But Masonry does bring people together –
people of different backgrounds, jobs,
cultures and faiths. My own Masonic roots
are in East Lancashire. In Manchester, where
the Jewish community holds an honoured
place, it was Masonry and Masonry alone
which introduced me, a Christian minister,
to members of that community.
Ecclesiastes is not the best-known book in
the Bible, but I was introduced to it at a very
early age. At the end of term service at my
prep school, the reading was invariably from
Ecclesiastes, Chapter 12.
There is a marvellous poetic description of
old age in that chapter, and at eight, ten or 12
years of age we understood nothing of that,
but then the author comes down to earth. He
writes: ‘Of the making many books there is
no end; and much study is a weariness of the
flesh’. That we could understand. Different as
we were – all children are – in this we agreed
100%. Here in our diversity we were united.
Psalm 133.3 states: ‘Behold, how good
and joyful a thing it is, for brethren to dwell
together in unity’.
Just as Lodges are different, so, too, are we
as individuals. One Mason appreciates
primarily the simple gifts of friendship and
comradeship, another the dignified
ceremonial and the moral and ethical lessons
he learns in Lodge.
There is in Masonry a wonderful diversity,
and we all have our own particular
perceptions of it. But there is also a deep
underlying unity. For all our diversity, we do
indeed dwell together in unity, and at the
heart of our unity are our three Grand
Principles: Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth.
We hear a great deal these days about the
plight of the so-called sink estates in some of
our inner cities – and that plight is real
enough. But suburbia, too, has its problems.
Man is a social animal. He was made to relate
– to care and to cry, to love and to laugh – but
in so many areas community has collapsed.
You can live in the same house for years,
and you probably know the people next door,
but you do not necessarily know the people
next door but one and you certainly do not
know the people next door but two. There is
so little nowadays to bring people together.
Masonry lifts us out of our narrow ruts. It
helps us to dwell together in unity – and that
means not just the absence of conflict – but
the deep fellowship we enjoy when we relate
positively and harmoniously to one another.
The cement with which Masonry binds us
together is that of our first Grand Principle –
Brotherly Love. But love is one of the most
ambiguous words in the English language. It
can refer equally to the deepest self-sacrifice
or to the sloppiest sentimentality. But in
Masonry, love is always practical.
The second Grand Principal on which our
Order is founded is Relief. We seek to care
for one another and for our dependants, and
to offer relief in times of need.
Although, when we toast our Masonic
charities, we often add the phrase: ‘May we
never need them’, as none of us can know the
future. It is a sobering thought that our first
Grand Master was himself a recipient of the
charities in his old age.
Masonic charities have brought relief
to many thousands of brethren and their
dependants, but if charity begins at home,
it certainly does not end there. Masonry has
extended its charity far beyond itself, and
there must be very few worthy humanitarian
causes which it has not helped in one way
‘Blessed is he that considereth the poor
and needy’, says the psalmist. The giving
of alms has always been regarded as a
fundamental religious duty, and for us relief
is a fundamental expression of brotherly love.
Our third Grand Principle is Truth. The
manner in which we communicate that truth
is peculiar to Masonry – a series of ritual
dramas based partly on ancient mythology
and partly on the customs and tools of the
old operative Masons.
The truth itself is not peculiar to Masonry
– civil and moral duty, dependence on
others, fidelity, natural equality, the rewards
of labour and the inevitability of death. But
we see these things ‘under God’ as it were,
just as we see the common brotherhood of
man resting ultimately on the common
fatherhood of God.
In England we recognise as authentic only
that Masonry which is based on belief and
trust in a Supreme Being. But the fact that
we believe in God, and that we offer prayer
in our Lodges, does not mean that Masonry
is a religion or a substitute for religion.
Many of us in our own personal faiths
would want to say much more about God
than Masonry itself says, and that is quite
right, and Masonry does not in any way
discourage us here.
In the earlier days of Masonry, belief in
God was well-nigh universal and religious
faith could almost be taken for granted. Ours
is a more secular age, but perversely (and I
find it very perverse), Masonry is attacked
nowadays not so much by unbelievers, as by
those believers who have adopted a sort of
‘back-to-the-wall’ or siege mentality and
who have become more and more exclusive.
Time was – and not so long ago – when
most bishops were members of the Craft, and
often high officers, but that time has passed.
Many senior clerics, even in the Church of
England and other mainstream churches,
seem very suspicious of Masonry, if not
downright hostile to it.
But we have nothing to hide, and
I am sure our increasing openness will help
to convince people of this. Brotherly Love,
Relief and Truth – the Grand Principles are
sound. Where we fall short – as we have done
and still do at times – the fault is not with our
principles but with ourselves.
So let us dedicate ourselves anew to these
principles, that Masonry may continue to
flourish, and that we may make our daily
advancement in it.
The Venerable Dr Mark Dalby is
Archdeacon Emeritus of Rochdale
Web site created by Mark Griffin