14 November 2007
An address by the ME Pro First Grand Principal
Companions I welcome you all to Grand Chapter today and it is good to see so many of you attending. I am pleased to announce that the working group set up last year under the chairmanship of the Second Grand Principal, has now published its report into the recruitment and retention of Royal Arch Masons. The report is in the process of being sent to all Grand Superintendents. I hope that they will make it more widely available in their Provinces. This will assist more Companions to understand and help meet the challenges facing the Royal Arch.
As you will no doubt be aware, our overall numbers have been dropping steadily.
That is broadly in line with the falls in membership which are being experienced in the Craft. One more welcome development is that the Royal Arch
membership – as a proportion of the total membership of the craft – has been rising very slightly over the past ten years. However, there is much to do; both in attracting Master Masons who are not in the Royal Arch and then, almost more importantly, retaining their interest and involvement once they have joined us. That, in turn, will encourage further recruitment.
As part of their brief the working group has consulted nearly all our Provinces in England and Wales, but this report does not cover the Metropolitan Grand Chapter, as they are shortly due to bring out their own report on recruitment and retention in London. And neither does it cover our Districts overseas. Having said that, I am sure the report will be useful to both London and our Districts.
The first conclusion of the report relates to the additional paragraph to the 1813 Declaration in the preamble to the Book of Constitutions, relating to the status of the Royal Arch. This was added to by Grand Lodge, in December 2003. In short, this describes the Royal Arch as ‘an extension to, but neither a superior nor a subordinate part of the Degrees which precede it’. There is no doubt that the Royal Arch is not just the completion of the third degree. But it is not felt that the 2003 declaration, as to the status of the Royal Arch, has been entirely satisfactory. Or, that it helps in any way to describe the relationship of the Royal Arch to the three Craft degrees. The result is that it has not been helpful to those joining or those seeking
to recruit new members.
I am minded to request Grand Lodge to give careful consideration to replacing this 2003 paragraph with a fresh definition. A number of Companions will be assisting me in trying to find a more suitable form of words for consideration. I feel that, in general terms, we should all seek to describe the Royal Arch as the next step in Freemasonry after the Craft degrees and the final step in pure Antient Masonry.
It is, of course, both an integral part of Craft Masonry as well as being its completion.
The other important conclusion of the report, in relation to recruitment, is a recommendation to Grand Lodge from Supreme Grand Chapter, that a Royal Arch representative should be appointed in each Craft Lodge. This representative, at least until further research and consideration, would not be a Lodge officer. But he would have the responsibility of promoting the Royal Arch within the context of the Lodge. Where this role has already been implemented in some Lodges, it has had a dramatic effect on the levels of recruitment and retention. Representatives need to be carefully chosen and the report gives advice and guidance on this matter.
On the subject of retention, the report makes a number of recommendations. It draws attention to the dangers of allowing Chapters to become smaller and smaller to the point where they will no longer become viable. And to look for ways of holding joint meetings with other Chapters from time to time – with a possible view to encouraging amalgamations rather than inevitable closures. The sharing of work is made much easier by the new ritual, but greater efforts are needed to include as many Companions as possible in ceremonies. This is to prevent boredom on the part of experienced Companions, and fear and trepidation among newer Companions.
I wish to thank all members of the working group, for their time and efforts in producing this practical report. And although their work as such is finished, I trust that the channels established by individual members with Provinces will continue to remain in place informally, in order to improve and maintain communication with the centre.
Companions, you will have seen in the Paper of Business for this meeting that one of our Chapters has been erased for a good reason. It is to be one of the founding Chapters of a new Supreme Grand Chapter of Estonia. Those of you who were present in Grand Lodge in September and heard the Grand Chancellor’s talk will no doubt remember his comment on the huge growth of regular Freemasonry in Europe over the last twenty years and the establishment of new or revived Grand Lodges. A number of those Grand Lodges now feel settled enough to consider completing “pure Antient Masonry” within their jurisdictions by including the Royal Arch and have approached us for advice and assistance.
Such is their keenness that they are not only willing to travel to England on a regular basis to be exalted into failing Chapters, but they are making huge efforts to learn the complex ritual in what is to them a foreign language.
One project was completed last year when two of our Chapters were transferred to the authority of the Grand Lodge of Andorra to form the basis of a Grand Chapter there. Another two of our Chapters are meeting by dispensation in Budapest to form the nucleus of a Grand Chapter of Hungary and one Chapter is meeting in Belgrade to exalt members of the Regular Grand Lodge of Serbia. Added to which, senior members of the United Grand Lodge of Bulgaria are already members of two Chapters in London. Last week Grand Lodge hosted the largest gathering of European Grand Lodges ever held, with forty-four European Grand Lodges represented. Whilst the Royal Arch was not on the formal agenda, during the lunch and coffee breaks we were approached by a number of other Grand Lodges who are now seeking to complete pure Antient Masonry in their territories with our help.
This is surely positive news as we help to spread the message of the Royal Arch more widely.
Finally Companions I wish you and your families peace and happiness as we approach the festive season and I look forward to our next meeting in April.