11 DECEMBER 2002
An address by the MW The Pro Grand Master the Most Hon the Marquess of Northampton, DL
When I was appointed Assistant Grand Master in December 1995, London Masonry consisted of over 1,600 Lodges and nearly 700 Chapters, which were administered by the then Grand Secretary through the London Department in this building. As Assistant Grand Master, a substantial part of my duties incorporated a special responsibility for London.
In 1995 I inherited 900 liaison officers, most of whom reported on the Lodges of which they were the senior members, and in many cases were the only personal contact the London Department had with the majority of our London brethren.
Only 300 of the original liaison officers were able to become active Visiting Grand Officers, and over the next two years more Grand Officers were added, so that every Lodge and Chapter had a visit from someone who could advise, support and encourage its members. I was warned there were as many as 200 Lodges that were unlikely to survive in the short term, so doing nothing was not an option, and I therefore started the active Visiting Grand Officers scheme. The system of allocating ranks, including Grand Rank, was changed and became more transparent so that everyone now knew where he stood. Ranks were now based solely on merit and ability.
The next step was to disentangle London Masonry from its dependence on Grand Lodge, and give it a structure both autonomous and above all caring. London Management was created and London was divided into 22 groups with a chairman at the head of each. For five years London Management, originally chaired by me but now by Rex Thorne, has run London Masonry with the Assistant Grand Master retaining that so-called 'special responsibility'. The final step will be voted on in Grand Lodge next March.
The London Committee was set up by the Board and it was agreed that a long period of consultation would follow, and this is happening.
Uniquely, London Masonry has its own honours system, London Grand Rank being its only appointment and Senior London Grand Rank its only promotion, with no past ranks. Having listened to the views expressed by Lodges and Chapters, the London Committee has withdrawn the recommendation that a Junior London Grand Rank be introduced, and this has been accepted by the Grand Master. The London honours system, Craft and Royal Arch, will remain exactly as it is. However, the proposals for active offices, which will not be Ranks but appointments, will remain, as these are needed for ceremonial and administrative purposes.
The third difference inherent in London Masonry, and probably the most important, is that it has never been in control of its own destiny. It is only very recently that the Board of General Purposes has delegated some of its powers to London Management. But its finances are still included in the accounts of Grand Lodge, and there are many instances where it is not allowed by the Book of Constitutions to make decisions for itself. London Management has done a good job looking after its members for the past five years but it has no authority within the Book of Constitutions, and is headed only by a chairman and not by an officer of Grand Lodge with Masonic authority ratified by the Constitution. Its byelaws have never been approved by Grand Lodge, and remain in a state of limbo - still an integral part of Grand Lodge, but responsible in part for its own affairs. The time has now come to regularise this unconstitutional structure.
The Grand Master could, under Rule 62 of the Book of Constitutions, turn London into one or more Provinces. This was considered by the Committee, but swiftly rejected, even though it would have been a much simpler change. Exercising powers under Rule 62 would probably have entailed the loss of the special features that London enjoys, like the London Grand Rank system.
It is an anomaly that many relatively minor decisions concerning London Masonry have to be approved by the Board of General Purposes and Grand Lodge, of which the majority of members are brethren from the Provinces. If London Masons had their own Grand Lodge they could decide much about their future for themselves.
Masonry's future depends on training our younger brethren to become tomorrow's leaders, but when does one get the opportunity of seeing the potential of future leaders in London? Not in Grand Lodge - which is the only forum at present for London Masons who are Wardens and above - but solely at private Lodge level, where many go unrecognised.
The London Committee recommended the creation only of active officers needed to service a Metropolitan Grand Lodge, with no past ranks. The 71 annual Craft appointments represent approximately one for every 750 Masons. Such a small number will have no impact at the grass roots, but a Metropolitan Grand Lodge will give London Masons a self-regulating Masonic structure for the first time.
The recommendations have not been suggested lightly. It is a big step, which is acceptable to the Grand Master and has been approved by all the bodies entrusted by our members to manage the Craft on their behalf. The world is very different from what it was even ten years ago, and unless Freemasonry adapts, as it has always adapted throughout its long history, it will not survive and grow. Some have suggested that these proposals will lead to a decline in the numbers of London Masons. I believe exactly the opposite. We have already seen a considerable decline in numbers over the past 30 years, and unless we rise to the challenge, there is no reason why that decline will not continue. I am confident that once a new structure is established, we will all see great and exciting advantages, and it will prove to be an asset to English Masonry.
You will be aware of the unfortunate and ill-advised remarks concerning Freemasonry made by the new Archbishop of Canterbury. A very large number of our members wrote to him at Lambeth Palace to express their dismay, and in some cases outrage, at his insensitive and inaccurate comments. The Grand Secretary has written to him officially on behalf of Grand Lodge (see P4). His letter is on the UGLE website. Although, all of us, whatever religion, can only be appalled at the implications of the Archbishop's allegations, I believe that we should, for the time being at least, assume that his comments were based simply on ignorance of the truth, and not malice. The Archbishop has been invited to Freemasons' Hall to learn a little about Freemasonry, as all his predecessors have done over many years. We can then only hope that he will revise his opinions and have the grace to admit just how wrong he was about the compatibility of any of the great religions with Freemasonry.