More About Freemasonry and Shenstonian Lodge

Shenstonian Lodge, Number 5544 in the register of the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), has a close association with Solihull School, via the Old Silhillians Association (OSA). This Lodge was consecrated on 13thSeptember 1935 and has met continuously ever since. During the 1930s, the Solihull School Parents Association were very active in fund-raising activities for additional school facilities. The most prominent of these was the swimming pool. During these fund-raising activities, friendships amongst parents, school staff and old Silhillians blossomed and some found that they shared a common bond in Freemasonry. It was resolved that an Old Silhillians Lodge be founded, named after the poet Shenstone. 

The Lodge meets at the Old Silhillians Memorial Clubhouse on the second Monday in October, November, February and March. Membership is open to Old Boys, past and present, members of school staff, past and present Governors and parents of pupils.

All the forgoing will be of interest to those who are already Freemasons. But what of those who are not? There is much misunderstanding of Freemasonry amongst the wider population and, to be honest, that’s largely the fault of Freemasons. Hence this article which will try and inform those who wish to know, just what Freemasonry is about and try to shoot down the extraordinary number of wild myths which seem to surround what is a charitable fraternity.

Perhaps the first and most important question is what is Freemasonry? It is one of the world’s oldest non-denominational, non-political, friendly and charitable organisations. Exactly how and when it started is shrouded in history and there are a number of theories as to where it came from. The first recorded initiation in England was in 1646. Freemasonry as we know it today started with the formation of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717, so we have recently celebrated our 300thanniversary. UGLE administers Freemasonry in England and Wales. Scotland and Ireland have their own Grand Lodges. I hope it goes without saying that the links between these separate Grand Lodges are close and friendly.Freemasonry exists throughout the world. However, each Grand Lodge is sovereign and independent. There is no international governing body for Freemasonry. 

Are there women Freemasons? Yes; there are two separate Grand Lodges which are restricted to women The Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons, and the Order of Women Freemasons. Whilst the United Grand Lodge of England acknowledges these organisations, membership of Lodges under the UGLE jurisdiction – which includes Shenstonian Lodge – is restricted to men. If any lady reading this wishes to contact these female freemasons, the website addresses are on our Links Page. I understand that exactly the same rules, principles and objects apply to the women Freemasons.

 

Why do people become Freemasons? Inevitably, there are many reasons. Towards the top of the list are friendship, fellowship and camaraderie. Freemasonry can provide a sense of belonging and structure which todays frenetic and fragmented society sometimes lacks. It provides an opportunity to get involved in charitable work at both local and wider levels. Principally, of course, it’s about enjoyment. Like many other aspects of human endeavour, if you are not enjoying it, you’re not doing it right. It’s also about values which are based on integrity, kindness, honesty and fairness.

Shenstonian Lodge is ‘closed’. This means that its membership is restricted to those who have an association with the school. Most other Lodges are ‘open’ and no such restriction applies. Of course, in our case, the additional ‘binding agent’ is this association with the School and the OSA.

There is a myth that it can be difficult to become a Freemason. This is not so. Generally, any man over the age of 21 can apply to join a Lodge. In our case, the additional requirement is that there should be an association with the School as outlined above. A candidate should be of good standing and certain criminal convictions will effectively bar an individual from membership. We are non-denominational so people of any religion can join. Membership does require some belief in a supreme being, however you perceive that. Having said that, to preserve harmony in the Lodge, all topics of religious and political discussion are banned. 

People of all races can join regardless of colour, political views, sexual orientation, social or economic standing. There are long-standing myths that we do not allow certain races or religions to join. This is absolutely not true. 

Another myth is that Freemasonry is, in and of itself, a religion. Again this is patently untrue. Freemasonry does not, and never has, either sought to replace a person’s religion or provide a substitute for it. Freemasonry deals with our relationships with each other; religion deals with your relationship with that which you believe to be the Supreme Being.

What happens in a Lodge meeting? First of all, our meetings are restricted to our members and their invited guests who must also be Freemasons. Most meetings are divided into two parts. One part deals with the administrative stuff that one might expect of any club, such as minutes of the previous meeting, subscriptions, news and correspondence. The second part consists of various ceremonies. These are for the purpose of admitting and progressing members and the annual installation of the Master of the Lodge and his officers.

These ceremonies are concerned with moral and spiritual values and our members are taught these values through a series of two-part plays which are learned by heart and performed within each Lodge. These plays follow ancient forms and use stonemason’s customs and tools to illustrate their lessons. This learning by rote is not something that we are used to in modern society and it can be challenging. The amount to be learned starts off as fairly modest and increases as the member progresses through the Lodge. Delivering a near-perfect rendition of one of the parts to these plays is a deeply satisfying experience which is very difficult to explain in words. Having said that, not all our members want to progress through the Lodge and there is neither requirement nor pressure to do so.

Given that the history of Freemasonry is so obscure prior to 1717 and so rich and varied after that date, a significant number of Freemasons are heavily involved in Masonic research. The fruits of this research can be presented during a Lodge meeting in place of one of the regular ceremonies.

Mention of ceremonies raises another question that sometimes crops up. Are these ceremonies and rituals out of place in a modern society? We don’t think so.  Rituals and ceremonies are very common in society with many dating back hundreds of years. Our ritual and ceremonies provide a shared experience that binds our members together. In many ways, Freemasonry must be experienced to be understood. The use of drama, allegory and symbolism impresses Freemasonry’s principles and teachings more firmly in the mind of each candidate than if they were simply passed on to him in matter-of-fact modern language. 

One of the principal activities of Freemasonry at both local and national level is charity. This is always a tricky subject to talk about and, generally speaking, we have a social aversion to shouting about our charitable activities. Whilst certain other organisations seem to be quite uninhibited in this regard, Freemasonry has historically been very quiet about it. This is unfortunate. Equally unfortunate is the perception that Freemasons’ charity is only ever applied to other Freemasons. This is not true.

There are certain things that need to be pointed out. All the money we raise is from ourselves; that is, we never approach the general public for donations.Whilst there are Masonic charities that cater specifically, but not exclusively, for Freemasons or their dependants, others make significant grants to non-Masonic organisations. Exactly how much we raise and donate cannot be known for certain. This may seem unsatisfactory, but each Lodge can make its own donations to specific outside charities without, necessarily, reference to anyone else. Shenstonian Lodge recently made a donation in favour of the LAFF charity supported by both the School and the OSA. This will not have been recorded nationally as a charitable grant but the money has, nevertheless, been paid and the donation came exclusively from the members of the Lodge.

Most Lodges do, however, pass their charitable donations to be recorded centrally before being paid out to the specific charities. Masonic charity is exercised at every level: individual Lodges make gifts and give aid to their own communities and every Province also gives large sums of money to regional causes. Nationally, our efforts are channelled through four main charity organisations. The Freemasons Grand Charity is dedicated to helping people in need and has donated over £100 million since 1980. One example would be grants to hospices. In 2015, 245 hospices received a total of £600,000. Another is the Air Ambulances. Everyair ambulance in England and Wales received donations totalling (in 2013) £192,000. Disaster relief is another cause to which Freemasonry quietly donates. Since 1981, over £2.5 million pounds has been donated to (for example) the Vanuatu Cyclone, Typhoon Haiyan, the Haiti Earthquake and the Asian Tsunami. 

I hope this article has gone some way towards informing the readership about Freemasonry in general and the Shenstonian Lodge in particular. There are many ways to find out more about it. Our links page provides list of websites. Any specific questions that you want to ask, by all means contact us via our contact form

Credit: W.Bro Simon Westwood