In his talk at the 2005 Cornerstone Conference entitled “Whither Directing Our Course?”, the Pro Grand Master, Lord Northampton, remarked, ‘we need to give a better understanding of the inner meanings of the Craft; partly to encourage a better study of Freemasonry and partly to increase the amount of revealed light in the Order as a whole.’
Historically, there has been no formal place in lodge business when the meaning of the ritual and its rich symbolism is explained and discussed. The Orator scheme is being established to do just that by providing an interesting and inspirational method of education, which will perfectly complement the nurturing provided by the recently launched Mentoring initiative.
Following the decision to commence work on the scheme, a series of seven orations were written for use in a pilot study in the Provinces of Dorset, Gloucestershire and Hampshire during 2006 and 2007. Detailed feedback was collected from those present. In parallel with this, Lord Northampton held a series of consultation meetings with representatives from the Provinces.
The formal launch of the scheme took place on 12th March 2008 when Grand Lodge passed a resolution to appoint a Grand Orator and Provincial Grand Orators. Each Province is now expected to appoint a Provincial Orator who, depending on the size of the Province, will in turn appoint a number of carefully chosen assistants to work with him in delivering the orations in lodges in his area. A suitable jewel of office has been designed in the form of a double scroll.
Orations in the Lodge
But what does all this mean in practice? The Orations can be delivered in lodges when candidates have recently been initiated, passed or raised and lodges will be actively encouraged to be in contact with the Provincial Orator and to invite either him or one of his team to the Lodge. The Provincial Orator team will actively promulgate information on their services. Orations can also be given in lodges that do not have any candidates and will thus be a welcome addition to what is available for them to do at their meetings.
The orations have been written to enhance rather than to replace the lessons contained in the rituals. Some brethren are so engrossed in the task learning the rituals that their curiosity in the meaning of the words may pass them by. Orations are there to stimulate curiosity.
The orations are individual, freestanding, short talks of no more than ten minutes, which will each focus on a particular aspect of the Craft and the deeper meaning of the ritual and its symbolism. The topics covered by the orations can be as wide and varied as Freemasonry itself. They are not formal lectures and the intention is that they may often be followed by a question and answer session and a discussion which will be facilitated by the Provincial Orator or his representative.
Feedback is important for the success of this initiative and at the end of the meeting the Provincial Orators or their assistants will ask the brethren what they thought about the oration and the session. This will help to ensure that the material remains as relevant and interesting as possible.
Lord Northampton has established a small committee of brethren of the Cornerstone Society, under the Chairmanship of John Grange, with responsibility for writing, editing and approving the orations.
Importantly, the Provincial Orators have all been invited to submit orations written by themselves and by brethren in their Province. Although not everyone feels they have the gift of writing, some brethren may have very worthwhile ideas or themes that could be developed into orations and they are encouraged to submit their ideas to the committee.
In order to ensure consistency across this national scheme, all orations will have to be approved by the committee. It is envisaged that, over time, the number of orations will grow substantially to offer a huge and varied treasure chest of information and educational material.
The scheme will be administered by the manager of the Canonbury Masonic Research Centre who will both receive orations sent for approval by the Committee and disseminate orations, once they have been edited and approved, to the Provincial Orators.
An Advancement in Knowledge
The pilot study established that, for maximum benefit, the orations should be pitched at an appropriate level for the audience.
With this in mind, each oration will be tagged as either “beginner”, “intermediate” or “advanced”. This does not mean that the “beginner” orations are any less worthwhile than the more advanced ones but, rather, lodges can look collectively to take further steps in Masonic knowledge at their own pace.
The key to the success of the scheme will be the delivery as this will determine the impact that the oration will have on the candidate and other brethren. The orations are therefore intended for verbal communication only and will accordingly not be published or generally distributed. Also, importantly, the orations will not be memorised but read, enabling the speaker to concentrate on the meaning.
The office of Orator is by no means a recent innovation. Several London Lodges have this office, including Lodge of Antiquity, No. 2, Lodge of Fortitude and Old Cumberland, No. 12 and Pilgrim Lodge, No. 238. The decision to revive it and roll it out across all Provinces under the United Grand Lodge of England is, however, an exciting and important step which should help to inspire our brethren to find out more for themselves all that Freemasonry has to offer its members.