As seems almost inevitable in any Masonic context, various rumours have been circulating recently about the findings and recommendations of the SWP.
I therefore want to spend a few minutes outlining to you exactly what conclusions have been reached and how we propose to deal with them.
Perhaps the first point to cover is why it has seemed necessary to examine the Royal Arch in such detail. It undoubtedly appears to be successful as it stands, with approximately 100,000 members, which is about one-third of the Craft.
When one looks below the surface a little, however, it becomes clear that all is not quite what it seems. Many consider that the Royal Arch is the "completion of the Third Degree", but even if this was correct, it is not very satisfactory that two-thirds of our Craft membership do not go on to "complete their Third Degree".
Worse still, active participation is far less than the membership figure, and many Chapters are struggling to remain viable in the face of poor attendance.
This is not universal, of course, and there are areas around the country where the Royal Arch is very successful - but the overall pattern is not encouraging.
At a time when other Orders of Masonry are flourishing as never before, including those which require membership of the Royal Arch as a prerequisite for admission, this suggests that the Order is no longer meeting the needs of the membership as it used to, and as it should.
Details of the proposed changes were sent to Grand Superintendents a few weeks ago, and I am meeting with them this afternoon to hear and discuss their views.
What I can tell you now is that the Grand Scribe Ezra has already received some feedback on the ideas, and that this has been almost universally positive.
This is not the time and the place to go into the individual details of the proposals, and you will all be given the opportunity of looking at them after we have made any changes that may become necessary as a result of this afternoon's meeting.
I believe we should then have a period of several months during which all members of the Royal Arch will have an opportunity to consider these changes and submit comments, preferably through Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Scribes Ezra, to help eliminate too much duplication.
A Notice of Motion incorporating any amendments will then be brought forward at the next meeting of Supreme Grand Chapter in April, and the substantive motion will then be proposed, and debated as necessary, a year from now.
This proposed timetable will allow almost a full year for consideration and consultation. I hope that we can achieve a result which will lead in due time to a significant boost in the popularity of the Royal Arch.
Very few changes are proposed to the actual ceremony of Exaltation: the description of the Royal Arch as a completion of the Master Mason's Degree is to be removed, and the Order will thus be given its own independent status.