Celebrating 300 years
Wednesday, 14 September 2016 00:00

Grand Secretary's column - Autumn 2016

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. 

Willie Shackell
Grand Secretary

‘I feel most privileged to be involved at this important time in our history.’

Published in UGLE

Lifelites charity announces youngest celebrity Patron

Lifelites has announced their latest and youngest Patron, Britain’s Got Talent 2016 finalist and Golden Buzzer winner, Jasmine Elcock. Jasmine, 14, is the daughter of a London Freemason

Lifelites – recently recognised for their good work with technology as a 2015 Nominet Trust 100 winner – is the only charity to provide assistive and inclusive technology packages for terminally ill and disabled children in every baby and children’s hospice across the British Isles. The package of technologies is both donated and maintained by the charity and includes items like special iPad communication packages, Eyegaze eye-operated computers and interactive magic carpets.

Talented young singer Jasmine Elcock, who is from Dagenham, Essex, was a favourite amongst this year’s Britain’s Got Talent viewers and especially with presenters Ant and Dec who chose Jasmine as their Golden Buzzer winner. She wowed the judges with her beautiful performances and her charm and likeability shone through, even impressing BGT boss Simon Cowell.

Jasmine visited Lifelites with her father Julian Elcock at their offices to learn more about their work with children’s hospices. Jasmine’s father is a member of Fortis Green Lodge No. 5145 and has been a Freemason for over eight years. He has had some involvement with Lifelites some years ago representing the charity in the Lord Mayor’s Parade. As a new Patron, Jasmine will help to raise awareness of Lifelites’ work in children’s hospices. She will support the charity in a variety of ways, including visiting children’s hospices and backing their fundraising campaigns. Lifelites is extremely grateful for her support and is delighted to welcome young Jasmine as their newest advocate.

Jasmine said: 'My life has been transformed through music making and it is a great joy to be able to express myself through singing; I’m delighted to see the magical technology that Lifelites provides can offer similar transformational experiences for terminally ill and disabled children in hospices. I am proud and privileged to help raise awareness of the work of Lifelites and am looking forward to being a Patron of the charity.'

Simone Enefer-Doy, Chief Executive of Lifelites, said: 'We are so excited that this lovely young woman has agreed to lend Lifelites her support. Jasmine will be a great advocate for Lifelites. She is likeable and has won the nation’s hearts through Britain’s Got Talent so she’ll be good at attracting attention to our great cause. We’re really looking forward to working with Jasmine in the near future and welcoming her on board #TeamLifelites.'

Jasmine Elcock joins a star studded line-up of Lifelites Patrons which includes Dame Esther Rantzen, Rick Wakeman, Peter Bowles, Joe Pasquale, Anita Dobson and Lord Cadogan (among others).

Published in Freemasonry Cares

Regular Convocation 

12 November 2014 
An address by the ME Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes 

Companions, the Second Grand Principal has just completed a series of meetings with Grand Superintendents. One of the topics of conversation was the relationship between the Royal Arch and the Craft – specifically covering two issues. First, the selection of Royal Arch representatives in Craft Lodges and secondly, the taking of wine with Royal Arch members at Craft Festive Boards.

The appointment and monitoring of the Royal Arch Representative in a Craft Lodge needs careful consideration. There has been debate as to who is responsible for this important appointment. In Provinces where the Provincial Grand Master and Grand Superintendent are the same, there should be no issue. However, where the heads of the two orders are different I believe it essential that the Provincial Grand Master and Grand Superintendent liaise. The appointment should never be a ‘tick in the box’ exercise.

As a member of the Royal Arch, the Representative will need to know sufficient about the merits of joining the Order and be able to work closely with the Lodge Mentor. In many instances it could be best judged that a member should be approached at the same time that he receives his Grand Lodge Certificate. I know from experience that there is a balance between judging whether someone will enjoy the Royal Arch with the right time for that individual to join. This timing is also pressurised by the concern that an individual will be approached to join one of the side orders first if there is any delay in recruitment. I continue to believe that there is a good stage to brief Master Masons on the merits of the Royal Arch, but that the actual timing of joining should be linked to each individual’s appetite for Masonic advancement and personal circumstances.

For those of you who are very involved with the side orders, please do not think that I am in any way against Craft members joining them, far from it. However I do firmly believe that the Royal Arch should be the first priority. 

As for wine taking with Royal Arch members at Craft Festive Boards – I believe that this custom should be treated sensitively – if ever used. I will also be mentioning this at the Craft Quarterly Communication in December. In any event the decision should lie in the hands of each Provincial Grand Master. I can see a case for this where a Chapter is linked to a Craft Lodge – but, even so, it is recommended that this wine taking is conducted with everyone sitting down so that those who are not members of the Order are not embarrassed or – worst still – pounced on with a joining form!

Companions you will have read in the last issue of Freemasonry Today about the Membership Focus Group and their mission to stop the bleed in membership. It is clearly of the greatest importance to Royal Arch recruitment that this bleed is halted whilst recruiting and retaining men of quality and integrity. You will have read that members were asked to participate in a series of short surveys so that the Membership Focus Group could seek grass roots’ ideas about the future of Freemasonry. I would ask as many of you as possible to take this opportunity and register and so be able to give your views.

 

Published in Speeches
Thursday, 04 September 2014 00:00

Grand Secretary's column - Autumn 2014

 From the Grand Secretary

We have recently completed another readership survey about Freemasonry Today, which shows encouraging results supporting its editorial approach and philosophy. Let me give you some examples of those interesting results. Three quarters of readers think the magazine is excellent, with seventy-five per cent believing that Freemasonry Today is a forward-looking publication, and seventy-three per cent agreeing that it helps change perceptions about Freemasons for the better. Eighty-four per cent say the magazine shows us in a modern light and portrays the openness of the United Grand Lodge of England. 

More than half our readers have encouraged friends and family to read the magazine, while three quarters have discussed an article with them. Forty-four per cent of readers say their wives and partners read Freemasonry Today with eighty-nine per cent being more positive about the Craft after doing so.

We have had fantastic feedback from our new DVD, What’s It All About? The film has been shown successfully at county shows and received more than 30,000 views on YouTube.

In this issue of the magazine, you will find myriad examples of what our members enjoy about the Craft – for some it’s supporting charity, while others are looking to find a greater understanding of themselves. 

We follow a group of Welsh lodges as they trek around the coastline to support a local charity. While the money raised will help fund a state-of-the-art children’s hospital in Cardiff, one of the masons on the walk admits that the reward of making lifelong friendships is what drives him to take part in these activities.

For Frank Lee, a volunteer at a local RMBI care home, his Freemasonry is about looking after the elderly and doing what he can to help them. Our report on the Association of Friends scheme explains why Frank counts many of the James Terry Court residents as friends, as they see him as one of the family.

Our feature on Ian Mcilquham profiles a Freemason who received crucial assistance when he needed it most. His local lodge and the MSF were on hand to give financial and pastoral support following Ian’s diagnosis with prostate cancer. His story is not unique. Since 2005, local masonic lodges have raised £476,000 for Prostate Cancer UK in a bid not only to raise awareness, but also to improve ways of treating the condition.

The fact that Freemasonry can encompass all these things (and more) reveals an organisation that has a great deal to offer to both existing members and potential recruits.

Nigel Brown
Grand Secretary

‘Eighty-four per cent of readers say the magazine shows Freemasons in a modern light and portrays the openness of the United Grand Lodge of England.’

Published in UGLE

Royal naval celebrates master

The spring edition of Freemasonry Today contained an article about the inventor of the life preserver, Francis Columbine Daniel. Shortly before its publication, a talk on the same topic was given in Royal Naval Lodge, No. 59, by Senior Warden Forbes Cutler.  

The talk was part of the celebrations held to mark the 275th anniversary of the lodge, of which Daniel was master for many years. The Metropolitan Grand Stewards Demonstration Team also performed, and a cheque to honour the anniversary was received on behalf of the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution by Dr John Reuther.

Thursday, 05 September 2013 00:00

Michael Baigent obituary from John Hamill

Independent voice

Past editor of Freemasonry Today, Michael Baigent was a successful author and influential mason whose writing sparked debate and created a loyal following. John Hamill looks back at his career

It is with real regret that we have to announce the death of Michael Baigent who was editor of Freemasonry Today from the spring of 2001 until the summer of 2011, when increasing ill health forced him into partial retirement. He continued as consultant editor until his untimely death from a brain haemorrhage on 17 June 2013 at a Brighton hospital.

Born in Nelson, New Zealand, in 1948, he was educated at Nelson College and the University of Canterbury, at Christchurch, reading comparative religion and psychology and graduating in 1972 with a BA. In later life he earned an MA in the Study of Mysticism and Religious Experience from the University of Kent.

After graduating, Michael spent four years as a photographer in India, Laos, Bolivia and Spain. Coming to London in 1976, he worked for a time in the photographic department at the BBC, which brought him into contact with Henry Lincoln and Richard Leigh, who were filming a documentary about the medieval Knights Templar. Their mutual interests and enthusiasm ultimately led to the publication in 1982 of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, a controversial bestseller and still in print after more than thirty years.

Embracing the craft

The success of the book enabled Michael to concentrate on research, writing and lecturing. Writing with Leigh, he produced works on such diverse topics as Freemasonry, the Dead Sea Scrolls, magic and alchemy, the Stauffenberg plot to kill Hitler and the Inquisition. His solo works covered the ancient mysteries, the early Christian church and the influence of religion in modern life. 

Michael’s interest in the history of ideas and the esoteric tradition led him to the Craft, becoming a Freemason in the Lodge of Economy, No. 76, Winchester, near his then home. He later joined the Prince of Wales’s Lodge, No. 259, London, and was nominated by them as a Grand Steward and appointed a Grand Officer in 2005. 

Freemasonry brought Michael to the notice of Lord Northampton, who invited him to become a trustee of the Canonbury Masonic Research Centre, which he was setting up as a focus for research into the more esoteric aspects of Freemasonry. Equally, Michael became involved in and greatly shaped the early years of the Cornerstone Society, which Lord Northampton had established as a forum for those interested in exploring the deeper meanings of the ritual. When the Orator Scheme was being discussed in 2006, Michael was the obvious candidate to draft the early Orations.

Leading from the front

When Michael became editor of Freemasonry Today it was still ‘the independent voice of Freemasonry’. He greatly extended its coverage beyond the Craft and Royal Arch and attracted a new audience to the magazine, including a growing number of non-masons. He not only sought out contributors and edited their pieces but was responsible for the page design and seeing the magazine through the presses. He employed his old talents and provided many of the photographs that illustrated the content. It was something of a departure for him when in 2007 the magazine merged with Grand Lodge’s then house organ, MQ Magazine, to become the Craft’s official journal. Yet he rose to the occasion and continued to produce a magazine that combined news with interesting, and sometimes challenging, articles.

Michael would have been the first to acknowledge that his work fell outside the normal run of academic historical research, but he believed completely in what he did. He was not writing for other academics but for the general reader, and he had a loyal following. Whether he worked on his own or with Lincoln and Leigh, Michael’s writing was never ignored and always provoked discussion – which is all any writer seeks.

His last years were, sadly, marked by increasing ill health, including an initially successful liver transplant, and financial problems caused by the unsuccessful case he and Leigh took against the novelist Dan Brown’s publisher, claiming that Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code was both a plagiarism and infringed the copyright of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. A gentle, courteous man, Michael was always a pleasure to meet and talk to and will be greatly missed by many. Our thoughts go out to his wife, daughters and stepson and stepdaughter.

Thursday, 05 September 2013 00:00

Rev Neville Barker Cryer obituary

Rev Neville Barker Cryer

A regular contributor to Freemasonry Today, the Rev Neville Barker Cryer’s recent death has robbed the Craft of one of its modern ‘characters’. A big man in every way, he had an international reputation as a researcher, writer and speaker on Freemasonry. 

A Past Master of Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076, Neville was for a number of years its secretary and editor of Transactions. His work was acknowledged by his being appointed Prestonian Lecturer for 1974. 

After a few years as a parish priest, Neville was secretary of the British and Foreign Bible Society and authored several books on religious matters. 

He will be much missed, not least on the masonic lecturing circuit and in the many Orders in which he held high office.

Letters to the editor - No. 24 Winter 2013

Sir,

It was with great sadness I read of the passing of Reverend Neville Barker Cryer. His passing is a great loss to the Craft.

I only once had the good fortune to meet him and listen to his thoughts. When an entered apprentice, I attended the ‘Let’s talk Freemasonry’ conference at Hemsley House in Salford. It was here that I was able to hear the Reverend speak; impart wisdom, knowledge and his own brand of acerbic wit. Indeed, when I read in the last issue the description of him as one of the last great modern ‘characters’, it raised more than a wry smile to my lips. Personally, I found him enlightening, amusing and uncommonly direct. 

Despite him being in great demand for attention whilst at the conference, he took the time out to speak directly to me for a few moments. The encouragement and bolstering belief he kindly gave me in those moments will live with me always. Worlds, as they say, are turned on the smallest of thoughts and deeds. He had a clear opinion, and had the courage of his convictions and stuck with them. 

Richard Bardsley, Kitchener Lodge, No. 3788, Bolton, East Lancashire

 

 

 

Friday, 14 December 2012 00:00

Grand Secretary's column - Winter 2012

As we all know, time seems to go by at an ever-increasing rate and, with that in mind, our great celebrations in 2017 are not that far away. Just think, as the Mother Grand Lodge of the world, we will be the first Grand Lodge to reach three hundred years – what a fantastic milestone.

On this subject I want to address a point of huge significance. The Pro Grand Master in his last Quarterly Communication speech, which you can read in this issue’s Senior Insights, stressed that this ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to celebrate the occasion is for everyone. It is quite simply the members’ celebration. To that end we will be working tirelessly with the Provinces and Districts to make this a memorable experience for us all.

Our magazine continues to go from strength to strength and this is supported by a recent online readership survey. We were particularly impressed that forty-six per cent of our readers’ wives and partners are now enjoying the magazine. I have also just heard that Freemasonry Today has been shortlisted for an award by an external body as a membership magazine that has made the most progress for its readers. This is fantastic news.

In this issue, we find out about brethren who are inspiring communities, challenging preconceptions and contributing to society. We fly back to the Second World War to find out how Squadron Leader, mason and secret hero Jerry Fray played a covert but hugely important role in photographing the destruction wrought by the Dambusters.

We explain why RMBI homes are now using pioneering techniques that focus on the quality of life for someone with dementia. And we go along to the ihelp finals to report on how Buckinghamshire Freemasons are giving young people the chance to show they care about the communities they live in.

I hope you enjoy the issue and that you and your families have a wonderful festive season.

Nigel Brown
Grand Secretary

Published in UGLE

We are very pleased to announce that Freemasonry Today has been shortlisted for ‘Best Membership Title’ in the International Content Marketing Awards 2012, widely considered to be the Oscars of the publishing world.

According to their website:

"The winner of this category must show a deep understanding of the client organisation and their industry sector, able to speak to the readership in their own language while retaining a large degree of accessibility and interest for the wider audience. They must also show how they have grown and strengthened the membership, and brought new ideas and initiatives to the organisation."

Having been redesigned by leading contract publishers August Media, and drawing inspiration from titles such as Monocle, Freemasonry Today has been transformed into a lifestyle publication worthy of the newsstands. The magazine now combines engaging photography with sharp prose, while still remaining sympathetic to the traditionalist reader.

Recent research among members shows that 67% think the magazine was excellent/liked it a lot; almost half of wives/partners are now reading the magazine, with 44% feeling more positive about Freemasonry.

The online magazine has also achieved 1,450 subscribers in just six months, with 200 names being added monthly.

The winner of the International Content Marketing Award for ‘Best Membership Title’ will be announced in November.

Published in More News
Wednesday, 14 March 2012 00:00

'Freemasonry and the Media'

QUARTERLY COMMUNICATION

14 March 2012

A speech by the VW The Grand Secretary Nigel Brown and Jessica Bondy

NB: Most Worshipful Pro Grand Master and Brethren,

I am delighted to introduce Jessica Bondy to those of you who do not already know her. She is our public relations adviser and has been working closely with us on our communications strategy. Put it another way: she probably knows more of what we are all about, and what our aims are, than any other non Mason!

The core, the heartbeat, of the strategy is to dispel myths. But why bother? After all, we know that as the oldest fraternal organisation in the world, our principles have never changed and our timeless values are as relevant today as they were three hundred years ago.

We suggest, as modern Freemasons, there are two reasons in particular why we should bother – you will have others. If we take as a given that we want good press, then the first reason is that, by dispelling the myths it will help with both retention and recruitment and secondly, it will reduce – potentially eradicate – discrimination against us, especially in the public sector.

To explain the determined progress of our communications strategy I use the analogy of Mount Everest. The expedition has started. And we have before us the long haul to the top which we must reach before 2017. I say long haul, because on the one side our members are going to have to be brought up to date with our thinking, which we have started to do with the Provincial Information Officers, and on the other side we must overcome the utter rubbish that has been written about us. I'll now handover. Jessica.

JB: For a communication strategy to work, it is essential to have support at the highest level in an organisation. We have that. So working closely with the Strategic Communications Committee and the Board of General Purposes we are at the first stage of our journey with a clear objective to both increase understanding of, and support for, Freemasonry - and to build a positive reputation for the Organisation. Critical to achieving this is by highlighting your openness and relevance in society today. And rather than just talking about it we have taken action to demonstrate change.

In your assets we have for example proper open websites, the newly highly acclaimed Freemasonry Today magazine, which is increasingly read by family members, a mentoring scheme which includes helping you to talk about Freemasonry openly and sensibly, so that as many of you as possible can become ambassadors for the organisation. All of this will be further helped by a new leaflet designed simply to give people a good feel about Freemasonry.

But more importantly, and for the first time ever, we approached a non-masonic body to produce a report for the media on the future of Freemasonry, written by an independent third party, with no connection to Freemasonry. This was a bold move, but it was essential for the media to both see this as a neutral and outsider's perspective for credibility's sake, and also to act as the catalyst for them to want to talk to us. The Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford, otherwise known as SIRC, was selected competitively. They offered not only anthropological expertise, which forms much of the backdrop of the report, but also their research criteria are based on evidence and not ideology. In their words: "We needed to test Freemasonry's claims for openness and transparency".

SIRC set about compiling the views and opinions of a cross-section of Freemasons and non-Masons alike, examining the presence of, or the need for, an element in ritual in all our lives, our need to belong, the ways we express our generosity to others, and the extent to which our everyday lives involve ritual behaviours. The result is a truly insightful and timely commentary, not just on this great Organisation, but also fascinatingly on the complex interactions, perceptions and values of modern society itself.

Just to give you a flavour: among their key findings, is that contrary to much misleading commentary, Freemasonry shows genuine openness and transparency. To quote a piece from the report, "One thing that immediately became apparent was that the notion of Freemasonry as a secret society was clearly inappropriate". More importantly the report ends by saying that it is arguably more relevant today than ever before. It also shows that Freemasonry acts as a 'constant', and by that I mean that it provides members with a unique combination of friendship, belonging and structure, with many Masons saying they have made lifelong friendships. Also, although I absolutely understand that Freemasonry is not a Charity the report also highlights the importance that Freemasonry places on giving – thinking of the needs of others.

For your interest we concurrently ran a survey among non-Masons which showed what a huge opportunity we have. Over half wanted to know more about us and a quarter would consider joining.

So with the report published and in our hands, and the knowledge that people really do want to know more, we took the Grand Secretary on a highly successful media tour, quite literally the length and breadth of the country, which was another first. We felt it important for the Grand Secretary to be on the road and truly show openness by meeting people face-to-face to show we have nothing to hide. So over the past two weeks he has visited twenty locations around the country with forty interviews with local press and radio stations. The response was very positive and he was given the opportunity to communicate a number of the key messages. I will share one headline from the Yorkshire Post written by one of the only women editors: "A Secret Society? No we're Freemasons because we enjoy friendships and fun", and the editor's opener: "For centuries Freemasonry has been known as a 'secret society' but we've got them all wrong".

Nationally, we have also made waves. At best we set off to generate balanced pieces and stimulate debate, with the view that we would be very pleased indeed if they were positive. BBC online was the third most popular story last Friday and generated an unprecedented number of comments running currently at over one thousand. The interview on one of the leading radio stations, LBC, quite literally jammed the switchboard.

You can now all see the report on your Freemasonry Today website. Combining all the media and press interviews, the reach has been to a potential audience of over fifty million!! Grand Secretary.

NB: Here is a brief feedback from the front line for your interest. I was pleasantly surprised by the reception I got from the press and media in the Provinces. Yes, all the questions were based on the typical myths which all of you are aware of, but they were receptive to my answers. National newspapers are very different, being much tougher, more liable to misquote, and going for sensational headlines, but just to get coverage is a further demonstration, very publically, of our openness and acceptance of debate. It is well worth the risk and we need to do this if we are ever to move forward. Let us be very clear: the myths are deeply set in people's minds. But as we move forward we want people to base their judgement on facts – not fantasy. As all of you can imagine, it is a very real challenge to change people's deeply rooted perceptions in a few minutes, but it is a challenge we relish. I leave the last word to Jessica.

JB: These firsts, the report and the media tour, have presented a major opportunity for your organisation. We have to harness and build on the interest now, in order to achieve the impact we deserve in 2017. If we can convert people from negative to neutral at the very least, I believe we will be making huge progress. The SIRC report ends as I do, "If Freemasonry is able successfully to conclude its quiet revolution, while at the same time ensuring that its central features are retained to preserve the true 'spirit' of Freemasonry, then its future may well be assured – for the next century or two at least".

Published in UGLE
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