Having been brought up in the countryside I always enjoy watching the passing of the year marked by the changes in the hedgerow. Now, with us, they are dominated by the eye-catching, vibrant pink of the Red Campion and Foxglove; the Dog Rose and Honeysuckle are starting to decorate the hedges; but the Harebell is yet to make an appearance.
I have noticed this year that everything appears to be flowering abundantly, but that their time is short lived. It is almost as if they are finally able to release all the energy they have been storing up in a burst of flower, but in doing so they lose the longevity of their beauty. The flowers are ultimately governed by the weather and to an extent are only able thrive when conditions permit, and are subject to the prevailing conditions.
The flowers of the hedgerow remind me that the year is progressing and we are almost half way through the calendar year. The meeting of Provincial Grand Chapter and Provincial Grand Lodge on Tuesday also brings to mind the end of the Masonic year, although this year again there have been few other markers. At least this year, unlike last year, we are fortunate to be able to hold the Provincial Meeting, and while it will be very different to our usual gathering, it is important that we are able to hold this important event.
Regardless of what has been, the usual Summer recess lies ahead of us, and while there is an element of the Provincial Meeting that looks back on the year (or on this occasion two years) since the last meeting, the main purpose is to look ahead, and I think that this is especially true and important this year. We look forward longingly, hopefully and expectantly that we will be able to resume our meetings with a greater degree of normality after our Summer break.
This year, more than last, we have more reason to be optimistic. At the same time we have to be realistic and accept that we have to take careful steps for the sake of all concerned, and an immediate return to meetings as they were is unlikely for some time.
We are all very familiar with the question ‘what is Freemasonry?’ We know the official answer, we know the usual variations. It is however a question which each one of us has to answer for ourselves also. To make the question more specific, ‘why am I a Freemason?’
Put to ten masons it is reasonable to assume that it would result in ten slightly different answers. I wonder how you would have answered this question two years ago, and I wonder how you would answer this question now? Has your understanding of the relevance and importance of Freemasonry in your life changed?
While Zoom has afforded a wonderful opportunity for us to keep in touch with each other, personally I have really missed our meetings – our coming together physically. A ‘chat’ on Zoom is very different to an in person conversation; a meeting on Zoom is very different to discuss matters of business; and of course we haven’t been able to practice our beautiful ritual on Zoom.
In a way that was never an issue before, the absence of meetings, has enabled me to recognise that for me, the essence of Freemasonry is actually coming together and being together. An aspect that we naturally took entirely for granted, but is an essential element of why we are Freemasons and what we do. Everything else is a product of and flows from that togetherness.
Many of us have been able to join in Zoom meetings, but many have not. There is a great concern among freemasons and all other organisations that members will not return to the Lodges when circumstances permit. It is an understandable concern, but my hope is that having been deprived of our fraternity and fellowship together, our friendship, on the contrary we will be most anxious to re-join the companions of our former labours.
We all know what Freemasonry has to offer. We all have aspects and elements which appeal to us more than others, but each and every one of us are the stones that make up the lodges of which we are members. Each one of us is an integral part of the structure, and have an important part to play in the life of the Lodge. No Lodge is a finished superstructure, it is a work in progress, and we the present members are the craftsmen to whom has been entrusted the privilege and responsibility, not only of continuing with the work, but also seeking out those who may be suitable to join us in our labours for the future.
The Summer recess gives us the opportunity to think about ‘why am I a Freemason’ and to look forward to September when we will again be able to resume our labours. It also affords us time to look at our friends and colleagues with a view to the future, in a time when we have all been compelled to reflect on our lives and actions. Even as we rest, there is still plenty to do, but we do so with the experience of the Pandemic which has inevitably changed us.
This hymn written by the great hymn-writer Charles Wesley (1707-88) was entitled ‘Before Work’ and is an appropriate prayer of dedication, that our labours can only be perfected and completed with God’s blessing. The third verse is often omitted, but to my mind it is an appropriate reminder of human fallibility and how easily become distracted. Being aware of that helps us to keep our focus where it ought to be.
Forth in thy Name, O Lord, I go,
my daily labour to pursue;
Thee, only thee, resolved to know
in all I think or speak or do.
The task thy wisdom hath assigned,
O let me cheerfully fulfil;
In all my works thy presence find,
and prove thy good and perfect will.
Preserve me from my calling’s snare,
and hide my simple heart above,
above the thorns of choking care,
the gilded baits of worldly love.
Thee may I set at my right hand,
whose eyes mine inmost substance see,
and labour on at thy command,
and offer all my works to thee.
Give me to bear thy easy yoke,
and every moment watch and pray,
and still to things eternal look,
and hasten to thy glorious day.
For thee delightfully employ
whate'er thy bounteous grace hath given;
and run my course with even joy,
and closely walk with thee to heav'n.
I offer this prayer:
We give thee thanks, O God, for thy guidance, help and care during the year that is drawing to a close. We commend to thee all that has been attempted and accomplished, and ask thee to forgive what has been unworthy or left undone. Grant, O heavenly Father, that in the recess before us we may enjoy rest and renewal, health and happiness and never forget thee, the giver of all good things. As we look ahead to the beginning of a new year we ask thy blessing and seek courage and cheerfulness in facing the tasks before us; make us loyal and unselfish in all our dealings with one another, and enable us in our work to give of our best: to the glory of thy Holy Name. Amen.
To our next merry meeting….