A paper delivered by Bro Harvey Lovewell to a combined meeting of Pyramid Highleigh and WHJ Mayers Lodge of Research
(Queensland, Australia) on September 5th 2012
Brethren, the act of visiting is an important aspect of social Freemasonry and at times when given a job to do the visitor becomes an essential part of lodge working. As Masons we urge new brothers to find time to visit, knowing, as we do, the benefits that can be gained. At the festive board there is of course the humour played out around the visitors toast.
A tired old Mason whose hair was grey
Came to the gates of Heaven one day
When asked, what on earth he had done the most
He said he had replied to the Visitor’s Toast.
St Peter said, as he tolled the bell,
Come inside my Brother, you've had enough of Hell
What though of a stranger wanting to visit your lodge? I would like to explore this most important part of our fraternity.
The Lodge of Antiquity, in England, possesses an old Masonic document written during the reign of James II between 1685 and 1688. In it appear the following words written in that way peculiar to the times and apparently aimed at travelling Masons: "that every Mason receive and cherish strange fellows, when they come over the country, and set the man work, if they will work, as the manner is; that is to say, if the mason have any mould stone in his place, he shall give him a mould stone, and set him on work; and if he have none, the Mason shall refresh him with money unto the next lodge."
In the Constitution of the Grand Lodge of England it is set forth that: "A Brother, who is not a subscribing member to some lodge, shall not be permitted to visit any lodge in the town or place in which he resides, more than once during his secession from the Craft." (Which declares, by inference that Masons who are "subscribing members to some lodge" may visit as often as they wish.)
Our own, UGLQ Constitution says in Para 270: No Brother who has ceased to be a member of a Lodge shall be permitted to visit any one Lodge more than once without an invitation until he again becomes a member of some Lodge. Note the words “without an invitation”.
Mackey's Fourteenth Landmark reads as follows: "The right of every Masons to visit and sit in every regular Lodge is an unquestionable Landmark of the Order. This is called the 'right of visitation.' This right of visitation has always been recognized as an inherent right, which inures (to take effect) with every Mason as he travels through the world. And this is because Lodges are just considered as only divisions for convenience of the universal Masonic Family. This right may, of course, be impaired or forfeited on special occasions by various circumstances; but when admission is refused to a Mason in good standing, who knocks at the door of a lodge as a visitor, it is to be expected that some good and sufficient reason shall be furnished for this violation, of what is in general a Masonic Right, founded on the Landmarks of the Order."
Where two rights conflict, the lesser must give way to the greater. This is in accord with human instinct, common sense and a proper social attitude. Thus, it is the right of every taxpayer and citizen to walk freely upon the streets of his city; he has a vested interest in what is common to all, for the benefit of all, and paid for by all. But if an emergency arises the police may rope off a street and forbid, temporarily, travel upon it; the immediate right of protection to all, or of expediency for the good of all, is, for the time being greater than the individual right to use the street.
Thus we have, to a very large degree, the Master being the absolute ruler of his lodge. He has the unquestioned power to exclude or admit at his pleasure. Visitors come into his lodge when, and only when, he orders them admitted; he has the power to exclude a member, or even an officer of his lodge.
Para 269 of the UGLQ Constitution says; it is within the power of the Master of every Lodge to refuse admission to any visitor whose presence he has reason to believe will disturb the harmony of the Lodge, or to any visitor of known bad character.
Other clauses within the constitution deal more fully with the subject of visitors. But this great power held by the Master has within it some restrictions; he is responsible to the Grand Lodge; and, "ad interim" to the Grand Master, for all of his acts. If he rules arbitrarily, excludes a member or a visitor for an improper reason, or for no reason at all, he can and should be called to account before the supreme Masonic authority.
A Mason in good standing who desires to visit a lodge other than his own makes his wishes known to the Tyler, who communicates with the Master, via the Junior Warden, that a would-be visitor desires admission. The Master is then obliged to ensure that the visitor has been vouched for, either by examination or by being known. The usual "good and sufficient reason" for refusal to permit a would-be visitor to be examined - or, if vouched for, to enter the Lodge - is that his presence has been objected to by some attending member present. If overruled by the Master, such an objection might easily destroy the peace and harmony of his lodge. The member who has a personal quarrel with a would-be visitor - no matter how regrettable is such a state of affairs between Masons - has the greater right in the lodge. The member has the right of membership; the right of voting on all questions; the right to take part in and be a part of the deliberations of his lodge. The visitor has only the right of visitation in the lodge; even if he obtains entry he cannot vote, propose motions or even speak on a question without invitation from the Master. Having the greater rights in the premises, the member of a lodge is to be considered before the would-be visitor; the peace and harmony of the lodge are of more importance than the right of visitation.
In spite of the Landmark quoted, and the authority of antiquity, not all Grand Jurisdictions have the same ideas on the subject of the right of visitation. In some Jurisdictions it is held that the lodge, being a little Masonic family of its own, has the right to say who shall and who shall not visit it for any reason or for no reason; that visitation is a courtesy accorded from a host to a guest, not a right possessed by the individual Mason as a small part of a greater whole. With this standpoint the majority of Masonic authorities do not agree, but as all Grand Lodges are sovereign unto themselves, Jurisdictions that have this attitude are right within their own borders.
The question of the regularity of the would-be visitor's lodge is important in some Jurisdictions, in others it is considered as less vital. Where clandestine Masonry flourishes, or has flourished, Grand Jurisdictions usually insist on being satisfied that the applicant comes from a lodge under the obedience of a recognized Grand Lodge.
Whether a would-be visitor is in good standing is a question easily answered if he possesses a current dues receipt or a good standing card. Our District Grand Lodge issues such a card on request, as do other Grand Lodges, and can demand its presentation to the committee at the time of examination; but there are exceptions.
Some Grand Lodges hold that if a would-be visitor gives a Tyler's oath, which is: - "I ............... do hereby and hereon solemnly and sincerely swear that I have been regularly initiated, passed and raised to the sublime degree of a Master Mason in a just and legally constituted Lodge of such; that I do not now stand suspended or expelled; and know of no reason why I should not hold Masonic Communication with my brethren"
This statement, given under oath that he is in good standing, may also be credited! This oath can be seen in Mackey's Encyclopaedia. I do not know of its use here in Australia, maybe a brother here knows of it.
Masonic authorities are almost universally agreed that the unaffiliated Mason has no right of visitation beyond a single visit to a lodge. The unaffiliated Mason pays nothing towards the upkeep of the Fraternity from whose ministrations he would profit if he were permitted to visit as freely as the affiliated Mason. But it is recognized that many unaffiliated Masons earnestly seek a new Masonic home in the location in which they have come live; therefore, it is conceded that such demitted members of other lodges have a right to visit at least once, to learn something of the lodge to which they may make application for affiliation.
A great and important duty involves upon the Junior Warden, by virtue of his investiture, to which is entrusted the task of ascertaining if a would-be visitor is a regular Mason and entitled (under the Master's pleasure) to visit with his brethren. Tyler’s, being the first line of defence, should also be involved in the event that the would-be visitor is a cowan and nothing has been said or done which would give him any information that he is a Mason. On the other hand brotherly courtesy dictates that it be not necessarily long. That committee of two is well advised to regard the examination as being a ceremony conducted by "Three" brethren to ascertain their mutual brotherhood, rather than an inquisition in which a man must prove himself innocent of the charge of being a cowan.
But there is a middle course between asking a Mason who is obviously well instructed and knowledgeable every possible question in all three degrees, and being "satisfied" with the "Tyler's Oath" and just one or two questions. A good committee seeks for the spirit rather than the form. There is no uniformity in ritual throughout Australia or the world. It is not important that the would-be visitor know the exact words of the ritual of the Jurisdiction in which he would visit; it is important that he know the substance of the work as taught in his own Jurisdiction. If this were not so, no Australian brother could visit in an American lodge; no American brother could work his way into a Scottish lodge; or any of the many worldwide lodges. In all recognized Jurisdictions the world over the essentials are the same; only words and minor details differ. As an example, aprons are worn "as a Master Mason" in different ways in Jurisdictions throughout the world, "but in all Jurisdictions a Master Mason wears an apron!" Not necessarily like our own.
A visitor has the undoubted right (Mackey) to demand to see the Charter or Warrant of the lodge he desires to visit, in order to satisfy himself that the visited lodge is "regularly constituted". Admittedly, such a request is as rare as for a committee to discover a cowan attempting to enter a lodge; but the right is generally conceded by Masonic authority, no matter how seldom it is exercised.
The visitor to a lodge pays it the highest compliment he can, short of seeking affiliation. Once admitted, his status is that of a brother among brethren, a guest in the home of his host. Alas, too often the visitor is relegated to the benches and left alone and unattended. Too often a Master is "too busy" with his meeting to attend to his duty as a host and the brethren too interested in their own concerns to pay much attention to the visiting brother. Careless Masonic hospitality is only less serious than carelessness in the committee. A stranger in town visits a lodge with the hope of finding friends, companions and brethren; he desires human contacts, to refresh himself at the Altar of Brotherhood, to mingle with his fellows on a level of exact equality. If he does not find them, he has a right to judge the lodge he visits as lacking in that fine Masonic courtesy which we all love.
Happy is the lodge with ideals of welcoming the visitor. It is fortunate for the lodge who's Master makes it his business, either personally or through a nominee, to say a brotherly word of welcome, to see that the brother is in friendly hands, to even assign a brother to care for the visitor and make him feel that although far from his habitat yet he is at home. The fame of such a lodge spreads far! Is this not the way of Brethren in the Far North?
In many lodges the secretary writes a letter to the lodge from which a visitor has come, advising them of his visit; do you not think that this is a good idea? Especially if the brother who has visited finds it in his heart to tell his own lodge of the pleasant time he had, the brotherly treatment he received, perhaps the homesickness cured by the fraternal kindliness with which he was greeted. Generally the visitor gets a greater reward for the time he has spent than the lodge he visits. The Mason, who visits many lodges, especially if in other than their own Jurisdiction, receives a new idea of the breadth of the Order, a new feeling for the underlying principles of the ancient Craft. If he can express his pleasure in his visit, bring a message from his home lodge to those brethren he visits, they also may gain from the occasion. In any event the lodge visited has been paid a compliment; the visitor has received trust and faith, regardless of the character of the welcome.
I can say from experience that lodges I have visited in other parts of Australia, while a bit different in structure and ritual, have shown me that wonderful Masonic Spirit.
In conclusion there is a book written by two fellow ANZMRC members (Kent Henderson and Tony Pope, Global Masonic Publications, 2000) called "Freemasonry Universal - A New Guide to the Masonic World”, Volumes One and Two. These are a guide to lodges around the world and are ideal for any brother wishing to visit in another country.
Originally published in “The Lectern”, Vol 20 Issue 9 – the official publication of the WHJ Mayers Lodge of Research, Cairns, Queensland, Australia
NOTE: The Grand Lodge of New Zealand’s Constitution (Rule 115d) states: No Brother who has ceased to be a member of a Lodge shall be permitted to visit any one Lodge more than three times until he again becomes a member of a Lodge