Celebrating 300 years
Friday, 04 September 2015 01:00

Grand Secretary's column - Autumn 2015

From the Grand Secretary

We have another fascinating issue for you about what is happening in Freemasonry today. The results from the latest survey conducted by the Membership Focus Group concentrate on the joining experience of new members. 

The moment that they join is a deeply significant time, and ‘feeling valued as a member’ came out top of the factors that contributed to their overall satisfaction as Freemasons.

It is pleasing, too, to hear about what The Masonic Mutual has achieved in its first year. 

This success has been driven by reducing spend, improving available cover, enhancing risk-management practice and establishing a vehicle through which any surpluses generated can be retained for the good of Freemasonry.

As we look forward to the long-term future of Freemasonry, we need to make sure that we are seen by the public as relevant to modern society. 

I believe this must continue to be the editorial direction of our magazine, which I hope you will enjoy in this latest issue.

Helping others grow

With Freemasonry sharing many of the same values as the Scouting movement, we find out about the ongoing support that our masonic charities have provided to encourage more young people to join their local groups. Over the past seven years, our grants have been used to pay for Scouting premises and training volunteers, as well as to buy much-needed materials and equipment – all with the aim of helping young people grow and develop.

Across the country, Freemasons and their families are making a difference to the communities they live in. Down in Cornwall, we meet Freemason Roy Newport, who takes retired military personnel out on the open water to help them adjust to life in the ‘normal’ world. Up in Lancashire, we follow the daughter of respected local mason Geoff Cousen as she runs across the Lake District to raise money for the Masonic Samaritan Fund, the charity that supported him after two crippling strokes. 

Our piece on the Talking Heads initiative looks at why chapter members have been performing to lodges across the country to explain the progression into Royal Arch. We also interview consultant surgeon Stephen Large about how masonic funding has been crucial to new research that could massively expand the number of donor hearts available for transplantation. At both a local and a national level, these stories reveal Freemasonry at its best, as members provide care, support and inspiration. 

Nigel Brown
Grand Secretary

‘At both a local and a national level, the stories in this issue of the magazine reveal Freemasonry at its best, as members provide care, support and inspiration.’

Published in UGLE

Unlocking the brand

For UGLE Director of Communications Mike Baker, the challenge Freemasonry faces in the run-up to the Tercentenary celebrations is in improving public image

What is your background?

My career started in retail. I worked my way up the management ladder in companies like Habitat and WHSmith before moving into hospitality with Forte in regional operations management. 

I then took a leap of faith into a very different field for the Post Office. Initially a retail network manager there, I moved into sales development, communications and marketing for its financial services and travel products, which were new areas for the Post Office. After that, I left to set up my own business development and marketing consultancy. It was during a secondment with a telecoms company in 2013 that I became aware that UGLE was looking for a Director of Communications.

Is the role of Director of Communications a new one?

It is a new position in terms of the scope of the responsibilities. The job title had previously been held by John Hamill, and his role had extensively involved combatting discrimination. This is also within my remit, but it’s not as significant a part thanks to John’s excellent work and the ongoing strategy from both the Grand Master and the Grand Secretary to make Freemasonry a more open organisation. 

‘I believe that the best time to fix the roof is when the sun is out, and it really will be shining on Freemasonry in 2017.’

UGLE has a clear idea of the strategy leading up to the Tercentenary so, for me, the job is about matching my skill set and my views with that direction. The opportunity that our Tercentenary represents should not be underestimated. I believe that the best time to fix the roof is when the sun is out, and it really will be shining on Freemasonry in 2017. There will be huge charitable spend that year, but there will also be enormous involvement from our members in communities and in celebrating 300 years of heritage. One of the heartening things to witness is the amount of activity that is undertaken in the Provinces and Metropolitan area by volunteers. It’s not just about the amount of money they raise; it’s about the difference they make to people’s lives. 

How did you become a mason?

I joined Freemasonry by chance – I had two brothers who were Freemasons in Somerset and Bristol. 

I remember mentioning them to a colleague at work in 2000 and asked what he knew about ‘that lot’. The colleague asked if I was interested, I got introduced and became a Freemason in London. 

I progressed in the Craft and joined the Royal Arch. Since then, I’ve been involved in Metropolitan initiatives – most recently Talking Heads, which has also taken me out into the Provinces to explain the history and attraction of the Royal Arch. 

Do you have an average day?

One of my daily tasks is monitoring our media performance, looking at how our image is defined by other people and challenging discrimination when it happens, whether it’s from the media, MPs, faith groups or employers. All too often discrimination comes through lack of understanding, which is why it’s key for us to approach people sensitively and to dissolve any element of fear. I also work with the Provinces to help them engage with the local media and with their own membership, keeping them updated so that they can be advocates and ambassadors. One size does not fit all – the communication strategy for a Province depends on the challenges it faces, which may differ greatly from one to the next. 

Are you marketing a brand?

As a membership organisation we have a product in Freemasonry. It’s no different from the marketing function in any business; it’s all about developing awareness of that product. I want people to understand Freemasonry in its real sense, to see it as a force for good and consider being a member. There’s also the advocacy element, getting our members to say, ‘Hey, you ought to join.’ That’s no different from the objectives for mainstream marketing in any brand. 

What’s difficult about masonic communication?

When it comes to communication, all the activity that we undertake can be broken down into three elements: clarity, capability and consequence. In terms of clarity, we have a very clear picture about what we want Freemasonry to look like in people’s hearts and minds by the Tercentenary. We’re also very clear about what the consequences will be: that it’s about maintaining a stable number of people in the organisation; attracting and retaining new members; and moving forward in dispelling myths. The challenge is the bit in the middle, the capability, how we equip our members and give them the permission to speak. 

We know in masonic terms what our principles and tenets are, but how do we represent them? It can be a challenge to use the right kind of language in order to dispel myths, to talk clearly about what Freemasonry represents, to explain that it’s about integrity, kindness, honesty, fairness and tolerance. Not everyone has these word sets and it’s made more difficult because Freemasonry is different for every person. We therefore need to be non-prescriptive so people feel comfortable, whether they’re talking about Freemasonry to the local press or at a dinner party.  

Does the Tercentenary feel close?

We don’t always do things immediately in Freemasonry but when we do, we do them in a considered, appropriate and consistent way. I feel very positive about the Tercentenary because the sun will be shining in 2017 when we fix our roof and move forward. There is a massive dedication and desire to move forward, as well as a sense of duty to safeguard our future. Yes, there will always be a degree of trepidation about an event like this, but it’s not just about what’s happening at the centre on 31 October 2017. It’s also about what happens across the country and throughout the Districts from 26 June 2016, which is the start of our 300th year. This is why we need to start increasing the momentum of our communications and engagement. 

How does your job sit with your Freemasonry?

I deal with a lot of Freemasonry as a member of UGLE and the Supreme Grand Chapter. I’m the Scribe E of my mother chapter and Director of Ceremonies for my lodge in West Kent. I wouldn’t do it unless I had a passion for it and I wouldn’t go to a meeting if I didn’t think it would be enjoyable – I haven’t missed a main Craft or Royal Arch meeting since my initiation in 2001. As a representative of UGLE, I feel very privileged to hold my role and to be making a difference in some way to the future of the organisation by helping it become more open. In the What’s It All About? DVD, Anthony Henderson from Bedfordshire said that the value and teachings of Freemasonry have made him the man he is today. That holds true for me. 

Published in UGLE

Dramatic aside

With the aim of recruiting more members into the Royal Arch, Deputy Metropolitan Grand Superintendent Chris Clark explains how a piece of theatre is successfully demonstrating its principles and history

Why is the Royal Arch a separate Order and what is the Master Mason of the 21st century missing by not being a member? Performed in masonic lodges throughout the country, Talking Heads – The Next Step: Into The Royal Arch is a short playlet that seeks to answer these questions. It depicts an encounter between an experienced Past Master, who is also a Royal Arch Companion, and a relatively new Master Mason eager to learn more. 

The opening scene of Talking Heads begins with two masons chatting in the anteroom as they don their regalia, after which they start engaging with the brethren present. The playlet covers the history of the Order and explains a little about the regalia – especially the jewel that is also worn in lodges – as well as discussing some of the links with the Craft. 

Talking Heads goes on to describe the way the journey of personal discovery continues beyond the Craft experience, as well as the likely time and financial commitments needed to reach completion of pure Antient Freemasonry. The performance is delivered with a great deal of good humour between the players, and occasional off-script asides make the event highly enjoyable as well as educational.

Chapter recruitment

The idea of creating the playlet came after we published the Metropolitan Exaltee’s Guide in 2010. The booklet was given to each new exaltee in London as they began their journey into the Royal Arch. Our thoughts then turned to how we might aid recruitment into Chapter. After looking at several lectures in circulation in the Craft, we decided they were either too long or not very inspirational. So we set about drafting our own text for London. The remit was that it should be presented in a theatrical way, be about half an hour long and be interesting for those masons already part of the Royal Arch, as well as to Master Masons who might consider joining.

Early drafts were assessed by a panel of readers from the Royal Arch leaders in London and a few trial presentations were given before the final text was agreed, and a team of some 20 regular presenters assembled.

The first performances were given in February 2011, and now more than 120 have been delivered by the Metropolitan team, travelling to Provinces across the county, including Cumberland and Westmorland, West Lancashire, and Yorkshire, North and East Ridings in the north; Essex and East and West Kent in the south; and Shropshire and Wiltshire in the west. We always present the Province with a CD of the text of the playlet, too, and offer to assist when they assemble their own groups of players. 

An excellent performance

Some of these Provinces have developed their own acting teams; Essex and Buckinghamshire are leading the way, with several performances given in the past year. By the end of 2016, the Metropolitan team will have visited well over half the Provinces in England and Wales, spreading the Royal Arch message. The text has also been exported to Hong Kong, our first overseas territory, although the team’s bold request for travel expenses was rejected, so there have been no performances abroad (yet).

Talking Heads provides great support to the Royal Arch representatives in lodges, because it makes the Order’s case for them and answers many of the questions they are likely to be asked. Sometimes Master Masons will sign an exaltation form after a performance, sometimes they will bring forward an application they were planning to delay, and sometimes it just goes on their agenda for when they feel they are ready to enter the Order. 

We always make the point that there is no pressure to recruit and that everyone should consider the Royal Arch in their own time and at their own pace. We know that exaltation numbers in London have been rising by over two per cent per annum since the introduction of the Royal Arch representative scheme and the Talking Heads playlet. Added to this, overall membership figures in London suggest that retention levels have also been helped – and we have some dramatic examples of how Talking Heads has been effective in this respect. 

For example, one London chapter had a member who’d been dormant for 14 years, who started attending again after seeing a performance at his lodge. ‘I hadn’t realised there was so much in the Royal Arch ceremony,’ he said, ‘and I now understand much of what I found confusing before.’ And after our first Provincial performance in Essex, one companion who had not attended a chapter since his exaltation 42 years ago immediately signed to rejoin. Encore, indeed.

 ‘Talking Heads provides great support to the Royal Arch representatives in lodges, because it makes the Order’s case for them and answers many of the questions they are likely to be asked.’

Letters to the Editor - No. 32 Winter 2015

Sir,

I read with interest the article in the autumn 2015 edition of Freemasonry Today entitled ‘Dramatic Aside’. A similar initiative was introduced several years ago in Hampshire and Isle of Wight.

A presentation written by well-known local Royal Arch Freemasons called ‘Why the Royal Arch?’ was frequently delivered in both lodges and chapters throughout the Province. It consists usually of four Craft Freemasons sitting around a table chatting informally with each other, looking into the next step in their masonic journey. 

It has proved to be very successful and is now included as part of a new Royal Arch recruiting initiative recently introduced, entitled ‘Dine a Master Mason’. We hold this at the end of our regular Royal Arch Convocation, when Craft Freemasons who are not yet Royal Arch members are invited to attend.

Both recruitment and retention are very important to the future success of Royal Arch, but without proper and workable recruitment initiatives in place, we may not be left with so many companions to retain.

Philip Berman, Grand Superintendent, Hampshire and Isle of Wight

Published in SGC

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