TO ALL MEMBERS OF THE ANCIENT AND ACCEPTED RITE
WITHIN HOME DISTRICTS OR GROUPS UNDER THE SUPREME COUNCIL FOR ENGLAND AND WALES
Dear Sir and brother –
In its last letter, the Supreme Council invited all members of the Order who live within England and Wales to participate in a national consultation, to help it determine the best way forward for the Order during the current pandemic. The Council was overwhelmed by the response to this initiative: over 40% of the entire membership within England & Wales completed the survey, and the nearly 10,000 responses have given the Council most useful data about how you, the members, feel in this matter.
Principal among these findings was the discovery that, while 50% of the membership wish to be permitted (or even, for a very small proportion, required) to recommence physical meetings at this point, 50% of you wish to be actively forbidden from doing so. The principal reason given was that vulnerable members, of whom there are many, do not wish to feel the burden of moral obligation to attend when they are uncomfortable doing so. Furthermore, merely telling them not to feel obliged to attend would be insufficient as the moral imperative would, they feel, remain.
The Supreme Council has therefore discussed the matter at length, aware that whatever is decided will of necessity go against the views of half of the membership. In the end, and after careful consideration, the Council has decided to maintain the current suspension of activity in England & Wales until further notice and at least until the end of 2020; this includes not only private meetings of Chapters but also public events such as Higher Degrees Meetings. This will, of course, be a disappointment to the half of the membership who are keen to resume their masonic activity in the Order straight away; however, disappointment is a lighter burden for the Council to bear than the alternative, which would be to jeopardise the health of our members and their families, and potentially the reputation of the Order.
It is stressed that this decision will be subject to frequent review and, while the Supreme Council hopes very much that activity of some sort may be resumed in early 2021, this will of course depend on the progress of the virus and the advice of HM Government at the time.
The Supreme Council has made three further decisions in respect of this matter, which it is hoped will go some way toward ‘filling the gap’ left by the current suspension of activity.
First, the Supreme Council is prepared to issue a dispensation for any Chapter to meet, notwithstanding the suspension, should there be a compelling reason for it to be permitted to do so. By way of example, the Isle of Man currently has no active cases of Coronavirus; should our Chapters in that territory wish to meet, the Supreme Council would be minded to grant dispensations permitting them to do so. The reason must be compelling and the request for a dispensation must be able to demonstrate that it has the overwhelming support of the Chapter and the endorsement of the relevant Inspector General. Should your Chapter wish to apply for a dispensation, please contact your District Recorder, who will provide you with the requisite form.
Secondly, the Supreme Council noted with interest that over 90% of the membership would like to have a mechanism for making decisions remotely during the suspension and is happy to agree to the idea. With immediate effect, therefore, and until the Supreme Council declares otherwise, Chapters are granted emergency powers to make administrative decisions outside physical meetings. A separate paper explains the required steps to make proper and binding decisions in this way.
Thirdly, the Supreme Council noted that the great majority of members are comfortable using videoconferencing software, and of those who are, nearly 90% would be interested in attending a ‘virtual visit’ from a Member of the Supreme Council. It is therefore the intention of the Supreme Council to visit all 52 home Districts and Groups during the period of suspension. Further information will be promulgated by your District Recorder in due course.
It is very much hoped that these decisions will collectively assist the Order and its members to minimise the damage caused by the current disruption and enable Chapters to recover from the suspension in due course with the minimum of difficulty.
The Supreme Council thanks all those who participated in the national consultation most sincerely and wishes you all well.
Yours faithfully and fraternally,
Dr G R E Shilson 33°
Grand Secretary General H∴E∴