The UK’s Freemasons are breaking with convention to invite outsiders to take part in one of their centuries-old traditions as a reminder that people are “not alone” during the coronavirus crisis.
For more than 300 years, the world of the Freemasons has been a secretive and strictly segregated affair, but with the nation now in lockdown, the organisation is inviting members of the public to join in its daily “Nine O’clock Toast” to absent friends.
Explaining the tradition to Newsweek, Dr David Staples, CEO and grand secretary of the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), said: “Our members know that wherever they are in the world and whatever they are doing at nine o’clock, somebody will be raising a glass to them and remembering them.”
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With millions of people currently in self-isolation in a bid to curb the spread of the virus, the Freemason are expanding the tradition to remember not only “absent brethren” but also anyone else not present.
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Using the hashtag #TimetoToast, Freemasons and members of the public are invited to come together at 9pm every night in a “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,” Staples said.
In addition to helping people feel connected, participants will be toasting to the healthcare workers on the front lines of the battle against the pandemic, and the many other workers helping the keep the nation running, such as delivery drivers, he added.
Freemasonry is often erroneously believed to be a men-only organisation, but this changed in the early 20th century when the UK’s first female lodge opened in 1908.
Christine Chapman, head of the Freemasonry for Women fraternity, told Newsweek: “We must combat loneliness by ensuring that, even if we are all in our own homes, we are still connecting across the country.”
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