Companion Bryce has held that office since 1991 and prior to that had been Grand Superintendent in and over North & East Yorkshire for seven years. He has been a faithful servant of the Royal Arch for many years and we are most grateful to him for all his hard work during that time.
Companions, the Royal Arch membership statistics for the year to 31st December 2004 revealed that the pattern of gradually shrinking membership in England and Wales had continued. The number of members fell by about 2% to 99,000, but more worrying was a 3% reduction in the number of exaltees, even though the number of resignations fell at a faster rate.
I sense that the changes to the ritual, which were adopted last year, have started a revival of interest in the Royal Arch and the lessons that it teaches us, especially among those younger brethren and companions who are looking for a meaningful spiritual foundation to their lives in an increasingly secular world.
The ability to share the ritual to a much greater extent than previously and the easier language of the re-written lectures is enabling busy professional men to learn relatively small amounts of ritual more readily and is encouraging a greater degree of participation in our ceremonies from previously passive companions.
In the initial months of the new ritual, anecdotal evidence suggests that the majority of Chapters, in some Provinces as many as 75%, are evolving into using the new permissive lectures, as junior companions progress through the offices.
Moreover, nearly 37% of our Craft Masons in England and Wales are members of the Royal Arch, a proportion that has remained fairly constant in recent years.
Conversely, we must remember that about two-thirds of our Craft brethren are not members of the Royal Arch, which at least suggests a large pool of potential candidates.
The updated ritual provides an opportunity to involve more members in the work of the Chapter. It has also made the spiritual message of man’s relationship with God easier to understand. This provides all of us with a wonderful opportunity to “sell” the revitalised Royal Arch to potential candidates as an essential part of their Masonic journey, and we shall not be ashamed or reluctant to look upon our duty to support the Order in modern marketing terms.
We cannot continue to assume that the benefits of the Order will become apparent automatically, but must make positive efforts to get the message across that the Royal Arch has a compelling significance to all Masons – as well as being a very fine and intriguing story.
In a recent development that I consider valuable, the Committee of General Purposes has recommended that, with effect from this meeting, all members of the Royal Arch will be entitled to attend meetings of Supreme Grand Chapter. I welcome this as a positive step to encourage our newer companions who have not yet reached the Principals’ Chairs in their respective Chapters to take a greater interest in the affairs of our Order, and I hope that many will avail themselves of this opportunity.
Companions, the spiritual nature of the Royal Arch has attracted the attention of the newly revived Grand Lodges throughout Central and Eastern Europe and this Supreme Grand Chapter has been asked by many of these Grand Lodges to assist them in bringing the Royal Arch into their countries.
Many qualified brethren from these countries have been exalted into the Royal Arch already, in English Chapters, and these will eventually be exported as the founding bodies of sovereign Supreme Grand Chapters. Indeed, two are already working in Budapest on this basis.
We can draw comfort from the fact that the hunger for Masonic knowledge and the perceived spirituality of the Order are proving a potent combination, and the Royal Arch is being embraced and received with such enthusiasm. This, in my view, provides a sound basis for us all to go out with renewed zeal and energy to ensure that more of our own brethren are introduced to it.
Thank you, companions.