In a journey that stretched from Mumbai to Miami, John Bailey from Wakefield Lodge, No. 495, visited lodges around the globe to experience how masonic ceremony and fraternity is interpreted worldwide
In October 2007, I started on a 14-month journey that would have me back in the UK just in time for Christmas 2008. Armed with a 65-litre rucksack holding, among other things, a Past Masters apron, a copy of the UGLE Masonic Year Book and my Grand Lodge certificate, I hoped to have the opportunity to visit a lodge overseas. Hitherto, my lodge visits had been confined to Yorkshire and Wiltshire. In the event, I was able to make 26 foreign visits – 13 to UGLE lodges and 13 to lodges of foreign constitutions.
IT’S ALL IN THE PLANNING
I had established contact with Peter Roberts in the Grand Secretary’s office and quickly found that arranging a visit to a UGLE lodge in an overseas district was basically the same as in the UK. However, the protocol for arranging a casual visit to a lodge in a foreign constitution required some preparation. An email to Peter was always required to check that the constitution concerned was in amity with UGLE. By return, he would also provide contact details for the foreign grand lodge in question. No contact can be made with a foreign constitution until you arrive in their territory. Of course, there is no restriction on the research that you can do beforehand, for which the internet was an indispensable supplement to Peter’s information. Suitably prepared, I was usually invited to a foreign lodge within a day or two of making contact. In Adelaide, I made enquiries of the Grand Secretary at lunchtime, only to be invited to an installation meeting that very evening.
What to wear to a meeting was always going to be a problem for me, as I could not carry a jacket in the rucksack that would remain presentable. Gloves, shirt, tie, dress shoes and black stay-pressed trousers were an ever-present part of my kit. They, of course, were easy to maintain. The jacket problem was frequently resolved by helpful secretaries or lodge members, who were only too willing to loan me one when my circumstances were explained.
Arriving as an ‘unknown’ visitor at any lodge is always a challenge. You will need to provide vouchers of your bona fides and be expected to demonstrate proof that you are indeed a brother. My ‘provings’ ranged from a friendly chat with a group of Past Masters, to the more usual one-to-one testing by the Junior Warden. At the Chula Lodge, No. 9745, in Bangkok, I was well and truly tested by the District Grand Secretary and a senior Past Master from the lodge into matters concerning all three degrees and the installation inner workings.
It is impossible in this short piece to detail the ceremonies and procedures that I witnessed in the 26 overseas lodges. That there were some differences from the way that we do things in the Wakefield Lodge, No. 495, would be to seriously understate the case. Generally, I was very familiar with most of the practices in all of the English lodges that I visited, but there were many subtle differences – not least with knocks, openings and closings.
I am often asked which was the best lodge that I visited and it was a privilege to have visited so many. All of them had something which was memorable, but the St Helena Lodge, No. 488, in the South Atlantic stands out. It is so remote that it is not administered by an overseas UGLE District or by a Grand Inspector. It is one of only a handful of lodges that reports directly to Great Queen Street. The lodge room is tiny, and I believe that due to the absence of outside influences, its rituals and procedures have remained exactly as when the lodge was founded.
Looking back on my back-packing trip, it was a wonderful journey, made all the more fulfilling because of my masonic experiences. I would certainly recommend an overseas visit as the perfect way in which to advance your masonic knowledge. I will be looking to add to my 26 visits in the future.
John's World Tour
Wynberg Lodge No. 2577 Cape Town