In April 2021, RW Bro Dr David Staples, the then-Grand Secretary and Chief Executive of the United Grand Lodge of England, appeared on Sky News to talk about UGLE’s first ever public report. At the tail-end of the interview, the host pitched this question at him:
“If you want to do it with the boys, you can. If you want to do it with the girls, you can. If you want to be in a mixed-lodge, you can.” – Dr David Staples.
What Bro Staples failed to mention was that at the exact time that he was saying this, members of his staff at UGLE were actively persecuting Brethren for attempting to do just that, i.e., attending co-Masonic or mixed lodges. I know: because I was one of the people so-persecuted.
When I pointed out the Grand Secretary’s statement to the bureaucrats at UGLE, I was told “Ah, no, what he meant was, you can be a co-Mason, but if so, you have to resign from UGLE.” I suppose what they mean is that co-Masonic organisations are ipso facto rival organisations to UGLE, which arrogates to itself the monopoly to administer Freemasonry within its own jurisdiction. Furthermore, UGLE believes that a Brother cannot remain both a member of UGLE and a member of an organisation which it does not recognise as a proper Masonic authority. I was informed specifically that it went further than this: not only could I not join a co-Masonic organisation, I could not even attend one of their meetings as a guest: the most I could do was attend a so-called “white table event” after the lodge meeting was finished.
The more philosophically-minded of my readers will start to notice a number of logical inconsistencies here, to wit:
Firstly, UGLE was effectively saying: “We recognise Co-Masons as Freemasons. We just don’t recognise Co-Masons as Freemasons whom we recognise.”
Secondly, it costs money to be a member of two or more organisations. If an individual is ready, willing and able to pay out their own money to do so, what business of UGLE is it to say otherwise? As a wise philosopher once said:
“It’s a bit like… you’ve got a favourite Indian restaurant that you go to every Monday night, and just as you’re leaving, the owner comes up to you and says: ‘Oh I saw you at the Chinese on Wednesday. You mustn’t eat in there. If you’re going to eat in here, you mustn’t eat in the Chinese.’ It’s utter nonsense!”
Thirdly, and most seriously: there is an implied disrespect against female co-Masons – who are not only the Brethren but in many cases also the partners of the male co-Masons – which ought not to have any place in a society of gentlemen.
As to my leaving of UGLE: I was caught in the position in which I enjoyed being a member of my mother-lodge and my mother-chapter. I regarded its members as my friends, and I particularly appreciated the peculiar ethos of both, which was both spiritual and esoteric, in marked contrast to most of the rest of UGLE.
Moreover, I had actually gone to a great deal of trouble in my dedication to my mother-lodge / chapter, particularly in my assiduity in becoming a Ritualist. I learnt to do practically all of the degree-work of both Craft and Royal Arch off-book, out of some notion that this was the kind of thing that the powers-that-be appreciated.
However, before I was ever a freemason, I had been a Golden Dawn practitioner, and hence believed without question in male-female equality, and that it was perfectly natural for both men and women to work together in an initiatory organisation. I therefore could not for the life of me see what was wrong with co-Masonry.
So there I was, minding my own business one fine spring morning in 2021, when I received a badly spelled, mis-worded, and wrongly dated letter from someone in Metropolitan Grand Lodge. I first thought they wanted to reward me for all my hard work by appointing me to a position of importance within Met GL, as by that point I had been a past master for some time and would otherwise have been up for “London Grand Rank.” Alas! When I deciphered its contents, I realised I was being accused of being a co-mason.
I later discovered that members of the Grand Secretary’s office had informed this poor functionary that they had found evidence of me attending a co-masonic meeting. Apparently, there are people in UGLE whose job it is to stalk Brethren over the internet and uncover evidence of them sneaking off to co-masonic meetings to enjoy themselves! Because I still wanted to remain a member of my mother lodge and chapter, I told them I was willing to never attend another co-masonic meeting, to which I was told that in that case the matter would be dropped.
But then they changed their mind, in effect saying “We don’t believe you.” I thus found myself subject to something called “disciplinary proceedings” which is the same punishment meted out to freemasons who have brought the Craft into disrepute by committing crimes like murder or armed robbery. This began in a farcical manner, as I was accused of being a member of every order to which I had admitted being a member whether or not it was technically incompatible with the Craft. It got to the extent where me being a member of an order was grounds enough to declare being a member of it incompatible with the Craft!
After some arguing back and forth, they apparently dropped some of the wilder of their accusations, and focussed on the charge that I was a co-mason. Given that they had thrown my previous offer back in my face, I could not see what else I could do to escape the inevitable. Hence, I found myself expelled from UGLE.
It did not happen immediately: it took some eighteen months from first being arraigned, as it had to be escalated to the top of UGLE for it to be finalised (this is the usual procedure for Brethren caught in this position). In the meantime, my prosecutors cheerfully told me that if I didn’t want to wait for my case to go to appeal, I could always resign from Freemasonry. This would have involved me having to sign a declaration that I no longer considered myself a Freemason, which I refused to do on principle.
I was even told that after my final hearing that there was still a chance to apply to something called a “Panel for Clemency.” I was told about the procedure for doing so, but they neglected to inform me on what grounds Clemency could actually be considered.
If I were to speculate as to why UGLE did its volte-face after my initial offer and institute disciplinary proceedings notwithstanding, I can only say that it was blindingly obvious that it occurred at the same time I publicly resigned from another Society over a different matter entirely. I have no evidence, however, that senior members thereof put their chums in the Grand Secretary’s office up to harassing me, so one must assume that it was all just a very unfortunate coincidence.
In conclusion, I must admit I regret no longer being able to attend the meetings of my mother lodge and my mother chapter. My Brethren therefrom are all very dear to me, and I had invested a lot of my time and effort in my sixteen years of being a member, so if I had had the opportunity I would have remained in UGLE just for them. However I can’t say I regret being forced to leave UGLE per se, as I had little love for its bureaucratic structure even before these events started, and I have even less now.
UGLE no longer regards me as a Freemason. Instead, I regard myself as a Mason Free to attend as many co-masonic meetings as I choose, and to explore my Masonic interests not just in Craft and Royal Arch, but also Rose Croix, KT, Rosicrucianism and other degrees, in an environment which is in accord with my conscience.
Worshipful Brother Alex Sumner,
a.k.a. Excellent Companion Alex Sumner, PZ.
For more information about Co-Masonry around the world, please visit The Grand Lodge of Modern Mixed Masons.