What is Freemasonry really all about?
Freemasonry is one of the world’s oldest and largest non-religious, non-political, fraternal and charitable organisations, underpinned by values based on integrity, kindness, honesty and fairness.
Members learn its principles by means of a series of ritual dramas memorised and acted out in each Lodge or society of Freemasons. This shared experience helps to develop each individual and, through his involvement as part of a team, provides a strong sense of support for others.
So what is Freemasonry really all about?
It is about FELLOWSHIP, FUN, CARING AND CHARITY
First it’s about FELLOWSHIP. Men enjoy the company of other men. The operative Masons of yesteryear, who were our predecessors, not only worked together in teams but often lived together in Lodges, as the word implies. They looked after each others’ interests, they helped each other as members of a family, they relaxed and enjoyed their time together. Being happy in each others’ company was fundamental to working together. It’s the nub of the matter for us today and tomorrow too.
We enjoy belonging to a movement that accepts everyone for himself, whoever he is, with no strings attached. It’s a grand thing to visit a Lodge in any part of the world knowing that you will be welcome whatever your colour, your race or your religion.
Churches you may know are supposed to be good at this kind of thing but we all know that you can slip in and out of churches sometimes without so much as a word from anyone, except perhaps the Vicar on the doorstep afterwards. That is really sad. It can’t happen in a Lodge. There is always the welcoming word – always someone is ready to put themselves out to make you feel at home. That’s Fellowship. That’s partly what Masonry is about.
Then it’s about FUN. In the address to the Brethren at an Installation Meeting we are reminded that we are in the business of being happy and communicating happiness to others. Of course, happiness is more than fun but I use the word fun in an omnibus sense. Whilst our ceremonies in the Lodge and our rituals are serious matters, conducted with a sense of occasion and decorum, there is a certain lightness of touch in evidence born of friendship, and that lightness of touch finds its fullest consummation at the Festive Board, as the meal following our Meetings is traditionally known. Happiness underpins both. Put together, there is a lot of fun, and why not? Masonry is about FUN as well as FELLOWSHIP.
Then there is CARING. Masonry is also about concern for other people. Our ceremonies remind us of that. The three great lights of Freemasonry – the Volume of the Sacred Law, the Square and the Compasses – are each a constant reminder of the care and concern we owe to God, to our Brethren and our families and, by no means least, to the wider community in which we live and which we seek to serve.
What we each receive free and in great abundance is the brotherly love and friendship of our fellows, in a way that cannot be bought or paid for and this is what separates us from other associations. If a Brother is in trouble, then we try to help out in whatever manner we can – sometimes by visiting and giving reassurance, sometimes it maybe necessary to go further afield and will require the assistance of the R.M.B.I. [The Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution] or Grand Charity with the guidance of the Provincial Almoner, but, whatever course of action is required, we can rest assured that it will be forthcoming.
And finally there is CHARITY. It is said that Charity begins at home, and that’s exactly what happened when the charitable side of Masonry began in the eighteenth century. It was developed with schools to educate the children of needy masons. It supported and housed distressed masons and their dependents and, of course, it set up a hospital. All of these filled gaps in society’s provision of care.
Our idea of Charity has developed. Our care for our own people and their dependents goes from strength to strength, but. alongside it, is the growing recognition that, because we are part of society, we share the duty of all citizens to care for others This element has become a much larger part of Masonic charity for which we should all, rightly, be very proud.We do believe strongly in the charitable work we do, however, in the opinion of many today, Freemasonry is not a charitable or fundraising organisation, although at times recently it has felt like it as more and more demands seem to be made on us.
People wishing solely to focus on charitable endeavour should join Rotary or the Lions. It is our belief that a members’ charity giving should be its own private business between each and every one of us and the Lodge’s Charity Steward and involvement should not be worn like a badge or deserving of reward. Each member gives what he can or wishes to afford, that is never going to be the same for everyone due to personal circumstances and should not be recorded or acknowledged as such.
Additionally, Freemasonry is concerned with improving the morals of men in society and, though Charity is an important element within this framework, it is not and never should be the “be all and end all”. We are convinced that, in order to promote our organisation, we should be focussing on our moral and brotherly advantages in a despairing world of lowering moral values and eroding standards.
We need to make sure that we maintain the right balance between all aspects of Freemasonry.
The Ceremonies we undertake are serious matters, conducted with a sense of occasion and decorum. We should always do our very best not only for ourselves, but more particularly for the Candidate. It is his Ceremony and it should be unique and personal to him. Ritual is not the “be all and end all” of Masonry. Some people are great ritualists, others struggle with it, but by far the most important thing is that each strives to do his best – everyone will always be supported and helped by other members of the Lodge.
There are many aspects to Freemasonry and lots of additional “side orders” and traditions to join but most believe the Craft, as it is widely known, to be the main function. Many individuals join the “side orders”, and enjoy them a great deal, sometimes more than the Craft. One can do as much or as little Freemasonry as one wishes, it can occupy you every day/night of the week or just once a month.
Freemasonry is a hobby that we enjoy, otherwise we wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) do it. It is nowhere near as important as our families and our work (for those who still work). Brotherly love, relief, truth, honour, virtue and mercy are the basic foundations upon which freemasonry rests. These are also the qualities that are essential for us all in remaining useful members of society.
Freemasonry means different things to each of those who join. For some it’s about making new friends and acquaintances. For others it’s about working together to help deserving causes. But for us all, it is an enjoyable hobby.
For some, its biggest draw is the fact that members come from all walks of life and meet as equals whatever their race, religion or position in society.
Overall, it enables us to make great friends and companions with whom we share fellowship. It enables us to enjoy ourselves and have fun with like-minded men and it enables to care and provide charity for those not as fortunate as ourselves. It assists in making good men better.
We should consider ourselves very lucky and reflect on our good fortune.