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The Supreme Grand Chapter - Completing the journey

Jonathan Spence Pro First Grand Principal Supreme Grand Chapter

Companions, I am delighted to see so many of you here today despite the change in date caused by circumstances beyond our control. The irony will not be lost on any of you that, in the end, the cause of the change of date was removed, but happened too late for us to do anything about it! I suppose, as the French would say: C’est la vie!

I must first thank the Second Grand Principal for installing me today in his customary exemplary style. I would also like to thank both the Grand Scribe Ezra and the Grand Director of Ceremonies and their respective teams for ensuring that the arrangements for today have gone so smoothly. Some may be wondering why the Installation took place at all. I have held the office of Pro First Grand Principal from the moment I was installed as Pro Grand Master. It is a longstanding custom for this Installation, including a formal obligation in respect of the office, to take place both to re-emphasise the interconnectedness of the Craft and the Royal Arch and to underline the importance of the Royal Arch in English Freemasonry under the United Grand Lodge of England.

In 1813, our predecessors in the two rival Grand Lodges were seeking to achieve an appropriate and delicate balance in order to create a statement about the Royal Arch that would allow their union to form a United Grand Lodge of England. That statement, derived from the 1813 Act of Union, now forms the preliminary declaration in our Book of Constitutions and makes us unique among Grand Lodges around the world by establishing a clear and indissoluble link between the Craft and the Royal Arch.

That statement means that we, as Freemasons of the United Grand Lodge established in 1813, practice pure, Antient Masonry. This consists of three degrees and no more, namely those of the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft and the Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch. It is clear there are four elements at play here, the first three being governed by the United Grand Lodge of England and the fourth, the Royal Arch, whose operation and governance is entrusted to this Supreme Grand Chapter.

Because of this link, the Grand Master automatically serves as our First Grand Principal, and many other senior roles are also automatically held in both the Craft and Royal Arch. This glorious building, of course, gives a tangible expression to this joint heritage. In real terms, we are therefore one organisation – and so when someone is made a Freemason, he needs to be made fully aware from the outset that his journey as one consists of these four elements – with the Royal Arch as the fourth and ultimate stage and one which enriches and completes that journey. It is an aspect that I hope all will aspire to experience when the time is right for them.

As a practical consequence of this indissoluble link, and to demonstrate its reality, we have developed a clear, integrated strategy moving forwards. As many of you are aware, the ‘Strategy for Freemasonry 2022 and Beyond’ will be launched at the December Quarterly Communication. A key part of this strategy is that the Craft and Royal Arch must work seamlessly together at all levels as one organisation. This means not only that we must better educate all our members about the value of the Royal Arch and its benefit, but also exploit this link in more practical ways to engage and retain our members who are so vital for our future.

It also means that we must start at the beginning and move to a clear understanding of this four-stage experience within our own Craft Lodges, so that the indissoluble link is in the forefront and visible. What better way could there be to express this than with the image of the interlinked red and blue chains you will have seen around the building today?

I must again emphasise, Companions, that this fourth element is one that all Freemasons under the United Grand Lodge of England ought to aspire to experience when the time is right for them. It would be quite counterproductive to force the issue if it is not yet the right time for an individual member of the Craft. I would strongly encourage Master Masons to experience the Royal Arch and complete their journey in pure Antient Masonry before joining any other orders of Freemasonry however supportive I am, and will remain, of those other orders.

Many of you will have noticed that when I was escorted into Grand Chapter, I was (and still am) wearing the Tercentenary jewel. As both Pro Grand Master and Pro First Grand Principal, I am proud to celebrate our combined history by wearing it in this meeting, just as we do in our own private Chapters. I hope that in future, Companions will be allowed and encouraged to wear it in Grand Chapter.

To support these objectives and to assist our members in explaining the benefits of Royal Arch membership, the Committee of General Purposes and its working parties are developing ‘Archway’. This will serve as a resource of examples of good practice from across our Constitution of which individual Chapters, as well as Provinces and Districts, can take advantage.

A lot of work remains to be done. We should not expect to see a single grand launch of Archway in the next few months, but see it as the start of a process that will develop during the course of 2023. One of the first releases will highlight the value of membership and how we ‘Discover More’ about Freemasonry in the Royal Arch.

I have also asked the Committee of General Purposes to consider with the Board of General Purposes to what extent there are other steps we might take together to enhance this integrated approach, including, for example, the role of the Royal Arch representatives in our Craft Lodges.

The Committee will also be clarifying existing guidance on the delivery of lectures. We all know that many Chapters often still spoil the magnificent experience of an exaltation by the delivery of too many lectures immediately afterwards, or by persisting with outdated approaches to the way they run their meetings. They then wonder why new members fail to return.

It does not have to be like this. There are many examples of good practice throughout this country that our Districts and Chapters can adopt if they wish to thrive. Indeed, there are many Chapters that have already adapted and are thriving, with queues of good candidates waiting to join, because these Chapters are not only perceived as serious about what they do, but also have a reputation for being very enjoyable.

I must be clear, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. We are a diverse organisation, but that diversity is also one of our great strengths. The key must be to ensure our members are engaged.

We are all aware of the challenges that both the Royal Arch and the Craft face as we move forward, united together, but it is also well known that those who join the Royal Arch are far more likely to remain engaged with their Lodges and that, ultimately, is to everyone’s benefit. I am excited about the future and very much hope you, our members, will enthusiastically embrace the opportunities for your individual Chapters to thrive with all your members engaged, with good ceremonies and great enjoyment. 

Thank you, Companions.

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