I feel that it is inevitable at this time of year that our families are at the forefront of our minds and all the uncertainty that surrounded our Christmas arrangements make life very difficult for the majority of families in the country, Freemasons most certainly included. I and my family were incredibly fortunate to be able to continue as planned within the rules laid down, but so many were not so lucky which, almost, made us feel guilty. Whatever your circumstances, I just hope you managed to derive some family enjoyment from the holiday period.
I feel lucky in another sense as well, being part of the masonic family, which has demonstrated since the first lockdown started back last March what an amazingly robust unit it is. I am delighted to say that much of the excellent work carried out across all Provinces and Districts has been well documented, not only in our internal communications, but also in the national and local press. How pleasing and unusual it is to be able to report that. Great credit is due to the highly professional way this was all highlighted by our communications teams both in Freemasons’ Hall and around the Provinces and Districts.
However, it is not just the high-profile public action that should receive our praise and gratitude and none of the fantastic work done at local and Lodge level should go unnoticed. When I joined Freemasonry the office of Lodge Almoner was often taken by a senior brother who wanted to wear a Lodge collar. Not so now. So much work has been put into the training for Provincial and Lodge Almoners and, from what I hear, this training has been put to good use and there are some wonderful stories being reported. Of course, it is not just the Almoner who should take on responsibilities with respect to their Lodges and Chapters. The Master, Secretary, Charity Steward, indeed, every member of every Lodge and Chapter should consider themselves, and be considered, an important member of the family.
Continuing the family analogy, I am quite sure that many, many families around the world have kept in regular touch through Zoom or an equivalent. I don’t pretend to be an expert in technology – far from it – but we, as a family, have found this a wonderful tool and simple to use once someone else has set it up!! Similarly, I know that by the same method our Brethren have been very regular users both for personal and Lodge/Chapter social meetings. I have been able to attend – virtually, of course – Provincial and District Grand Lodge Meetings as have the other Rulers in both the Craft and Royal Arch. We have all been impressed by the ingenuity of those concerned in setting things up in a useful and entertaining way.
It is so important that we keep in contact with each other and I know that many Lodges held actual meetings when allowed during the autumn and managed to conduct some ritual ceremonies with the numbers permitted and using the recommended ritual changes. To have been able to initiate new members has been a great bonus and, although there are hundreds of candidates still waiting in the wings, it was a start and an indication of how determined we all are to get back to normal as soon as conditions allow.
The last few months has been a roller coaster ride and we must all hope that the vaccination program, now underway, will level out the track and enable us all to meet up as we would like. It will be wonderful when we can again join together to welcome new candidates, progress others through their degrees and enjoy dining together, even toasting a new Master.
I think it bears repeating that we are all so lucky to have been members of such a united fraternity during the last year and we should not forget what a magnificent job the RMBI homes have done through all the trials and tribulations. They are very much part of our family and we should be proud of all who work in them, just as I am sure we are of all our charitable workers through all our Charities and the Charities that we have supported.
Changing the subject, in 2015 we launched a five-year strategy for The Craft and that, in normal circumstances, has now run its course. The Deputy Grand Master, at my request, has been chairing a Committee to draw up and develop a new strategy for the next five to seven years. Inevitably the last year has slowed this process down and there seems little point in launching the new strategy until we know that it is both plausible and attainable under the prevailing circumstances. I think it, therefore, appropriate to extend the current 2015 strategy until the end of 2021. This in the hope and expectation that we can roll out the new strategy during 2022. In the meantime, let’s continue the excellent teamwork developed, particularly in recent years, with us all working as one organisation and demonstrating all that is good about Freemasonry.