8 SEPTEMBER 2010
An address by the MW The Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes
I hope you have all had a good summer and have come back refreshed to start the new Masonic season.
In July we hosted the annual Tripartite meeting with the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland. This is always a particularly important meeting, not only to maintain our excellent relations, but because it gives an opportunity to liaise on mutual issues to do with our respective Constitutions around the world. For example – and this is of specific significance to our Districts – the topic of precedence, when the English, Irish and Scottish Constitutions are present, in all scenarios, was discussed in detail. The result is that the Grand Secretary will shortly be writing to all our Districts to give the mutually agreed clarifications.
The Board of General Purposes has set up a Strategic Communications Committee to agree the content and design of the various initiatives to successfully achieve the new communication strategy up to our tercentenary in 2017. The Committee consists of the Craft Rulers, the President and Deputy President of the Board and the Grand Secretary.
One of the core objectives of the communication strategy is to help members to describe Freemasonry openly to anyone who is interested. I know that most Provinces have made advances to help this objective. Although openness has been a feature of our Masonic lives for some time now many members are still not clear about what they can talk about – either because they have not been told or because they have been incorrectly briefed. It is therefore very important, as we set out with this new communications strategy, to give clarity to the important question of ‘what can I talk about?’
The short answer is that there is very little in our Freemasonry that we cannot share with our families, friends and colleagues. Our principles and tenets, our traditions, our charitable activities and our history are all subjects we can share with others – acknowledging that each of us is likely to see freemasonry in slightly different ways because our reaction to it is a very personal one. We can all be helped to talk sensibly about the aspects which attract us. But in sharing them we must have clarity and not use Masonic jargon.
Like most specialist groups Freemasonry has developed its own language, jargon and shorthand phrases. Catch phrases from our ceremonies trip easily off the tongue and in few words convey a wealth of meaning to those who are members – but are meaningless to those who are not. We need to learn to talk about Freemasonry in simple terms without jargon – particularly as its use tends to mystify non-Masons and can, in their minds, strengthen some of the myths that have grown up around Freemasonry. An element of the communications strategy is to dilute the many myths that abound – myths that are still believed by many to be fact.
One of the great myths we need to overcome is that a so-called Masonic “handshake” is given to get business or to do underhand deals. But Brethren, do remember that the signs, grips and words were never intended for casual use in everyday life – they have always been meant to be used deliberately and only in a formal way in Lodge. It is therefore wrong to describe them as recognition signals. Indeed, calling them such simply perpetuates the myth.
Brethren, we are rightly very proud of our Charities and I am strongly in favour of stating publicly all the tremendous good work that emanates from them. However it would be wrong for us to make out that it is our raison d’être. By all means bring them in to any discussions about Freemasonry, but let us not forget that are many and varied other very good reasons for our existence.
The one area we still regard as being private is the detail of our ceremonies. They are not “secret” – the books covering these ceremonies are available for purchase by anyone - nor, as you all well know, do they contain anything untoward. We regard them as being private simply to preserve that “shared experience” we all underwent when we joined Freemasonry, and which is an essential part of our system. Were we to publicly discuss our ceremonies or allow demonstrations of them we would spoil their effect on those who join us in the future and they would be deprived of that “shared experience”. The late Lord Farnham likened the discussing of our rituals with non-Masons to pulling up a prized plant to see how the roots are growing – you will find the answer but in doing so you damage the plant.
As it develops, Brethren, you will hear more about the new communications strategy because the whole Craft will have a part to play in it. It is not simply for Grand Lodge and the Metropolitan, Provincial and District executives to deal with but is one for the whole Craft and, we hope, will help define the future health and happiness of the Craft.
Brethren, you will be aware of the earthquake in New Zealand. Unfortunately it has had a disastrous effect on our Brethren in South Island, many of who have either lost their homes or have had them substantially damaged. Our brethren there need our support and I am pleased to say that the Board of General purposes have agreed to send significant financial assistance, on top of anything the Grand Charity feels that it is able to give, once details of the requirements are known.