By W Bro Guy Foster PAGDC MetGDC
I have been wondering over the last year or so what it would have been like to be able to go back in time, to say 2019, and to have the opportunity to warn myself what was coming down the track.
The trouble is that I’d have probably dismissed it all as the over-reactive ramblings of a fantasist!
But what about going back even further, perhaps 300 years, and being able to watch a Masonic ceremony from that date? No doubt there would be some parts of the ritual which would be instantly recognisable, whilst other parts would have even the most knowledgeable present-day Director of Ceremonies scratching their head.
If nothing else, it would prove that ritual has changed and adapted over time and that the script and rubric in the book of ritual, which all good Directors of Ceremonies look to for guidance, wasn’t set in stone back in 1717.
On that specific subject, I was asked the other day if I thought that ritual would permanently change over the coming years to accommodate social distancing, as well as some of the other guidelines we have recently been asked to adhere to. I’m afraid that question is way above my pay grade, just as it will no doubt largely depend on our ongoing battle with the disease. Having said that, if I were a betting man, I would wager that there will be some changes if only minor ones.
One thing we can be certain about as we (hopefully) emerge from enforced lockdowns and perhaps have the opportunity to meet in person again, and maybe even attend the odd Masonic meeting or two, is that flexibility will have to be uppermost in the Director of Ceremonies’ mind.
Conducting ceremonies under the ‘rule of 6’, or the ‘rule of 30’, whilst enforcing social distancing might be one of the most pertinent issues right now. But there will undoubtedly be other unforeseen circumstances lurking to catch out an unsuspecting Director of Ceremonies. In these times, as in all times, a Director of Ceremonies’ mantra should be to anticipate, prepare and, if all else fails, adapt to the circumstances.
On a personal note, and as a word of warning, one should never underestimate the human mind’s ability to forget things. That party piece of ritual which previously one could be asked to deliver at the drop of a hat, without resorting to any book, might not be there with as much clarity after a year or so of not being delivered.
Now might be an opportune moment to dig out those pocketbooks of ritual once more. I speak from personal experience in this respect, having recently been asked to give some particular section of ritual which unfortunately didn’t come out quite as intended. To paraphrase the famous Morecombe and Wise punchline, ‘all the right words, just not necessarily in the right order’!
Finally, whilst the thought of being able to go back in time is tempting, I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be a lot more fun to go forward in time, say a hundred years or so. Fast forward to 2121. One can imagine a diligent Lodge Director of Ceremonies instructing some newer members on the details of a ceremony and patiently explaining to them that ‘of course the reason we do it this way dates back to the COVID pandemic of the 2020s.’
This article is part of the Arena Magazine, Issue 45 July 2021 edition.
Arena Magazine is the official magazine of the London Freemasons - Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London.
Read more articles in the Arena Issue 45.