Last weekâs announcement that the General Suspension of Masonic Activity will expire on 17 July 2020, has drawn a mixed response from many. Some have greeted the news as a positive step whilst others have expressed concern that this development has come too soon.
We consulted on the legal and public health grounds for considering this course of action and it was only after we were satisfied that there was a sound basis to relax the restriction that we decided to go ahead.
It is going to take some time for Masonic Centres to ready themselves to begin hosting meetings and there will be many Brethren, particularly those in a high-risk category, who will not want to attend public gatherings at least until they feel it is safe to do so. Our decision simply marks the beginning of a period of preparation for meetings to resume and where that cannot happen for the time being, we have made provision for specified masonic activity to continue in a virtual rather than a face to face setting.
The Frequently Asked Questions below should answer most of your questions but there are several significant points which I feel require a more detailed explanation.
Virtual Business Meetings
This scheme was introduced at the beginning of June to enable Units to transact administrative business via video conferencing platforms and I am encouraged that so many have made use of the scheme already. At the end of June, a similar scheme was made available to Provinces, Districts and Divisions to transact administrative business that would have been dealt with at their annual meetings. This too, has proved to be very successful.
In both cases, the schemes were intended to remain in place only for so long as the General Suspension lasted but the Management Board is conscious that they will have an important role to play in the coming months. We have therefore decided to extend their availability to the end of this year subject to a regular review of their continuing usefulness.
Holding Lodges of Instruction via video conference
I have been approached by several Brethren keen to understand why the Units belonging to the Orders administered from Mark Masonsâ Hall have not been allowed to conduct Lodges of Instruction via video conference, as Craft Lodges have.
The UGLE scheme has been very successful with many Craft Brethren embracing the opportunity to hone their ritual skills while enjoying the company of their fellow Lodge members.
Clearly, the ability to meet in this way would be welcomed by our members which is why the Management Board has agreed to this scheme being made available to our Units with immediate effect.
Lodges of Instruction must be conducted in accordance with the published ritual of the respective Order. No signs, tokens or words are to be communicated or exchanged and where blank spaces appear in the ritual text, the missing words must not be spoken.
Covid-19 adaptations to our ceremonies
In the fullness of time, an increasing number of Units will begin meeting again with a view to carrying out ceremonies. The principal bar to this happening is the observance of social distancing which is why the Grand Directors of Ceremonies of all our Orders have been asked to prepare guidance notes to be used in conjunction with the published rituals of each Order. Their guidance should make it easier for Units to carry out ceremonies safely and with dignity.
We expect to issue guidance notes for each of the Orders administered from Mark Masonsâ Hall by the end of July. In the meantime, no ceremonies are to be conducted in any Order until that guidance is published and complied with.
Wearing of Unit Officerâs Collars
To minimise direct contact between individual Brethren, Officerâs Collars should not be worn until further notice. Brethren who have attained Provincial/District Grand Rank should, instead, wear the collar appropriate to their rank.
Abandoned and Postponed Meetings
In the coming months there will be many instances of Units unable to hold the regular meetings set down in their By-Laws either because the meeting place isnât open, or the members do not yet feel it is safe to attend.
Where this happens, Unit Secretaries must follow the guidance issued on 23 March 2020 and issue a Summons in the regular manner, declaring the meeting abandoned and noting the Minute Book as directed.
Postponed meetings are likely to require a Dispensation to enable them to take place later than prescribed in the Unit By-Laws. In all cases, Unit Secretaries should consult their Provincial Secretariat for advice.
Annual Dues and Other Fees
Financial considerations will undoubtedly be important for many Brethren when considering whether to resume their masonic activities once the suspension has ended. The Management Board are concerned that we take all necessary steps to encourage Brethren to retain their memberships while, at the same time, aiding our efforts to recruit new members.
An announcement regarding Annual Dues and other Fees will be made soon.
Frequently Asked Questions
The decision to relax the General Suspension will have raised many questions in the minds of our members. It is impossible to provide answers to every concern within the limits of this document, nevertheless I have prepared a list of the most frequently asked questions and provided answers which should address the most common concerns expressed so far.
I cannot emphasise enough just how important it is to set last weekâs decision to relax the suspension into context. It is not a coercive measure, but it does clear the way for Units and Masonic Centres to begin the process of preparing to resume meetings.
The Management Board has approved the availability of several measures which will ensure the administration of our Orders can continue regardless of when face to face meetings resume and we will shortly publish details of Covid-19 adaptations to certain of our ceremonies, as mentioned previously. Information about our plans regarding Fees and Dues will be communicated separately in the next few days.
With fraternal regards and best wishes.
R.W.Bro. Ryan A Williams, P.G.J.W.