I get asked the strangest questions regarding Freemasonry, and some are quite bizarre. This latest idea is regarding banking. Someone evidently thought that by applying the bank system to Freemasonry ‘like any organisation’ and then change the ‘Rites’ to suit would not make their Lodge clandestine. This has to be the strangest idea I have ever been asked to address, but I’ll give it my best attention.
Firstly, let’s remove the idea of ‘changing the Rites.’ The term ‘Rites’ in Freemasonry means a group or collection of related rituals. In general there are just three degrees in ‘pure’ Freemasonry, with a fourth, the Royal Arch Chapter, which is considered to be the completion of the third degree, the jewel in the crown, so to speak. However, even though each degree in ‘pure’ Freemasonry has its own ritual, when grouped together they are seldom, if ever, referred to as a ‘Rite.’ It is generally in the concordant degrees, for example the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, where the term belongs. The rituals in ‘pure’ Freemasonry must reflect the ancient principles and tenets of the old charges for it to be considered regular Freemasonry. So, whilst there may be variations to these rituals, some even appearing quite diverse from others, they all contain the same form and message. Any movement away from these ancient principles and tenets would render the particular lodge irregular, or clandestine.
Freemasonry, for want of a better description, is a philosophical society, some would add that it is esoteric in nature too. Freemasonry is not a business in any way, shape or form! And, as someone actually believed, it has absolutely nothing to do with banking, nor does it apply ‘the bank system,’ whatever that is. However, there is a “governing” structure which requires full time staff and funding. But, as Freemasonry is not a business (the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) is a not for profit organisation) there is no way to generate any income from outside its own membership, so all funding must come from annual dues (fees) that all members must pay. Part of this annual fee is used to fund the Lodge and part to fund the “governing” bodies. An organisational chart showing the governing structure of UGLE is shown below.
The number of Freemasons governed by UGLE is around 200,000, so it is quite a large organisation. In order to govern smoothly, it is broken down into Provinces for England and Wales and Districts or Groups to govern English Freemasonry in overseas countries and territories. So there is a Grand Master at the top of the tree, a Provincial or District Grand Master at the mid level, and a Master to govern his Lodge and the Lodge brethren, the lowest in this organisation. So, for example, Neptune Lodge (the Lodge of the writer) comes under the Province of Hampshire and Isle of Wight. The Master of a Lodge usually ‘rules’ for one year only, with a maximum of two years should a replacement be unavailable. It is the highest honour any Lodge can bestow on a brother.
Grand Lodges governing Freemasonry in other countries operate in a similar manner to UGLE. To be recognised as regular by UGLE (and each other) they must follow the same ancient principles and tenets as UGLE. There is no ‘International Grand Lodge’ for Freemasonry, each jurisdiction has an independent Grand Lodge as the governing body for its own country, State (for example the USA) or territory and would be internationally linked, as regular Freemasons, on the same level in harmony and friendship as shown below:
Freemasonry is essentially a charitable and fraternal organisation. So, the ‘income’ generated from annual dues which, as stated above, finance the running of our fraternity, all other “income” that Freemasons in England and Wales contribute are voluntary and are for Charitable purposes. The charitable body for Freemasonry in England and Wales is the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF). This was formed in 2016 by the amalgamation of the four charitable bodies previously in existence. The MCF is funded purely from donations from Freemasons and their families, there is no other source of income. The MCF is set up as a registered company and registered charity and is governed by the Charity Commission, which is an independent, non-ministerial government department accountable to the UK Parliament.
To equate Freemasonry to a bank system is still baffling me, but if a banking system organisational framework is similar to that shown above, then this is the only similarity. All Freemason Lodges are constituted and warranted by their respective Grand Lodge. Freemasonry is governed by a set of rules known as the Book of Constitutions. The first ‘official’ Book of Constitutions was published in 1723, just 6 years after the first acknowledged Grand Lodge was formed in 1717. The workers of a Freemasons’ Lodge comprise the Secretary, Treasurer, Almoner, Charity Steward, Dining Steward and Chaplain, ‘chaired’ by the Lodge Master. However, we consider our ceremonial rituals as work also, as it takes a lot of time to learn the words by heart, as if acting in a play. The ceremonial or ritual ‘work’ of a Freemasons’ Lodge is to initiate, pass and raise Freemasons. Lodges do support many local charities along with the central MCF, and as there are many Lodges clustered in a local area then many local charities are thankful to Freemasonry for their contributions. Freemasons often volunteer in local charitably work too, but this is of their own choice, many non Freemasons volunteer too.
Whilst Freemasons deal with a large amount of money, not one penny or cent comes from any external source or from business profits (as there are none), its entire income is from its members through annual dues and charitable contributions. So there is a lot of money involved, the annual national charitable donations alone amount to some £5,000,000 (over $6,500,000), and that doesn’t include any locally made donations to local charities. By way of example, Neptune alone contributes over £10,000 ($13,000) annually to local charities, and we have but 40 active members. With all that cash around, you would think Freemasonry could ‘apply the bank system,’ but as banks exist for this purpose, we prefer to use these to manage the cash, rather than do that ourselves.
Finally, relating Freemasonry to banking makes me wonder if the questioner was legitimate, or maybe was a member of a clandestine lodge whose intentions were a little shady. Suggesting changing the ‘Rites’ does imply that the questioner knew little of regular Freemasonry and suggesting a ‘bank system’ setup could imply hiding a little cash (or maybe a lot) that has been acquired through illegitimate with the view of money laundering.
These articles are written by W Bro Steve Froggatt PPJGD, current Chaplain of Neptune Lodge No 5150 EC. Steve was initiated into Freemasonry in 1986.They do not represent the view of any Grand/Provincial Grand Lodge.
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