What is Freemasonry all about?
It’s a unique organisation which it is difficult to liken to any other because it offers experiences which are not found anywhere else. Membership is made up of men from all walks of life and religions who share a concern for human values, moral standards and individual’s rights.
Members are offered a knowledge and insight into history and philosophy and an appreciation and involvement in ancient rituals and symbolism. They are also encouraged to develop themselves through service to others and involvement in local, national and international charities.
Freemasonry also provides members with a code of conduct - an important ideal in today’s changing world - which is based on moral and ethical standards.
It is an organisation of like minded men who strive to live their lives by the principles of “brotherly love, relief and truth” or put another way “goodwill, integrity and charity.”
Freemasonry also provides opportunities to meet socially without religious or political barriers.
Many people, because they just don’t know, think of Freemasons as secretive, stuffy and pompous and Freemasonry as an incomprehensible organisation of men who meet in secret, look after themselves and plot! At its simplest, it can be described as a club where members subscribe to high ideals, have fun and do a lot of good.
Why are people suspicious?
Because in the past we have not been as open as we should have been and not always responded to ill advised and unfounded comments. In many ways we have only ourselves to blame for perpetuating the myths.
But things are changing. We are far more proactive and open although, like some other organisations, we do keep some things to ourselves.
The perception of a bunch of grown men parading around in funny clothes with peculiar hand shakes is extreme. We do wear aprons, we do have ceremonies and we do have signs of recognition but there is nothing sinister about them and each has a part within the overall enjoyment of members and participation in a world wide fraternal organisation.
Why is it called a fraternal organisation?
One of the most enjoyable aspects of modern Freemasonry is that men from all walks of life, regardless of religion, race, colour or social status, can come together on equal terms and through membership share a common bond of friendship and fraternity as Freemasons.
Members are expressly forbidden from any religious or political discussions during Lodge meetings, to enjoy peace and harmony. This is illustrated by the historical fact that during the American Civil War, under the banner of Freemasonry, soldiers from the north and south met and practised the ideals of friendship and fraternity in peace and harmony.
At our lodge meetings formal ceremonies are held during which small plays are enacted by appointed officers, to welcome new members and educate and inform others. These ceremonies take the ancient customs and tools of operative masons and the classical styles of architecture and apply them to standards of morality and principle which all Freemasons strive for. Members are also regularly reminded to improve their daily lives and to help others.
After the Lodge meeting members normally adjourn for a meal together. This is an important part of Freemasonry and allows everyone to get to now each other in a sociable and informal setting. Sometimes this is described as meeting on the level and parting on the square – meeting as equals and parting as friends.
Freemasonry can and does provide members and their families a social life with like minded people and the family and family values are important elements of Freemasonry. Every member is expected to value his family above everything and it even takes precedence over Masonic membership.
Similarly, a member’s family is expected to understand and support him in his Masonic development. Applicants are always asked if they have discussed their interest with their families.
Depending on the customs of the Lodge, most hold social functions with their wives, partners, friends and family.
What does it cost to become a Freemason?
It all depends on which Lodge you join. Annual membership fees and subscriptions are expected to be paid regularly and these vary from Lodge to Lodge. There is a one off joining fee and new members have to buy their Masonic attire. These are always explained at an applicant’s interview. There is also the regular dining fee, which again varies between Lodges and how often and how well you dine.
What about Charity and Freemasonry?
The giving of charity is an integral part of Freemasonry and this is emphasised to all applicants who have to be proposed, seconded and then voted on by all members of the Lodge. Every Lodge, regardless of the number of members, raises money for charity and funds are distributed locally, nationally and internationally.
The United Grand Lodge of England, our governing body, has four major charitable institutions: the Freemasons’ Grand Charity, the Masonic Samaritan Fund, the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution and the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys. Each year, a different Provincial Grand Lodge holds a charity Festival for one of the four and raises, over several years, significant amounts of money.
In 2002, the then Provincial Grand Master of Staffordshire, R.W.Bro.Kevin Chawner, presented a cheque to the (New) Masonic Samaritan Fund for £2.55 million. The current Provincial Grand Master, R.W.Bro.Dr. Alexander I Stewart TD, will host a Festival on 14th September 2013 in aid of the Freemasons’ Grand Charity and it is hoped to present a cheque for £1.5 million.
The Freemasons’ Grand Charity is one of the UK’s leading grant makers and every year gives in excess of £500,000 to Hospices across England and Wales. In 2004, when the Tsunami struck South Asia, the Grand Charity responded within hours with a cheque for £50,000 to enable the British Red Cross to send immediate aid.
In Staffordshire, the major Grand Charity grants over the past five years have been to the following worthy causes:
Keele University (Deafness Research) £117,700
Eight Hospices in the Province £141,100
British Red Cross (First Responder Vehicle) £ 50,000
(Joint grant re Staffs, Warks & Worcs)
Midlands Air Ambulance £ 20,000
The Prince’s Trust £ 5,000
Lichfield Cathedral (Lady Chapel) £ 5,000
(Herkenrode Glass Window Appeal)
How can I become a Freemason?
If you are 21 years of age, or 18 if you are the son of a Mason, of good character and background and believe in God you can become a Freemason. If you are known to a Freemason it will help but his is not essential. All potential members go through an informal and friendly interview after which, if put forward, all members of the lodge take part in a ballot.
Freemasonry is open to men of all faiths and within Staffordshire Lodges members include Roman Catholics, Methodists, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, Anglicans and Protestants.
People wishing to join must subscribe to being of service to others and to self improvement, rather than look for personal gain. Freemasons are forbidden to use their membership for personal gain or advantage in any way
If you want to take your interest further please contact our Provincial Grand Lodge office on 01902 745151. A member of staff will take a few details and pass them to a senior Freemason, who will contact you.
What does Freemasonry offer me personally?
Above all else becoming a Freemason provides men with the opportunity to meet and develop friendships with like minded men and share ideals and objectives. These can include developing self confidence, self esteem and being a good citizen.
Members are also provided with training, if they want it, in self development, public speaking and communication skills. We also have a major education programme to which all Lodges subscribe and take part in.
Why and how is ritual and symbolism used?
If you ask any Freemason about the Masonic ritual he will probably tell you it is a unique and inspiring experience. Ritual is core to Freemasonry. The ritual uses a range of objects, symbols and scenarios acted out in little plays which examine the values, traditions and precepts of Freemasonry. They are centuries old and with often minor changes, are practised where ever Freemasons meet in the world. It all hinges around using the working tools of a traditional stonemason as instruments of instruction and learning.
Symbols are used in every aspect of Freemasonry from defining the rank of a Freemason to places where Lodge officers sit during meetings.
Probably the most widely recognised symbol is the square and compasses. These we interpret as “the square teaches us to conduct ourselves properly, as in square conduct” and “the compasses teach us to live our lives within bounds of respectability and commonsense”.
Symbols remind members of their obligations to the organisation and the lessons they have learnt to identify each other.
Is Freemasonry a religion? What about your oath?
This is another No No and misconception. We do not have any theological doctrines, offer no sacraments and membership does not lead to salvation. To be a member you must have a belief in a supreme being of your choice but Freemasonry is not a substitute religion or a forum for religious discussion. Men of all religions are members.
All Freemasons must believe in their God and are required to make a solemn promise to conduct themselves within the principles of Freemasonry. Meetings open and close with prayers.
Where can I find out more?
From this website, from the Grand Lodge website, www.ugle.org.uk or by contacting the Staffordshire Provincial office on 01902 745151.