Aldersgate Chapter of Improvement is like a Lodge of Instruction open to all Companions of the Holy Royal Arch. It has two essential differences however.
The first difference lies in the use of the word "Improvement" in the title rather than Chapter of Instruction.
This indicates its position as a leading teaching authority. It is a Chapter of demonstration which all Royal Arch Companions are able to attend and to see demonstrations of the Exaltation and Installation ceremonies.
At our meetings the Preceptors will correct mistakes so that the ceremony should be a demonstration of a word or letter perfect ceremony.
The second difference lies in our custodianship of the Aldersgate Ritual. The Chapter of Improvement was formed in 1900 and is governed by a Committee. Thus no individual Preceptor can make changes and the Committee does not alter the ritual unless told to do so by Supreme Grand Chapter.
It is this very immutability of the Ritual which is vital.
The basic premise is that the Ritual is fixed and must NOT be altered.
In 1922 the Committee decided to present an Award to those Companions who succeeded in giving a perfect rendering of the ritual, thereby taking a leaf from the book of the Emulation Lodge of Improvement, where the silver matchbox has become world famous.
The award takes the form of a presentation copy of the Aldersgate Ritual, bearing the recipient's name in gold lettering on the cover.
To secure the award a Companion must discharge the duties of Principal Sojourner, Joshua, Haggai, and Zerubbabel without need of prompt or correction by the Preceptors. These need not be achieved in this order. When a Companion completes the office perfectly he is awarded what we call a "scratch" for that office and when he has all four he is awarded the gold blocked ritual book.
You will not be surprised to know that it is usually Z which is completed last! This means performing the ceremony of Exaltation AND the whole of the Mystical Lecture in the same evening. The Award is only in respect of the Exaltation and does not involve the Installation ceremonies.
Once someone has attended a few times and knows how we operate he can take office as PS, J., H., or Z. if he feels he can perform up to the required standard. The other offices can also be filled by any Companions attending as long as they feel able to do the office to an acceptable standard.
For many years now we have had the following By-Law:-
That no Companion shall be eligible to occupy any Office unless he is fully acquainted with the method of working the Office to which he is appointed agreeably to the recognised system of the Chapter.
Our President usually acts as Preceptor although there is a team of Preceptors; all are Record holders.
To use the language of one of my predecessors as Scribe E., there can be criticism of the Aldersgate Award as pot hunting but this is unfounded and mistaken. The award is no mere trophy, but rather the outward token of a Companion's desire to master the beautiful ritual of the Royal Arch as perfectly as possible, because only as a result of such mastery can it be rendered with that reverent and impressive solemnity which it demands.
As for the origins of the Ritual itself, it is suitably shrouded in mystery. The Chapter of Improvement clearly started as a general Chapter of Improvement or Instruction and was not only for members of the Aldersgate Chapter. In 1904 it printed 300 cards setting out the programme. By the 1920's the average attendance was about 25.
The Book of Ritual was first published in 1921, and in 1924 the first demonstration was given to the fraternity at large and 150 companions attended. The President then said that it was the first effort of the Chapter of Improvement to bring itself before the eye of the Royal Arch. They had worked on the ritual for years. They claimed no authority for the Ritual but had endeavoured to establish a ritual as near the original as was in their power, and they would keep it and see that it was not altered. It seems likely that a large number of rituals were then in use and that they were subject to frequent alterations at the whim of an individual Preceptor. So we come back to the need, then as now, for a Ritual which would remain fixed.
It is a fixed Ritual and the Chapter of Improvement is the authority to whom any problems can be referred for a definitive answer. Each year we have an Annual Supper and invite Guest Speakers.
You would all find a warm welcome at our meetings and I venture to hope that you would find attendance both useful and enjoyable. We meet at 7pm every Thursday from September to May at Freemasons’ Hall, Great Queen Street, London, WC2. Details of our current programme showing what is demonstrated each evening is available via the link.