The idea of Freemasonry as a refuge, a haven, is of course not a new one. I have been reading an account of Freemasonry in the Yukon, in the days of the gold rush at the end of the nineteenth century. Admittedly, those who chased after gold in that extremely inhospitable climate and terrain were motivated by little more than personal greed, but reading about their exploits it is hard not to be caught up in the wild and dangerous excitement that infused these intrepid men, many of whom had suffered extreme poverty and might therefore be forgiven for seeking the means to free themselves from the hardship they had been born into. And hardship engenders a very tangible sort of camaraderie, camaraderie of a very deep and vital sense of mutual concern for each other. It is therefore not surprising that these men, many of whom were Freemasons, should seek to promote these values in Freemasonry above and beyond the material concerns which motivated them in their daily lives. Material hardship is so often the catalyst which serves to bring forth and to highlight the values of the spirit, and Freemasonry can then act as the cornerstone of our very existence.
Then again, I was reading recently of the remarkable aspects of Freemasonry in trench warfare, and it occurred to me that when Freemasonry touches and infuses extraordinary and at times traumatic human experiences, it may become immediately a more priceless coinage altogether. So it is with war and human conflict generally: Freemasonry may then become a source of enormous comfort and sustenance, and succeeds not only in providing inner strength when most needed, but also gilds and enriches the adverse circumstance, to make out of it something positive for the spirit.
Even in non-extraordinary circumstances, Freemasonry can act as a home-from-home. Some German Brethren who came to England in the eighteenth century at the time of King George I and King George II applied for permission to found their own lodge working in the German language. This gave rise to the Pilgrim Lodge which still works, in London, in German. This lodge was later, in 1911, to be one of the founding lodges of the Anglo-Foreign Lodges Association, composed at that time of six lodges, including Loge La France, America Lodge and Loggia Italia. These and other lodges whose membership was largely made up of Brethren not born in this country have been, over many decades, refuges for Brethren separated by choice, or by adverse circumstance, from their native land, united in the universal bond of brotherhood and concord. In the second world war Pilgrim Lodge gathered together German-speaking Brethren from many countries who were refugees, together with others in sympathy with their plight, united in their desire for peace and harmony, and working together to promote the spiritual, moral and ethical values which underpin Freemasonry.
Let us continue to value our brotherhood, and not take for granted such a powerful, universal force for the good of mankind.