Relations Between Grand Lodges
1. Freemasons know about the basic principles for Grand Lodge recognition, which have governed relations between Grand Lodges for a very long time and were codified and adopted by the "Home" Grand Lodges in 1929. They are set out informally in Grand Lodge's leaflet "Freemasonry's External Relations", which also mentions irregular or unrecognised Grand Lodges.
"There are some self-styled Masonic bodies which do not meet these standards, e.g. which do not require a belief in a Supreme Being, or which allow or encourage their members to participate as such in political matters. These bodies are not recognised by the Grand Lodge of England as being Masonically regular, and Masonic contact with them is forbidden."
2. The non-Masonic world finds Freemasonry a difficult concept and would not be eager to add regularity for further understanding, but members of the Craft should know what is involved, so that in explaining Freemasonry as practised under regular Grand Lodges they can point out that Masonic bodies which do not comply with the basic principles are irregular, and cannot be recognised as Grand Lodges.
Freemasonry is many things to many people
To the church it is a religion.
To young Masons it is out of date and out of touch and not prepared to change anything, and it should.
To old Masons it is always changing things, and it should not.
Mr Average accuses it of helping its own and doing nothing for anyone else. It is secretive - it is even likened to the Mafia.
If a Policeman is also a Mason he is considered to be corrupt.
Those of us who are Masons and know what we are and what we do, find it difficult to understand how we can be thought of in this way. How did it come about?
We have been in existence far longer than most organisations of a similar nature and We have our traditions, many of which go back a long way.
We have given large sums of money to non Masonic charities for many years and we have not sought publicity as that was our way of giving. The public, therefore, knew nothing about that side of Freemasonry. We similarly wished to conduct our Masonic life with the same lack of publicity, but this caused concern and it was thought we had something to hide. Giving the appearance of secrecy has, understandably, created mistrust in all we do.
Let me tell you of a Mason in my Province who is an old boy of the school. When he was to go before Past Masters Committee before becoming a Mason he asked his Mother if his Father had ever told her anything about his own interview. She replied that he had not, and added that he never told her anything about Freemasonry and so she knew nothing. All she did know was that they kept themselves to themselves and no one outside Freemasonry knows who they are, so do not be surprised when you enter the room to find them wearing hoods or having their faces covered with masks.
That was 40 years ago when Freemasonry was still enjoying a post war boom. Membership was increasing sharply, new Lodges were being consecrated and Lodges had waiting lists. The media had not focused its unhelpful attention on us. If that was a widow's perception of Freemasonry then, just think what is in the minds of the general public today.
In the debate at the General Synod in July 1987, the Archbishop of York saw Freemasonry as "a fairly harmless eccentricity". The majority of the delegates saw us as much more sinister than that. We were blasphemers - though this was later withdrawn - we were a religion which did not acknowledge the Founder of the Christian faith, Paganism was involved in our "worship" and although many thinking members of the Church have had a change in mind, much remains to be done before the majority of the clergy and laity change their minds.
We were all surprised when the Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police advised members of his Force not be Freemasons. The question of dual loyalties raised its head. The Press, without of course, any proof whatsoever, sowed the doubts about favouritism in promotion that somehow Freemasons got away with things which other people did not. If somebody like the head of a distinguished police force hinted at all not being well, then doubts would certainly be created in the public's mind.
Then a certain P2 Lodge - always referred to as a Masonic Lodge, of course - reared its ugly head. Corruption in high places - yes, those Freemasons are all for themselves, look after themselves, etc., etc. become Firmly implanted in the public's mind and the continuing saga of the member of P2 found murdered under a London bridge has not helped to remove the image of the former penalties.
We have to face the fact that we still have the image of being a secret society - despite the fact that our H.Q. is open to the public every day - we are still considered to be a prosperous select group who look after themselves and their own - despite our nonMasonic charitable work, of people who favour one another when it comes to promotions etc. These points need not be laboured, we know that they are brought about through ignorance. Yes, the general perception of Freemasonry is not a healthy one and in our hearts we know it. We do the cause of Freemasonry a disservice if we bury our heads in the sand and pretend that given time all will come good again.
EXAMINATION OF THE CAUSE
Why and how did we get ourselves into this position? If we look back to the last century or even a period of 60 years ago, Freemasonry was held in high regard by the public. Membership was something to be attained as an ambition.
In 1883 H.R.H. The Prince of Wales, was the Grand Master and he visited York to lay the foundation stone of the new Institute of Popular Science and Literature. York was fully decorated for the occasion. Provincial Grand Lodge was opened in the Assembly Rooms and Grand Lodge was opened in the Guildhall. Both at 10.00 a.m. In full regalia all these Masons processed through York for the Grand Master to lay the foundation stone. A banquet was held after the ceremony with a mixture of Loyal, Masonic and Civil Toasts. The whole event was recorded in the local press.
It is a great shame that Masonic exposure such as this no longer happens.
A glance through the editions of papers like the Daily Telegraph shows that in the 1930s Freemasonry received a "good" press. Pictures of the laying of the Foundation Stone of the R.M. Hospital show the then Prince of Wales, Duke of York and Duke of Kent all in full Masonic regalia.
For some unknown reason attitudes to public relations changed and we went in on ourselves. We were constantly told not to comment on Freemasonry or discuss the Craft outside of the Lodge or with non Masons. For a period of almost 50 years we acted as though we were a secret society. No wonder our detractors had a field day. They knew that they could write what they liked about us, produce so-called documentary films for television etc., safe in the knowledge that Freemasons would obey the "no comment" command.
We only have ourselves to blame for the position we now find ourselves in. We have paid a heavy price for failing to realise the importance of good P.R. work. We must learn from that era and never make those mistakes again.
HOW DO WE RECTIFY THE POSITION?
We have made a very good start. We now have the video "The Freemasons", and our publicity leaflets, our permanent exhibition and Grand Lodge being open to the public etc. We have only scratched the surface and Grand Lodge can only give a lead. It is up to every Freemason to be an ambassador for the Craft.
In my province we have given great emphasis to holding Open Days where non Masons can actually enter our buildings and ask about things that worry them. In Hull there is an annual Civic Weekend when buildings are open to the public. The oldest Masonic Hall has joined in and opened its doors for about 10 years. Each year 1000 - 1500 visitors are shown round.
We have found it a good idea to invite selected groups rather than just open the doors. This gives the opportunity to be well organised and prepared so that the visitors can leave better informed.
We had a visiting party at the meeting of the Synod in York in 1987. It made us realise that because of their fears, non Masons can actually be frightened about entering a Masonic building. It was some time before they relaxed enough to ask the questions they really wanted to put to us. Once they relaxed we had a very interesting and enjoyable discussion.
The attitude of one lady visibly changed as the meeting progressed, when she realised that all her fears were unfounded. As she left she said, "I wish we had in the Church the same enthusiasm as you obviously have in Freemasonry". At another Open Day the Archdeacon thanked us for the invitation and said that it is a pity we had not been so open in the past, for if we had, we would not have the problem we have today.
If people accept an invitation it means they are prepared to listen. Those who do not, accept are the worry, as they know they do not like it although they know nothing about it.
The points visitors raise are usually the same few. They worry that we are a religion, about secrecy and that we only look inwardly and never outwardly. A regular comment is that we are seen to be like the Mafia.
Provided that the guides are well prepared and that they give honest answers, Open Days can remove the misconceptions that abound. If the guide cannot answer a question, it is far better that he says so and finds out from someone else rather than appear evasive.
We must remember that we really have nothing to hide and much of which to be proud. A Freemason relies on a happy home life and there should not be secrets between husband and wife. It is wrong that wives should know nothing about what their husbands do in Freemasonry. I encourage my Lodges to involve families much more. Several now invite their ladies to join them for a meal after the Ceremony. This can be a sit down meal, but many prefer a buffet as it allows more people to meet.
To undo problems of the past, I am convinced that we all must be better informed about our aims, our objects and our achievements so that we can discuss Freemasonry with confidence with non Masons. We can overcome problems of misunderstanding if we all work at it together.