Winter 2020 column - Grand Secretary and Grand Scribe E Dr David Staples

Wednesday, 09 December 2020

From the Grand Secretary & Grand Scribe E

Before I moved to Cambridgeshire, I sang at Southwell Minster. The 30-minute journey from my home took me through the farmlands of Nottinghamshire, and I found myself noticing the changing of the seasons much more than in my previous city existence. The crops being sown and harvested, lambs suddenly appearing in the spring (and disappearing in late summer), the bare fields giving way to pasture and the cycle of life starting over again. For a decade or so, this rhythm seeped into me and I began to take great comfort in the fact that, whatever else was going on in my life, there was a solid predictability in the land and seasons that surrounded me.

Freemasonry also imparts a rhythm to life. The unfamiliarity of those first few meetings, the curious words and all those strangers gradually giving way to lifelong friendships; the measured transformation from the unexpected to the comforting. A yearly cycle of election, installation, well-performed ceremonies and good meals afterwards seeps into us all, month after month, year after year, decade after decade, as it did our many predecessors over the centuries. I didn't realise quite how much I missed it, and relied upon it, until all of a sudden it changed and stopped.

Of course, those of us who come through the pandemic with only the disruption of a well-loved hobby to show for it would do well to consider ourselves very fortunate. For many, including members of our own lodges and chapters, things may have been significantly worse. Many have lost their jobs or their loved ones, some have even lost their homes or the businesses they have built up over decades. Relationships have been strained, some may have broken and, for many, latent anxieties, long suppressed in the regular rhythm of daily life, have bubbled unbidden to the surface.

'As we begin a new chapter in our history, as I am sure the passing of this pandemic will mark, let us embrace our future boldly, rekindling the rhythm of our masonic lives'

As the nights draw in and we look forward to perhaps a stranger Christmas period than usual, we remember Thomas Fuller's famous quote, 'the night is always darkest just before the dawn'. Complete nonsense literally, but metaphorically we all know what he meant. If predictions and models hold true, the pandemic is, at last, more behind us than ahead and 2021 will be the year when things get back to normal. We may not know exactly when, but it is enough to know that with each passing day, these strange times are drawing to a close. We will meet again, as we used to, before the year is out.

For many of us, myself included, this will involve picking up a ritual book for the first time in a while, and learning those things I should have learnt 10 months ago -prevarication, for once, paying off. Lodge committees will be wondering when to start planning for normality, and traditions, so often defined as those things insisted on by the Director of Ceremonies before the current one, will be dusted off and relied upon to justify all sorts.

Yet things will not be the same. We have all been changed by the experiences of the past year, and the way we do things has changed too, perhaps forever. Many lodges and chapters have been forced to confront those same traditions, and adapt them to serve the circumstances, realising in the teeth of adversity that tradition should always be our servant, never our master.

Successful organisations adapt and overcome whatever chance or circumstance can throw at them, and there can be few organisations so successful as Freemasonry.

Dynasties have waxed and waned while our Ancient Order was still in its youth. It has stood firm above that deluge that swept away the men and the institutions contemporaneous with its rise, but even now, in these trying times, it is not some ruin or wreck of past greatness. On the contrary, our members are numerous and found the world over. Our resources are ample, and our means exist in every county, city and town in the land.

The reason for this great success? Because Freemasonry teaches the same lessons, inculcates the same principles as it did in the remote days of its foundation. Those lessons and, more importantly, their worth, have been weighed in the balance of more than 300 years and have not been found wanting.

As we begin a new chapter in our history, as I am sure the passing of this pandemic will mark, let us embrace our future boldly, rekindling the rhythm of our masonic lives, as together we rekindle our lodges and chapters.

We are safe in the knowledge that we are part of an institution that has weathered greater storms than this - whose members have drawn strength and support from coming together to share the good times and the bad, both in their own lives and the life of the nation, and who will continue to do so until time with us all shall be no more.

Dr David Staples
Grand Secretary and Grand Scribe E

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