It was with sadness that I heard the decision of Lord Northampton to resign as Pro Grand Master. And that feeling was reinforced by his address to Brethren attending Grand Lodge in December, the highlights of which are given on page 7 of this issue. Lord Northampton ushered in a remarkable reorientation of the Craft and Royal Arch. It is not so much that elements have been changed, though of course there have been changes, it is that Freemasonry’s relationship with its Brethren and with society beyond has been refocused. After the Second World War, Freemasonry experienced a huge increase in membership: between 1945 and 1950 the formation of new lodges was running at three to four times the pre-war rate. In 1948, for example, 202 new lodges were founded. Almost 4000 new lodges have been formed since the Second World War. At present the position is very different: in 2005 sixteen new lodges were formed. Times have changed; Freemasonry must change to accommodate this. But accommodating change does not mean throwing out the ‘hard’ bits and our heritage in a desperate rush to grab the last towel on the lowest common denominator, then relaxing into a state of comatose selfsatisfaction, seeking a tan rather than wisdom from the blazing star above.
Accommodating change means adapting, or in the words of Lord Northampton, not being afraid to try something new ‘so long as it is within our rules.’ Freemasonry is a journey; if the territory we are passing through changes then we must modify our style of movement. But the journey still continues. We must not succumb to the modern disease of living vicariously and thereby letting others make the journey for us.
The aim of Freemasonry is to make better men, who in turn make a better society; this cannot be done without the journey to gain knowledge, insight and eventually, we have good reason to hope, wisdom. Indeed, this is our heritage. We simply need to recognise its value and its depths of wisdom. We need to recognise its direct relevance to the life we lead for it is this heritage that we pass on, it is directly relevant to the world which we create for coming generations.
Lord Northampton has brought two great changes to Freemasonry which has rendered it durable and relevant to the present century and beyond. He has introduced structural changes in the executive to make it more open, accountable and responsive to the needs of Brethren and he has re-emphasised the continuing vitality and importance of the three great principles of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. And by this new emphasis he has reminded all Freemasons of our deep spiritual roots; roots which are able to find an easy relationship with any of the world’s religions. We are living in uncertain times. Society often seems determined to fracture. People seem determined to cause trouble with others who do not share their politics or beliefs. Nations seem to be growing apart rather than finding common cause. Freemasonry, with its uncompromising stand on the divisions caused by politics and religion yet its equally uncompromising demand that the Divine Principle be recognised, together with its aspiration to bring men together in agreement, rather than to drive them apart, is in a crucial position to help: Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth are sorely needed in the twenty-first century. Lord Northampton has been correct to focus Freemasonry back upon its great principles.