The Toast to the Visitors
I would like to share the story of how I came to realise what Visiting is all about. I was in my second year in Freemasonry, and by then I had more or less figured out the general dynamics of a masonic meeting, and was looking to help out more. I had heard of the importance of receiving visitors and so I thought I would make a special effort to be welcoming to any visiting brethren. So, I turned up at the following meeting looking to do just that.
However, after having a walk around the anteroom I realised, much to my disappointment, that there were no visitors there. The meeting was, nevertheless, well attended, with many brethren there chatting away and seeming to be enjoying themselves before the ceremony, so I didn’t think much of it. Maybe next time.
The ritual went fine and when we got round to the salutations, we had the usual greeting from the Silent Six and other usual suspects, nothing out of the ordinary. But then one brother got up and greeted the WM in representation of a lodge I had not heard of before. “Oh, there WAS a visitor, but I missed him, how silly of me!”, I thought to myself. And the brother sat down, and after him another got up, who also brought warm and fraternal greetings from some distant lodge. And after him a whole group of 5 or 6 stood up, in representation of yet another visiting lodge… By the time the salutations were over, it was clear that, in fact, about half of the brothers in that Temple were visitors. And I hadn’t even realised!
My first thought was obviously “I really should figure out who the members of my lodge actually are.” But it dawned on me that there was a reason why I had thought that there were no visitors that night: I couldn’t tell members and visitors apart. I had turned up at the hall seeking to welcome some doe-eyed, slightly nervous brethren who looked a bit lost. But, as it turns out, that is not what visitors look like at all. When I arrived, they had been there already amongst the brethren, but chatting away, enjoying the same jokes, and looking completely at ease.
And I realised then what visiting is actually all about. Visiting is not like a trip to the theatre, where you go to watch a performance being put on by a group of strangers. Nor is it simply a fancy dinner, where you enjoy a meal while wearing your Sunday best. In reality, what happens when you visit is that, for one night only, you become, quite simply and quite wonderfully, another member of the lodge that you are visiting. It reminded me of the line in the ritual which says “A Mason will find in every country a friend, and in every clime a home.”
So, to all of our visitors tonight, and particularly those from Abbey lodge who have brought us the Travelling Trowel, I would like to say that I sincerely hope you have found a home in St. Alphege tonight. And I would also like to thank you: for taking the time to travel all the way here to be, quite simply and quite wonderfully, our brothers.