“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, and a special welcome to the college of Freemasons Scholars for 2019. speech
I am delighted to acknowledge our host today, Greg O’Connor the MP for Ohariu. Thank you Greg for the welcome to Parliament’s Legislative Council Chamber and the Grand Hall. This wonderfully historic building, creates an ideal atmosphere to celebrate the achievements of some talented New Zealanders and to showcase all that is good and great in this country.
And I also welcome our guest speaker Liam Malone who will address us all later in the program.
For many of you this may be your first real contact with Freemasonry apart, perhaps, from the embellished versions found in Dan Brown novels and tales of secret handshakes etc. Hence, a short history may help to put things in perspective.
Freemasonry, as we know it today, had its origins about the twelfth century on the building sites of the great cathedrals in Europe. The forerunners of the lodges were simple wooden huts in which the details of the building designs were worked out and the craftsmen were given their instruction.
Some were less qualified so they did the menial work, what we would call apprentices. Others had some talents and skills so they did the more elaborate work – they were Fellows of the Craft. And yet others were the skilled artisans who worked on the ornate arches and beautiful ornaments of the cathedrals – they were the Master Masons.
However in the 12th Century the workers were mostly illiterate – and they needed to be able to demonstrate what level of skill they possessed – so, as they learnt the trade of an apprentice, they were given a special grip and a word to distinguish themselves.
As they became more expert, they became Fellows and with that they were entrusted with a second special word and grip – to show they were more experienced than the apprentice, but not as talented as the Master Mason.
Likewise, once they developed the complete skills of a Master, they then were entrusted with a third word and grip to mark them out as Masters. Each group kept their word and grip secret, since it was proof of their proficiency – on which depended their wages and the skilled work they were asked to perform.
When, in the seventeenth century, Freemasonry emerged to public view in England, there had been a fundamental change in its nature. It was no longer an association of persons practicing the stonemasonry trade. Its members were now doctors, lawyers, scientists, and tradesmen who were no longer involved in the physical skills of stonemasonry, but instead they were speculative masons, promoting a brotherhood of men, focusing on the virtues and duties of an ethical life.
But, while Freemasonry had evolved, the original principles of progression from Apprentice to Fellow and then to Master remained as the pathway to learning. Today we use the ceremonial of those same secrets as part of the admission and advancement of new members.
So I am often asked if Freemasons have secrets – and frankly the word and grip distinguishing each level of proficiency can be considered secret as they are used as proof of your integrity and only get passed on once you complete the relevant level of expertise.
However the teachings of Freemasonry are fundamental to a civilised society, and are no more secret than the guidance given to you by your parents. Be honest, be industrious, reward merit and encourage perseverance, be tolerant of others views, respect those around you, demonstrate compassion – these masonic teachings are ingredients which get summed up as “be a good citizen of the country which has given you birth and has guided your development”.
Freemasons today promote enlightenment and education. We encourage research into the liberal arts and science. While this is designed to improve the mind and make us better contributors to society, it is also designed to enhance our understanding of different views, to supplement our tolerance, to encourage us to use our learning skills and talents to avoid conflict and hatred. Through education people become more compassionate and the world becomes a safer and more civilised environment for us, our children, and our families.
Our founders were driven by a desire to use their skills to enlighten the world, to bring peace and understanding to society, and to encourage greater tolerance and compassion. In today’s society where change is said to be constant, where there are new challenges and demands arising in our communities seemingly on a daily basis, and where our young leaders of tomorrow face important decisions about their futures, it is refreshing to know that traditional values are still recognised and promoted, those virtues and principles cherished by our forebears are still relevant, and remain a cornerstone of a civilised world.
One important area of our work has been our charitable activities. Each year, groups around New Zealand receive benefits from freemasons to the tune of some $10m. Support for iconic national identities such as Plunket, the Order of St John, the Foundation of the Blind, the Masonic retirement villages – there are 33 Villages nearly 1200 Villa units and care beds employing 560 staff – long-term research projects at both the Auckland and Otago Universities, the Royal Society of New Zealand, and most recently, our support for the Malaghan Institute to fund advanced cancer research, as well as a myriad of support for community groups and activities; those quiet volunteers who work in our towns and cities helping those in need.
We also administer a number of charitable trusts set up over the years by freemasons keen on making a contribution to the future of mankind, men from all walks of life who recognise their responsibility to the community and who want to do something about it. One of these is the Lawson-Smith Freemasons Education Trust which has a special focus on the veterinary sciences, in particular students studying at Massey University. Its 2019 recipients are participating with us today.
However, while this good work has been undertaken by Freemasons for many years, it has gone largely unnoticed, principally because of a humility which is part of our teaching.
Well, I have addressed that lack of profile. As Grand Master, three years ago I launched a programme encouraging our members to Speak Up For Freemasonry. I have encouraged our masonic family, members and their partners, to be more open, to talk to the public about freemasonry, to communicate the values we promote and to communicate the charitable work we do. The profile of Freemasonry in New Zealand is growing and we are attracting new members across the country who see the values of our organisation and seek to be part of a non-political group of men focussed on adding value to society by supporting good men, their families, and their communities.
And that, my friends, is the reason today is occurring – Freemasons rewarding hard work and scholastic achievement – recognising enlightenment – and rewarding the recipients for their involvement in their local communities.
The Freemasons Scholarships, which have been in operation for more than 40 years, are unique in this country – while they are based upon scholastic achievement, they also depend upon each person demonstrating an active community involvement, showing how they are using their skills to return value back into their localities.
To the parents, families and whanau of the scholars – what a delight it is to have you share this special day, in these historic surroundings, recognising the wonderful achievements of your children and siblings.
I do not think we, as New Zealanders, take enough time to celebrate the good news and the positive things that occur around us, so presentations such as today are an important milestone to properly mark. Thank you for attending today. I trust you will have a most enjoyable time and return safely to your homes enthused by the ceremony.
To the College of Freemasons Scholars of 2019, I extend my personal congratulations and best wishes for your future careers. Each of your stories was inspiring and it is clear you are all deserving recipients of our scholarships. You each have undoubted talents, and properly applied you can make a difference – you can help make our community to be more tolerant, more compassionate and more understanding of different views, cultures, and opinions.
I urge you, the talented leaders of tomorrow, to have pride in your country and carry on the conversation of peace and inclusion both here and wherever else in the world your studies and future careers may take you. I do ask however that you never forget the debt you owe to New Zealand and the community in which you developed, so if your journeys take you to the four corners of our world, always think fondly of this country, use your talents to benefit the society in which you live, and above all maintain contact with those who are nearest and dearest to you.
In conclusion then let us today celebrate excellence – lets recognise the very positive impact Freemasonry can make on the lives of all New Zealanders, and, mindful of my Speak Up For Freemasonry campaign, I trust that each one of you will talk to your friends families whanau and colleagues about what it has meant to you to be here for this ceremony today.
Thank you for your support. Please enjoy our hospitality and take pride in the Freemasons Scholars of 2019.”