The Great Debate

East Kent Debating Team challenges Surrey



 Back row: Stephen Davids, Michael Lawrence East Kent, Jim Barnes, Michael Breeze East Kent, Dr Miguel Godfrey
Front row: Deputy Provincial Grand Master, WM Ronald Worby Mid Surrey Masters and Chairman Chris Rashbrook


A full house of some 75 Masons gathered at the Masonic Centre, Sutton, in the Province of Surrey, to participate in a debate between the Surrey Provincial Debating Team and the East Kent Provincial Team. The Debate was hosted by Mid Surrey Masters Lodge No. 7388 under the direction of the Master W.Bro. Ronald A. Worby, and Chaired by AProvGM W.Bro. Chris Rashbrook.

The Motion was “This House believes that Grand Lodge should allow participation by Masons in local events and parades in full regalia – including Remembrance Day and like events”.

In favour of the Motion was the Surrey Provincial Debating Team – W. Bros Stephen Davids and Dr. Miguel Godfrey, supported by a number of the Executive and Surrey Masons. Against the Motion was the East Kent Provincial Debating Team – W. Bros. Michael Lawrence and Michael Breeze who were accompanied by a number of Masons from their Province. The meeting was chaired by AProvGM W. Bro. Chris Rashbrook who opened the meeting by reminding the audience that the purpose of such debates was the advancement of our daily Masonic knowledge and to take up ideas, which came from debate, for the good of Freemasonry.

A spirited debate took place with Surrey Debaters, led by Stephen Davids, arguing that Grand Lodge already allows participation in local events and parades in full Regalia. He said that “If you vote for this Motion, it means you agree there should not be any new restrictions put in place. The Provinces, which have been very cautious in allowing full Regalia in Public since the Second World War, should consider carefully permitting a return to Freemasonry in the Community, by increasing the judicious use of Regalia at suitable events. Grand Lodge does presently allow regalia, if the Provincial Grand Master permits it,” he continued. “There are three places where the Grand Master devolves or delegates to his Provincial Grand Masters the authority over their Provinces related to wearing Regalia in public.

The first is in Rule 178 of the Book of Constitutions, which states that no Mason may appear in Regalia when any non-Masons are present, without permission of the Provincial Grand Master or equivalent District or Metropolitan rank. Second, according to Antient Charge 13, only the Grand Master, or his Deputy, can give permission for regalia to be worn in public. Third, the Patent of Appointment document given to a Provincial Grand Master gives him powers of representation of the Grand Master in his Province. This makes each Provincial Grand Master the ‘Deputy’ referred to in Ancient Charge 13, so it includes authority over activities such as the wearing of regalia in public.”

Bro Davids continued, “So, there is no Grand Lodge restriction on wearing regalia in Public – it is completely under Provincial control. We agree with this, he said, “and a vote for the Motion is a vote to keep that control local.” Then he asked, “So what are the Provinces doing with this authority, and why is the situation as it is?”

Bro Davids went on to explain, “Scotland sets precedent; there the new Master commonly walks through the town or village in his regalia, because it’s illogical to hide the identity of Freemasons residing under the same roof in a close community. In England, if Freemasons were as visible as they were before the Second War it would probably heal the rift between the Craft and its source of membership, the community. It’s only natural for people to fear what they don’t see: So, let’s build further on our trend towards a culture of openness and transparency to humanise and explain the Craft. And, let’s be proud and display the pomp and heritage of our organisation and ourselves.”

“Freemasons are wearing their regalia in public more often as the rules are being cautiously relaxed. Freemasons have already appeared in Regalia at local events and parades. For example, the Grand Master’s parade at the Beamish Museum, where 1000 Masons wore their regalia in public, we wear full regalia at Surrey’s annual Cathedral Service, there are parades at events like the Laying of important Foundation Stones and we do it at Masonic Funerals in some Provinces. Do those who oppose this Motion want these activities to stop?“

“Right Worshipful Brother Michael Baily, the Provincial Grand Master of East Kent, set an excellent supporting example back in October when, addressing his Grand Officers’ Mess, he requested that all Masonic Centres around the Province should take part in their local Remembrance Day ceremonies and parades, and he encouraged participants to wear their Masonic collars as a mark of respect to our Brothers who had made the ultimate sacrifice.”

“Openness makes us more approachable and it sends a clear and defiant message to everyone that we have nothing to hide including ourselves. We were told: “If you never disgrace that badge it will never disgrace you” – if it is so honourable, why would we vote to conceal it? The decision where and when must be held at a Provincial level, in order for decorum to be maintained, and Provinces need to cautiously expand the number of times this permission is granted.” Bro. Stephen left the Book of Constitutions on the lectern and commented “I should leave it for the East Kent Brethren to read!” (laughter).

East Kent’s counter-arguments opened with Michael Lawrence stating, “we are often told that there is nothing new under the sun, and in this case the Motion is nothing more than a rehash of an old idea!” He went on, “In the early 18th Century, it was often the custom for Freemasons to meet in one building and then to proceed in procession, in full Masonic clothing, to another place to hold their Festive Board. Satirists at the time organised mock processions and issued prints ridiculing Masonry and one such procession took place in 1742 and a print was published with the title: ’The Freemason’s Downfall or the Restoration of the Scald-Miserable’s” He displayed the print.

Bro Lawrence continued, “But it was the Bard himself, William Shakespeare, when writing “Henry V” immortalized the term “Scald” when he wrote, “…the rascally, scald, beggarly, lousy, pragging knave.” Hence the term “Scald” means “beggarly and rascally”. So, which of you here this evening wants to inherit that same title by parading the streets in full regalia? “

"Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you," he quoted. “That is the advice given by the Volume of Sacred Law which we, as Freemasons, advise every new Mason to seriously contemplate as the unerring standard of truth. So what on earth are we thinking about that, in considering this Motion, we parade along the high street in our full Masonic regalia? Whatever next? To consider the Motion, “let’s conduct an open air ceremony or even invite the public to an initiation?” We are a society that expects privacy, not transparency, on matters of ceremonial, pertaining to our Craft. If we, as solemn members and upholders of the Masonic standard have undergone initiation, repeated trials and approbations and strict examination in order that we may fully understand the badge that distinguishes a Mason, why do we then expect the general public, or as many old writers have termed them, “the profane” to respect that symbol of innocence and bond of friendship, that we wear with such pride? It’s not going to happen!”

“Religious leaders, politicians, sales executives and philosophers alike, have all come to the conclusion that people, and by that we mean the general public, need milk before meat and it is highly irresponsible of us to casually expect the general public to accept the Masonic apron without so much as a bye your leave of an explanation, particularly as we give at least that to our newest of initiates.”

“Consider it in the light that we could even gain sponsorship by sporting adverts on our aprons as parade about in town. Sporting or ‘touting’ our regalia in this fashion will only attract ridicule, not new members! Did the Floor think that any prospective new member would be swayed by the sight of an apron, or look upon a parade of fully dressed Freemasons and remark to himself, “I think I would look nice in one of those, or even, that colour matches my eyes!” The apron, or any item of regalia, is not the reason why we would want anybody to join Freemasonry, that desire must come from the heart and any true prospective members must seek out this truth out for himself.”

“We therefore claim that it is pure vanity that brethren should even consider to parade themselves in such a manner and we should ever remember the Common Gavel, that force of conscience, which should keep down all vain and unbecoming thoughts which may obtrude in that peacock-like public display of our aprons.” He concluded with, “East Kent opposes the Motion.”

Chairman Chris Rashbrook opened the Debate to the Floor. For the Motion, comments were made by a Brother that we were proud to wear our regalia and there should be no arguments against the Motion as all could be seen on the web. Another Brother said his two uncles, years ago, had had paraded on Remembrance Days, and this view was supported by another Brother who opined that Freemasons were well-respected in other parts of the world. Post World War Two we had become hidden and secret, to the general ridicule of the public by our lack of publicity – it was time to come out of the closet. The Provincial Grand Master becomes ‘the Deputy’ and we trust him to get it right. Another thought the current Provincial Grand Masters had done a good job and these ‘parades’ had not brought ridicule. Striking a serious note for the Motion a Brother rose to ask how many Freemasons had died in both World Wars and, given the legions of people who wear various regalia, we are missing from Remembrance Day. The Provincial Grand Master does give dispensation for various occasions and we are well-regulated for the display of Masonic regalia – we should create awareness of “a body of good men doing good.”

An observation was made by an elder Brother who remembered Borough Council Services who used to process down Wandsworth High Street. A half dozen in regalia directing traffic for limited occasions would bring us to public attention. Another commented that openness in wearing regalia, and showing the community on Armistice Day, would create much needed awareness. In his Lodge people who joined did not do so for the regalia and they certainly knew about Freemasonry before joining. They came along wanting to join and one of his members now wants to be the Curator at Grand Lodge Museum. He wears Masonic jewellery – like rings – all the time as it’s his public regalia.

Speaking against the Motion a Brother said it was not a question of being proud to wear the apron, but whether we want to display it. Another expressed concern about just how far he could see this going in terms of when to wear regalia. He could see the logic but also the resistance against those who would carry it too far. Another said he was proud to wear his regalia but he didn’t have to wear it in public and told the Brethren that “Pride comes before a Fall.” A Brother reminded the floor of the recent disruption and violence, which occurred during a peaceful public sector workers parade. It just showed how a parade can be hi-jacked and therefore was a high risk. A member of four Lodges spoke up to say in recent years we had seen much more publicity, for example at the Lord Mayors show, but openness has not helped Freemasonry at all, and said that it’s because we have too much publicity that it is misconstrued. We have to tell the story properly and it will stop people not joining existentialism – we are losing people.

The Chairman then called for a summary from each team. Bro Dr Miguel Godfrey said there had been some very interesting comments from the floor. “We know we can wear regalia to that is not being debated here – the question is should we?” he asked. “We need to be open and transparent about being Freemasons and openly appearing as a Freemason is one of the best things one can do. We must tell people – and be proud to tell people. We are not advocating dragging people onto the street to say ’look at that Freemason.’” “It is our right and a duty to promote the Craft and demystify the false tales and concepts by being seen to be out there as a force for good, he continued, “ Someone said there’s a risk of hi-jacking – yes but there is greater risk in remaining silent and not taking part in the discussion. When we were silent we lost members. Our Membership Challenge is a great example of us getting out there and making things change and only now are we seeing results. This is not about vanity or exhibitionism it is about proving to the world that we are not ashamed of being a Freemason – we are an essential part of the community so let’s be there in public!”

Bro Michael Breeze summed up the counter-argument by stating, “rules do allow us to wear full regalia, but just because we can, should we wear full regalia?” Just collars for Remembrance Day had been agreed - not full regalia, and pride does come before a fall. We are proud to be in Temples but in a public procession people will ask ‘why red, why dark blue?’ Because it denotes rank and we should remember being above the external advantages of rank and fortune. “Peacockism” and marching with the Armed Forces we will be the brighter regalia, but what comparisons will be drawn with the military who have given more – their lives? What we do is not as important. Inspiring respect and a modest display might be appropriate but full regalia NO!

The Summaries were followed by a vote from the Floor. There were 43 votes For the Motion, and 16 votes Against. The Surrey Debating Team was declared the winner and the Motion was carried. The Deputy Provincial Grand Master commented that “debating topics enhances our knowledge of Freemasonry, and we had done that today.” He went on, “It was not so much about who won the Debate, as the real winner was Freemasonry.” The next inter-Provincial Debate will take place later in the year, as a return match in East Kent Province.

6 May 2011