This article is based on an address which was prepared for Ladies Night during the course of Lodge de Goede Hoop’s 225th anniversary celebrations in 1997.
-- RW Bro Geoff Edwards
In this brief article, I try to share with you some of my Masonic knowledge, reactions and experiences. While I have no doubt that my brethren may well share many, or even most, of my views, each individual Freemason will have reacted, in his own unique way, to the teachings of our Order. He may interpret some of the symbolism a little differently, be inspired by a slightly different message or be attracted to a different aspect of our craft’s activities. In my view, the specifics of why Freemasonry appeals to somebody isn’t that important. What matters is that each Brother, in his own way, develops both as a man and as a citizen and is better equipped to make his contribution to the society in which we live.
Let me not rush ahead too quickly though. Before outlining my reasons for attending Lodge, it seems sensible to give you some background on our activities and philosophies.
To qualify as a prospective Freemason, you have to believe in a higher power than man, must not be seeking material gains, in any form, from the Order and, if you are married, your wife has to support your desire to join. It has been well said that “Freemasonry will not convert a bad man into a good man, but that it will provide a good man with tools with which to improve himself”. Freemasonry does not seek men who want to gain advantages from the Order - it’s looking for men who want to grow and to give of themselves. Rewards are seldom material and are usually in direct proportion to each Brother’s personal contribution. Freemasonry will not accept candidates who have a criminal record or are unrehabilitated insolvents and all applicants must provide a list of character referees.
We welcome good men of any religion, race or creed and, in my view, this philosophy in itself gives Freemasonry a special relevance in our fast-changing world.
No man is ever invited to join our Order, and we certainly wouldn’t coerce anybody into joining us against their will. New applicants are, in fact, put through a stringent examination by the brethren and are made very aware of our fundamental principles. We try to ensure that they can not only afford to participate, but that there will be no negative impact on their home life. Freemasonry believes that a man’s God, his family and his career commitments must always come before the demands of the Order and we ensure that new recruits understand this very well. Having said that, new members make certain promises regarding their Masonic responsibilities and we expect them to do their utmost to honour their commitments to both our Lodge and the Order.
Based on my experience, the criticism leveled at Freemasonry is invariably invalid. I, for example, have never seen any act which undermines religion - to the contrary, the craft encourages brethren to pursue their own religious convictions in such manner as they see fit. I have never seen anybody getting an unfair business advantage through his Masonic connections - although I make no secret of my personal satisfaction at the manner in which my dealings with fellow Freemasons have been conducted. I choose them on merit! I have never been exposed to any ritualistic act in a Masonic temple which I’ve felt embarrassed to be a part of - the secrecy is purely to ensure that each time a new candidate completes a degree, he has the same very special, unforgettable experience as countless brethren have before him. If he knew exactly what to expect, it would lessen the impact.
In our Lodge, we have 2 meetings a month. The Board of Management is held on the 1st Wednesday and it is here that the business affairs of the Lodge are conducted. We plan future workings and social events, update the brethren on Lodge and Masonic activities and explore any other issues relevant to ensuring the continued successful progress of our Lodge.
On the 2nd Wednesday of each month we hold our Ceremonial working at which new candidates are exposed to the teachings of Freemasonry. Our Ceremonial workings follow rituals which have been developed over hundreds of years and each brother, according to his role in the Lodge, will have a specific part to play. As the years pass by, a brother is likely to progress through various different roles, each time gaining a little more understanding of our Order and its teachings. There is a great deal of symbolism in the Ceremonial workings and, in our Lodge, the brethren memorise the ritual thus enhancing the impact. Some brethren are stimulated by researching the background to different aspects of the ritual, thus gaining an even better understanding of our craft.
We are taught that Freemasonry promotes “Truth, Morality and Brotherly Love” and that Freemasons believe in “the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man”. Our ritual workings develop and reinforce these basic precepts and provide the growing Freemason with tools to use as he endeavors to not only understand himself better but to develop his character to the benefit of both himself and those around him.
After each meeting we have a Festive Board at which the brethren relax together. It is at such times that the brotherly aspects of our Order are developed, ideas exchanged and many strong and lasting relationships established. It may interest you to note that discussion on such potentially contentious issues as religion and politics is not allowed at Masonic gatherings. Within the Order, we try to promote a spirit of peace and harmony and avoid emotionally disruptive topics where we can.
By visiting other Lodges, a brother is further afforded the opportunity of expanding both his knowledge and his contact with other members of our Order. In South Africa, we have 4 different constitutions, each promoting similar Masonic teachings, but using different rituals. There are also a number of other degrees, outside of those performed at Lodge de Goede Hoop itself, which will provide an enthusiastic Brother with still more Masonic avenues to be explored.
Where a Brother is able to assist, we also have a variety of charitable projects, geared towards our Homes for Seniors and other needy recipients. A Brother can participate in the Abbeyfield Homes, the Masonic Spring Ball, the Community Chest Carnival, the Masonic Bowls day or any one of several other events. The choice is really up to the individual.
From a personal point of view, I enjoy the ritual work and I find it extremely stimulating - but if that was all I was looking for, a Dramatic Society may well be more appropriate. I’m involved in the Charity work and am delighted to be able to play some small role - but suspect that the likes of Lions and Rotary are more effective fund-raisers than we are.
What attracts me to Freemasonry is that I really do believe in the principles it promotes. I once heard it said that “If all men were Freemasons, most of the world’s problems would disappear”. I firmly believe that. But Freemasonry isn’t just about knowing and understanding the philosophies being taught, it’s about living a Masonic life and striving to follow Masonic principles. It’s about sharing the teachings with others and encouraging them to apply Masonic standards, even though life doesn’t always make the path an easy one.
I go to Lodge because I value the stimulation of learning more about the craft and sharing my time with other men who, like me, want to develop their characters. It’s rather like going to gym - you cannot get physically fit without doing any training. I go to Lodge because it assists me in my efforts to develop myself both morally and spiritually. At this stage, I still feel I have so much to learn from brethren who are older and wiser Masons than I am - but I already have a great deal to share with the newer brethren. In our Lodge, that’s the way it’s been for 225 years now - and it seems likely to continue that way for generations to come.
I make no secret of my pride in telling people about Freemasonry and have no hesitation in recommending Freemasonry to any man who, through the development of his own and his brother’s character, has a genuine desire to make the world a better place to live in. For me, going to Lodge is rather like finding an oasis in a desert storm and, for my part, I’m truly grateful that I have made the discovery.
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