From the Grand Secretary
This Saturday, I attended a masonic event that will live with me until the end of my days. My mother lodge, Apollo University Lodge, No 357, met at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford – a building I last visited for my graduation in 2001 – to celebrate its bicentenary. In attendance were the Most Worshipful Grand Master, the Pro Grand Master, the Deputy and Assistant Grand Masters and the Provincial Grand Master for Oxfordshire, as well a host of friends, members and past members.
The lodge was opened in a room adjoining the theatre, called off and there followed a potted presentation on the history of the lodge, and the presentation of a badge to UGLE for the use of the lodge by the Rouge Croix Pursuivant of Arms in Ordinary to Her Majesty The Queen – something rather unusual I gather. All this in front of the families and friends of lodge members past and present, the Grand Master and Grand Secretary of the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons and a host of invited guests from the university and beyond. It was, of course, an opportunity to showcase Freemasonry to a wider audience, to bust myths, talk of the bursaries the lodge funds for underprivileged students at the university, and remind the academics visiting us that we are one of the oldest and one of the very few university student societies to be able to claim uninterrupted meetings for over two centuries.
All this was done in the unselfconscious, one might even say brazen style, exemplified by the 19-year-old undergraduate who, after speaking to the Pro Grand Master, attended by his DepGDC, for five minutes, had the disarming naivety to exclaim, ‘I’m terribly sorry, I didn’t quite catch who you are…’
The reception followed at the Ashmolean Museum under the gaze of a 2,000-year-old statue of Apollo and a rather raucous dinner ensued at Keble College, finishing when the bar shut at 4am with a round of McDonald’s with port chasers (I had made a dignified exit around midnight you understand…).
The event brought home to me happy memories of my initiation and my first meetings and introductions to Freemasonry. It also reminded me of what I consider to be a universal fact about Freemasonry, which is that, almost without exception, we consider our first tentative steps in the Craft, and the lessons that they teach us, to be the quintessential masonic experience. To me, nothing will ever surpass Apollo University Lodge. But to those of you reading, I suspect you would say exactly the same thing about your mother lodges, and no matter where we go, and how much we enjoy our Freemasonry elsewhere, few of us would admit the ceremony we had just seen, or the atmosphere we had enjoyed, could hold a candle to those meetings we remember from our formative steps in the Craft.
And therein lies a problem, one with which we all must grapple. There is no doubt that my idea of a wonderful lodge meeting would leave some of you stone cold. We do not all like the same things, and there are as many different types of lodges as there are types of Freemason. Through its ritual, traditions and customs, Freemasonry seeks to inspire its members. It encourages them, through dramatic shared experience, to seek for knowledge, and to put service before self. It does this in myriad different ways that appeal to different people. Times change though, and what may have worked in the past might not attract members now. Some lodges are simply unable or unwilling to communicate happiness or connect across generational divides. It is a source of great pride that my mother lodge, over its 200-year history, has numbered among its members many men who have made significant contributions to wider society, in all walks of life. In order for a lodge to continue to do this, and to thrive, it must find ways to keep its members engaged, interested, and coming back for more. It must also find ways to replace those members who leave or who die. It seems to me that there are a number of lodges which, put simply, don’t really mind either way, and perhaps we should all be a little more relaxed about this. Lodges exist to serve a purpose for their members, but some have no interest in keeping going forever.
I remember my time as a Metropolitan DepGDC and the wonderful and moving ceremonies that the Met performed when a lodge handed back its warrant. There was an honest acknowledgement that lodges come together for a purpose, and for some, that purpose runs its course. The Craft has the means to create new lodges which meet the needs of present-day petitioners. Lodges which are able to attract and retain members will survive and thrive, perhaps even spawning daughter lodges in their own image, while those that can’t will, in all likelihood, pass into history. Which sort is your lodge, dear reader, and more importantly, are you content with that?
Dr David Staples
‘There is no doubt that my idea of a wonderful lodge meeting would leave some of you stone cold. We do not all like the same things, and there are as many different types of lodges as there are types of Freemason’