I have been working on a letter to send to the Grand Secretary of the United Grand Lodge of England, with the assistance of the brethren who subscribe to the Freemasonry mailing list.
The intention is to first present a talk to the Brethren of Eastcote Lodge about Masonry on the Internet, and then to send a copy of the speech, with a covering letter, to the GS.
The talk will begin by bringing Fraternal Greetings to the WM of Eastcote Lodge from Brethren from recognised Lodges around the globe.
Please eMail me if you wish to send fraternal greetings, or to be associated with the letter, or both. A brief note along the lines of
Fraternal Greetings from Bro. Gordon Charlton, Eastcote Lodge No. 5515, London. UK. (please also add me as a signatory to the letter.)
will suffice. We already have a few names, but the more we have the more weight our message will carry. Please spare a few moments to read the draft letter and speech, and to reply. Thank you.
Bro. Gordon Charlton.
IPM of Eastcote Lodge #5515, UK
Speech to Eastcote Lodge
Worshipful Master, distinguished guests, Brethren all,
I bring fraternal greetings from [number] fellow Freemasons in as many Lodges from [number] countries, spread over the face of the earth. Clearly this deserves some explanation.
At a meeting recently the representative of the Grand Master asked us how communications could be improved in Freemasonry, this is my answer.
Brethren, the means already exist for rapid and easy communication not only within the United Kingdom, but worldwide, and they are already used by Freemasons for the betterment of the craft. But before I talk about that it is necessary for me to describe, or attempt to describe, the Internet.
I say, "attempt to describe", because the scope and scale of the Internet is such as to beggar description. From a technical viewpoint it is a vast number of computers, no-one is sure exactly how many, but certainly in seven figures, connected to each other via telephone lines. One of them resides in my living room at home, but others can be found in businesses, in universities, in classrooms, in public libraries and cafes, in government buildings and private houses, and there is even one on a specially adapted bicycle.
Through these machines people talk to each other, they send letters and play games, they make deals and tell jokes, they help each other and they share information and learn from each other. In short they are a community. A community of immense proportions, recently estimated at twenty three and a half million people, and growing all the time.
What do they talk about, these citizens of cyberspace? Anything and everything under the sun. I personally subscribe to thirty newsgroups, which are meeting places for people who share a common interest, but had over ten thousand to choose from. Some are local to the company who supply my connection, some specific to the UK, most are available globally.
Freemasonry is represented there. I read two of the masonic newsgroups. One is an open forum, where those who are interested in finding more about Masonry can ask questions about the craft and receive thoughtful and helpful answers, which often lead to further discussion. The other is intended for Freemasons in particular to discuss matters Masonic amongst themselves, although it too is completely open.
Many online Brethren prefer to talk within the relative privacy of a Masonic mailing list. Partly because the mailing list is able to be read even by people who for one reason or another do not have access to the newsgroups and parlty because the need to register oneself to do so discourages mischief makers and the occasional cranks that pop up in the newsgroups. (Although I note in passing that postings from the anti-Masonic element which exists on the 'net, as it does everywhere, are viewed as an opportunity to set the record straight on some popular misconceptions about Freemasonry.)
Of what benefit is this to Freemasonry?
Firstly it allows us to present a first-hand account of ourselves, to dispell the myths and adverse publicity that is associated with the order.
It attracts new membership. In the short time I have been online I have come across many instances of people whose first contact was made electronically. They were able to find out about the history and the goals of Freemasonry, about how it varied from country to country, about the structure of the craft and its policies. To see for themselves that we really are what we claim to be, and to decide that they wanted to join. Then they were directed to a Lodge local to them, and advised how to go about gaining admittance.
Secondly it promotes an understanding of the Craft amongst its membership. Many of the brethren online have a great interest in the history of the Craft, and are willing and able to share their knowledge with anyone who cares to ask.
I have been interested to discover how parochial my perception of Freemasonry is. At the last meeting I was fascinated by a description of how in a lodge abroad candidates were put in a room to contemplate the ceremony that lay before them. I now know that this is common practice in many countries, and in many places is of an even more dramatic nature than that described to us.
As another example, a Brother from an American Lodge enquired what dimensions would be appropriate for the black and white floor of his lodgeroom, as they were considering reinstating that tradition. I did not even know that it was not commonplace in the USA. He received, as is typical with questions of this nature, many answers, ranging from the mundane (make it to fit the room) to answers from biblical historians (in a ratio of 1:2, like King Solomon's temple), from mathematicians (use an approximation to the Golden Section or Divine Proportion), to firsthand reports of common sizes (our Temple is of such and such a size) and even a lengthy discussion on Temple decoration from an interior designer.
Thirdly, it reinforces the brotherhood of all Masons. As, when entering a Lodge for the first time one discovers friends one has not met before, so I have found friends I did not know I had, in countries as far apart as the Netherlands and America, from around the corner in Suffolk and from around the globe in New Zealand.
Brethren, meeting Brother Masons in cyberspace is just one aspect of this. The other I call the Electronic Cornucopia.
There already exist several repositories of Masonic writings and other information on the Internet. More exist in other Networks, such as those provided by Compuserve and Prodigy, and there are at least eighteen "bulletin boards" which are local to specific areas of the United States. Moves are afoot to link these, and their respective discussion groups, together in the so-called Masonic Network, MasNet.
I came across a small example of the usefulness of these repositories during the time that I researched this talk. A Brother had written a short paper about Freemasonry which he hoped to publish for the benefit of his Lodge, but wanted to illustrate it with Masonic pictures. Being no great artist he enquired on the newsgroup alt.freemasonry and was directed to one of these storehouses, where freely available were line-drawings of the ornaments and jewels of a Lodge, organised according to degree and in a form suitable for incorporation into his booklet.
At present the amount of data available is small compared to the amount that could be shared by us all. I have already mentioned efforts to incorporate more into the global network, but one recent development deserves special mention.
This message was recently broadcast on the Internet by the Masonic Grand Lodge of Oregon;
"Effective January 20, 1995 the Masonic Grand Lodge of Oregon will be on the Internet to help answer questions and to help direct inquiries from Masons and Non-Masons to the right place. (Hopefully) We are also encouraging all of the Oregon Masons to use E-mail to contact us for help or information. We also will be encouraging other Grand Lodges to join in."
(signed) James Shillingburg Grand Secretary - Oregon
This was followed up with postings from two other Grand Lodges stating that they were investigating means of making their libraries available on the 'net, and a request from a member of the United Grand Lodge of England to be kept appraised of its progress.
Brethren, this is an exciting time for Freemasonry. We have the opportunity to become a universal brotherhood in ways previously unimaginable. The groundwork has been laid down not by Grand Lodges, but by the rank and file members throughout the world, and I am proud to be amongst their numbers. Now Grand Lodges are heeding the call and it is my sincere hope that the United Grand Lodge of England will be at the forefront, to provide guidance, and funding for the more expensive aspects of this, for while access to this is well within the means of most Masons, the cost of transferring libraries to electronic form is not.
We also need them there to confront some of the difficult questions that will arise. For instance, for the most part what may be discussed on the 'net is easily defined; what may be discussed in public is appropriate. However the want for privacy and security is not peculiar to Freemasonry, and there are several developments afoot to provide both of these features to the citizens of Cyberspace. When they are more generally available I have no doubt that Masons will ask, "given that we have privacy can we extend the range of discussable topics on the 'net?". I am sure that I am not qualified to answer such a question. Grand Lodge is, and should be prepared for it. Perhaps one day we might even attend "virtual lodge meetings" from the comfort of our own homes, although I doubt it. A more likely event with be the formation of the first international lodge, perhaps meeting in real life once a decade, but in constant touch with each other via a computer, a modem and a telephone line. (The working tools of the electronic age, perhaps?)
Brethren, in the ten minutes or so I have taken to deliver this talk I have barely scratched the surface. I have not mentioned the world-wide web, or Internet Relay Chat, respectively the network equivalents of picture books and conference calls, but each much more than that. I hope rather that I have given a flavour of the excitement I feel about a possible future of Freemasonry, and the importance of addressing it now.
It is said that the Internet is what you make of it. I have found it to be a place suffused with the Masonic spirit, filled with good folk who welcome you and want to help. I give it to you in terms of strong recommendation.
Finally, Worshipful Master, you may be interested to know that I plan to submit this speech to the Middlesex newsletter, as I feel the subject is of sufficient importance as to warrant publication, and to broadcast it on the newsgroup alt.freemasonry, as a thankyou to the brothers worldwide who helped me to research it, and to assist other brethren planning to make similar speeches, as I know that this is not the first such talk to be given, and even during the month in which I prepared it I encountered half a dozen other Freemasons planning similar talks to their Lodges around the world. It has also been suggested to me that this may be of interest to the Grand Secretary, and I am sending him a copy for his perusal.
Worshipful Master, as a lasting memento of your installation I would like to present you with a print-out of those messages of greeting with which I started this talk.
Letter to Grand Secretary
To: The Grand Secretary
United Grand Lodge of England
Great Queen Street
Worshipful Brother Higham,
I am writing to you at the suggestion of the Secreatary of my Lodge, and on behalf of myself and a number of other Brethren in various locations around the world who share common interests in Freemasonry and in electronic communication via the "Internet".
I have enclosed a short talk which I presented at the Festive Board of our Installation meeting on February the 13th this year which we would like to draw to your attention.
The opinions expressed in this talk are purely my own, but we feel that they reflect fairly accurately the sentiments of many "rank and file" Brethren who use the Internet, and other similar global electronic networks.
It is our belief that Freemasonry can benefit in many ways from the use of electronic communication, both in terms of promoting the Craft and in facilitating communications within the order. One sentiment that we all share is that we would like very much for the United Grand Lodge of England to have an official presence on the Internet, to provide guidance and advice, and to resolve some of the difficult questions that arise from time to time and which are not within our scope to answer as private individuals.
We humbly suggest that it would be beneficial for one or more Grand Lodge officers to "go online" in a private capacity for a period, to assess first hand the usefulness of the network, and to determine the range of possibilities that may be of benefit to Grand Lodge, with a view to reporting to Grand Lodge at a Quarterly Communication. We have no doubt that such an investigation would produce favourable results.
I would be very happy to pass your comments to the readers of the Masonic "mailing list" on whose behalf I am writing, if you so wish, and to provide any details that you want to know about, if they are within my capability to answer.
Brother Gordon Charlton PM
of Eastcote Lodge, No. 5515
My "EMail address" is firstname.lastname@example.org
The following people have specifically requested that they be associated with this letter;
Thank you for taking the time to read this posting. Bro. Gordon.