The test of time
Deputy Grand Master Jonathan Spence discusses how the tenets of Freemasonry have provided a firm foundation over the past 300 years
Many of you will be aware of the excellent work undertaken by the Membership Focus Group (MFG) over the past two-and-a-half years. I hope that you are all still referring to the UGLE strategy, which was a significant development resulting from the group’s work.
We have now moved on to ensuring the timely implementation of the strategy and the MFG has been superseded by the Improvement Delivery Group (IDG). This group will, rather like a well-known wood treatment product, do ‘exactly what it says on the tin’.
The IDG’s remit is to facilitate the delivery of change in order to secure a successful future for Freemasonry by meeting the needs of modern man while retaining our traditional standards. It is chaired by the Assistant Grand Master, the Third Grand Principal is Deputy Chairman, and membership is drawn from London and all the regional groups of Provinces. The IDG will be reporting to Grand Lodge at the Quarterly Communication in September 2017. There is a considerable amount of work to do and we wish them all well in their endeavours.
‘The principles of the Craft are as relevant today as they were then.’
Marking a milestone
The Tercentenary celebrations have already begun and I am very pleased to see the variety and breadth of events that are planned to mark this significant milestone in our history. Events are being planned throughout the English Constitution.
So far, well over 100 events are scheduled, ranging from cathedral services, race meetings, classic car rallies, family fun weekends and supporting youth activities through to dinners and balls. This includes The Grand Ball, which will take place in Freemasons’ Hall next September and will see the Grand Temple converted into one of the largest dance floors in London.
As the premier Grand Lodge, it is appropriate we also celebrate this achievement with the other Sovereign Grand Lodges around the world, which we will do with the event at the Royal Albert Hall. I very much hope there will be a full cross section of our membership, including Master masons, from London, Provinces and Districts and elsewhere overseas attending.
As you are all aware, 2017 will start with the broadcast in February of the Sky observational documentary. I have been fortunate enough to have been part of the small group who have seen all the programmes and while, for confidential reasons, I am unable to say more about their content, I can assure you our privacy has been respected entirely for those matters that ought to remain private for our members.
It has become very noticeable that the times in which we live are described by some as ‘uncertain’. This word is used to describe many aspects of our national life, almost as a default mechanism. In many ways our predecessors, who were there at the foundation of the Grand Lodge, would have felt a certain affinity and seen possible parallels with their own time, although they would probably have used the word ‘turbulent’ to describe the second decade of the 18th century.
In their case, the uncertain times included a new ruling dynasty following the accession of King George I in 1714, a significant rebellion from supporters of the old dynasty defeated in 1715, and an incipient share scandal with the South Sea Bubble. In those and the intervening uncertain times of the subsequent 300 years, the principles of the Craft have withstood the test of time and are as relevant today as they were then. We may now restate them in more modern language as integrity, honesty, fairness, kindness and tolerance, but their essence is unchanged and we should all be justly proud of them and, needless to say, act in accordance with them.
To finish, I quote King Frederick II, or The Great, of Prussia who said his support of the Craft came from its objectives being ‘the intellectual elevation of men as members of society and making them more virtuous and more charitable’. I do not think that his view can be bettered.
Not to be frowned upon
Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes points to the enjoyment that can be found in masonic ritual
As you are well aware, Freemasons’ Hall is a peace memorial to all those who gave their lives for us during World War I. It is worth, therefore, drawing your attention to two events taking place next year.
The first is on 18 April 2017 at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, when the new Masonic Memorial Garden, built in memory of all those masons who gave their lives during conflict in the service of our country, will be opened.
The second is the unveiling of the Victoria Cross Memorial by the Grand Master on 25 April 2017. It will be placed on the pavement in front of the Tower Entrance of Freemasons’ Hall and will take the form of a number of paving stones, with the names of the 63 Victoria Cross holders who were awarded the military decoration in World War I and who were members of the United Grand Lodge of England. Of these, 17 were also companions in the Royal Arch.
Past and future
Companions, this seems to be an appropriate time to say a few words about Denis Beckett. He was a very remarkable man and I had the good fortune to know him well. Indeed, Beckett was President of the Committee of General Purposes when I joined it in 1987.
Beckett was a Craft mason for 71 years and a Royal Arch mason for 59 years. He was initiated immediately after World War II, in which he served with such distinction. He was awarded the DSO for his extraordinary courage during the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy – there were those who felt a Victoria Cross would have been more appropriate. We were privileged to have him as a member and particularly in that he presided over the Committee of General Purposes for seven years.
‘In the Royal Arch... our Exaltation Ceremony is one of the finest.’
While it is clearly important to remember the past, we must also look to the future. I am therefore very pleased that the successor to the Membership Focus Group, the Improvement Delivery Group, is composed of both Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents, with our Third Grand Principal, Gareth Jones, as its Deputy Chairman. It will be designing and delivering the future direction of both the Craft and Royal Arch.
You may have seen that, after my Quarterly Communications address in June, I have been accused in the national media of suggesting that masons are all grumpy and boring – a misrepresentation, companions. I said that if an amusing incident occurs at one of our meetings, it should not be frowned upon as had sometimes been the case in the past.
It is not a capital offence to smile during meetings. While I was not suggesting we should turn our meetings into a pantomime, there is no harm in us being seen to enjoy ourselves. I believe this to be particularly so in the Royal Arch, as our Exaltation Ceremony is one of the finest and, in my experience, candidates derive great enjoyment from it. I think this is particularly so when the new format of the ritual is used, which involves more of the companions and has the benefit of changing the voice that the candidate hears, which I always feel refreshes his interest.
The perfect complement
For Gareth Jones, the roles of South Wales PGM, Third Grand Principal and Deputy Chairman of the Improvement Delivery Group (IDG) share a number of common goals – in particular, ensuring a strong future for the Craft and Royal Arch
How has your career built up to this moment?
I retired this time last year. I had been a civil servant for nearly 37 years, working in a variety of roles – from private secretary to a cabinet minister in the Thatcher government, to head of operations for Wales during the foot and mouth crisis, to Registrar of Companies for the UK, and finally director general for national resources in the Welsh government. I say retire, but that’s a bit of a misnomer because I’m still very busy doing my masonic activities and some non-executive work.
I saw the civil service going through massive changes. Over the years there was a realisation that it needed to deliver more efficiencies as well as respond to increasing customer expectations.
We went from an environment where people were pretty risk-averse to a huge explosion of expectations that meant change was the only show in town.
There are quite a few parallels with Freemasonry in that regard because there has been an increasing realisation in the Craft and the Royal Arch that we’ve got to change if we are to survive and flourish.
How has Freemasonry changed?
Society is changing around us – people are less deferential than they used to be, they have busy lives, and families rightly expect to be involved more in what their partners do. There is also a need for better relations and good engagement with local communities. And all of this feeds into a clear agenda for us to change.
Freemasonry is like any big organisation; whether it be public sector or private sector, there will be some people who are reluctant or resistant to change and some who are prepared to lead that change and embrace it. The difference between Freemasonry and professional organisations is that while we’re here to develop, we’re also here to enjoy ourselves. The fact that we’re mostly volunteers in some ways makes it even more difficult to drive change.
One of the key challenges that faces Freemasonry now is that, over the years, we haven’t set out clearly enough who is responsible for what and therefore who is accountable for what. That’s arguably why Freemasonry found itself in the situation where it was losing so many members in an unplanned way. Nobody was actually responsible and no one could be held accountable because a clear framework of accountability hadn’t been established.
Does that framework exist now?
This is work in progress. Freemasonry is by and large populated by people who believe in traditional values and traditional ways of doing things. So you can’t change things overnight, but there’s been a realisation among the Rulers and among Provinces and Districts that we have got to establish such a framework and drive changes within that context.
In establishing the strategy for 2020, which was sent out to brethren in December last year, there is now a real framework for change. It’s a strategy within which we can deliver improvements in a realistic timescale – not that we will stop in 2020; continuous improvement has to be the order of the day from now on.
‘Continuous improvement has to be the order of the day from now on.’
When did you become a Freemason?
It was in 1984 via my rugby club in Cardiff. My brother and I had been interested in Freemasonry... not that we knew very much about it. I think I relied on the fact that the members of the lodge I knew were people I liked and respected.
For me, Freemasonry moved beyond membership of my lodge and chapter when I was asked to sit on an organising committee for a festival event in 1999. I enjoyed this greater involvement and in the same year I was appointed to my first Provincial office when we had a new Provincial Grand Master (PGM). He was getting out and about a lot more, so I spent time with him travelling around the Province. This eventually led to me being appointed as the Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies in 2004. At that point, I was also starting to get more involved with other Provinces, meeting new people and broadening my outlook on Freemasonry very considerably.
How was the progression to Provincial Grand Master?
After serving as Assistant and Deputy PGM, I was appointed to the role in 2013. I’ve had nothing but enjoyment as PGM. One never dares to think that one will get that job but, when asked, it was one that I seized very enthusiastically and I had great support from my wife and family, as well as the understanding of my lodge and chapter.
South Wales is quite a big Province. We have 163 lodges based over a wide geographical area; there are some large urban areas with many lodges and then quite a few small rural and semi-rural areas with just a handful. So it’s quite an eclectic mix.
But the thing that binds it together is that it’s a very friendly and happy environment within which we all enjoy our Freemasonry. It’s an environment that is very caring and I like to think that we do a lot to improve our relations with communities as well as help those who need support.
One of the things that I learned from my professional career in terms of managing organisations is that you can never communicate too much and you can never communicate in too many ways. There are still a lot of brethren who like to be communicated with face-to-face, but there are an increasing number who like to be communicated with electronically via a good-quality website or social media. We have tried in South Wales to embrace all possible channels of communication.
‘We need to make sure that we have the tools in place for leaders in Provinces to take good decisions.’
Did your appointment as Third Grand Principal creep up on you?
It didn’t creep up on me; it jumped out at me! I was lucky enough, in autumn last year, to be asked by the Pro First Grand Principal whether I would be prepared to take on the role of Third Grand Principal. I didn’t have to think very long about the answer. The Royal Arch has always been really important to me.
I have always believed it important for brethren to join the Royal Arch when the time is right for them, but hopefully before they attain the Chair in the Craft. Not only does it complete the pure and ancient Freemasonry story, it is a beautiful and enjoyable ceremony and a significant contributor to improving retention.
The roles of PGM and Third Grand Principal dovetail with each other very neatly. I am not, and never have been, the Grand Superintendent of my Province, although in many Provinces the PGM and Grand Superintendent are the same. Both the Grand Superintendent of South Wales and I believe that my two roles provide an ideal opportunity to encourage more Craft masons in South Wales to join the Royal Arch.
There are some issues that are specific to the Craft, such as the whole concept of recruitment at the outset, but with the Royal Arch being the completion of one’s journey in Freemasonry we have been very keen to ensure that the Royal Arch is part of everything we’re doing in the context of the Improvement Delivery Group (IDG). Grand Superintendents need to feel that they are fully a part of this whole change agenda.
Can you explain what your work with the IDG entails?
The Membership Focus Group was a creature of the Board of General Purposes. We realised last year that we needed to go beyond the realms of surveying, strategising and thinking about the future to a point of saying, ‘Right, we’ve actually got to start delivering some of these priorities.’
We recognise that one size definitely does not fit all. Different Provinces have different priorities, different structures, different sizes and different geographical make-ups, so the idea is to provide options, a toolkit of best practice.
It’s not an overnight job. The strategy is a 2020 strategy and we need to make sure that we have the tools in place for leaders in Provinces to take good decisions as to how they drive things forward.
Is the IDG setting hard or soft targets?
I think both, to be honest. There are a few hard-edged targets in the strategy – for example, reducing the number of brethren who resign shortly after they’re initiated, and turning around the decline in membership. But there are some much softer things as well that are equally important, around helping PGMs and Grand Superintendents realise that action does have to be taken to ensure the sustainability of the Craft and the Royal Arch in their Provinces.
We as members have to make some conscious decisions to make changes to improve Freemasonry for the future and to ensure that it moves with the times, meets people’s expectations better and provides enjoyment for our members and their families while still not forgetting our responsibility to help others.
By 2020, I’d like to be answering questions about how successful the IDG has been. It would be very nice to think we’ll be answering questions about why it is that our image seems to have improved so markedly, as well as our relations with community groups more generally. And from a Royal Arch perspective, it would be lovely to think I’ll be answering questions about why the Royal Arch has become so popular right across England, Wales and our Districts.
Regular Convocation of Supreme Grand Chapter
9 November 2016
An address by the ME Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes
Companions, I am very pleased to see so many of you here both from our Districts overseas and from our Provinces, including sixty companions from Cambridgeshire. Since our last meeting in April the Most Excellent First Grand Principal has been pleased to appoint Comp Willie Shackell as Grand Scribe Ezra and we wish him well. He was, of course, formally invested as Grand Secretary at the June Quarterly Communication.
This meeting, companions, always falls near to 11th November, Armistice Day, and as you are well aware this marvellous building is a peace memorial to all those who gave their lives for us during the First World War. It is worth, therefore, drawing your attention to two events taking place next year.
The first is on 18th April 2017 at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, when the newly constructed Masonic Memorial Garden in memory of all those masons who gave their lives during conflict in the service of our country will be opened. You are all invited.
The second is the unveiling of the Victoria Cross Memorial by the Grand Master on 25th April 2017. It will be placed on the pavement in front of the Tower Entrance of this building and will take the form of a number of paving stones with the names of the 63 Victoria Cross holders who were awarded the Victoria Cross in World War I and who were members of UGLE. Of these, 17 were also companions in the Royal Arch.
Companions, this seems to be an appropriate time to say a few words about Comp Denis Beckett who was one of the companions we stood in memory of earlier in the meeting. Comp Beckett was a very remarkable man and I had the good fortune to know him well. Indeed he was President of the Committee of General Purposes when I joined it in 1987. He was a Craft mason for 71 years and a Royal Arch mason for 59 years. He was initiated immediately after World War 2 in which he served with such distinction. He was awarded the DSO for his extraordinary courage during the battle of Monte Cassino. There were those who felt a VC would have been more appropriate.
Companions, we were privileged to have him as a member and particularly so that he presided over the Committee of General Purposes for 7 years.
Companions, whilst it is clearly important to remember the past, we must also look to the future. I am therefore very pleased that the successor to the Membership Focus Group, the Improvement Delivery Group, is composed of both Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents, with our Third Grand Principal, Gareth Jones, as its Deputy Chairman. It will be designing and delivering the future direction of both the Craft and Royal Arch.
Companions, you may have seen that, after my address at Quarterly Communications in June, I have been accused in the national media of suggesting that masons are all grumpy and boring – a misrepresentation, companions. At least I consider it to be a misrepresentation, but, if any of you think otherwise, I apologise. I said that if an amusing incident occurs at one of our meetings, it should not be frowned upon as had sometimes been the case in the past. It is not a capital offence to smile during meetings. Whilst I was not suggesting we should turn our meetings into a pantomime, there is no harm in us being seen to enjoy ourselves.
I believe this to be particularly so in the Royal Arch, as our Exaltation Ceremony is one of the finest and, in my experience, candidates derive great enjoyment from it. I think this is particularly so when the new format of the ritual is used which involves more of the companions and has the benefit of changing the voice that the candidate hears which I always feel refreshes his interest.
Finally, since Supreme Grand Chapter arranged the refurbishment of our magnificent organ, we have been treated to a number of superb concerts in this temple and I congratulate the Organ Committee on its achievements to date. I am very keen to draw your attention to the next concert at 5.00 pm, on 14th December, after the Quarterly Communication, to be given by the international concert artist, Jane Parker-Smith. The concerts are free, companions, and, so far, they have been wonderfully entertaining, and I am quite certain that this will be no exception.
Companions, I have no doubt that after our closing, you will enjoy listening to a team from the Royal College of Surgeons led by Professor Neil Mortensen, RCS Research Board Chairman at Oxford University, who will enlighten us on what has been achieved through your most generous support.
Thank you, companions.
Actions speak loudest
At a special roundtable held at Freemasons’ Hall, members of the newly launched Improvement Delivery Group explained how they intend to support lodges and chapters as they build a strong and sustainable future for Freemasonry
What is the Membership Focus Group’s legacy?
DW: The reasoning behind the Membership Focus Group [MFG] lay in the words ‘membership’ and ‘focus’, with the realisation that membership was declining and that there was a need to address that. What the MFG has done is communicate very well that there is an issue and then develop a strategy by collecting information. Now there is a need to put those ideas into action.
GJ: We thought we knew what the issues were, but we needed to gather evidence that this was the case. The surveys have been very important to ensure that the membership had the opportunity to provide input into the thinking around what the strategy should be and how we should address the challenges that we face over the next few years.
SH: I’ve detected a concern from some members that the focus is about what Grand Lodge wants, but I think our surveys have demonstrated very clearly that we want to be driven by the needs and expectations of members. We’ve had some valuable information, which has helped us define the various projects that the MFG’s put into action.
SC: Having visited Provinces it’s apparent how enthused people are with the consultative approach the MFG has taken, which may not have happened as much in the past. The MFG has also done an incredible job of fostering collaboration and an environment where UGLE; Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Lodges; and, importantly, individual lodges and members are all working together for the common good of the fraternity. Looking at how we attract into and select new members for the Craft, I know that Membership Officers, introduced through the MFG, will play a very important role.
What contribution does the Royal Arch make to the Improvement Delivery Group (IDG)?
DW: The MFG was established by the Board of General Purposes and it sits underneath that. The IDG has a more formal constitutional place in that it’s headed by a Craft Ruler, me, and deputy chaired by a Royal Arch Grand Principal, Gareth, who also happens to be a Provincial Grand Master. The IDG reports to the Grand Master’s Council and has on it one member from each of the regional communications groups in England and Wales. To make sure the Royal Arch is very much part of it, the IDG includes Provincial Grand Masters, Grand Superintendents, those who are one and those who are both.
GJ: With the Royal Arch being such a key step in pure and ancient Freemasonry, it’s very important that members of the Craft are made aware of its importance at an early stage. What we also know from the surveys is that being a member of the Royal Arch is a very important factor in the context of retaining members. By and large, if people join the Royal Arch, they enjoy their masonry more, learn more about masonry and want to stay in it.
‘I think our surveys have demonstrated that we want to be driven by the needs and expectations of members.’ Stuart Hadler
To what extent is the IDG about implementation?
GJ: The next stage from gathering evidence and evaluating options is delivering on what we have decided the priorities are, in conjunction with the membership, to deliver a sustainable Craft for the future.
SH: I believe the launch of the Improvement Delivery Group is a very important demonstration that there’s real ownership by UGLE of the work that the MFG’s done, as well as an intent to take that work forward with the widest possible buy-in from all Provinces, be they Royal Arch or Craft.
GJ: As we take this forward, we also need to make sure that all of the geographical areas in England and Wales are properly represented. We know that by and large our members are hungry for learning. They want to know more about what Freemasonry can give them. They want to know more about the meaning of Freemasonry.
DW: One thing that we’ve already done is to write a document and give it to new Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents to explain their roles and responsibilities – from financial controls through to understanding that being a mason is supposed to be fun. We’re not doing this so that we can negatively mark people down but to encourage them to think positively about what they’re going to do with our support.
SH: There’s a greater willingness and intent to help Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents be successful, to be effective and take their Province forward. It wasn’t too many years ago when you were expected, perhaps tacitly, to maintain a tidy ship, not rock the boat, and hopefully hand your Province on in a better shape than you inherited. We already have a much clearer agenda, evolving to deliver quality Freemasonry for our members and indeed their families, which is quite a challenging agenda, of course.
How important is sharing best practice?
SH: It’s a key piece of work because this is not just about organisational change, it’s cultural change within lodges themselves, identifying what makes for successful attitudes, culture, opportunities and engagement with the community. Some lodges are very good at that and others struggle.
GJ: Our work will be in providing what you might call a toolkit for Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents when they’ve identified what the particular challenges are in their Provinces. Be it supplying written documentation or examples of best practice around England and Wales, we want to empower Provincial Rulers to make decisions about how to drive their Province forward by providing them with the right information and support. What we’re not trying to do is to say we have all the answers.
SC: One of the key roles of Provincial Membership Officers is to facilitate the sharing of best practice. They’re looking at lodges that are successful in their own Provinces and then trying to find the best way of sharing that information with lodges that might need support.
DW: There are some Provinces that have done very well in particular areas. The Metropolitan area, for example, has done well in recruitment. So where there is something that works, we want to know about it.
SC: It is one thing for UGLE or a Metropolitan, Provincial or District Grand Lodge to say to a lodge, ‘we suggest you do this, this and this,’ and present them with a formula. In practice, it is a lot better if they hear first-hand what has worked direct from another lodge. We have countless examples of formerly struggling lodges that came up with a plan, took action and are now thriving. This success can be replicated.
GJ: And we also want to get Freemasons better connected and more involved with delivering good things in their communities. That’s a responsibility upon us all as Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents to make sure that we do, in part, enhance our reputation by being positive forces for good in our communities and therefore, as a spin-off, attract more good men into our ranks.
‘We want to empower Provincial Rulers to make decisions about how to drive their Province forward.’ Gareth Jones
What changes will be made at the centre?
DW: We’re looking at whether we’ve got the right structures, making sure that people know what their roles are and what they are not. I think it’s important to be looking at things like visits by Rulers. We could arrange their visits so they see and meet more people – going to some Provincial annual meetings, for example, so that more people see them, which can give members a stronger feeling of belonging and also give Rulers a better idea of the talent to watch for the future.
GJ: We should also say a word about the Pathway – a key membership programme being developed. One of the principal aims of the IDG will be to ensure that we become better at looking after people from the time they express an interest in joining Freemasonry, through managing their expectations and then, to being initiated, passed, raised and exalted into the Holy Royal Arch. The whole journey needs to be better managed so that people are better looked after throughout that process.
We know that far too many resign from Freemasonry very quickly after joining and that’s simply not good enough. It can only be down to two reasons – either we’ve chosen the wrong people or we’re not properly looking after them.
I rather think that it’s the latter category that we really need to give attention to.
SH: Some lodges may find this challenging because they’re perhaps too focused on a routine of ceremonies, making these the focus rather than the brethren who need to be enthused in order to become active members and future leaders.
What’s the IDG’s biggest challenge?
DW: The first challenge is maintaining the momentum of the MFG and the other is the agenda – we’ve got to deliver, which means making sure that we’re carrying people with us. The easiest thing in the world would be to produce lengthy documents and just send them out to the membership.
GJ: We have to deliver some early wins for the IDG to show people that we’re making a difference and we have to respond to the points that brethren are making in their survey responses. People are giving up their time to fill in surveys.
If they don’t think that we’re responding positively to the points they’re making, they’ll stop responding to us.
SH: We also need to recognise the capacity of Provinces to respond. Some are well-equipped but others will benefit from support and time to move forward.
GJ: This is why we’re currently running pilots in a number of Provinces, such as interviewing techniques, in order to iron out any problems before we roll them out to everyone.
SC: Another challenge is that people are pressed for time. Masons have a lot to do between their personal lives, work and just running a regular lodge without bringing in extra things for them to do. So it’s finding individuals to help who have the right skills and the time to contribute.
DW: As well as a force enabling good men to be better, we want Freemasonry to be fun and valued by all, where young and old together can develop friendships for themselves and their families, and be themselves in a happy, compatible and pleasant environment.
14 September 2016
An address by the RW Deputy Grand Master Jonathan Spence
Brethren, I am delighted to see so many of you here today and I hope you have all had a suitably refreshing summer. I am particularly pleased to see a large number of younger masons amongst us, especially the delegations from the Provinces of Cambridgeshire and Durham, members of the Universities Scheme and especially those of the Apollo University Lodge in Oxford.
Many of you will be aware of the excellent work undertaken by the Membership Focus Group over the last two and a half years. I hope that you are all still referring to the UGLE strategy, which was a significant development resulting from the group’s work.
We have now moved to ensuring the timely implementation of the strategy and the Membership Focus Group has been superseded by the Improvement Delivery Group. This group will, rather like a well- known wood treatment product, “do exactly what it says on the tin”. Its remit is to facilitate the delivery of change throughout the Craft in order to secure a successful future for Freemasonry by meeting the needs of “modern man” while retaining our traditional standards; it is chaired by the Assistant Grand Master, the Third Grand Principal is Deputy Chairman and the membership is drawn from London and all the regional groups of Provinces.
This group will be “bedding in” for the next year, but will be reporting to Grand Lodge at the Quarterly Communication in September 2017. There is a considerable amount of work to do and we wish them all well in their endeavours.
Brethren, the Tercentenary celebrations have already begun and I am very pleased to see the variety and breadth of events that are planned to mark this significant milestone in our history. Events are being planned throughout the English Constitution.
So far well over 100 events are scheduled ranging from Cathedral Services, Race Meetings, and Classic Car Rallies; Family Fun Weekends, supporting Youth Activities, to Dinners and Balls, including “The Grand Ball” which will take place here next September and will see this Grand Temple converted into one of the largest dance floors in LondAs the premier Grand Lodge it is appropriate we also celebrate this achievement with the other Sovereign Grand Lodges around the world, which we will do with the event at the Royal Albert Hall. I very much hope there will be a full cross section of our membership, including Master Masons, from London, Provinces and Districts and elsewhere overseas attending the meeting at the Royal Albert Hall.
As you are all aware 2017 will start with the broadcast in January of the Sky observational documentary. I have been fortunate enough to have been part of the small group that has seen all the programmes and whilst, for confidential reasons, I am unable to say more about their content, I can assure you our privacy has been respected entirely for those matters that ought to remain private for our members.
Brethren, it has become very noticeable that the times in which we live are described with some use of either uncertain or uncertainty, or a variation thereof. Uncertainty is used to describe many aspects of our national life almost as a default mechanism. In many ways our predecessors who were there at the foundation of the Grand Lodge would have felt a certain affinity and seen possible parallels with their own time, although they would probably have used the word turbulent to describe the second decade of the eighteenth century.
In their case the uncertain times included significant change with a new ruling dynasty following the accession of King George I in 1714, a significant rebellion from supporters of the old dynasty defeated in 1715 and an incipient share scandal with the South Sea Bubble gently inflating until the spectacular bust. In those and, indeed , in the intervening uncertain times of the subsequent three hundred years, the principles of the Craft have withstood the test of time and are as relevant today as they were then.
We may now restate them in more modern language as integrity; honesty; fairness; kindness and tolerance, but their essence is unchanged and we should all be justly proud of them and, needless to say, act in accordance with them.
To finish, I will quote King Frederick II, or The Great, of Prussia who said his support of the Craft came from its objectives being, “ the intellectual elevation of men as members of society and making them more virtuous and more charitable”. I do not think that his view can be bettered.
The wider context
Director of Special Projects John Hamill reflects on the impact that broad trends within society have had on Freemasonry
We often comment on our hopes that the individual Freemason – by putting into practice the principles he learns in his lodge – will have a positive effect on the society in which he lives and works. However, we rarely look at how society, and the great changes it has gone through in the past 30 or so years, has impacted on Freemasonry.
Indeed, until the formation of the Membership Focus Group, whose ongoing work has been reported in recent issues of Freemasonry Today, there had been no major attempt to look at Freemasonry in the context of the society in which it currently exists.
At a recent meeting I had the privilege of presenting a memento to a lodge’s senior member who was celebrating the 75th anniversary of their initiation. Also present were his younger brother, who had just celebrated 68 years in the Craft, and his great-nephew, who has recently joined the lodge as the fourth generation of the family to do so.
It was one of the happiest meetings I have been to for a long time and stirred up one or two thoughts.
It took me back to my own entry into the Craft in 1970 in my father’s lodge on Tyneside, at which he and five of my uncles and three of my cousins were present. That might seem unusual today but in the context of the time it was not uncommon.
Indeed, from my work over the years with the membership registers and helping others compile lodge histories, I would argue that up to the 1970s, particularly outside the major cities, Freemasonry was very much a family affair. In many lodges with a history going back to Victorian times you see the same family names occurring. In small towns, family members would often be spread over several lodges meeting there, as was the case in my own family.
To my mind, family relationships and personal and professional friendships were the bedrock of Freemasonry and the major recruiting ground for new members. That began to break down in the 1970s because of gradual changes in society, particularly as the population became more mobile.
Research by sociologists has shown that up to the 1970s, most of the population were born, educated, worked and died within about 30 miles of where they were born. When education was complete, you looked for a job where you lived. The huge economic changes of the latter part of the 20th century, with the gradual disappearance of England’s industrial base, led to enforced mobility. You no longer worked where you lived; you moved to where you could find work.
That, in turn, had a great effect on family and community life, with families growing apart geographically and community organisations, such as Freemasonry, having a narrower base from which to draw members. Those factors, combined with a huge growth in new possibilities for leisure activities, meant that Freemasonry was no longer the first thing to come to mind when an individual was considering what to do with their free time.
Increased mobility also had an effect on existing members. When forced to move location for work they would try to maintain their links with their lodge but, almost inevitably, the ties would loosen and break. Sadly, Freemasonry at that time did not have systems in place to deal with such a situation or to introduce members to Freemasonry in their new area, and after a time their membership simply lapsed. Happily, that has all changed in recent years.
New thinking and new programmes such as the Membership Focus Group and the mentoring scheme should have an effect on future recruitment and retention of members. Key to it all, however, is good communication – but that is a topic for the future.
‘The huge economic changes of the latter part of the 20th century, with the gradual disappearance of England’s industrial base, led to enforced mobility… You moved to where you could find work.’
From the Grand Secretary
Since emerging from the basement of Freemasons’ Hall, where I have been a charity president for the past nine years, to assume the appointment as Grand Secretary, I have felt very humbled by the numerous letters, emails and tweets of support and encouragement that I have received. I am most fortunate in having taken over a splendid team who are doing their best to train me and get me up to speed so that we can continue to provide you all with the help and support you both need and deserve.
As you will see in this issue of Freemasonry Today, preparations for our 300th anniversary are gathering momentum. The in-depth and extensive work of the Membership Focus Group will soon be rolled out under the guidance of the Improvement Delivery Group. This is all producing a real feeling of excitement and anticipation that bodes well for our future – it is a great opportunity for us and I feel most privileged to be involved at this important time in our history.
In the build-up to 2017, it is crucial also that we recognise and celebrate the contribution being made by masons at a local level. Our feature on London’s Air Ambulance describes how Metropolitan masons have helped to put a second air ambulance in the air with a £2 million pledge. Able to reach any location in the city within 10 minutes, London’s Air Ambulance says that the masonic donation has completely changed the scale and resilience of its service.
With Londoners of every age and in every borough benefiting, Metropolitan Grand Charity Steward Tony Shields explains that the decision to help the service was a ‘no-brainer’ in the run-up to the Tercentenary. But it’s not just organisations who are getting our help. When Julian Elcock’s business hit problems, Freemasonry was on hand for advice and support. Thanks to funding from the masonic charities, his daughter Jasmine was able to continue music lessons and reached the final of Britain’s Got Talent. We interview Jasmine about realising her ambitions and find out from Julian why his decision to join the masons in 2008 was one of the best he ever made.
Over in Somerset, Sean Gaffney’s story reveals a Freemason who, after losing his lower left leg, pushed himself to compete at the 2016 Invictus Games and brought home two golds, one silver and a bronze. While he was initially drawn to the Craft by the fundraising aspects, it was the camaraderie and strong moral standards of conduct that were to prove a winning combination. I think Sean speaks for us all when he says that being a mason is not just about being a good man today but having the desire to be a better man tomorrow.
‘I feel most privileged to be involved at this important time in our history.’
Speaking at Great Queen Street on 26 April, masonic leaders explained how Freemasonry can grasp success if members can learn to share ideas and work together
William Shakespeare, John F Kennedy and even Steve Jobs all managed to find their way into the Gallery Suite at Freemasons’ Hall in a typically entertaining afternoon of speeches at the Pro Grand Master’s Annual Briefing Meeting.
Before an audience made up of Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents, speakers took their turn at the lectern to review the developments in Freemasonry in 2015 and looked forward to an exciting future for the Craft and Royal Arch.
Understandably, the Tercentenary featured heavily, but there was also much to discuss about the recommendations of the Membership Focus Group (MFG) on how best to attract, recruit and retain members at a time when membership has shown a decline. The overall message was overwhelmingly positive, with several new initiatives announced.
Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes kicked things off by reporting that a four-part television series on Freemasonry is under way. This will be broadcast to coincide with the Tercentenary celebrations and will include the Pro Grand Master’s fly-fishing technique at the Hampshire and Isle of Wight fishing day.
The Pro Grand Master then reported that commemorative paving stones containing the names of Freemasons who received a Victoria Cross (VC)
in World War I would be installed at the front of the Peace Memorial, adding that ‘there are 60 such VCs to be commemorated’. He also encouraged brethren to wear a special commemorative tie and jewel for the celebratory period, and announced that a major charitable gift of £3 million would be distributed by the Masonic Charitable Foundation in the form of 300 grants, allocated according to the outcome of votes cast both by masons and the general public.
The Pro Grand Master felt that the celebration of Grand Lodge’s 300th year is a great opportunity for publicity. ‘The Tercentenary gives us all a chance to reflect on the place of Freemasonry today and the role of our lodge and our brethren,’ he said. ‘This is an opportunity not to be missed and it is up to us to ensure that Freemasonry benefits.’
Facts and figures
Next up was Anthony Wilson, President of the Board of General Purposes (BGP), to discuss the 2015 financial accounts and recent BGP initiatives. He revealed a strong yearly surplus generated from investment income, which has supported capital expenditure and the ongoing maintenance required to deal with Regent Street disease (corrosion) at Freemasons’ Hall. Anthony emphasised the importance of the building for filming and events while also being mindful of its core purpose.
The cost of the Tercentenary celebrations were included in the 2016 forecast for the first time, but ‘there would be no call upon members for funds’, as this would be supported by events and reserves. Anthony asked brethren to spread the word about the benefits of the Masonic Insurance Mutual, and, most importantly of all, noted that Freemasonry Today costs less than £1 per member, per issue.
Second Grand Principal Russell Race discussed the ‘encouraging straws in the wind for membership of the Royal Arch’ before Sir David Wootton gave some thoughts on governance – ‘who does what with what authority’ – based on findings from the MFG.
‘If we can bottle the masonic sizzle from the best lodges and spread it around the rest, we can start to address all the issues.’ Michael Ward
Taking up the theme in more detail, Third Grand Principal Gareth Jones explained how ‘we need to build on the work that has been started, moving from securing evidence to emphasising delivery and implementation’. Gareth also talked about the importance of communication and spreading best practice from the Provinces and Districts.
Sir David then announced a proposal to take forward the work of the MFG: this would be a new body of a dozen members who would represent all ‘the talents, geographies and constituent parts of the Craft and Royal Arch’. The hope was to get this up and running by the end of 2017 to ‘develop and embed systems, ensuring that the necessary steps will be taken to continue and enhance Freemasonry’.
Looking after initiates
John Roscoe, an industrial psychologist, then presented the MFG’s findings on the negative effect of un-masonic conduct in lodges. John cited ‘the greatest cause for early dissatisfaction with initiates’ as being a perception of senior members dominating the lodge. He read out a number of testimonies in which masons recounted incidents of brethren being overzealous or overbearing.
John then asked those present to think of three ways to deal with behaviour that is not in keeping with the spirit of Freemasonry. Each table put their heads together to engage with this issue, and there was much debate as solutions were considered.
After a coffee break, PGM for Warwickshire David Macey led a commendation of ADelphi 2, showing some of the possibilities of the new membership database. ‘It’s now working well and is generally very stable. We are continuing to improve performance and security,’ he said. David gave a demonstration
of its promising new dashboard system. ‘The MFG gave us a very clear list of what PGMs and Grand Superintendents need,’ he said, showing how a simple dashboard will allow users to find a summary of every lodge in their Province, showing the 10 best and worst performing lodges, comparisons of members’ ages and contact information.
Deputy Metropolitan Grand Master Michael Ward then gave a careful analysis of the findings of an MFG survey that explored why so many initiates drop out soon after joining and what could be done to counteract this. It was vital, he said, to capitalise on work already done in the Provinces on these issues rather than try to ‘reinvent the wheel’.
Michael discussed what could be done to help lodges that were struggling to attract new members and finished by exhorting that, ‘success is within our grasp. If we can bottle the masonic sizzle from the best lodges and spread it around the rest, we can start to address all the issues. It’s in our hands.’
PGM for East Kent Geoffrey Dearing spoke about the importance of data protection and compliance before Malcolm Aish, President of the Committee of General Purposes, presented the annual report and statistics for the Royal Arch. Malcolm noted the enthusiasm for charitable contributions and also thanked brethren for completing the survey.
Chairman of the MFG and Deputy President of the BGP Ray Reed then gave highlights from the Craft annual report, showing that new initiates were rising and resignations declining, with the annual membership loss down to 1.65 per cent. Lodges reported an 83 per cent reduction in resignations, while 69 per cent reported increasing initiate figures. Ray singled out areas for improvement, including a willingness to engage with ‘local press, business, civic and religious leaders’ and the importance of attracting and mentoring quality initiates.
Emphasising the need for Provinces to share ideas, Ray concluded by thanking brethren for their ‘support, energy, creativity, hard work and, most importantly, belief in helping make things happen’.
The MFG is investigating why initiates can feel they are coming under too much pressure from senior lodge members
Wherever people come together as a group or society, differences of personal expectation, importance and influence will from time to time introduce tensions and potential for disharmony.
Evidence of tensions occurring in Freemasonry is apparent in the results of the Membership Focus Group (MFG) member surveys. These tensions are acknowledged by Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents to be a significant factor in the retention of members, as well as in the ongoing viability of a lodge or chapter.
With the first survey revealing a particular need to support initiates, the MFG is developing a follow-on study of all new masons to track them through their early journey in Freemasonry. The study will identify what expectations men have before joining, how these change or are satisfied and how the movement could respond more sensitively to those expectations.
Survey comments, as well as the results of exit interviews conducted by Provincial Grand Lodges and the Metropolitan Grand Lodge, highlight that behaviour that was perceived to be running counter to the spirit of Freemasonry often led to a breakdown in relationships and men resigning from the Craft. The disappointment with this un-masonic behaviour is illustrated by these quotes from the second MFG survey:
· ‘Younger masons are frightened off by well-meaning but overbearing senior masons.’
· ‘The problem of the lodge bully can be tricky to handle as over-dominant members usually hold important offices within the lodge and perform a disproportionately large amount of the work in and around it, but as we all know, it only takes one bad apple to turn the entire barrel sour.’
· ‘I now intend to resign. This is due to the in-fighting, hypocrisy and dominant behaviour of senior masons, who just do not behave in a masonic way.’
While the successful lodge needs to be well led by experienced, often senior masons, sometimes one or two individuals emerge who tend to dictate how a lodge is run. Their underlying intentions are often positive in that they see themselves as upholding the traditions of Freemasonry; however, their enthusiasm may be experienced rather more negatively as dictatorial or controlling of others.
Valuing the individual
The result can be that overzealous demands are placed upon junior members toward performing ritual, achieving perfection, time commitment or progression toward the Master’s Chair. The problem is one of focus, with more being placed on the needs of the lodge rather than those of the member.
Perhaps the very values we espouse are an additional factor – our harmony and brotherly love may lead us not to confront behaviour that seems un-masonic. Many of us dislike confrontation and this too may mean that rather than address difficult issues, we let them pass. The unfortunate result is the victim ceases to attend or is allowed to quietly resign.
At the Pro Grand Master’s recent meeting with Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Masters, the topic was the subject of some discussion and those attending suggested a number of actions that might usefully be considered.
Suggestions included the need to recognise such behaviour early and finding ways of supporting individuals, perhaps through the mentoring process and promoting the spirit of mutual respect using the existing training and development programmes.
It is important to stress two facts. First, that this behaviour is not widespread but does have a disproportionately big impact. Second, that Freemasonry is just like any other organisation; this behaviour is not peculiar to us and indeed may be less prevalent in Freemasonry, but our values may make it more visible to our members. The MFG is developing thoughts and guidelines for Provinces and lodges to consider in order to address this subject. The view from members may very well be that this is a topic for discussion in lodge.