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.