Alan Englefield, the Grand Chancellor, addresses Grand Lodge on his new role in external relations
From time immemorial – or from at least the 1750s! – Grand Lodge’s relations with our sister Grand Lodges have been managed by a combination of the Board of General Purposes (and its predecessors), the Grand Master’s advisers and the Grand Secretary.
For much of the period up to the late 20th century external relations was a gentle art which took up little time. Occasionally there were explosions of activity such as the decision in 1876 by the Grand Orient of France to drop the requirement that candidates must have a belief in a Supreme Being.
Then there was the decision to remove all references to the Great Architect from their rituals and the proliferation of new Grand Lodges in Europe with the redrawing of the map of Europe after the cataclysm of the First World War.
But, in general, it was simply a case of occasionally having to decide whether or not a new Grand Lodge met our standards of regularity and could be recognised as part of the world wide family of Freemasonry.
After the Second World War the map of Europe was again re-drawn into the Eastern and Western blocs, leading to a reduction of Freemasonry in Europe when it was forced underground in the Eastern bloc countries.
At the same time, in what was becoming an increasingly politicised world, there was a growth of irregular Freemasonry with bodies springing up claiming to be Masonic.
But they did not accept our basic principles, in particular the bar on Grand Lodges or brethren in their Masonic capacities making public statements on matters of religious, political or social policy.
As the oldest Grand Lodge, we have had thrust on us the role of being the guardians of regularity and in many ways are expected to police what is regular and what is not.
Those are not roles that we have sought and we cannot be an international policeman solving problems within and between Grand Lodges.
This role came very much to the fore in the 1990s after the demise of the Eastern bloc, the return of democratic institutions in those areas and the very welcome reestablishment of dormant, and making of new Grand Lodges there.
This alone brought heavy pressure on the Grand Secretary. For example, in 1989 we recognised 17 regular Grand Lodges in Europe, today we recognise 34 with another four under consideration! As a result, the office of Grand Chancellor was created.
The Chancellor’s main roles are to chair the External Relations Committee, to advise the Rulers, the Grand Master’s advisers and the Board of General Purposes. He must ensure that Grand Lodge’s policy on external relations is carried through, and to ensure that all correspondence in this area is dealt with in a timely fashion.
As the Grand Chancellor is not a full time employee, I shall be assisted by John Hamill, Director of Communications and Peter Roberts, our long-term External Relations Adviser.
The Grand Chancellor will also assist the Grand Master and the Rulers in representing Grand Lodge on formal visits to sister Grand Lodges and at international gatherings of regular Freemasonry. With the revolution in fast communication systems and the ease and reasonable cost of travelling today, the Masonic world is coming closer and closer together and inter-visitation and the regular exchange of information can only be good for the future of regular Freemasonry in general.
External relations cover our relations with other Constitutions outside our own and are my responsibility. England still has over 800 Lodges meeting outside these islands under District Grand Masters, Grand Inspectors or being governed directly from London.
Although many of them are separated from us by great distances, they are still very much an important part of the United Grand Lodge of England and will continue to come under the jurisdiction of the Grand Secretary.
Normally, when they are visited by a Ruler, the Grand Secretary will accompany them, not the Grand Chancellor. He has already visited Ghana and in the autumn he will accompany the Pro Grand Master when he visits our Districts in India.
There are also areas where the Grand Secretary and Grand Chancellor will work together. During the summer we had our usual tripartite meeting with Ireland and Scotland. Because that meeting involves both practical matters of Craft administration and jurisprudence as well as the discussion of relations between the Home Grand Lodges and other Grand Lodges, both the Grand Secretary and I were present. The same applies with the annual meeting of the European Grand Secretaries and Grand Chancellors. Co-operation between the two of us becomes even more important in those areas overseas in which we share territory not only with Ireland and Scotland, but also with a local sovereign Grand Lodge.
External relations are crucial to the future harmony and stability of Freemasonry on a global level.