Freemasons and the Church of England in Jersey
BBC news reported this:
“Freemasons in Jersey have had their request to host a 300th anniversary service at Town Church rejected. Next year Freemasons will celebrate the founding of the first lodge in 1717 with services set to take place in major religious buildings worldwide. Reverend Chris Jervis said granting the request would have been ‘problematic’ due to an ‘inconsistency between Christianity and freemasonry’.”
“Mr Jervis said it was due to the purpose of the building and he was ‘standing firm on this one’.
‘Within the context of the building, which is set aside for Christian Worship, it would be problematic to have something that is multi-faith,’ he said. The Catholic and Methodist churches also rejected requests to host services.”
Christopher Hodapp, the author of Freemasons for Dummies, looked at this. He noted that:
“There are ten lodges that meet on Jersey. Yarborough Lodge No. 244 celebrated its own 200th anniversary on the island in 2012, but all ten of the lodges meet in the central temple building in St. Helier, along with the many appendant bodies.”
Interestingly, as he points out, “the Methodist Church of Great Britain has a policy (passed in 1985 and revised in 1996) restricting the use of their churches for Masonic meetings or other related purposes. The restriction is only regarding the use of their church buildings. And the Order DOES permit services of the sort described in the article above, and gives discretion to the church's local trustees.”
The rules for a service are in Standing Order 919 which states:
(1) Meetings of Freemasons’ Lodges or other meetings for Masonic purposes may not be held on Methodist premises.
(2) Services exclusively for Freemasons may not be held on Methodist premises.
(3) If a Freemasons’ Lodge requests that a service be held on Methodist premises, the trustees may at their discretion either withhold permission or grant permission on the following conditions:
(i) the service shall be one of public Christian worship held in accordance with Methodist practice and complying with the Model Trusts;
(ii) the contents of the service shall first be seen and approved by the Superintendent;
(iii) it shall be conducted by a person appointed by the Superintendent.
It is worth taking a closer look at the policy of the Methodists passed in 1985, which was based on a report as that sets out probably more clearly the thinking behind what has been reported of Chris Jervis objections. The report notes that:
“Freemasonry describes itself as ‘one of the world’s oldest secular fraternal societies’ and claims to be ‘concerned with moral and spiritual values’. In basic, or Craft, Freemasonry there are three levels of membership, known as degrees, through which the member may progress. Almost all members progress through all three degrees.”
“Membership of the society ‘is open to men of any race or religion’ who have ‘a belief in a Supreme Being’ and ‘are of good repute’.”
“Freemasonry claims to follow three great principles: brotherly love, including tolerance and respect for the opinions of others; relief, including the practice of charity to the community as a whole; and truth, including striving for high moral standards. It is beyond question that the society encourages high moral standards, and that Masonic charitable giving is generous and includes Masonic and non-Masonic charities.”
So far, so good, but where does this cause problems for the Methodist church?
Firstly, Christianity is open to all. It does not hide its rituals in secret:
“For Christians the secrecy practised by Freemasons poses a problem in that secrecy of any kind is destructive of fellowship. The Christian community is an open fellowship. Within it there will inevitably be some secrecy, for example pastoral confidentiality, which is entirely proper; but secrecy should be kept to the minimum necessary, and must be capable of careful and public justification.”
Now it should be noted that the proposed service for the Town Church would have been exclusively for freemasons and their wives. It would not be open to the general public. But the Town Church, insofar as it is a Christian Church, is as the Methodist report mentions, “an open fellowship”.
Another conflict comes with the kind of language used. As the Methodist report observes:
“Freemasons are required to believe in a Supreme Being, sometimes called the Great Architect of the Universe. At various points in Masonic rituals prayer is offered to this Being. Freemasonry claims to draw together those of different religions and Freemasons are required to respect one another’s religious beliefs, and this is reflected in the prayers offered. However, the worship included in Masonic ritual seems to be an attenuated form unsatisfactory in any religious tradition. Christians must be concerned that the Supreme Being is not equated by all with God as Christians acknowledge Him, and prayer in craft and Royal Arch Freemasonry is never offered in the name of Jesus Christ. There are documented cases of Masonic services in Christian churches in which Christian prayers have been altered to remove the name of Christ.”
Language and theology also form part of the reason why the Methodists rejected the use of Methodist Churches for Masonic Services:
“The most serious theological objection to Freemasonry for Christians lies in the name given to the Supreme Being in the rituals of the Royal Arch degree. One of the secrets revealed in this degree is that the name of the Supreme Being is JAHBULON. It has been suggested to us that this word is a description of God, but the ritual refers to the word as a name of God. The name is a composite, as the ritual explicitly states.”
It is notable that while the Jersey lodge mentions Cathedral services, they have been the subject of criticism over this. On 21 Sept 2013 Canterbury Cathedral marked the 200th anniversary of Royal Arch Masonry with a special service led by the Archdeacon of Canterbury. The cathedral’s press office declined to respond to request for a copy of the liturgy used at the Freemason service and AI was not able to confirm assertions that Jahbulon was worshipped in the Church of England ceremony.
It does seem strange that a supposedly secular organisation should require belief in a Supreme Being, and even name him in rituals with a strange an amalgamation of Hebrew, Egyptian and Semitic words for deity. As atheists cannot become freemasons, it is debatable in what form it can be described as “secular”!
In many ways it seems to resemble some partial remnant of the ancient forms of Gnosticism, synchretic religions in which esoteric knowledge was the path to salvation. While the modern freemasonry forbids discussion of religion, it uses esoteric trappings of Gnostic or hermetic traditions in its ceremonies. It has prayers. It uses the terms “temple," "altar," "chaplain”, and as the report notes: “Either the rites are innocent play-acting or they have some degree of symbolic significance.”
An example of a quasi-Gnostic approach can also be seen in words used in the Third Degree: “Let the emblems of mortality which lie before you lead you to contemplate your inevitable destiny and guide your reflections to that most interesting of all human studies, the knowledge of yourself.”
It concludes that “in the light of this report, questions arise about the use of Methodist premises by Freemasons”
That is not to say that Freemasons cannot have services of public Christian worship held on a Methodist church, but the order makes it very clear that the service shall be one of public Christian worship held in accordance with Methodist practice and complying with the Model Trusts and also that the contents of the service shall first be seen and approved by the Superintendent and finally that it shall be conducted by a person appointed by the Superintendent..
I would imagine that if the local freemasons agreed to abide by these kind of rules, suitably amended for the Anglican Church, they would be able to hold a service in the Town Church, or for that matter in the Methodist Centre.