The transcript of the oration given by W Bro Reuben Ayres at the thanksgiving service.
Three hundred years ago today, organized Freemasonry emerged from obscure origins, when four London lodges, met and formed Premier Grand Lodge, the forerunner of today’s United Grand Lodge of England.
These were turbulent a violent times: speaking your mind could cost you your life.
Masonic lodges provided a sanctuary for men of different backgrounds and beliefs to unite on equal terms, enjoy each other’s company and share common values, free from the fear of persecution.
Freemasonry also provided a moral focus through our ritual, comprising allegories derived from the scriptures, philosophy from the ancient World and ideas from the Enlightenment; illustrated by symbols obtained from the operative masons.
300 years later Freemasonry has spread over the entire globe with thousands of lodges many of which formed their own National Grand Lodges. The United Grand Lodge of England now has more than 8000 lodges and over 200,000 members. Worldwide there are about 6 million Freemasons.
It has made good men better and helped them to lead moral lives. It has helped countless people in time of distress and been a huge force for good in the world, crossing all national, social and religious boundaries and welcoming all who believe in God and share our founding principles of friendship, charitable giving and honesty.
We are proud of our charitable giving. Last year, Freemasons under United Grand Lodge raised over £19m for good causes. To this can be added countless donations and acts of charity from Provincial Grand Lodges, individual Lodges and brethren.
Masonry has thrived despite wars, depressions and systematic attempts at elimination by dictators who viewed our principles and cohesive spirit as a threat to their totalitarian regimes.
Today, Devon Freemasonry led by our Provincial Grand Master, Right Worshipful Brother Ian Kingsbury and his executive has 5600 freemasons in 133 lodges. We are happy, harmonious and more open than ever.
Grand Lodge is open to the public and used as a venue for television serials, films and pop videos. We have a presence at county shows and other public events. We are on social media. We openly and enthusiastically discuss our membership with family and friends and invite them to open evenings where they can get a feel for what we are about, and what happens at our meetings. We are growing, and thriving.
So what can we expect over the next 300 years of Freemasonry? Our founding principles of Friendship, Charitable Giving and Honesty, and our trust in Almighty God are as relevant now as ever.
Freemasonry will continue to thrive, attracting good men and true, inspired by our ethos of mutual respect, high moral standards and the philosophical heritage which provides for a journey of self discovery; individual for every brother, and rewarding for all.
In 300 years time we trust that our successors will be equally proud and confident, and will continue to do good, and make good men better.
W.Bro. Reuben Ayres, Provincial Grand Charity Steward