Rich Gardiner from the Lodge of St Lawrence tells us of his recent visit to Loge Humaniteit in Meppel in the Netherlands:
“My wife, Saskia, is from Hoogeveen in the Netherlands where we regularly go to visit relatives. I was going to catch the train from Hoogeveen. This is about 8 miles or so away. Unfortunately for me, the rail lines in our area are being worked on to enable faster trains to run, so Saskia dropped me off outside the station in Meppel. Using my sat nav (phone) I made my way to the Lodge, about a 5 minute walk. I had left early to be on the safe side. It opened at 7.30 pm meeting commencing at 8.00. I was clearly too early, so I made my way to the nearest bar and enjoyed a glass of wine waiting under an umbrella from the warm evening sun.
I made my way back for 7.30. Now many bicycles were parked outside the Lodge. Everyone in the Netherlands rides a bicycle. The door was slightly ajar. I tapped and walked into a hallway with a staircase. Herman Haak the WM greeted me at the top of the stairs, very warmly welcoming me to the lodge. I had been told by Herman this was an evening of Dutch Masonic labour, and to dress “smart casual”. On first arriving I had the impression it may be a committee meeting, such as we have organising finances etc. However this was not the case. The season, similar to ours begins in September with the last ” full ” Lodge meeting next Monday (19th). This would be a formal dress evening in the temple followed by a meal, similar to our meetings.
Loge Humaniteit however has met every single Monday from last September until next Monday. This has 6 formal meetings included in the schedule: dark suits, regalia and a meal etc. Any financial requirements are aired as and when required during the Masonic labour evenings such as tonight.
Herman explained that the main purpose of Freemasonry in the Netherlands is to make a person a better human being, and to be there when and how help is required if a Mason has trouble of any kind. Not unlike ourselves of course. Raising money for various charities is organised by individual members rather than the lodge itself. Herman showed me around the temple. He has requested I do not post photographs of the temple on social media, as it is shared with the Oddfellows. I do have pictures for those interested.
However back to this evening.
This is ran similarly using WM and Wardens, but in a very casual environment and not in their temple. I was warmly welcomed as their guest as the meeting commenced. They have a speaker for the evening. This person could be a member of their lodge or a guest from another lodge. He is to talk about his life in great detail. Good things bad things achievements, adventures, misfortunes, divorces etc. This is of course not compulsory but voluntary.
Their point of view is that Masonic lodges have many different kinds of people with different points of view on life and life experience . To know and understand each member of the Lodge is an all important part of the working together process.
For example, the gentleman last night was a retired business man who talked for about 50 minutes about his work, children, marriages and so on. We then stopped and drank Jenever, a fairly strong Dutch gin in a shot glass. Would I like some? Well as they say, when in Rome, and it would have have been rude not to. After about 10 minutes the gentleman returned to the front to answer questions. A person stands up, hand on heart, asks a question and remains in that position until the answer is completed. This sometimes was 10 minutes or so.
After the questions were completed and the meeting was coming to an end I was invited to give my warm fraternal greetings from our Master, Wardens and Brethren and I also gave my personal thanks for making me feel so very welcome.
Herman told me a story of an elderly Jewish gentleman who had been in the lodge since the end of the second World war. He had died about a year ago, just a few months before his death, he had said he was finally ready to talk about his life. Up to this point nothing had ever been mentioned. As I’m sure you can imagine, quite a harrowing story at times , loss of family members, inhumane treatment and so on. I understand the gentleman was in tears as were many of the people listening to his story.
Afterwards I spoke to just about everyone there who was incredibly friendly and I’ve been invited to join their lodge which I think I will do.
The lodge itself is not a big one, about 25 Masons.
To achieve becoming a Master Mason takes 3 years. Generally throughout the Netherlands they do not share buildings such as we do but there are exceptions: Amsterdam has three Masonic orders which share a building, Groningen has four. Loge Humaniteit shares the building with the Oddfellows. There are considerably less Masonic orders in the Netherlands than in the UK. Interestingly, during the various meetings the lodge officers do not memorise the various rituals. Herman made a point of telling me this as he was aware we do.
I’d like to thank W Bro John Marsden for his help in setting this up with the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) and the Grand East of the Netherlands (GETN). I have felt very privileged and indeed lucky to have been able to experience this.”