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September 2023 Quarterly Communication - Presiding Officer’s Remarks

Photo of the ICC in Newport, Wales during the Quarterly Communications of Grand Lodge


Frodyr mae can mlynedd ers i’r cyfarfod yma gael ei gynnal i ffwrdd o Lundain ac heb ddigwydd am wythdeg pum mlynedd. Dyma’r tro cyntaf iddo fod yng Nghymru ac rwy’n hapus ein bod yn gwneud hyn heddiw

Brethren it is one hundred years since the Quarterly Communication was first held outside London and this has not occurred for eighty-five years. This is the first occasion a Quarterly Communication has been held in Wales and I am very pleased we are doing this today.

The original initiative to hold a Quarterly Communication outside London came from the then Pro Grand Master, Lord Ampthill, and Deputy Grand Master, Sir Frederick Halsey, in response to representations from a significant number of Provinces distant from London. To hold such a Quarterly Communication  required a change to the Book of Constitutions, which had hitherto stipulated that Quarterly Communications must be held at Freemasons’ Hall. 

The amendment allowing one Quarterly Communication per year to be held away from Freemasons’ Hall, with the permission of The Grand Master was approved by Grand Lodge in September 1922 in the face, I might add, of some stiff opposition from some, predominantly London-based, Brethren as “we had always done it this way”. Does this sound familiar Brethren? In fact it had been forgotten by those opposing the change that the Duke of Sussex, Grand Master from 1813 until 1843, periodically convened a Grand Lodge when he visited a Province away from London in the 1820s and 1830s. 

Following the approval of the amendment the September 1923 Quarterly Communication was held in Liverpool. Other September Quarterly Communications were held in Birmingham in 1928, Newcastle upon Tyne in 1934, and Leeds in 1937. So we are following the example of our forebears in holding this Communication today not in London but in Wales.

I do hope you are all refreshed from a break over the summer months and that you are ready for the new Masonic season. You will have heard me say before in respect of the Strategy for Freemasonry, 2022 and beyond that this year is one for putting in place the organisation and infrastructure to ensure delivery of our common objectives for a thriving organisation. You will also know Brethren that to achieve this the Membership Challenge must be made relevant to all our members in the individual Lodges and Chapters.

Provincial Rulers and their teams, including Visiting Officers, should be communicating with each and every Lodge and Chapter what the Challenge means for them and how they might address it. I have seen some excellent examples from a number of Provinces demonstrating how it is possible to put the Challenge in terms to which members can relate. It might be in terms of comparing the Lodge or Chapter to its position ten years ago and asking what steps do the Lodge intend to take to restore that position. It could be by asking each Lodge to increase the number of initiates by one and reduce the number of  resignations by one each year, as well as cessations and exclusions of members who drift away, often unnoticed…the masonic equivalent of conceding a penalty try or being banned for a no arms tackle! 

There is no single, correct answer. There are a number of different ways this can be done but it is important the members of each Lodge and Chapter take on the challenge and the responsibility. Provinces cannot solve the challenge for the Lodges and Chapters but they can and must support them in their efforts by excellent communication and advice through such tools as the Members’ Pathway. I am sure those Provinces yet to communicate with their Lodges and Chapters on the membership challenge they face will be doing so shortly. I strongly encourage you and your teams to meet your members face-to-face: the Members will respond, I am sure, with greater enthusiasm to the personal approach. It is so much more effective than just using and relying on email communications. 

I am aware that there are many Lodges throughout England and Wales  where there is a waiting list for candidates to join, often with five or six potential members on the list, yet the Lodge customarily only works ceremonies for individual candidates. If a Lodge only meets four or five times a year then it will be only possible to bring one or, at best, two candidates in to the Lodge in any one year. There may even be a consequent, possibly inordinate, delay in the candidate becoming a Master Mason and being able to participate fully in the Lodge. Needless to say, if the number of resignations, cessations, or deaths amongst the existing members exceeds the number of new initiates the Lodge will not thrive, even with a waiting list.

There are many myths, misconceptions, and errors surrounding doing ceremonies for more than one candidate at a time. One such myth, which I think is profoundly misguided, is that being part of a multiple ceremony detracts from the experience. Some Lodges have done multiple ceremonies for many years, in the case of one Lodge of which I am aware it has done multiple ceremonies since its foundation more than two hundred years ago. For those who have gone through Initiation, Passing and Raising as a group of two or more have a natural bond and friendship through this common experience that they would not trade, nor has it detracted from their experience.

In order to assist Lodges where there is a waiting list and where they wish to undertake multiple ceremonies, but have not yet done so, a film is being produced involving the Rulers, The Grand Director of Ceremonies and members of his team, and volunteers from a number of Lodges where it is the custom to perform such ceremonies. This film will show how best to manage such ceremonies, particularly in the work of the Deacons, Wardens, and Master. This is so a Lodge can do the ceremony well for both the benefit of the candidates as well as its members. The film will also feature interviews with some Brethren who have experienced being one of the candidates in multiple ceremonies. I hope that the film will be available in the Autumn and I would strongly encourage all Lodges where there is a waiting list to use multiple ceremonies where at all possible.

Brethren, as you are aware, there are three pillars to the Strategy we are following and we have emphasised the pillars of  a Thriving Membership and a Coherent Organisation. We are not avoiding pursuing enhancements to the third pillar of Community Engagement. I am pleased to tell you that the Deputy Grand Master will chair a review of this aspect of the Strategy. This work will commence shortly and I look forward to being able to update you on progress in due course. 

One conclusion the Rulers and members of the Strategy Working Party have reached is that the current, modern explanation of our principles in the terms of, “Integrity, Respect, Friendship and Charity”, does not quite do justice to the breadth of your engagement in your communities. We believe it would be more appropriate to articulate the principles in terms of “Integrity, Respect, Friendship, and Service”. Charity is one of the fundamentals of being a Freemason but is now often seen in monetary terms, rather than the broader terms of the past, which is true up to appoint. Time, skills, and the willingness to do, however, are every bit as valuable to the communities in which we live, if not more so. I think Service captures more fully our engagement in our communities. I hope you will agree with this amendment to the modern statement of what are our principles.

You will all be aware that this experiment of holding a Quarterly Communication outside London was flagged as being likely to happen when we launched the Strategy for Freemasonry, 2022 and beyond. I would like to reiterate my thanks to the Deputy Grand Master and his working party for the recommendation to come here. I would also like to thank the Grand Secretary and the Grand Director of Ceremonies and their respective teams and express my appreciation for the considerable amount of work that went into ensuring today happened so effectively.

Mae hyn wedi bod yn arbrawf a gwersi wedi eu dysgu ond fel dywed Y Prif Feistr ‘ heb drio ni fyddwn yn gwybod be sy’n gweithio.

Gobeithiaf bydd pawb yn fodlon mynd a trio rhywbeth gwahanol yn y Gyfrinfa a’r Siapter. Mae’r Prif Gyfrinfa wedi gwneud hyn heddiw am y tro cyntaf yng Nghymru

Dymunaf dymor cryf i bawb.

Today has been an experiment, there will be lessons we can learn, there will always be naysayers but, as the Grand Master himself says, “If you do not try something how will you know if it works or not?”. I hope you will all take away some inspiration to try new or different things in your Lodges and Chapters and remember, Grand Lodge has now done what it advises others to do, try something new and engage members, and did it first here in Wales!

I wish you all a successful forthcoming Masonic season.


Pro Grand Master, Jonathan Spence

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