In the month which under normal circumstances would have seen a Quarterly Communication meeting at Freemasons’ Hall, we are able to share an address by the MW The Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes.
There are points in history when things change; times when the status quo jolts forward whether we like it or not. After such events, things never quite seem the same again because they change us as individuals, and the way that we look at the world is never again quite as it was.
In our over three-hundred-year history, Freemasonry will have experienced a number of such events, but since the Second World War it is difficult to think of one that has had such a profound effect on society, on the economy and on us all by what I am told is a little bundle of fat and protein hundreds of times smaller than the width of a human hair.
In our response to it, and in the decisions we have taken, UGLE has followed two guiding principles: The first – obey the law of the land, and follow any official guidance issued. The second – trust our members and our Lodges to decide what is right for them, facilitating and encouraging those that wish to meet, whilst supporting, understanding and respecting those who feel that the time is not yet right for them.
There are also changes of which we had notice today which, by comparison, seem almost mundane, yet just a year ago were the subject of quite some debate. The decision to lower the age of Initiation to 18 without dispensation brings Freemasonry into line with the age of majority adopted by the UK parliament in 1969. The creation of Provincial and Lodge membership officers as recommended by the Membership Working Party of the Board will introduce a new Collared Office with new responsibilities to the Craft, whilst changing the rules around unattached masons and visiting will, we hope, make it easier for members to understand the character of a lodge they may wish to join.
These changes have been widely consulted and widely approved, but as with all things, they will not please everyone. I’m sure you know the joke about how many masons its takes to change a light bulb? Whilst respecting our traditions, UGLE does not, and never has moved at the speed of the slowest ship in the convoy, and we have shown, perhaps, over the last few months, that we are not quite the oil tanker that some people took us for.
During Lockdown we have received some unusually good publicity for the immense amount of wonderful voluntary work carried out World Wide and I will make further reference to this. The excellent by-product of this is a larger than usual number of potential Initiates waiting in the wings. However, Lodges were unable to make any progress due to the necessary Social Distancing rules and were in danger of stagnating as a result. It was for this reason that we asked a zealous and expert Brother, and the Ritual Committee of the Emulation Lodge of Improvement to look at ways that we could temporarily vary the Ritual to enable Lodges to, at least, Initiate and Pass Candidates. We never expected everyone to agree with all the suggestions, but we are confident that the changes will allow Freemasonry to bring in new blood to the benefit of all concerned. Surely that is what matters, not the dotting of Is and crossing of Ts as far as the Ritual changes are concerned. We want Lodges and therefore Chapters to come alive again for the enjoyment and benefit of all concerned.
Brethren, I feel it only right that in these closing remarks I pay tribute to those who have quietly and steadfastly ‘Done Their Bit’. There are far too many to mention, but you will know who you are. Up and down the country, across the world in our Districts and here in Freemasons’ Hall in London, Members, Staff and Volunteers have given of themselves in ways that they might never have imagined less than half a year ago – quietly doing what they can to make things better. The organisation has responded magnificently to the needs of the public, and to those of our friends and neighbours. As we continue to navigate uncharted waters, I take comfort in the simplicity of the messages our rituals convey and exhort you ever to act in accordance with them in the weeks and months ahead: Respect each other and all humanity; improve yourself, and make your life and actions count.