In this enforced period of not meeting, there are lots of opportunities to talk with each other in the virtual world. About our history, our ritual, our purpose, how we are managing, post something funny on social media, learn something new; help with filling what feels like an unbridgeable chasm, that void created by not meeting, with some lovely words, sentiments, actions, hope … ‘Zoom’ meetings (other platforms are available!)

It would be really easy then, to avoid the ‘elephant in the room’ at the moment.

Those who know me appreciate that is not my way! Tackling difficult discussions head-on with the purpose of, if not resolving them, then at least getting them out there, is vital for any organisation, any relationship.

Here goes.

What will Freemasonry be like when this is all over?

I’ve spoken on the ‘phone or on video conferences with so many Freemasons who want to talk about it but equally, don’t want to. I think they feel that in voicing their worst fears they are being disloyal, disrespectful, tempting fate; at the same time being so desperately worried about this thing which, like a best friend, is such an important part of their life and seems to be in jeopardy. They feel like they have no control. They are grieving for the friends they do not see, those they may never see, fuelled by fears of fact and fiction which are constantly being peddled around them. Considering the future of the Lodges, Chapters and Orders they are members of, the health and wellbeing of their Brethren, their halls, the staff and caterers, their Provinces, all weigh heavy. Moreover, being the custodians of an ancient institution at a time they feel it is in peril, not so much of no longer existing, but being changed into something unrecognisable, does not bear thinking of. But they have to. As must we all.

And all of this was reduced to a statement related to me recently. “If this goes on for much longer, what am I paying for?”

Before I attempt to answer that, I do honestly get it. If your working life has been decimated by this pandemic and so has your income, your priorities will undoubtedly change. They must.

But it all begs questions and there are so many. Are we really, only members when we are meeting? Does the nature of our membership change, become less, when we are not in a meeting place, surrounded by our peers? Has the summer recess in the past made us discard any thought of who and what we are until September? Think less of it? Question it? Is being a Freemason really measured by what you pay against your perception of what you get back? Do we seriously consider our membership in terms of a ‘Return on Investment’, assess it by its ‘Value for Money’?

If we considered our memberships, our nature of being Freemasons (wearing whatever regalia you care to choose) to be solely a function of the material cost, are we missing the true value and moreover, what it means to be one? And remember, that value exists on many levels, personal and collective. It clearly has a value that spans across society and community. Beyond national boundaries, languages and faiths. At our core, a shared understanding of what it is to be a Freemason and our capability for centuries past and for as many to come, to shape lives, make them better for those in need and put simply, care to care. Be made better men by the experience, see that potential in others and facilitate their journey.

And all of that, 365 days of the year.

Brethren and Companions. Meetings have been suspended, not Membership.

We are all just as much Freemasons now as we were several weeks ago, as we all will be in several months. You cannot buy belonging, fellowship, fraternity with a cheque for annual dues. We are, we represent, so much more than that. We are demonstrating that right now, every day, by working harder than ever to ensure that the ties that bind us find new connections, new ways to hold each other close and provide opportunities to think of others; to exercise good and use our resources to touch the lives of those who need our charitable means and that unique mindset of a Mason more than ever before.

Yes, we will be asked (expected) to pay subscriptions whilst we are not meeting. Some smaller Orders in some places may be able to waive such as their nature and structure can allow for it.

But at the core of all of Freemasonry is still the Craft and the Holy Royal Arch through our unbreakable bond. We’re still here as is our work, our charities, our infrastructure. It can’t just be switched off like a tap to be turned on again and moreover, expected to pick up running where it left off without having had the continuity of operation. All of what is happening now to help the most vulnerable in society, being done by Freemasonry, is at a cost. Our Masonic charities local and national are shouldering this, but they only exist because of us and our membership.

What will Freemasonry be like when this is all over? The simple answer is, no one knows, and no one can know until we all understand what our society and communities will look like when this elusive ‘normality’ returns.

I am minded to speculate that it will not be how it was when we left it.

And if you still question what you are paying for now, in the interim, remember what it does, what it represents and how much has been invested in you and me ten times over – and will still be doing please god, for many years to come. Anybody can buy ‘a membership’ for so many things. But you can’t buy Masonry and what it means to be a Freemason. Doesn’t that deserve our continued support to ensure that generations in the future will benefit from our forbearance, our insight, our self-belief, our investment in ensuring their Freemasonry had a future?

Difficult times require difficult decisions. We just need to make sure that we take them with the long term in view knowing that at some point in the not too distant future, as Dame Vera Lynn reminded us on the anniversary of the Victory in Europe, “we will meet again.”

We are told at the end of a Craft Installation that this association we all love was formed with so much unanimity and concord. As the phrase then concludes “… long may that continue.”

Let’s all live up to that Charge by maintaining our support for our Order when it needs us – every single one of us – the most.

But I’ll tell you one thing.

When this is all done, if anybody dares to send a petition for a new Chapter called “Zoom Chapter” be prepared for a difficult ‘phone call from me!

Keep safe, keep well, keep smiling.

EComp Martin Paul Roche

Deputy Grand Superintendent