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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

UGLE Leads Nightly Nine O'Clock Toasts To Absent Friends

by Christopher Hodapp

"If at nine o'clock you listen
when around this festive board,
If you listen very closely,
with your hearts tuned in accord,
You'll hear, when in the West and South,
you're charged in fullest measure,
Some distant voices calling,
"Brother may we have the pleasure?"

For at nine o'clock we Toast you,
wherever you may stand,
At home, or maybe out of town,
or in some far-off land;
With cheerful hearts and distant thoughts,
we steal a moment's leisure;
To call our ancient challenge;
"Brother may we have the pleasure?"

For we are bound together
by a universal link;
We drink from that Masonic Cup
from which we all may drink;
To our far-flung Brotherhood,
whose fellowship we treasure,
The old Masonic greeting,
"Brother may we have the pleasure?"
Brethren the Toast is "TO OUR ABSENT BRETHREN""!

Last Saturday night at 9:00PM GMT, the United Grand Lodge of England encouraged Freemasons everywhere to raise their glasses simultaneously, wherever they were, and toast the time-honored toast "To our absent brethren." 

The worldwide event was promoted on Twitter with the hashtag #TimetoToast. 

UGLE's Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes posted a Twitter photo of himself leading the toast at 9PM in London. Here in the US, it was 5PM in New York, 4PM in Chicago, and 2PM in Los Angeles. All over the world, individual Masons everywhere joined in, raised a glass in the lonesome quiet of their own homes, and sipped "from that Masonic cup from which we all may drink." And for that moment, we shared in this brotherhood that is so important to us all.

The solitude of the enforced COVID-19 virus isolation only made it more poignant.

Great Queen Street quickly widened the scope of the nightly tradition, and now hopes the entire world - whether Mason or not - will pause at 9PM every single night, wherever they are, raise a glass, and think of absent friends. 

Indeed, on Sunday night, UGLE Grand Secretary, Dr. David Staples did likewise at the stroke of nine. 

The nightly toast and the hashtag quickly circulated the Intertubz and social media over the weekend, and by Monday, both Newsweek and UK's The Week ran the story.

In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, however, Britain's Freemasons are breaking with convention to invite the general public to take part in a centuries-old tradition to remind people that they are "not alone."
The "Nine O'Clock Toast" is "a tradition within Freemasonry that has been observed for many hundreds of years," Dr. David Staples, the CEO and Grand Secretary of the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) told Newsweek on Monday.
From modern-day meetings at the pub to gatherings convened at the height of two world wars, the tradition, he said, sees members raise a glass during dinner at 9 p.m. each evening to honor their "Absent Brethren" or their fellow Freemasons who cannot be there with them.

"Our members know that wherever they are in the world and whatever they are doing at 9 o'clock, somebody will be raising a glass to them and remembering them," Staples said.
In the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak, which has forced friends and family around the world to remain apart in order to avoid catching and spreading the virus, such a message could likely not be more welcome.

"This is a tradition that we have had for 300 years and it's something that we think helps people to not feel quite so lonely and isolated," Staples said.
With the COVID-19 outbreak forcing people to stay apart, whether they are living under lockdown policies, are in quarantine, or are choosing to self-isolate, Staples said he hoped that participating in the Freemason tradition might help them feel less alone.
Using the hashtag #TimetoToast, Freemasons and members of the public are being asked to participate in a nightly "virtual" toast.
"This is about sharing one of our traditions which we think will help people to feel a little less lonely, a little less isolated," he said. "If they can do that every night, to raise a glass to the people they're missing."
By Monday, even England's female Masons were on board with the idea. Grand Master Christine Chapman of the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons (HFAF), one of two English grand lodges of Freemasonry for women, issued her own statement in accord with David Staples: 

"We must combat loneliness by ensuring that, even if we are all in our own homes, we are still connecting across the country."
"Dr Staples and I urge everyone to charge their glass at 9pm and say a toast to absent friends, and those working on the frontline," Chapman said.

Why at 9:00 PM, you ask? It is at nine o'clock that the hands of a clock form the fourth part of a circle, an angle of ninety degrees, which is celebrated and described in Masonic ritual. 

In some traditions, the nine o'clock toast is explained by saying that our Mystic Circle is not complete because of absent brethren, represented by that missing fourth part. 

Of course, that is in places that wisely never followed the American dabbling in Prohibition taken up so enthusiastically by some U.S. Masonic jurisdictions and which continues today. The rest of the world didn't fall for such tommyrot.

One caution that Grand Secretary Staples did mention, even in the press, was for Masons not to post online videos or images of Masonic toasting "choreography." Toasting in Freemasonry is as just steeped in symbolism and tradition as everything else we do.

Anyone who has ever attended a true Masonic Festive Board replete with the ceremonial seven toasts can tell you it is a thoroughly enjoyable evening, and harkens back to our early 1700's tavern origins. It is noisy, occasionally athletic, and deliberately complicated - particularly by the shank of the evening and after imbibing five or six previous toasts. We Masons even have our own specialized glassware for the occasion, known as 'cannons.'

But the one thing it was never, ever meant to be was solitary. Isolation is the very antithesis of our Masonic fraternity, and the toast to absent Brethren reflects that lament.

The Atlantic just posted an article on Monday about the corrosive and lingering damage that further breakdown in communal life and activities will have on society as a whole. The Western world was already suffering from the destruction of communal life and institutions before the COVID pandemic hit. When it finally passes, let us all seriously pray that civilization doesn't suffer a social recession to go with the doubtless economic one that will come in its wake.

By Tuesday this week, Masons all over the world were either joining in at 9PM London time, or alternately, individual lodges and some grand lodges were encouraging their members to meet online at 9PM in their local time zone and remember their own absent brethren. 

Personally, I think that UGLE has the right idea. Let's encourage everyone, Mason or not, to pause at the very same moment and remember absent friends.

Traditionally, the final toast of the evening is commonly called the Tyler's Toast, and in my own Lodge Vitruvan 767 here in my home town, our Festive Board's 7th toast ends with these words:
Dear brethren of the mystic tie, the night is waning fast,
Our work is done, our feast is o'er, this toast must be the last.
Good night to all, once more good night,
again that farewell strain,
"Happy to meet, sorry to part, happy to meet again."

Brethren, I give you the Tyler's Toast:
To all poor and distressed brethren,
Wheresoe'er they may be, on the land, the sea or in the air.
Wishing them a speedy relief from their suffering,
And a safe return to their native land, If they so desire.
Let's extend that same sentiment to everyone the world over.

A speedy relief to your suffering, and a safe return to your home. 

And normalcy once again. 


1 comment:

  1. I will try to start this at my Lodge. thanks Thomas R Conn, Grayson #549 F&AM Grayson Georgia USA.


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