Brethren as we approach this special time of the year for so many of our faiths it is instrumental to reflect on the situation we find ourselves in.

Almost 3500 years ago the descendants of Jacob, literally the Children of Israel (Jacob’s name was changed to Israel after his fight with the angel) so ably depicted in the First Degree Tracing Board, exited Egypt in what was probably the first Exodus in recorded history.

The Children enslaved for over 210 years cried out to be delivered and their prayers were answered.

As in all times of crisis a saviour needs to be found and in this case it was the Prophet Moses, who plays such an integral part in the RA ceremony, who was picked by the Supreme Ruler to go to Pharaoh to demand the release of his people.

This momentous event only took place after the ten plagues, starting with the River Nile turning to blood and ending with the slaying of the First Born, which brought Pharaoh and Egypt literally to their knees. 

“I know that my Christian colleagues have been studying those passages in the last few days as part of their daily bible readings”.

The Books of Exodus in particular chronicles the Exodus, literally the going out from Egypt and the eventual destruction of the pursuing Egyptians in the Red Sea and the revelation at Mount Sinai with the giving of the Ten Commandments, the basis of all the laws and commandments that followed.

How can events, which happened 3500 years ago, have any bearing on the situation we now find ourselves in?

Firstly many people view this pandemic as a modern day plague; an eleventh plague so to speak.

Some go as far as to suggest it is a means of curing the world of all its perceived ills; whether it’s to cut down on carbon emissions, the list is endless.

What is patently clear is that a virus that spread from animals to humans has mutated so that hardly anywhere in the world is virus free.

When we are in crisis, whether personally or collectively, where do we turn for support and comfort?

As our forefathers in the desert, those of us with faith appeal to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, who guides all our thoughts and actions.

In fact there is a prayer which is recited before the new months in the Jewish calendar, Me Shaa Nissim, “He who creates miracles”. Just as the miracles of the parting of the Red Sea; the water from the moveable well; the Manna and the quails; the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, protected and nurtured the Children of Israel in the desert, so now more than ever we plead for a modern day miracle.

This miracle will probably come from the scientists, who will create the vaccine and the antibody that we will need to overcome this pandemic.

If prayer and religion have their part to play, we Masons must be prepared to be a Light to the Nation and engage in all the activities that our wonderful movement is famous for.

Whether it is providing financial assistance to those areas that traditionally call on us for help, as well as all the new challenges this crisis is throwing up; or offering to volunteer, as so many of our younger non-isolating masons are doing.

 “Masonry enables men to make themselves better people”

 With society severely disrupted and whole swathes of this great nation of ours in the direst situation, perhaps this country needs us more than ever before.

In an earlier Oration I quoted the First Century scholar Hillel; his words could have been written for us today. He said;

 “If I am not for myself who will be for me”

“And if I am only for myself what am I “,

“ If not when“

Most of us did not live through the Second World War and all the dangers, privations and challenges that it threw up. Just like now families were separated by conscription, evacuation or worse. The main difference is we are being asked to voluntarily self-isolate, this does not minimise the effect it is having on everyday life. Like then we seek answers as to when the restrictions will come to an end.

The Baby generation and those who followed the Second World War have become accustomed to having it all.

So if there was ever a time when people must think of others above ourselves, it is now.

We are constantly reminded to Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives. This is no time for selfish acts of bravado and a belief that we are immortal, untouched by this disease that our senses cannot comprehend.

This is a time when we Masons must lead by example; by following our PGM and the rulers of the Province; who are always the first to set the tone for the whole Province.

So if we are not going to be selfish, and we are going to put the needs of others above our own desires, then “If not now, when”.

Sadly I do not have clairvoyant powers so I cannot say when these restrictions will be lifted but I do know that, just as Her Majesty the Queen, echoing Vera Lynn, said in her address to the Nation, “we will meet again and soon”. When we do we will shake one another’s hand as before and regale each other, and every one of us, with our own personal stories from this modern plague. If they are like any other Masonic story they will grow in the telling! 

We will return to our ceremonies and at our social board maybe we will drink a special toast to all the NHS staff, the nurses and the doctors and the front line workers who supported us all in the nation’s hour of need.

 Perhaps Churchill’s words of 80 years ago, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few” could rightfully be reapplied to our wonderful and selfless NHS.

We will come out of these dark days and emerge stronger, more resilient and grateful that we belong to a movement which is a byword for decency, and has, as one of its pillars, the concept of helping our neighbours and fellow citizens whenever and wherever we are asked to do so.

So at this very special time of the year when families would expect to be together, we can only hope and pray that we will soon be released from our self-imposed isolation and we will once more be able to meet and greet our loved ones, our family, friends and our fellow brethren.

On behalf of the Chaplaincy we wish you good health, keep safe and stay well.

WBro Russell Conn, ProvGChap