12 November 2008
An address by the ME Pro First Grand Principal
Companions, I announced in Grand Lodge in September that I have decided to step down as Pro Grand Master next March and that the Grand Master has been pleased to appoint the Deputy Grand Master to succeed me. He will, therefore, also succeed me as Pro First Grand Principal. I wish Companion Lowndes every success in his new role and I will support him in any way possible.
As this is the last Grand Chapter over which I shall preside as Pro First Grand Principal, I would like to say a few words about the Royal Arch. I have tried over the past eight years to encourage Masons to think of the Order as the climax of Craft Masonry, which it is, but it has been difficult to devote as much time to it as I would have liked when so much of my job as Pro Grand Master has been concerned with Craft Masonry worldwide. That was one of the reasons I was keen to separate the roles of Deputy Grand Master and Second Grand Principal, to make the latter a Companion who would be dedicated solely to the Order. I think Companion Francis is doing an excellent job and I am sure he will continue to devote himself wholeheartedly to the Royal Arch. I have likewise been very fortunate to have Companion Collings as the Third Grand Principal, and there have been many occasions when I have sought his wise counsel. Sadly, he has just had a major operation so he was unable to be with us today. We all wish him well, and a speedy return to full health. Companion Bryce was also a great support to me when he stepped down as Deputy Grand Master but continued as Second Grand Principal.
His knowledge and experience were invaluable during a time of much change.
But for all the efforts that so many Companions have made and continue to make for the good of the Royal Arch, we have to ask ourselves why some of the other side Orders are growing substantially, while the Royal Arch is not. I fully accept that it is not for everyone being a more mystical Order, but that does not explain why much less than half our members join it. I think one of the reasons that it is less popular is that its ritual is profound and few Companions really understand its meaning and purpose. When I chaired the Working Party which I set up to look at ways of making it more intelligible and user-friendly we spent more time discussing the detail of what existed than exploring the possibilities of what, in an ideal world, it might become. There is always a danger that by being too radical one ends up destroying what one is trying to improve, but I think we could have gone further with the revisions and made even more of the important parts of the ceremony for the benefit of our exaltees.
However, the alternative ritual has been adopted by many Chapters and is helping more of us take an active part in the ceremony. Sharing the work with as many Companions as possible is vital for the health of a Chapter. It makes the ceremony more enjoyable for everyone.
There are of course other measures we can adopt, following the report of the Second Grand Principal’s committee. I think it would be a positive step to have a Royal Arch representative in the Lodge who can encourage Brethren to complete their pure Antient Masonry, always bearing in mind that this Order is not for everyone and no undue pressure should ever be exerted. I see no reason why we could not also develop a stand-alone Royal Arch Orator scheme, with short papers on the meaning and relevance of the ritual, but it may be preferable to wait until any teething problems with the Craft equivalent have been resolved.
I do believe we should consider importing the mentoring scheme from the Craft as soon as possible. It must make sense to have a mentor for every exaltee – someone with more experience in the Chapter who can offer guidance, introduce him to the other members and help him to bond with them. Because our Chapters are traditionally smaller than our Lodges, this should make it easier and quicker to get to know everyone.
I hope before long we may also have a Royal Arch tie, which can be worn by Companions in their Lodges. Whatever means we use to promote the Order it is clearly important to maintain strong and close links between the Craft and the Royal Arch, and encourage as many Brethren as possible to complete their pure Antient Masonry.
Companions, I have two people to thank, without whom my tenure as Pro First Grand Principal would not have been possible. The first is my wife, Pamela, who has encouraged me at all times to enjoy my Masonry to the full. Her love, support and commitment to me, and to Freemasonry in general, have made my job that much easier and enjoyable.
The second is of course the ME First Grand Principal for allowing me the opportunity of serving the Craft and Royal Arch as his Pro. He takes a keen personal interest in all things Masonic and his wealth of experience spanning over forty years has been invaluable. We are indeed fortunate to have him as our head and, like him, I believe also that Masonry, above all else, must be enjoyable. And finally Companions, I thank all of you who have supported me in any way.