Joining A Chapter
It is a fact of Masonic life that shortly after the Third Degree, and possibly when you have received your Grand Lodge Certificate, someone will sidle up to you and start talking about The Royal Arch (or Chapter, the terms are used interchangeably). 'It's a good thing to join' they say. If you are very fortunate, they will recommend a Chapter to join and possibly even give you a date. Forms are regularly pressed into hands. This article is to show you why you should join from a number of different standpoints, all slightly irreverent.
The Historical View. Since 1813, and as a result of the creation of the United Grand Lodge of England, the Holy Royal Arch is considered to be part of Free and Antient Masonry along with the Craft.
The Official View. HRH The Duke of Kent, The Grand Master, is the First Grand Principal, the equivalent in the Royal Arch; the Secretary, Director of Ceremonies and many others hold equivalent ranks in both Craft and Royal Arch.
The Visible Reason. Frankly, if you are wearing your Royal Arch Jewel, you can not receive any pressure to join.
Companionship. Individual Chapters tend to be smaller than most Craft Lodges and thus the relationship within a Chapter is much closer. It was once explained to me that whereas a Lodge would look after the construction of a building, each Chapter was rather like an individual mess with a smaller team of more tight knit and interdependent Masons. Certainly the word used for a member of Royal Arch, a Companion, has its roots and meaning as a 'sharer of bread'.
New Friendships. It is always possible to join a Chapter where you already know all the members. Some may prefer to join a Chapter, perhaps not even in the same town, where they know fewer people in order to gain new friends.
Completion of the Third Degree. This is a highly debatable point. There is a view that whereas in the Third Degree, things are lost and in Chapter they are found, the Ceremony of Exaltation completes the Third Degree. Glancing at the Book of Constitutions reinforces this view. Historically it is probably not entirely accurate as the dates for the starting of the Third Degree and Exaltation don't add up. There is also an implication that Freemasons who do not join the Royal Arch are somehow less than those who do. My belief is that Freemasonry is an entirely personal journey and that if you wish to see it as such, the Royal Arch can complete the Third Degree.
Ceremonies. When I was exalted, the main thing that caught my attention was the colour. Compared to the comparative austerity of Craft Freemasonry, Chapter is a kaleidoscope of colour and symbolism. The Ceremonies themselves are thought provoking, full of depths of meaning and worth seeing time and again. They are not easy - I found them tougher than Craft - but the sense of achievement in having successfully worked exaltation is something that I shall long remember.
Fun. The Royal Arch is less formal than Craft and in Suffolk the relationship between the Provincial Rulers and the individual Companions much closer. With a smaller group at meetings, the companionship is much greater and the sense of shared experience stronger.
As Chapters tend to meet less frequently, it is also slightly cheaper. It is also the gateway to other degrees - KT and Red Cross of Constantine for example.
I have heard it asked whether it will affect promotions. The explicit answer is No It Will Not. However, part of the promotion equation is consideration of how committed someone is to Freemasonry and a very visible indicator of that is the joining of the side degrees. As the Royal Arch is the most visible of these, it could be the differentiator if there are two candidates for one job.
In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoy my Chapter. A few people don't enjoy it but they are in the minority. If you are considering it, why not give it a go.
A final caveat. As in all things, the more you put in, the more you get out. Try it; you'd be very pleasantly surprised.