is the highest perfection to which human nature can attain…" 
As advice on how to live a fruitful life in an imperfect world, it is all there. 
Lord Northampton added, "The point of Freemasonry is to change people; to encourage a transformation through a better understanding of themselves and a better understanding of their place in the Great Architect’s grand design." As the address to the new Master of a Lodge upon his installation explains, a Freemason is one,
"…whose hand is guided by justice, and whose heart is expanded by benevolence". 
"Freemasonry has a way of steering you to find the answers. It doesn’t say, do this, or do that; it says, if you do this, then that will happen. You can treat it as a congenial social bonding; you can enjoy it without going into anything deeper for Freemasonry provides a strong support network in an unstable world. But if you want to go further it can point you in the right direction. But your progress is up to you, for within Freemasonry you can only move to a better understanding through your own efforts. This involves sharing your experience with others. There are those who have had deeper insights and can point the way; we must help each other along the path to Self Knowledge." He described a carving on the outside of Bath Abbey which depicts a ladder upon which angels are climbing upwards. The angels above are reaching down to help those below climb higher. 
"Freemasonry is a journey: it begins in the First Degree the moment your blindfold comes off. It ends when you discover Truth. The words over the doorway to the oracle ‘Man know thyself’ could equally apply to Freemasonry. 

Service to Freemasonry

In his late twenties Lord Northampton used to have interesting philosophical conversations over a pub lunch with his forestry consultant, Bro. Charles Bloor, at Castle Ashby, and it was through the latter’s influence that he was initiated into Ceres Lodge, No. 6977, Northampton, in 1976. And what has been the result? 
"Freemasonry has affected my life in many ways but principally it has given me a standard to try and live up to in my every day dealings with others. It has taught me much about human relationships and has developed psychological changes in my character, which have made me more tolerant and compassionate". 
"I have had tremendous support from my wife, Pamela, over the last thirteen years. She is as committed as I am to the principles of Freemasonry and the potential it has to help men gain self-confidence and discover more of their true nature." 
He has often put his own resources into the service of Freemasonry. He stresses the importance of the Centre for Research into Freemasonry at the University of Sheffield to enable scholars to see the social and cultural importance that Freemasonry has had on society. Twenty-five percent of the funds needed to run the Sheffield Centre for three years were donated by Lord Northampton. He also supports the important Cornerstone Society, which focuses upon the spiritual values and philosophical meaning of Freemasonry. Lord and Lady Northampton jointly sponsor the Canonbury Masonic Research Centre, based in Canonbury Tower. This encourages both the study of wisdom traditions and, through its international conferences, the dialogue between academics and academic Freemasons from many different Grand Lodges. This can only be of great benefit to Freemasonry as a whole, as the body of knowledge will be used to inform and inspire the Craft by creating awareness of the potential of this great Order. 
Lord Northampton is a man of great generosity of spirit, with an expansive vision. He cares deeply about Freemasonry and, as many who have met him during his frequent visits to Lodges can attest, he knows that the strength and future of the Craft resides in every individual Freemason. We are fortunate to have him in such an important position in the Order. His influence will be far-reaching and beneficial to new generations of Freemasons who are, even now, entering the Craft in order to learn of that mystery which lies at its heart.

Published in UGLE
Thursday, 01 March 2007 10:44

David Williamson, Assistant Grand Master

David Williamson, Assistant Grand Master, discusses Freemasonry with Michael Baigent

Our new Assistant Grand Master, RW Bro. David Williamson, cares deeply about Freemasonry and one of his major tasks is to help plan its role in 21st century society: it cannot simply roll into the future without change. But that change must emerge from Freemasonry itself, for many of the challenges facing the Craft today derive from within: the lack of commitment, for example, demonstrated by many modern masons. It is important, he believes, for Freemasonry to be so revitalised in the future that it again plays a significant part in every mason’s life.

But how might this sense of value be instilled? Especially in those who, through apathy or dissatisfaction, are drifting away? David Williamson mentioned a phrase used by his predecessor, Lord Northampton, that aptly addressed the solution, "to bring back the enchantment of Freemasonry". An enchantment which masons felt when they first entered but which some have since allowed fade. He urges masons "to revisit the feelings they had at their initiation" in order to rekindle that sense of mystery and commitment which will draw masonry’s moral and spiritual precepts into their lives.

He is keen that all Freemasons should benefit from the wisdom in the rituals but explains that this demands positive action. "We must look at what the words in our rituals mean." While he is aware that not every Freemason is going to have the same level of appreciation, all need to be encouraged to seek meaning. And what of those who enter seeking the spiritual aspects of Freemasonry? And who get disenchanted with the rather rigid system they find? It is true, he regretted, that "there is an over-emphasis on the letter of the ritual, rather than the spirit." 

I asked whether he remembered his own initiation? He clearly did, and it still meant a lot to him. It was in 1972; his mother had just died. At the time, his father was Junior Warden of Andover Combined Services Lodge. It was a difficult period and they often spent time together. On one occasion his father began discussing Freemasonry: he explained that he had been asked to accept the office of Master but he was apprehensive about accepting such an advance. 
As the conversation progressed David Williamson became so intrigued about Freemasonry that he asked his father, "would I like it?" With the result that his father, "went into the Chair a year early and initiated me." He remembers being blindfolded, he remembers entering the lodge, and he remembers that the first voice he heard was his father’s. The evening proved a very moving experience, particularly so, he recalls, when, in a voice highly charged with emotion, his father called him, "Brother, and son…". 
At the time David Williamson was flying VC10 aircraft for BOAC. This was a demanding career requiring a complicated personal schedule. I alluded to the difficulties which many modern Freemasons have with the separate demands on their time of career, family, and Freemasonry. He understood: as a long-haul pilot, he had to confront that problem right from the beginning. His response was to re-organise his life in order to accommodate Freemasonry, which, once he took office in his lodge, meant being present fourteen times a year. But he felt that regular attendance was important. All Freemasons, he believes, should take the commitments they have made seriously; all should demonstrate their "fidelity to the lodge." 
Following his initiation he entered the Royal Arch in Sir Francis Burdett Chapter in Middlesex; he also joined the Mark, Royal Ark Mariner and Rose Croix degrees. From 1995 to 1998 he served as Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies for Middlesex, when he was appointed a Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies: his recent promotion took him by surprise.

The Assistant Grand Master

The post of Assistant Grand Master was created in 1937 specifically to look after London, which now has 1600 lodges and 55,000 Freemasons. At present, this primary role remains David Williamson’s main focus. Lord Northampton changed the face of London Freemasonry by setting up an executive structure, London Management, which looks after the day to day running of London masonry thus allowing the Assistant Grand Master more time to focus upon its future development, a vital task in this time of internal reflection and change. He chairs an important committee which is looking into all aspects of the future of London Freemasonry: its recommendations are to be presented to the Board of General Purposes next year. This is a task of immense responsibility for its findings will affect London Freemasonry for the century to come. 
Among the Assistant Grand Master’s other major tasks is to undertake some of the Rulers’ official visits in England, Wales and overseas. While there are only three rulers of the Craft, there are 47 provinces in England and Wales, and 33 districts overseas, for which they have responsibility. In addition there are fraternal visits to the other Grand Lodges with whom United Grand Lodge of England maintains a cordial relationship. He recently returned from the 220th annual meeting of the Grand Lodge of the State of New York, the first representative of the United Grand Lodge of England to do so for some twenty years. "The United Grand Lodge of England is the Mother Grand Lodge of the world," he explains, and "we should be playing our part in world Freemasonry as well as learning from other jurisdictions." 

Masonry in the 21st Century

"We have to aim at being accepted in the community. We must start this from within Freemasonry; we must change the manner in which we involve our families." He is grateful to his wife, Margaret, who has always supported his masonic activities while pursuing her own full-time career in education, latterly as a secondary headteacher and school inspector. 
He considers that Freemasonry must modify its orientation as a strictly male association, because in the modern world, with its changes in social behaviour, this is no longer possible. Our wives, sons and daughters, and our non-masonic friends, need to be more involved. We must try to get them interested and demonstrate that we are not a "bunch of old fogeys". 
He is impressed by the support given by American freemasonry to women’s organisations such as the Order of the Eastern Star, and youth organisations, such as the Order of DeMolay for boys and the Order of Job’s Daughters for girls and thinks that there could be a case for building bridges between such organisations and English Freemasonry. 
Of course, he points out, Freemasonry can only change as fast as those inside and outside allow. But, "we must be imaginative – look at ways of positive change. Many of our practices are becoming seen as obstacles to young people who might otherwise join. We must look at our lodge working and see if it can be improved: the time of the meeting, the length of speeches, the type of festive board, and even dress." Freemasons must also address some basic questions: can they afford the time for masonry? Can they afford to spend their family money on a purely male pursuit? 
David Williamson is determined to seek those changes which might be necessary for Freemasonry to remain relevant and to flourish throughout the 21st century and beyond. Changes which render it fit for modern life but which continue to draw upon the tradition of wisdom, morality and charity which has characterised Freemasonry through the centuries.

Published in UGLE
Wednesday, 01 March 2006 13:25

A New Era For London Freemasonry

The streams of Freemasons converging on Kensington for this most momentous of days for English Freemasonry, left leaden-grey skies outside for the glare of the bright lights in the Royal Albert Hall. This historic building last hosted a Grand Lodge gathering in 1967, when the Duke of Kent was first installed as Grand Master. This occasion established another landmark for English Freemasonry – the inauguration of the Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London. But even the bright lights inside the Royal Albert Hall were eclipsed by the brightness of the enthusiasm among the thousands of Freemasons gathered there.

The Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London was opened with the aplomb that the Grand Chapter team exhibit on all occasions, and Lord Millet was installed as Metropolitan Grand Superintendent by the First Grand Principal, HRH The Duke of Kent. In his address, Lord Millett laid stress on this as the start of a new era, and the opportunities for many more Companions to serve London Royal Arch Freemasonry and to participate more fully. 
More than anything else, it was the thunderous singing of the opening hymn that set the tone for the afternoon by an attendance which had swelled to over 4,500. If it didn’t actually lift the roof off the Royal Albert Hall, it certainly provided some serious competition for the traditional last night of the proms. The ceremony of inauguration of the Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London was launched by spirited singing of an anthem by the London Masonic Choir, after which the Grand Chaplain delivered an Oration. He spoke of London as a city of contrasts and diversity and said that the same was true of London Freemasonry. In London, as in any masonic community, there were lodges which had allegiance of trade, profession or school. In spite of their diversity, they were all united in the masonic bonds, not only of brotherly love, relief and truth, but also of compassion, so important in Freemasonry, which was not coldly indifferent to the needs of others. He had seen how in Provinces, a Provincial Grand Lodge can add a dimension to the unity of a provincial area, giving it a sense of identity, of its own peculiarity, its own specialness, and so it would be too with London. He finished with two quotations – one from the anthem ‘Behold how good and joyful’ sung earlier, and the other ‘From the foundation laid this evening, may you raise a superstructure perfect in its parts and honourable to the builder’. 
After the Grand Master had installed Lord Millett as Metropolitan Grand Master for London, Lord Millett thanked the Grand Master and his team for the way they had carried out the ceremony. He said how London had always been at the heart of English Freemasonry, and would now face the challenge of developing Freemasonry in London. But there was also a need to adapt to the changed status of London. We had had a tremendous send-off, and it was up to us now, he said. Lord Millett’s first act was to invest and install Russell Race, already well known to many London Freemasons, as Deputy Metropolitan Grand Master.

Michael Baigent speaks with John Hamill and Christopher Connop

The masonic "Week of Action" next summer which will highlight the benefits Freemasonry brings to the community, is drawing ever closer.

Provincial organising committees have been formed, ideas for events are being compiled, masonic websites around the country are flagging local events, and a central "Command Centre" at Freemasons’ Hall in London has been set up to coordinate efforts, answer queries, send out information, compile a database, and deal with the Press. Remember the date: 26th June to 2nd July 2002. Once the idea for the "Week of Action" was approved, a group was formed at Freemasons’ Hall, London, to plan and inspire events: the Central Steering Committee. Chairman is John Hamill, Director of Communications, and secretary is Christopher Connop, Media Manager. Other members are the Grand Secretary, Jim Daniel; London representative, David Wilkinson, member of the General Council; Provincial representative Keith Madeley, Chairman of the Yorkshire West Riding media committee; Ben White, Information Officer Province of Somerset; Jane Reynolds, former Chief Executive of the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution together with MDA Public Relations chief, Col. Mike Dewar and his colleague, Liz Sokoski. The function of the Central Steering Committee is, in the words of John Hamill, "to facilitate, offer advice, and to make sure that the central programme happens…". This central programme is the heart of "Week of Action" and opens, on Wednesday 26th June, with a concert in the Grand Temple at Freemasons’ Hall, London, centred around nineteen cathedral choristers, all of whom receive bursary assistance from the Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys. On Saturday 29th June there will be an "open house" at various masonic meeting places in London, all will have displays and other events. The week will finish on Tuesday, 2nd July when Freemasons’ Hall is hosting the Annual General Meeting of the London Topographical Society; a demonstration to them of how the building is part of the London community. On every other day there will be a free lunch-time public lecture on an aspect of Freemasonry held in one of the lodge rooms. There will be two exhibitions at Freemasons’ Hall, the Library and Museum plans a display showing the community aspects of Freemasonry, while, in conjunction with the Royal Photographic Society and George Eastman House in New York, there will be a display of the extraordinary photographs of Freemason, Alvin Langdon Coburn. Outside London, events are being prepared by provincial committees and all have nominated local coordinators. John Hamill explained that, "We are not asking for anything new but for all to draw together, in this one week, events which would normally be done during the course of a year. This week is not a fund-raiser". 

Planned events 
Many masonic Provinces plan open days and local thanksgiving services. Some will be held not only in Churchs, but also in Synagogues, Mosques and Hindu Temples with multi-faith services based around hymns and readings from the Holy Books of several faiths, in the presence of leaders of those faiths. Every Province will hold events involving local charities to show the general public how often Freemasonry contributes to their general benefit and how often masonic buildings are used by the public. Masonic Centres will be inviting local civic and business leaders to a lunch or dinner so that they will have the opportunity to meet Brethren and learn more about Freemasonry and its contribution to the community. Concerts and theatrical events are planned – one Province will have an "evening" with actress Prunella Scales. Many original ideas are being mooted: a masonic centre in the west country is sponsoring a photographic and art competition among school children on the theme of the local community. There will be twelve winners; each winner will have his or her art-work published in a masonic calendar which will be sold for charity. Freemasons in another Province have the agreement of all local public libraries to mount an exhibition in each during this week. Media coverage is another avenue to be explored: the Provincial Grand Master or Information Officer could do a "phone-in" on local radio or interviews with local Press. Charitable events, usually spread across summer, could be drawn together in this week: days out for disadvantaged children, or a funfair set up in the grounds of a Masonic Centre. A lunch could be held for the elderly, for war veterans, a variety show might be performed, evening concerts arranged, even a disco for the young teens at a Masonic hall! Sports events can be arranged, especially at secondary schools – a "Masonic Cup" could be donated for the winner. Masonic exhibitions might be arranged in the local museums – how many Brethren and Lodges have antique regalia and jewels which could very easily and effectively be loaned for an interesting display? 

The profile of Freemasonry 
The purpose of this week is to raise the profile of Freemasonry. Both John Hamill and Christopher Connop stressed that they did not believe that there is a public opposition to Freemasonry, rather, they felt, the general public know very little about us. The aim then, is to demonstrate to the public that we are not only an interesting organisation but that we make a very positive contribution to the local community. One major change observed over the last year or two is the increasing amount of favourable coverage which Freemasonry is getting from local newspapers. Many are running supportive articles and many Provincial Information Officers are now forging good relationships with the regional Press. Christopher Connop noted that, "We are beginning to be seen as interesting local news in provincial newspapers". Building upon this evident goodwill, Information Officers need to ensure that the newspapers to know about the events planned for this week, and for them to be well briefed so that they might cover them sympathetically and with interest.

Published in Initiatives & Clubs
Monday, 01 December 2003 13:22

Sir Alfred Robbins's Greatest Defeat

Andrew Prescott Looks at the First Attempt to Form a Metropolitan Grand Lodge

The inauguration on 1 October 2003 of a Metropolitan Grand Lodge will mark the end of over 200 years of debate about the organisation of London Freemasonry. It will also, after nearly 90 years, bring to fruition a project close to the heart of Sir Alfred Robbins (1856-1931), who as President of the Board of General Purposes from 1913 until his death, was described as ‘the Prime Minister of English Freemasonry’, and who suffered one of the few reverses of his Masonic career in his attempt to reorganise London Freemasonry.

London Freemasonry remained outside the Provincial Grand Lodge structure which evolved during the 18th and 19th centuries, being administered directly by Grand Lodge. In 1992, Lord Eglinton and Winton, the Assistant Grand Master, declared that ‘London is not a province and, masonically speaking, a geographical accident: many meet there because it is equally inconvenient for all’. This view of London Freemasonry as anomalous has a long pedigree, dating back to the 18th century. As early as 1767- 8, Premier Grand Lodge attempted to appoint General Inspectors or Provincial Grand Masters for London Freemasonry, but was prevented by the opposition of London lodges. 

In the revised Book of Constitutions issued in 1815, two years after the Union, London lodges were defined as those meeting within ten miles of Freemasons’ Hall. This included places like Wandsworth, Chelsea and Putney at a time when they were still country villages. The ten mile radius can be seen as administratively forward-looking, allowing Grand Lodge to cope with the growth of London, but the reason for its adoption was more prosaic. London lodges paid higher subscriptions and the ten mile radius maximised subscription income from London lodges. Between 1851 and 1911, the population within the ten mile radius increased from more than two and a half million to over seven million. Like many other institutions, Freemasonry struggled to cope with the problems created by this rapid growth. As the city’s suburbs grew, there was a demand for new masonic lodges. However, Lord Zetland, Grand Master from 1844 to 1870, routinely vetoed proposals for new London lodges because he thought there were already sufficient. 
While Zetland’s successors accepted the need for more London lodges, they were slow in coming to terms with the challenges posed by the growth of London Freemasonry. As the number of lodges increased, Grand Lodge became larger and more unwieldy. Freemasons’ Hall was unable to accommodate all those entitled to attend Grand Lodge, and provincial brethren frequently travelled to London for quarterly communications, only to be turned away because the hall was already full. There were complaints that London masons used Grand Lodge to pursue local disputes. London masons themselves were disgruntled about the lack of an honours system for London lodges. 

A Grand Lodge for London

Alfred Robbins was the London correspondent of the Birmingham Daily Post. He was initiated in 1888 in Gallery Lodge No. 1928, which catered for members of the Press Gallery of the House of Commons, and in 1901 became Master of that lodge. Robbins was dismayed by the failure to tackle the problems of London Freemasonry. He tried to bring a motion in Grand Lodge for the creation of a London Grand Lodge, but was ruled out of order. 
This snub to Robbins prompted a distinguished group of London masons to form a committee to investigate the best form of administration for London Freemasonry. The committee took a poll of London lodges, held a public meeting of London masons, and organised a petition calling for a London Grand Lodge. To head off this discontent, the Duke of Connaught as Grand Master announced in December 1907 the creation of London Rank, the first time that London was recognised masonically as an entity. 
Much of the opposition to a London Grand Lodge came from the Pro Grand Master, Lord Amherst, who resigned in 1908. Amherst was succeeded by the youthful Lord Ampthill, who felt that Grand Lodge needed a thorough overhaul. In 1910 Ampthill circulated Provincial and District Grand Masters with proposals for reform of Grand Lodge, and a special committee of the Board of General Purposes was established to consider the matter. Robbins was a member of this committee, and he made such an impression on Ampthill that in 1913 he was appointed President of the Board of General Purposes. Ampthill and Robbins were a formidable partnership. 
Robbins presented the report of the Board of General Purposes on the future government of the craft to Grand Lodge in December 1913. The report recommended the establishment of a Grand Council, consisting of a mixture of Grand Officers, elected members and members nominated by the Grand Master, to ‘exercise all the administrative, legislative and judicial duties at present exercised by Grand Lodge’. 
The main problem in establishing the Grand Council was London. Since London did not have a provincial structure, it was difficult to organise elections there. The use of electoral colleges was considered, but it was feared that these would increase factionalism. Organising the London lodges geographically was impossible, since two thirds of the London lodges met at or within a mile of Freemasons’ Hall. Another problem was that, in order to ensure that London masons had the same chance of achieving honours as their provincial brethren, it was necessary to create not just one, but a number of Grand Lodges for London. The report proposed the creation of ten Metropolitan Grand Lodges for London. Each Metropolitan Grand Lodge would be designated by a roman numeral, and lodges would be assigned to that Metropolitan Grand Lodge whose number corresponded to the last digit of the lodge number. Grand Lodge decided that lodges should be allowed three months to put forward their views on these proposals. 
The report triggered an enormous debate within Freemasonry. When the consultation was complete, it was found that voting by lodges and by individuals was respectively 57% and 60% in favour of the changes. However, while the Provinces and Districts supported the proposals, the London lodges mainly voted against them. This made the proposed reform no longer viable, since the creation of the Grand Council depended on the establishment of the Metropolitan Grand Lodges. Robbins hoped that the scheme could be rescued, and a committee of Grand Lodge was formed to arrange consultative conferences with London lodges. However, as Robbins himself wrote, ‘By this time, it was June 1914; and, before a single conference could be arranged, the Great War had broken out. In accordance with the general feeling that that was not a time in which to engage in a large plan of constitutional change, ... the task was set aside by common consent.’ 
Thus this scheme to create Metropolitan Grand Lodges foundered. No attempt was made to return to the issue after the First World War, although Robbins, still smarting from his earlier experiences, bravely declared shortly before his death that ‘all who closely watch the work of Grand Lodge know that the subject, though dormant, is far from dead’. 
When on 1 October the Metropolitan Grand Lodge is constituted at the Royal Albert Hall, we can be sure that Sir Alfred Robbins will be there in spirit, and will feel that his greatest defeat has finally been reversed. 

Professor Andrew Prescott is Director of the Centre for Research into Freemasonry at the University of Sheffield. A fuller version of this paper was given to a joint meeting of the Manchester Association for Masonic Research and the Sheffield Masonic Study Circle, May 2002.

Friday, 19 April 2002 16:23

Fourth Degree of the Antients

The Complex Origins of the Royal Arch is Described by Yasha Beresiner

Organised freemasonry began with the establishment in London of the Premier Grand Lodge of England on 24 June 1717. The first evidence of the Royal Arch as a degree is to be found in an Irish publication dated 1744.

Published in SGC
Tuesday, 01 June 1999 11:41

A Consecration in Bristol

On 20 February 1999 Provincial Grand Chaplain Abdul K Adatia gave the following oration at the consecration of The Matthew Lodge No 9688 in the Provincial Grand Lodge of Bristol

Brethren, We have the privilege this morning to participate in the consecration of a new lodge, The Matthew Lodge No 9688. Consecration of a new lodge within the illustrious Province of Bristol is an occasion for the Founders to rejoice and reflect. Rejoice in your success in bringing together a body of like-minded brethren desirous of exchanging masonic fellowship at a common venue. Secondly, rejoice in your collective conviction that there are in your community at large men receptive to the ideals of Freemasonry. Thirdly, rejoice in your successful petition to the Most Worshipful Grand Master for the Warrant of Constitution which authorises the consecration ceremony being enacted this morning. And we rejoice with you. 
At the same time brethren, it is pertinent that we reflect upon the responsibilities you have undertaken. We are not recognising a formal venue such as a club intended only for social intercourse. What is being enacted is an institution in which you will exchange fellowship founded upon noble and time-honoured masonic principles which underpin our Order as a Society of Brethren. 
That you have these objectives in mind is clear from the consideration you have given to the choice of name for your lodge : The Matthew Lodge. As I understand it, you were inspired by this name because the Bristol-built caravel The Matthew of 1497 occupies a place of great honour as the first British ship to sail across the mighty Atlantic in the name of King Henry VII five centuries ago and return, having found a new continent, since called America. You have also paid tribute to Bristol’s contribution to the development of national and international maritime enterprises. As a ship of discovery, The Matthew symbolises to you life’s journey of discovery, successfully sailing over its peaks and troughs with the aid of the stabilising influence of the three masonic masts of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. These are weighty exhortations to inspire a prospective candidate for our Order. May I, with humility, share with you a few more points as they occur to me in reference to The Matthew to illustrate the nature and exemplify the principles of our Order? 
Matthew means more than just the name of a three-masted caravel. The name Matthew is derived from the Hebrew Mattija, the name given by Jesus to the customs officer who, as you know, was appointed as one of His Apostles (Mtt IX.9). It means ‘gift of God’, as indeed this 70-foot ship could have appeared to John Cabot. For, at a time when raising funds for his expedition was far from plain sailing, the most accessible collection of oak trees suitable for the construction of a ship was on the Welsh side of the Severn on the estate of Cabot’s most prominent financial sponsor, Richard Amerike. To a person with some religious sensibility faced with a desperate struggle to obtain a ship for a voyage which was to be the culmination of years of research and campaigns to canvas support, this combination of events could have appeared as an intervention by St. Matthew, the patron saint of customs officers, to which fraternity Amerike belonged. Indeed, Cabot might have found comfort in his choice of ‘Matthew’ as the name of the ship. 
The Matthew was an extraordinary ship and John Cabot was her skilful, talented and dedicated Master Elect. It is a documented historic achievement that she was capable of the voyage for which she was built. She was not only a first-class ship of her kind in her day. She was also a one-class ship. Everyone wishing to sail with her was expected to offer freely and voluntarily, the highest deposit possible, namely his life and pure heart. Only such commitment could show that the constant care of everyone on board was to ensure the safety and success of the ship and her sponsors. The volunteers included a wide range of professionals : expert mariners, a sea pilot, successful merchants, a priest, a barber-surgeon, and seamen : 19 men including Cabot himself. Qualities such as courage, humility, integrity, honesty, generosity, respect for the Deity and gratitude for the blessings of Providence could be expected to prevail. Reinforced by care and concern from the commander, these qualities promote collective good order through co-operation between those who can work best and best agree. Thus is established that benchmark for the ultimate in personnel management, namely, the whole hearted and informed support for the chain of command. 
Within eleven weeks of sailing, on 20 May 1497, The Matthew returned to Bristol from her transatlantic voyage of nearly 4000 miles across uncharted northern waters with her crew still in full heart and harmony. This is eloquent testimony that her Master and crew had vindicated themselves, not so much for what they had done, although that was admirable enough, but for what they were - each a man among men. These 19 men and The Matthew have together demonstrated that the development of modern technological assistance undreamed of in her days, have not diminished in the slightest degree the importance of the human factor for such corporate success as that of The Matthew in 1497 or of the Apollo missions and the modern replica Matthew five centuries later. Our Order has much to contribute to develop the human factor and render ourselves more useful to our fellow creatures. 
Brethren, in the diligent pursuit of knowledge there is none greater than the knowledge of self and its control. Matthew’s Gospel (Mtt. XV.11) tells us that it is “not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” Nearly two millennia later, the 48th Imam of the Ismailis also wrote in The Memoirs of Aga Khan (Cassell, 1954) , “In our ordinary affections one for another, in our daily work with hand or brain, we most of us discover soon enough that any lasting satisfaction, any contentment that we can achieve, is the result of forgetting self, of merging subject with object in a harmony that is of body, mind and spirit.” Opportunity to understand and control self is offered at each advancing step of Masonry; being constantly reinforced at every meeting when a Brother, whatever his status may be outside the lodge, may wait upon another and look after him with fraternal care and concern. 
May the Great Architect of the Universe bless and guide you, the Founders and The Matthew Lodge No 9688, that your endeavours demonstrate the moral of an ancient parable. A tree planted to bear fruit for all the dwellers upon earth will yield its produce even to those who throw stones at it. Sustained by your spirit and spirituality may you proceed with fidelity and firmness coupled with humility. And, ignoring the stone throwers around us, sail forth as surely and steadily as your great namesake, to become a jewel in the masonic crown of the Province of Bristol.

Tuesday, 01 December 1998 10:40

The importance of recognition

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.

Published in International
Page 4 of 4

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