Coronavirus - Member Update
20 March 2020: A message from the Grand Secretary
In these testing times, I have already been immensely impressed by the determination shown by a number of Freemasons to maintain their daily advancement in Masonic knowledge, and how receptive everyone has been to the challenges we face.
As the joint letter that I, and the CEO of the Masonic Charitable Foundation, the Freemasons’ Charity, has said, there is so much that we ought to do to demonstrate the value of who we are and what we do as Freemasons in the community. This also affords a great opportunity for every mason to expand his masonic horizons by taking advantage of the new Solomon website as well as honing and passing on their ritual skills.
While we will all be required to make adjustments during this period of suspension, I would also ask that members fully acquaint themselves with whether certain adjustments can co-exist with the Obligation that we all took when initiated. It is the opinion of the Grand Registrar that it is an “Antient Landmark of the Order” that Lodge meetings and the related ceremonies can only take place with all Brethren physically present in a properly tyled Lodge Room; however, it is acceptable for members to practise such ceremonies, most particularly those aspects which make up the spoken parts of the ritual, over the internet. The security implications and pitfalls (for example the ability to record on a number of software platforms) unfortunately do not square with our Obligation to assure privacy and confidentiality of proceedings - and we therefore ask members to refrain from any demonstrations of those elements of the ceremonies covered in the Obligation, or any attempt to reproduce the ‘choreography’ online. We have no doubt that our Directors of Ceremonies will have no difficulty in putting our Brethren right on such things when we are happily able to meet again. For these reasons please do not try to hold a genuine Lodge or Lodge of Instruction in a virtual form, but feel free to practise those elements outlined above.
We will, in the days and weeks to come, be providing LOIs with material from Solomon, and our extensive archives to enable learning, discussion and that ever important Daily Advancement in Masonic Knowledge.
As previously stated, I have no doubt that Brethren will continue to adapt to this challenging situation - but simply ask that thought is given to the implications that these have on our ancient Craft.
Dr David Staples FRCP
The below communication from the Pro Grand Master was sent to all our members on 19 March 2020:
Dear Brethren and Companions,
These are difficult and testing times for us all. First, I wanted to thank each and every one of you for your patience and understanding during this challenging and worrying period.
Coronavirus is going to be with us for some considerable time, and I am certain you are as disappointed as I am that we have, reluctantly, suspended all Masonic activity. I trust that you will agree that it was the right course of action at the right time.
I appreciate the enormous disruption that this will cause all of us, and also the hole left in our lives by the withdrawal of something we hold enormously dear. To those of you who have been Masons for but a few months, this may seem a little strange, but to those like me, who have been ‘bitten by the bug’, we cannot help but feel bewilderment and sadness at how quickly something so important has been taken away from us, albeit temporarily.
For the next few months we may not see as much of each other as we have recently; we may be spread throughout the country, or indeed the world and we may have things asked of us which sit outside the ordinary compass of our experience. From a personal point of view, being over 70 and diabetic I am taking the "lock down" seriously, as I am sure all brethren in the same situation will. There are, of course, a great many in this position and it is not easy with no, even vague, end date in sight. My real sympathies are with those who live alone. I am lucky, I have a wife, as well as our children all of whom are most supportive and our daughter is arranging our shopping needs, where they can't be delivered. I do hope that many of our brethren are in the same boat and over and above that, we all have our large and active masonic community to rely on. We are luckier than most.
My youngest son is adamant that the best way forward is to try to have some form of structure in our day, as that is what we have been used to most of our lives, albeit in a very different format. I suspect that, in the current times, the structure will take on a rather strange appearance. We live in a reasonably isolated area and can walk for over an hour without seeing anyone, therefore I think the dog is going to get a great deal fitter (and could even become a better ritualist!); my office might become and stay tidy and I can catch up with all those things I have been putting off for far too long. This won't take up 3 months or whatever time is required, but I am sure other activities will develop as time goes by. Anything to keep mind and body active. Of course, at some point in the future, life will return again to normal.
I have already mentioned trying to keep a structure in our lives. Freemasonry is a very well-structured institution. Currently that structure has been disturbed, but rest assured that, whilst The Book of Constitutions is pretty rigid on some subjects, ways will be found to ensure that we get Lodges and Chapters back onto the right format as quickly as possible after the resumption. This difficult period will run its course, and move into history and our Lodges and Chapters will begin to meet again. Candidates will experience the wonder of the initiation ceremony, Bro Treasurers will again chase their profligate Brethren for dues, Grand Officers will, more’s the pity, sit ‘tutting’ on the back rows over some ceremonial sleight, imagined or actual, and the rhythm of our masonic lives will once again return to normal.
Over the last few years we have been trying to stress that Freemasonry must remain relevant to society and I have never been in doubt that this has been the case in many ways. However, it has never been more relevant than it is right now. What we do in the next few months, will be written into our Lodge and Chapter histories and will test us, as an organisation and as people perhaps more than anything in our lifetimes. I think it is fair to say that I cannot remember a more testing time for the organisation, for society and for the country. We need to step up and do our part, as we have in difficult times past, to help those, our less fortunate Brethren, their families and the communities from which we are drawn.
That is why, we have, today, released a joint statement with the MCF, the Freemasons’ Charity, committing to help those in need. Up and down the country, in Provinces large and small, Freemasons are coming together to commit to help those who find themselves at life’s lowest ebb. I encourage those of you who feel able to safely commit both time and effort to think on how you might play a very small part in this worthy National effort. There are many great ideas already out there, and we will be sharing these and how successful they are as things develop.
We will need your dedication, flexibility and patience over the coming weeks and months to help each other through these turbulent times. Freemasonry has weathered many storms in its centuries-long history. It will weather this one too, and we will emerge ready for the challenges of, I suspect, a very different world.
Look after yourselves, brethren, and I trust we can get back to normality in the not too distant future. I wish you and your families good health and happiness, and more than your fair share of luck.
Pro Grand Master
19 March 2020: Joint statement from United Grand Lodge of England & the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF), The Freemasons' Charity
The Coronavirus outbreak is providing society with its most testing time since World War 2. Freemasons have always been guided by their four core values of Friendship, Integrity, Charity and Respect. During this crisis period it is more important than ever that we stand firmly by these principles, and that we’re seen to stand by them. We must work together to help each other and the wider community.
In response to the pandemic, the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) and the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF), the Freemasons’ charity, are combining to provide support to vulnerable members and their families, as well as their local communities - as we always have done, but now we must redouble our efforts.
Today, we have agreed that during this crisis, the MCF will supply additional financial assistance above and beyond its regular charitable funding, working alongside UGLE who will be coordinating a number of projects through the mobilisation of our vast membership.
Please be assured that the safety of our members and those we aim to assist remains our top priority, and any arrangements that are made will strictly conform to the best medical advice from the authorities.
More details will follow shortly and your involvement in this vital action will be key to making it a success.
Galvanising a network of 200,000 members, many of whom are elderly as well as at risk, is not without its challenges. Now is the time to pull together with a clear, joined up approach. We do not doubt that Freemasonry and its members will rise to the challenge.
The below Important Announcement from The Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent, was sent on 17 March 2020:
In view of the latest Government advice on the coronavirus pandemic, all Lodge and Chapter meetings within England and Wales are suspended for a period of four months with immediate effect.
The Most Worshipful Grand Master
United Fraternity of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of England.
The below letter was sent to all our members in England, Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man on 16 March 2020:
There appears to be confusion (and a certain amount of conflicting advice being given either by Provincial/District authorities or by well-meaning individuals via social media or the internet) about the steps to be taken in relation to scheduled meetings during the Coronavirus pandemic.
For the avoidance of doubt, unless and until there is a general suspension by the MW The Grand Master of Lodge and Chapter meetings, Secretaries and Scribes E should continue to issue a summons for each meeting – preferably by e-mail. While it would not be appropriate to forbid Lodges or Chapters from holding a meeting on a bare quorum, it is strongly recommended that Secretaries and Scribes E collect apologies from all or a majority of the members in order to establish in advance of the meeting that it will be necessary for it to be abandoned.
The appropriate statement (shown below) should then be entered in the Minute Book.
“The regular meeting of the Lodge on …. day …. March, 2020 was duly called in accordance with the attached summons. Owing to the incidence of the coronavirus the required number of Brethren to open the Lodge could not be assembled and the meeting was abandoned”
“The regular convocation of the Chapter on …..day …. March, 2020 was duly called in accordance with the attached summons. Owing to the incidence of the coronavirus the required number of Companions to open the Chapter could not be assembled and the convocation was abandoned”
To be clear, Secretaries and Scribes E may abandon meetings if they receive apologies from enough members to make the meeting inquorate. They may state that they will assume apologies from those who have not responded to them.
Guidance will be issued in due course as to how, once meetings are resumed, Lodges and Chapters should deal with business that could not be transacted during the pandemic.
Dr David Staples FRCP
CEO and Grand Secretary
The below letter and guidance was sent to all our members on 13 March 2020:
As we are sure you are aware, the next steps in the Government's approach to the Coronavirus outbreak were announced yesterday. The Prime Minister, alongside the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Officer, disclosed that the United Kingdom was moving out of the ‘Containment’ phase and into the ‘Delay’ phase. The aim of this phase is to push the peak of the outbreak into the summer, so as to give as much time as possible for further research into the virus and to ensure that the NHS is as prepared as it can be.
As set out in recent communications on this issue, UGLE are content to give advice beyond that issued by Public Health England in relation to this virus due to the demographic of our membership and the high risk posed by it to a number of our more elderly members.
After consultation with the Rulers and Senior members of the Board, we have therefore agreed to strengthen our guidance as follows:
- The United Grand Lodge of England strongly advises that those over the age of 65 years old, and those with hypertension, heart disease, lung disease or diabetes no longer attend Lodge and Chapter meetings for the foreseeable future.
- The United Grand Lodge of England strongly advises that meetings of over 100 members should not take place. Advice on abandoning meetings has been previously circulated.
- We draw attention to the fragile state of some Masonic Halls and their financial reliance on income from meetings. We encourage Lodges to consider their Halls’ ongoing viability when cancelling meetings and advise, where possible, that arrangements are made to support their halls through the difficult times ahead in exchange for some future agreement to recoup any such support when the situation resolves.
For your information, at Freemasons’ Hall in London, in addition to hand washing on entry for all staff and visitors, the following steps will now be implemented:
- All United Grand Lodge of England staff (who are able to) will be working from home until further notice.
- Freemasons' Hall will be closed (from Monday 16 March 2020) to external visitors, tourists and tours will cease.
- Non-masonic business meetings will be virtual where possible.
We will review this advice as the situation worsens. Finally, we would ask that you check on the more elderly and vulnerable members of your Lodges and Chapters, especially those that live alone, remembering that telephoning is probably safest for them rather than visiting in person.
Sincerely and fraternally yours
Dr David Staples FRCP
CEO and Grand Secretary
A joint statement from the:
Grand Secretary / Grand Scribe E
Grand Secretary at Mark Masons’ Hall
Grand Secretary General of the Ancient and Accepted Rite
As the Coronavirus continues to escalate, we are issuing the following urgent guidance above and beyond that issued by Public Health England. This is due to the main age demographic of our membership being in a significantly higher risk group. This advice equally applies to members of the Orders administered from Mark Masons’ Hall and members of the Ancient and Accepted Rite.
COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus first identified in Wuhan City, China in December 2019. The World Health Organization (WHO) believes COVID-19 more severely affects older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes).
Based on the WHO’s declaration that this is a public health emergency of international concern, the UK Chief Medical Officers have raised the risk to the UK from low to moderate. On 10 February, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, announced strengthened legal powers to protect public health, and on the 2 March outlined the UK’s national response to the virus.
Whilst each unit may decide for itself what precautions it may wish to take, UGLE strongly suggests you follow this advice:
- If you or a family member are showing signs of illness, please do not attend your Lodge or Chapter meetings and follow the guidance below.
- We recommend that members consider refraining from any physical contact within the ceremonies, before or after meetings. Given the tactile nature of many ceremonies, if you or candidates are concerned about how they can take place with little or no physical contact, while maintaining their meaning and impact, you may even wish to consider postponing the ceremony until the situation has improved.
- Minimise mass shared transport (i.e. coaches) to meetings.
- Wash hands thoroughly before and after meetings for 20 seconds with hot water.
- This advice stands whether you do or do not wear gloves during your ceremonies.
Any member who feels unwell should follow the advice from Public Health England. If a member is known to have been infected with COVID-19, then it is standard policy for Public Health to contact all those with whom he has been in contact. Full co-operation is expected to ensure the risk to other unit members – and members of the public – is minimised. We recommend the Secretary maintains physical possession of the attendance book to assist in this process.
If you are worried about a fellow member please keep in contact with them via the phone and text to keep an eye on their wellbeing.
Keeping yourself and your family safe:
Your questions answered:
Q: How long does the Coronavirus survive on surfaces?
A: It is not certain how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses. It may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. So please ensure you wash your hands with soap and hot water for 20 seconds (singing Happy Birthday twice) – especially after using public transport.
Q: I am showing symptoms of the virus, what should I do?
A: Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. If you are worried you are showing symptoms of the Coronavirus please use the 111 online coronavirus service to find out what to do next. In Wales call 111 (if available in your area) or 0845 46 47.
Q. I have been asked to self-isolate, what steps should I follow?
A: Please click the link here if you have been asked to self-isolate for further advice and guidance:
Q: How long is the incubation period for COVID-19?
A: The incubation period means the time between catching the virus and showing symptoms of the disease. Most estimates of the incubation period for COVID-19 range from 1-14 days; most commonly around five days.
As always, the welfare of our members is paramount. We encourage all members to follow this guidance and keep up-to-date with developments from Public Health England as they are issued.
Dr David Staples FRCP,
CEO and Grand Secretary, United Grand Lodge of England
Grand Secretary, Mark Masons’ Hall
Dr G R E Shilson,
Grand Secretary General, Ancient and Accepted Rite