Solemn Statement of Honorary Grand Master Bro∴ Alain de Keghel on the Occasion of the Thirty-fifth Anniversary of George Washington Union Grand Lodge Or∴ Washington, D.C., November 12, 2011
WGM, dear Bro Didier,
Dear SS and BBrr of GWU and of visiting lodges,
Dignitaries in the East,
It was here in the Orient of Washington, D.C., in the year 1996 that we had a dream. A dream inspired from old times and from some old timers. And of course a dream coming from our own souls and inherited from our roots in Masonic tradition and education. But you may wonder why I am referring to 1996 while we today are commemorating the thirty-fifth anniversary of our Masonic body. And you are right. You are right because on December 10, 1976, a small group of American Masons took the first decisive steps in founding in the Or∴ of New York City, a lodge named George Washington Lodge n° 1, dedicated to the spirit of absolute freedom of conscience and of progress. Seemingly, it was in their minds to provide their brethren and sisters a chance to build a new Masonic bridge to overcome some prejudices that were still a kind of limitation of their fundamental creed, which I could here stress again: absolute freedom of conscience. Three brethren, all of them very much dedicated to our philosophy, had the privilege to take this joint initiative, and we have today a sacred obligation to remember their memories because they deserve our eternal recognition for having taken such a founding and fundamental initiative. We have also to remember that the Grand Orient de France supported this initiative in granting the patent in accordance with the agreement signed by Grand Master Serge Behar on August 16, 1977. The General Assembly of the GODF ratified this agreement in September 1978. Because of my age and maybe also of some continued Masonic commitment during the last fifty years, I belong to those who had the privilege to know all of them personally, and it was very inspiring for me and for the transmission of a spirit we all here have inherited. I suggest today that we remember them with brotherly love and that we dedicate our commemoration to their memories. But as we know nobody, no single one, is perfect. The brethren I am referring to today are Alfred Kagan, Harry Hendler, and Raoul Zetler. They all three were members of W∴L∴ L’Atlantide, Or∴ of New York City, the first Masonic lodge belonging to the French Grand Orient de France established in the United States. But additionally, all of them as well belonged to the co-Masonic order DH-AF. For some reasons, more specifically among them the legitimate wish to conduct works in English, but also to include sisters into their tyled communications, they decided to go another way, and doing so they also were shifting from the “male only” tradition of GODF and of W∴L∴ L’Atlantide, allowing in this way sisters not only to share their works but also to be initiated or affiliated with their new lodge. Thus, they decided to take these steps to go another way, and doing so they claimed to act in “the American way.” I am not sure that American Masons claiming to keep regular should have agreed—and still today would agree—but it is another question. . . . It was their choice. And in my view it was a big step forward.
Right from the start they were facing the usual problems one encounters when taking a new—and then considered as “revolutionary” or at least radical—initiative. But anyway, they started their work with a lot of idealism, believing in the force of their choice: English should be the only language used during stated communications as in other occasions. The ritual used by them should be that of Droit Humain–American Federation. They were first hosted in the temple of the Gran Logia de Lengua Espanola de los E∴U∴ in New York City. A choice eased by the fact that this Spanish-language lodge of exiled Cuban Masons was from the start a founding member of CLIPSAS. So far so good. But unfortunately, this sympathetic adventure did not last much more than two years of Masonic activities, which were then discontinued. The reasons for that included the lack of support—and it sounds like an understatement—from Masons from the GODF at W∴L∴ L’Atlantide. But, as well, the small group of founding members was failing to attract a mixed American membership from the American civil society and facing the hostile posture of DH-AF. The more, the very conservative G∴L∴ of New York, not having forgotten previous exogenous experiences, like the famous one of French brother Cerneau in the nineteenth century, showed fierce opposition, considering female initiations a “sin” of major irregularity in the spirit of Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723. And as a matter of fact, American Masons, likewise the British, still simply do not recognize today the initiation of women, even though some more open-minded British Masons recently stated in Edinburgh, Scotland (May 2007), in a kind of move, admitted that “the Female Masonry as practiced especially in France GLFF could be considered as regular . . . if not practiced by women.” In others words, typical British humor mixed with some pragmatism and, maybe, an announcement of a possible move in the next future, when in 2017 Freemasonry will celebrate its tercentennial. Let us wait and see! But we have also to know that mixed co-Masonry as practiced by the GWU and DH-AF still is considered by the UGLE and its followers as the absolute devil. So it is not surprising also for that reason that the DH-AF never succeeded in reaching a real significant membership. This sounds like a paradox in a country like the United States, where the rights of women are often claimed. But it is a matter of fact that American Freemasonry remains very conservative, and not only in this regard. The George Washington Union is at least in this regard an American exception we can altogether proudly claim today. To be perfectly honest, this environment, but additionally some more specific personal reasons as well, which it is not useful today to speculate on, explains why the W∴L∴ George Washington n° 1 very soon went into a long-lasting deep sleep. The lack of support of W∴L∴ L’Atlantide, at this time hostile to any kind of mixed Masonry, for sure did not help, but was not decisive. However, one should not underestimate the capabilities of the three founding members named ahead to be very efficient networkers in France. Their personal fame in the GODF, where the lack of knowledge of America added to the eternal romantic Franco-American dream, allowed them to present themselves as an “American Masonic body” and to join in this capacity with the international federation of CLIPSAS as soon as 1979, and for this reason to keep, year after year, being invited to the closing ceremony of the General Assembly of the GODF in Paris. . . . Which explains that although the George Washington Lodge n° 1 was no longer active, it had a continued, ongoing virtual existence. While being sarcastic, I confess that we, anyway, today benefit from that, for the best, and I strongly support the Treaty of Amity and the membership within CLIPSAS, which belong to our history and are part of our international legitimate recognition as part of the American Masonic landscape, even though we have to be realistic because of our specificity, which makes of us a rather modest planet in the Masonic universe. Some recent proposals we received from the top level from the GLFF confirm that this analysis is not simply wishful thinking and could very soon let us benefit from dual membership for our sisters with the oldest European feminine grand lodge.
But since we are commemorating the thirty-fifth anniversary of the GWU, let us turn back to our history. Said circumstances had as a consequence that despite desperate efforts to assert that George Washington Lodge n° 1 had survived and that, moreover, in 1993 another lodge, Keystone n° 2, was created in the Orient of Colorado Springs, Colorado, and other triangles created in “dream Orients,” it, nevertheless, at the end appeared evident that these outings were purely speculative, and it is an understatement to confess today that nothing was really proved of any such Masonic activities. But again, we have today to consider the positive side of this fiction and to remember how a brainstorming session initiated in June 1996 during the Journées d’Amérique du Nord et du Pacifique of the GODF at Los Angeles concluded with the wish to find ways to attract American citizens to our Masonic stream and to get support from them to act according to the principles of CLIPSAS. Or let us say the “adogmatic” way, a neologism, or new wording, forged in the nine ties to prevent any kind of misunderstanding in referring to “liberal Freemasonry,” which often sounds leftist in American ears. My personal links with the then grand master of the GODF and the proposals of Deputy Grand Master Raymond Bagnis to get some experienced Masons involved in reactivating George Washington Lodge n° 1 and to make out of it a real George Washington Union reuniting the “different lodges of named union” in order to start a new dynamic, emerged in Washington, D.C., with the enthusiastic support of the two survivors of George Washington Lodge n° 1, Brethren Harry Hendler and Raoul Zetler. I was at this time myself W∴M∴ of La Fayette 89 Lodge of the GODF at Washington, D.C., and recently assigned as a French diplomat at the French permanent mission to the Organization of American States. I had been some ten years earlier a junior member of the Conseil de l’Ordre of the GODF with Grand Master Roger Leray. So I benefited from strong support from GODF leadership, whose policy was to fully endorse the recommendations of the Los Angeles regional meeting of June 1996. So I was kindly and most fraternally invited to take the leadership and all useful steps to reactivate the GWU and to make this work as soon as possible. The Conseil de l’Ordre, or let us say the board of directors of the GODF, provided a special decree for that. It was voted on November 1996 at the seat of the GODF on rue Cadet. I must confess, to be perfectly honest, that I had my doubts about this enterprise precisely because of my knowledge of the international Masonic landscape. But as a brave Mason fully dedicated to our idealistic philosophy, I agreed anyway to commit myself and started involving those few Masons ready to engage with me in this uncertain adventure. One of my first concerns was to get active support from Masons who already had managing experience in American lodges. A working team was soon starting its work to create first a new lodge at the Orient of Washington, D.C. We decided to choose a distinctive name, Liberty 3, as a kind of follow-up of George Washington Lodge n° 1 and Alfred Kagan Lodge n° 2—and of course to elect an American Mason as our first W∴M∴.
Brother Michael Niddam had been a master in an American lodge and agreed. Things were then rapidly developing a new dynamic. We worked hard and very intensively on a new specifically American ritual, first for entered apprentices, because we felt the need to get rid of the DH ritual previously used by W∴L∴ George Washington Lodge n° 1. And instead of questioning the fiction of a “GWU made of several lodges and triangles,” we agreed to “continue.” This pragmatism made possible a shortcut in conveying a general assembly that would have to vote on reactivating the George Washington Union and elect a grand master as well as grand officers. The first general assembly took place in October 1996 at my private residence after intense preparation. Brother Harry Hendler was then still claiming to be the active grand master of said obedience, and I was the same day myself elected deputy grand master “ad vitam.” But I confess today that I never liked much this “ad vitam,” knowing best how short life is and preferring efficiency over the titles many Masons seem to have a great capacity to develop all around the world, and it is not only the privilege of the ever-so-funny American Shriners. . . . The only way to keep in accordance with our Masonic idealism is to work the way we were taught while entering into our Order as entered apprentices: work on ourselves to take part in the development of progress of the society and always look forward. We must today express our thanks to all those Masons whose support and involvement were decisive for the success, so far, of this incredible utopia we have experienced and are celebrating today. I would not be able to mention everyone, but allow me to refer to Brethren Victor Obadia and Pierre Maurice, both past masters of W∴L∴ La Fayette 89, who declined to listen to those who did not accept this new trend disturbing them in their comfortable conservatism and conformism. The force of Masonic conviction was at the end the best guarantee for a constructive and fraternal coexistence based on tolerance and on an agreement voted in W∴L∴ La Fayette 89 after some debates, which belong to history today. The way was then paved for a future I never expected to experience. We soon opened a lodge at the Orient of Los Angeles, we had a very dynamic triangle at the Orient of Chicago under the chairmanship of Brother Jean-Louis Petit, very soon after also a new lodge in San Francisco and another one in Canada. Those having shared with me the unique experience of the initiation of our S∴ Nicolinni will never forget it—for sure she will not. Nor shall we forget the fraternal hospitality of Brother Jean-Louis Petit, who would soon become one of our grand masters, continuing the improvement of the GWU. I will not be able, either, to mention today the names of all the Masons who, having invested a lot of fraternity, of time, of energy, and of idealism, make it possible for the GWU to be what it is today: an independent American Masonic body enjoying full sovereignty and international recognition, mainly because of the quality of the work all dedicated sisters and brethren are performing day after day, restless in our lodges since 1996. You have altogether demonstrated that with hope, faith, and charity almost everything remains possible. I have here to pay also a tribute to Jean-Claude Zambelli, past grand master, and to congratulate you, dear Brother Grand Master Didier Minecci, for the beautiful job you do as our grand master today, along with a good team. And because of my special historical ties with W∴L∴ Liberty 3, let me at least recognize specially our dear Sister Stéphanie Bagot, W∴M∴.
Finally, I have to thank all of you for having invited me today for this commemoration to share with you the fraternal joys of remembering the way we all have been going for the last thirty-five years. I do hope I have not offended anyone with my straight statements. But I believe it is our destiny to look at the world as it is with the eternal hope to make ourselves and our society better. As American Masons used to say, “Let us pray for that.”
Good luck to the GWU and let us together continue working hard and fraternally for a better future!
I have spoken.