The Ties That Bind Us

The Ties That Bind Us, by John Robert Power ProvGJ

Most Excellent, E Comps, Comps all

One of the biggest challenges facing the Royal Arch throughout England is securing our future as the vibrant, enjoyable and fulfilling climax to a Brothers journey in pure Antient Freemasonry. 

If we acknowledge that a Brothers journey can only be complete after being Exalted into the Royal Arch and ideally after passing through those several chairs we need to focus on how successful or otherwise we are in attracting Brethren to the Royal Arch.

I must emphasise and reassure you that I am not suggesting a hard sell or the persistant and repetitive haranguing of Brethren to join us.

What I do hope, during the next few minutes, however, is to develop, a way that we can all approach this challenge. To make the whole thing more gentle, more conversational, more natural and more effective. If I don't achieve that, I might at least start a discussion throughout the Province!

Now Companions. I want you all to get a picture of a bathtub in your minds… now I bet you didn't expect to be asked that today!

The Royal Arch can be seen as that bath tub with a tap running and the plug pulled out.

So as we top up the water in the tub, the water also drains out of the bottom of the tub.

Our challenge, here in the Royal Arch, is that we have a limited reservoir with which to fill that bath, IE our Craft Brethren and we have a demographic which means that as our membership gets older there will be more of us who will be unable to attend because of mobility, health etc.

So if we want to thrive, and, if we want more to enjoy our Companionship, our ritual and our close bonds we need to ensure that we make ourselves as attractive as possible.

I have used some poetic licence in choosing the title "the Ties that bind" because symbolism is only a small part of what I would like to talk about this evening.

All of us who have either delivered or listened to the presentation of a SGCC will be familiar with the ties that we rightly claim between the Craft and the Royal Arch.

These connections are clearly not coincidental, but are based on a deep rooted history of Royal Arch Rituals being performed in Craft Lodges not only since the 1740's, as we state when presenting a Certificate, but certainly back to the 1720's as evidenced by a verse published in 1723 which includes the lines:

If a Master Mason you would be Observe you well the Rule of 3

These lines being attributed to the sharing of the word in the Royal Arch ritual.

We are equally aware that in the General Laws and Regulations for the Governance of the Craft, the Preliminary Declaration states:

By the solemn Act of Union between the two Grand Lodges of England in December 1813, it was declared and pronounced that pure Antient Freemasonry consists of three degrees and no more, viz., that of the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft and the Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch.

Our part in a Brother's Masonic Career is naturally recognised by the symbolism that links our Order to the Craft, they should be the ties that bind a Brothers right of Passage through the mortal and earthly to the spiritual and everlasting.

This is evidenced on the Arms of the United Grand Lodge of England where we see the left side of that shield divided in four and each quarter respectively containing the image of a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle. These arms of course are replicated in every Province and we are lucky in Buckinghamshire that the RW PGM and the Craft Executive actively support those links.

But Companions we still remain a privileged few…

While millions have enjoyed the wonder and fraternity of the Craft, we in the Royal Arch still only attract little more than a third of our Craft Brethren to complete their journey through pure Antient Freemasonry.

Here in Buckinghamshire the number stands at 35.1% which, while it is better than the National average, does however reflect the National trend of about a third.

The seamless progression from Craft to Royal Arch should be a matter of course for almost all of our Brethren and certainly is a right which each of them have.

  • Now clearly there will be some, who through personal circumstances or hardship are unable to join the Royal Arch.
  • There will be others, who through advancing age or deteriorating health feel unable to join.
  • There will be those who are influenced by a small number of Brethren who were disillusioned, disappointed or who just didn't get the Royal Arch. That's a shame on two counts: firstly it's a shame that we have been unable to reassure and help those disillusioned ex Companions and certainly it's a shame that their reservations might prevent others from enjoying this great Order.
  • There will also be those who are new to their Craft Masonry, and we are blessed with a trend towards younger Initiates (or am I just getting older?). We must resist the urge to push too soon and give the new members a chance to find their feet and deal with their Craft challenges first.

Returning to that number of 35.1% Companions, I would suggest that we should turn the number on its head and consider that almost 65% of Craft Masons are yet to take that vital step and make their experience complete or have been Exalted and are unattached to a Chapter.

So rather looking at a problem, let's look at the opportunity. If 65% of our brethren are not active Royal Arch Masons, then, even if we take out those who are unable to join we still have a fantastic opportunity to recruit and possibly breathe new life into Chapters whose memberships may have been flat or even declining over the past years.

I am sure that we are all having a dialogue with potential Exaltees and many are past masters at explaining the benefits of the Royal Arch, but some of us may also be grateful for some pointers and ideas for those discussions. So to those of you who are brilliant at this please bear with me and to those of you who are not, I hope that this might help.

Before we go any further, may I just check something with you?

How many of us get junk mail in the post from time to time?

How many of us often just throw it straight in the bin?

How many of you, have adverts on the TV that irritate? I am sure that you could name some and am equally sure that we would mostly agree on many….. Go Compare??? PPI???

Firstly I think that we will all agree that standing up in Lodge and repeating the same message time and again will be about as welcome as the junk mail and adverts that we all demonstrated our dislike for.

Repeating the same message is known to us men as nagging and when that happens we tend to stop listening.

Lets make sure that our conversations with potential candidates are just that, involve the Brother in a dialogue. Here's just a few ideas…

The following talk track is written to start a conversation with your potential candidate, use it to start a conversation with him and be sure to get his views…. (Clearly you must restrict your conversation to the degrees that they have achieved)

Help them understand that their Craft Masonry is a wonderful thing, covering all aspects of our mortal existence from our birth into the world Poor and penniless til our ultimate departure.

Remind them that at their Initiation they were hood winked and depended totally on the protection of the Junior Deacon who guided them through their trial. That having been born into masonry they learned the great values of Moral Truth and Virtue.

Then in their Passing, as a Fellow Craft, they we taken through an allegorical story to show them the value of enterprise and the reward for good labour. They were permitted to make the Hidden Mysteries of Nature and Science their study and grow as a man. In other words they were shown how to live their lives.

Then in a dramatic Raising Ceremony they were shown that once having been conducted through the intricate wingdings of this mortal life we are finally instructed how to die. This moving ceremony teaches many things, not least of which is that an unshaken fidelity to that which is right should be our aim. The third degree also develops the relationship that we have with the Most High.

The Royal Arch builds on that theme, by exploring our relationship with our God and truly developing the spiritual side of our beings. So whilst the Craft working tools illustrate a truly wonderful lesson in morality, education and the relation that we bear to our fellow man and the signs allude to penalties meted out by our fellow beings, in the Royal Arch signs we look to our relationship with our God as frail and erring creatures presenting ourselves to our divine creator.

In a nut shell, the Royal Arch builds on a magnificent journey through our mortal existence as told by the Craft and expands those themes to encompass our spiritual beings as well.

So if we were truthful when we stated a belief in a supreme being, whether that is a Christian, Seikh, Muslim or Jewish God, a Hindu God, the concept of Buddist Nirvanha or indeed any other spiritual belief it naturally follows that our quest to really gain knowledge of ourself is only achieved by encompassing both the mortal and the spiritual.

In understanding this, we can see that the discovery of the word, or that which was lost, is a symbolic part of our ritual illustrating a much deeper and more valuable lesson; which is that truly knowing yourself needs both physical and spiritual contemplation. The discovery of the word therefore symbolises a realisation of that which is promised to us beyond the limits of our earthly existence.

Companions, I entitled this talk the Ties that Bind and hope that I have illustrated the great relationship that we have with the Craft especially here in Buckinghamshire. Thanks to the friendship and bonds that we have through our membership of the Craft and the enlighted approach of the Craft Executive.

I would like to close with a few pieces of symbolism that may well illustrate our bonds with the craft and visa versa. Some are indisputable and some may be subliminal or even questionable but I hope that you enjoy enjoy them and apply your own judgement to each.

We have already mentioned the Arms of UGLE. The symbols of the man, the lion, the ox and the eagle have been widely used throughout western civilisation and among other things also symbolise "the four beasts of the Gospels" a point of recognition for the largely illiterate Christian congregations of the middle ages. For us of course they are a strong evidential bond between the Royal arch and the Craft.

Page 13 of the Book of Constitutions is where you will find the Preliminary Declaration and is a good start for a talk with a potential candidate.

When the candidate is raised he is reunited with the Companions of his former toils, interestingly the word Companions is preferred to Brethren perhaps hinting at the Companionship of the next stage of their journey.

Each regular step that a candidate takes is described as forming a square. If you think about it it actually forms a Tau and as we ultimately take three steps to complete our Craft knowledge it could be said that this is only achieve with the benefit of a triple Tau. Tenuous Companions but fun!

While we are on tenuous links and taus, the Tylers toast starts "Brethren of the Mystic tie" some believe that the derivation of that opening some 300 years ago was actually "Brethren of the Mystic Tau"

There is however a real demonstration of our Ties that Bind in the fact that that Janitor, after his toast gives Craft fire. This indicates that we have finished our Royal Arch labours and are returning to the Craft in illusion to our beginnings as part of the third degree.

Companions, we have a great story to tell, lets not pressgang people but lets build on the story and make the Royal Arch the natural completion of Pure and Antient Freemasonry for many more of our Brethren.

I suggest that we try to turn 35.1% into 40% in the next two years.

Thank you Companions

John Power ProvGJ
The Three Grand Lodges and the Grand Originals
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