Celebrating 300 years

Hearts & Minds

For Ray Reed, past Deputy President of the Board of General Purposes and Past Provincial Grand Master of Buckinghamshire, the process of change that he helped to introduce within Freemasonry is only just beginning

What did your early career teach you?

I joined BP Chemicals straight from school and served a five-year apprenticeship as an instrument and electronics engineer before moving on to Reckitt & Colman when I was 23. The next 15 years were manic – two years after joining I was asked to set up and manage a new work-study department, followed by secondment as company negotiator with trade unions, then I became human resources director before becoming general manager.

Each move involved a new discipline and took me out of my comfort zone. I like the challenge of being thrown in at the deep end and rarely get stressed. If I had, I think I would have failed. These challenges opened my eyes to the fact most of what goes on in business management is common sense. Get a great team around you, identify what works, question what doesn’t, create a strategy and focus on improvement.

Equally, I learned that people at all levels love you to listen to and debate their ideas for improvement – it gives them confidence that they are part of the change process and makes them feel valued.

Why did you establish your own company?

By 1980 we were selling off the industrial division. Reckitt & Colman wanted me to stay but I was nearly 40 and wanted a new challenge, something completely different. Close friends thought I was mad.

My old sales director had left to do his own thing, working for an American company in psychological assessment. He asked me if I’d advise him on setting up a business, so I talked him into going to the US. Instead of working for the American company, we bought the franchise for the UK. About three years later, we found ourselves bigger than the US business, so we bought them out.

Family has been so important in the success of the business. My wife Doreen, who was a business partner, has been a vital cog from the outset and, after I retired in 2005, our son Martin has grown the business to become one of the top five assessment companies in the world. We are still a private entity and I continue to serve as a non-executive director.

What drove you to join Freemasonry?

I had been attending masonic social events from the age of 16 and always felt comfortable in the company of members. One day shortly after I married I asked my father-in-law, ‘What’s Freemasonry all about?’ I can recall his exact words: ‘I’ve been waiting for you to ask, I’ll get you a form. I can’t tell you what it’s about, you’ll have to trust me.’ In today’s fast-moving world such an approach would be laughed at, but that was the norm then.

Freemasonry was so popular in those days so I had to wait three years to be initiated, which just made me want it more. I joined Thesaurus Lodge [No. 3891] in North Yorkshire on 11 May 1967. It was the perfect lodge for me: great ceremonial, friendly and very encouraging with new candidates. I realised as a 27-year-old that while my business life was driving me into new areas and becoming ever more demanding, Freemasonry was developing me as a person, giving me a new-found confidence and a better understanding of my values in life.

Did you feel ready to become Provincial Grand Master?

No. Sadly, Lord Burnham died in office in 2005 and I received a letter asking me to take the role – not long after I had been appointed an APGM. There was no training, just a patent that told you to run the Province in accordance with the rules and regulations of the United Grand Lodge of England. And that was it, you were on your own. That suited me; it comes back to being thrown in at the deep end.

We identified member expectations through surveys, set a modernisation strategy that took account of these results, communicated them to members and then monitored the progress. Member collaboration was vital to the process – we set out to make masonic life more enjoyable, to improve our image in the local community and to market the Craft as a power for good within society.

It appears to me that succession planning is as vital at lodge level as it is at Provincial and UGLE level’

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve had as a PGM?

When I became Provincial Grand Master, the Past Pro Provincial Grand Master of Middlesex, Gordon Bourne, suggested I miss out the sweet course and coffee at the Festive Board in order to make time for talking to members. At first I thought, ‘This is a bit stupid’ – but within three months, members were coming up to me with really creative ideas to improve the Province’s image. It was a great success.

Gordon also suggested that at non-installation meeting dinners, I ask lodges to sit me with the five newest members of the lodge. That was magic; few realised the significance of the Provincial Grand Master role, so they talked openly and honestly. I heard their expectations, what they liked and did not like about their lodges and Freemasonry. The insights we collected helped convince Grand Lodge Officers to sit off the top table. It really broke so many historic barriers.

How important is the process of succession planning?

The second highest resignation levels in the Craft are those of Past Masters resigning shortly after completing their year in office. It therefore appears to me that succession planning is as vital at lodge level as it is at Provincial and UGLE level.

While there is no right or wrong approach to succession planning, lodges may well benefit from discussing the future aspirations with their lodge Masters well before they end their year in office. This should be done to ensure commitment and motivation, and in order to take any necessary steps to reduce the likelihood of resignation. One thing is for sure: if a member has an ambition toward a specific discipline – be it administrative, ceremonial or charitable – he is more likely to succeed in that discipline than in a role he has been cajoled into and does not really aspire to.

When did you become a member of the Board of General Purposes?

After a couple of years as a Provincial Grand Master I found myself sat next to Anthony Wilson, President of the Board, at a dinner. We had an enlightening discussion about Freemasonry’s past, present and future. Little did I know I had been recommended to him as a Board member and the next day I was asked to join. It was a complete shock and I embarked on another steep learning curve, but I loved being on the Board. We were all like-minded, giving our time freely and seeking to positively influence both the present and future of the Craft for our members.

How does change occur in the world of Freemasonry?

Historically, change has happened very slowly as we are a bottom-up organisation. Even small change in the past caused the shutters to go up. Members were perhaps fearful that there was a desire to change our traditions, which has never been on the agenda.Over recent years, Freemasonry has created a strategy for 2015-2020. Webinar technology has been tested and rolled out in the Provinces for member training and coaching, which can take place online at home. Even after one year of the strategy being communicated in 2015, membership loss dropped dramatically; indeed, several Provinces increased their numbers. This is a sure indication that members are getting behind the change process. We just need to win the hearts and minds of those who are yet to come to the party.

Published in UGLE

Craft on canvas

In its Tercentenary year, the United Grand Lodge of England’s first ever Artist in Residence, Jacques Viljoen, gives a fresh perspective on Freemasonry

On 24 June, the general public were invited into Freemasons’ Hall to view a new exhibition, Rough to Smooth: Art inspired by Freemasonry – past, present and future. It featured work by the United Grand Lodge of England’s first ever Artist in Residence, Jacques Viljoen, who had been given unprecedented access to objects and spaces throughout the five-floor Grade II* listed building.

All of Viljoen’s subjects were painted from life, using traditional techniques and no photography. His work presents a new look at the world of contemporary Freemasonry, showing intimate moments that might usually go unnoticed. ‘This has been an incredible opportunity to explore an organisation with an intricate and ancient history,’ he said.

Alongside Viljoen, nine guest artists were also given unique access to Freemasons’ Hall, working in different mediums that ranged from oils to mixed media and photography. Renowned Norwegian oil painter Henrik Uldalen’s contemporary yet classic figurative work sat by work by Lithuanian artist Elika Bo, who creates images by endlessly layering objects, while Nicholas Chaundy offered a technical homage to the painting techniques used in the many masterpieces that fill the Hall.

President of the Board of General Purposes Anthony Wilson commented: ‘What has struck me, above all else, is the amount of thought and work that has gone into each picture. The artists have demonstrated both an understanding of, and a variety of responses to, Freemasonry, its values and, in particular, our splendid building.’

Rough to Smooth was just one of the attractions at the Freemasons’ Hall Open Day, with members of the public also able to visit the building’s ornate Grand Temple and the shrine to those Freemasons who lost their lives in World War I. Musical performances from Grand Organist Carl Jackson, the Occasional Strings quartet and the Art Deco Orchestra accompanied visitors throughout the event.

The Open Day was organised by the Library and Museum of Freemasonry. Reflecting on the event, Library and Museum Director Diane Clements said: ‘It was a very successful day, with more than 2,800 visitors enjoying the music, the architecture and the opportunity to see the Artist in Residence exhibition.’

Published in UGLE

A packed house descended on Freemasons’ Hall yesterday, as the Library and Museum of Freemasonry opened its doors for a Private View of ‘Rough to Smooth’ – an exhibition of contemporary artwork inspired by Freemasonry

Visitors were treated to an exhibition of new artworks celebrating Freemasonry and its continued role and relevance in society today. In attendance was Peter Lowndes, Pro Grand Master, Anthony Wilson, President of the Board of General Purposes, and Jacques Viljoen, the United Grand Lodge of England's very first Artist in Residence, who created the exhibition along with nine guest artists.

The ‘Rough to Smooth’ art exhibition will open to the public during this Saturday’s Open Day, which marks the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Premier Grand Lodge. It will be a day of exhibitions, music and architecture and the chance for visitors to view the new collection of art - many of which are for sale.

Anthony Wilson commented: 'What has struck me, above all else, is the amount of thought and work that has gone into each picture. The artists have demonstrated both an understanding of, and the variety of responses to Freemasonry, its values and, in particular, our splendid building.'

The exhibition continues next week from Monday June 26th until Saturday July 1st. Admission is free and Freemasons’ Hall will be open from 10am to 5pm, with last entry at 4:30pm.

Published in UGLE
Tuesday, 13 June 2017 09:45

A garden to remember in Staffordshire

As part of the Tercentenary celebrations, 300 masons and civic dignitaries came together for the dedication of the Masonic Memorial Garden in Staffordshire

In late 2001, Lichfield mason Roger Manning suggested the creation of a masonic memorial to be sited at the newly created National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas, Burton-on-Trent.

It was agreed that the masonic garden should serve in the remembrance of all Freemasons, whether they had died in the service of their country or through sickness, accident or old age. There would be no reference on the site to specific lodges, groups or individuals.

Over the next 16 years, following four different Provincial Grand Masters, two architects, more than a dozen designs, planting failures, floods, dozens of detailed reports and many meetings, the Masonic Memorial Garden was finally unveiled on 18 April 2017 to over 300 brethren and civic dignitaries.

The service was witnessed by Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes, Deputy Grand Master Jonathan Spence, Assistant Grand Master Sir David Wootton, President of the Board of General Purposes Anthony Wilson and Grand Secretary Willie Shackell.

A welcome to all in attendance was given by local builder and brother Eddie Ford, who had been responsible for the garden’s development over the entire 16-year period. The dedication service was undertaken by the Provincial Grand Chaplain, the Reverend Bernard Buttery.

Civic leaders at the event included the Lord-Lieutenant of Staffordshire, Ian Dudson; the Mayor of East Staffordshire, Cllr Beryl Toon; and the Mayor of Tamworth, Cllr Ken Norchi. Provincial Grand Masters from many neighbouring Provinces, together with representatives from all of the 96 Staffordshire lodges, were also present.

Tuesday, 07 June 2016 01:00

Sharing ideas for success

Annual Briefing

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’. 

Published in UGLE

Interim Grand Secretary

Following the retirement of RW Bro Nigel Brown as Grand Secretary at the end of April, the MW The Grand Master has been pleased to make an interim appointment to that office.

RW Bro Brigadier WE Shackell, CBE, PJGW, will take up the appointment with effect from Wednesday 8 June, and will be invested as Grand Secretary in the course of the Quarterly Communication of the Grand Lodge on that day.

The Rulers and the Board of General Purposes believe that the process of finding a long-term successor as Grand Secretary should not be hurried, and recruitment is therefore unlikely to begin for some months.

In the meantime, I am sure that you would all wish to join in wishing Bro Shackell well in his new role.

Yours sincerely and fraternally,

Anthony Wilson
President, Board of General Purposes

Published in UGLE
Friday, 05 June 2015 01:00

A year of masonic success

Annual briefing

On 28 April, masonic leaders celebrated the achievements of the past year, revealing an organisation that is embracing transparency and taking positive steps to ensure its long-term future

 Held in the Gallery Suite at Freemasons’ Hall, the Pro Grand Master’s Annual Briefing Meeting brought together Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents to hear about the state of Freemasonry and why its future is in their hands.

With Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes welcoming attendees to the meeting, the President of the Board of General Purposes (BGP), Anthony Wilson, ran through the accounts for 2014, showing United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) finances to be healthy. He also highlighted the increasing importance of hiring out Freemasons’ Hall to third parties as a source of income. 

Second Grand Principal George Francis and President of the Committee of General Purposes Malcolm Aish explained how the Royal Arch was faring. ‘The good news is that we had some magnificent figures on exaltations for 2014,’ said George, congratulating attendees for the results that return the Royal Arch to the level it was at six to eight years ago. ‘We’re now hitting the 50 per cent mark of initiations so the prospects for the Royal Arch really do look rather good. I think there’s still more to be done.’ 

Provincial Grand Master for Warwickshire David Macey looked at the progress being made with the membership database, ADelphi 2, which goes live at the end of July this year. Offering improved reporting capability and ease of use, ADelphi 2 will give Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents all the membership information they need, at their fingertips. David also stressed that a structured training plan is in place to offer support to everyone using the new system.  

Taking virtual steps

With the Papers of Business for Quarterly Communications circulated electronically for the first time in 2014, James Long from the Electronic Systems Committee explained why it was felt necessary to make this change. ‘We were prompted to some degree by looking to save money and make efficiency enhancements,’ said James, ‘but there was something else that actuated our motive here: we thought it entirely appropriate for a modern membership organisation. We must be responsive and reactive to what our members want.’ 

Looking at the need to improve communication within UGLE, James congratulated the attendees for embracing new technology. ‘There are many Provinces and Districts that have well-constructed, thought-through and properly controlled communication strategies on social media. What we have to do is learn from all of those,’ he said. ‘We’re going to continue to ensure that UGLE is making the best use of all electronic media for communication, both internal and external.’ 

Landmark events 

Next on the agenda was the 2017 Tercentenary, which starts with events around the country in January 2017 and culminates with a celebration at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 October 2017. Anthony Wilson said that Grand Lodge expects to offer seats at the Royal Albert Hall to each Province and District on the basis of one place for every 80-90 members. Grand Lodge wants to widen the participation and is looking at ways to screen the event live in all the Districts and Provinces. 

Staying on the subject of the Tercentenary, Provincial Grand Master for Somerset Stuart Hadler announced the design of a new branding for UGLE, which will make its appearance in the run up to 2017. While the coat of arms has for generations been a mark of status and standing in society, Stuart said: ‘Society has changed over the past 50 years and a coat of arms no longer communicates the image and messages that a modern membership organisation needs to convey. One might also observe that we are seeking no longer to be silent.’ 

Stuart went on to discuss how the Membership Focus Group (MFG), the BGP and the Rulers believe that a positive and attractive image is vital. ‘To preserve the integrity of the brand and achieve a corporate image, there is to be a strict protocol for us all to follow that will dictate how the symbol is to be used,’ he said, adding that Provinces and Districts will need to review and revise their existing paperwork by 24 June 2016. 

Future-proofing

Freemasonry’s image is just one of the areas being explored by the MFG. Tasked with assuring the long-term success of both the Craft and the Royal Arch, the MFG has been talking to Provinces about their experiences of recruitment and retention. Assistant Grand Secretary and MFG member Shawn Christie highlighted that many growing lodges hold vibrant meetings and regular social events that are open to non-masons. These provide an opportunity for prospective candidates to ask questions in an informal environment, learn more about Freemasonry and possibly, in time, join if both sides feel the fit is right. 

Provincial Grand Master for Nottinghamshire Robin Wilson explained that the road to retention starts with proper preparation. ‘For that to happen, the prospective members must be made aware of the essence of Freemasonry, what it involves and how it involves them,’ he said. For this to succeed, expectations must be managed: ‘Otherwise they could feel ambushed or disappointed by what they find on joining.’ (See here for more details about the MFG’s conclusions on membership retention.) 

Next on the podium, Deputy Metropolitan Grand Master Michael Ward discussed how MFG research into leadership and education showed that many people, if not most, are motivated to join Freemasonry with an expectation of self-development. ‘The opportunity for specific leadership and management development tends to emerge as our brethren get into more senior roles,’ said Michael, adding that while there is a wealth of information available in all the Provinces, there has been limited sharing of best practices. ‘Provinces are consequently reinventing and duplicating.’ 

Michael believes that there is a window of opportunity to develop and deliver high-quality training material using some of the best practices from around the Provinces. ‘This creates a huge potential for us to enrich members’ experiences and demonstrate that we have listened to and understood their needs. It also shows that we are committed to modernising while maintaining our traditions,’ he said. ‘The alternative is to ignore reality and ignore the needs of our members. Our future depends on inspiring and re-energising our membership. This can only be achieved with the full and active support of the Provincial Grand Masters and the Grand Superintendents.’ 

Malcolm Aish echoed Michael’s sentiments when he outlined the MFG’s proposed strategy for Freemasonry going forward, which had been circulated to the attendees prior to the meeting. ‘The MFG feels a coordinated approach will achieve greater success but it is each Province that should consider its participation and support – for it is you that will implement a large part of the agreed strategy.’ 

Grand plans 

Chairman of the MFG and Deputy President of the BGP, Ray Reed discussed the results from the annual survey for Provincial Grand Masters. He noted that 54 per cent of Provinces are providing training for new masters and 34 per cent for communications officers. ‘These must be two of the most important areas because they can make such a massive difference in our Provinces,’ said Ray. ‘It’s essential that we encourage those who don’t have training for lodge masters to contemplate giving it.’ 

In a 30-minute address, Ray touched on the need to innovate and speed up communication, adding that there is broad agreement on what the key areas for development are. ‘We’re talking about training and educating people, about effective mentoring and about best practice in recruitment, retention and retrieval,’ he said. ‘The MFG has sought to better understand the problems we face in Freemasonry and we are now ready to move from analysis to implementation.’

Ray ended on a strong message, saying ‘a successful future for Freemasonry will only come through quality leadership, consultation and collaboration’. 

The presentations at the Pro Grand Master’s Annual Briefing Meeting finished with a fitting quote from Henry Ford: ‘Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.’  

Published in UGLE

Quarterly Communication 

12 March 2014 
A Statement by The President of the Board of General Purposes, RW Bro Anthony Wilson, concerning Grande Loge Nationale Française (GLNF) 

MW Pro Grand Master and Brethren, in September last the Grand Chancellor made a short statement on our position with regard to the GLNF. The Board has continued to monitor the situation and I believe it would be useful for Grand Lodge to receive an update on the subject. The Board has been encouraged by the progress being made in restoring peace and harmony within the GLNF. A special meeting will be held in April at which the members of the GLNF will be invited to approve significant changes to their Constitution and Rules, which will return power to the Grand Lodge and its members. If those changes go through, the Board believes that it would be possible to consider restoring recognition to the GLNF in the near future. The Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland are of the same opinion.

Published in Speeches

Firm voice

An accountant by profession, Anthony Wilson explains why he brought modern business practice to Freemasonry when he became President of the Board of General Purposes ten years ago

How did you come into Freemasonry?

I’d been married to my wife for about a year and was spending a weekend down at my father-in-law’s. 

I noticed after lunch that he was walking around the garden with his brother. I knew he was a Freemason but I didn’t know that his brother was. They were deep in conversation and later he sidled up to me and asked if I’d ever thought of becoming a Freemason. I said I hadn’t, I knew about it but not in detail, so he told me what was necessary and proposed me for the Tuscan Lodge, No. 14. I was about twenty-six when I joined.

What drew you to the Craft?

Initially, what attracted me was the intrigue of finding out what Freemasonry was about, but once I’d been through the ceremonies my whole view of it changed. It was relaxed but there was also a formality – it wasn’t an easy ride. Don’t just expect to get things out of it; put things into it and you’ll get enjoyment. I realised that there was a lot of knowledge, that it was telling you a story linked to your values and that it gelled with what I stood for in life. The other aspect I was grateful for was that it brought me into contact with a large number of people I wouldn’t otherwise have met. 

How did you become President of the Board of General Purposes?

One thing I’ve learned from Freemasonry is that although you don’t expect things to come along, somehow people notice you. I was asked to sit on a committee to look at the future of London, which brought me into contact with the Rulers and the Grand Secretary. From that I was asked to become a member of the old Board of General Purposes. 

When the old Board was restructured I came off it but was subsequently asked if I would become President of the Committee of General Purposes, which is the equivalent to the Board of General Purposes for the Royal Arch. Having been President of that for about three years, I was asked if I would like to become President of the Board, which I had already rejoined on becoming President of the Committee. This is my tenth anniversary in the position.

What does the Board do?

We’re responsible for the governance of the Craft; the relationship between individual lodges and the Grand Lodge; the relations between Grand Lodge and the Provincial Grand Masters; the relations with recognised foreign Grand Lodges; the finances of the Craft and its assets – of which Freemasons’ Hall is one. We set the membership dues to run the services at the centre of the Craft and we manage the PR with the outside world. Very largely, we do everything apart from the ceremonial side. What I do as President would not be possible without the Deputy President, the Grand Treasurer, the Grand Secretary and the whole team at Freemasons’ Hall. It’s very much a collegiate affair – we’re a team and I’m very fortunate with the support and counsel I get. 

What drew you to the business of Freemasonry?

My background is in chartered accountancy and I’ve always been interested in business and how you can improve it. Working on the Board was a way of helping the running of Freemasonry that wasn’t purely ceremonial but rather administrative. When I was in the profession, one of the first audits I did was for the Grand Lodge 250th Anniversary Fund, which is a charity that sponsors research fellowships with the Royal College of Surgeons. I didn’t think that some twenty years later I’d be approached to become a trustee for that – it’s funny the way the world moves.

How did the old Board function?

Pre-1999, the Board of General Purposes met eight times a year. It consisted of nearly fifty people and all its business was done through a number of committees in the morning which reported to the full Board in the afternoon – it wasn’t an environment in which discussion ever took place. It had the hangover from thirty to forty years ago when Freemasonry wasn’t so much run by the Rulers, who were more titular and ceremonial, but by the then Grand Secretary and the President of the Board. They would basically decide what they wanted and the Board was there to serve that way of doing business. 

How is the Board different now?

It’s much more transparent. Gavin Purser spent a lot of time working on a new structure when he was President to create a Board of about twelve people who meet six times a year. It really is a better way of conducting business. We have proper discussions and I don’t think over my ten years that we’ve had to vote on anything because consensus has come from discussion. It’s a much better forum where each member is now an active contributor. We also sit in a boardroom where everyone can hear each other; the old boardroom had a wonderful dais at the top and the rest of the tables were set in a horseshoe shape, so if you were in the south of the room you couldn’t hear what someone was saying in the north – you could just about hear the podium. The Rulers have also become more involved, which is a great advancement, and I work with them closely. 

How have things changed during your presidency?

Change is slow because you’ve got to take the members with you. One of the things I’m very proud of is advancing professionalism in the way in which the Craft is run. The organisation that supports the Grand Secretary has been streamlined; it’s more efficient than ten years ago because we’ve brought in standards you’d expect to find in business. There’s also much greater willingness to accept the culture of change in this building. The staff see the benefits and I would like to think the whole working environment has improved. 

Is the Board structured differently?

We’ve increased our focus on the outside world. In the old days, dealing with the foreign Grand Lodges was handled by the Grand Secretary who also dealt with internal affairs and our members. Together with the Rulers, we saw the need for someone who would just focus on external relations and so created the role of Grand Chancellor. 

Is managing Freemasons’ Hall a challenge? 

By far the largest asset we have is Freemasons’ Hall and a lot has happened here over the past ten years – we had to strip out asbestos, which was a nightmare because it was everywhere. When the Hall was built, asbestos was what you used for safety and it took three or four years to strip it out while still allowing the building to be used for purpose. The new maintenance challenge is what’s called Regent Street Disease, which is named after buildings in that street that were built around a steel frame – a very popular method in the 1920s. Unfortunately, the steel and what surrounded it weren’t always fully airtight so the steel was capable of rusting. Freemasons’ Hall is one of the first all-steel-frame buildings so has the disease, but we’re tackling it – we’re very proud of this building. 

What is modern Freemasonry? 

When I took the role on, what worried me was Freemasonry no longer being relevant to the society we lived in. If you look over the years of our membership, numbers peak and trough. Membership has always been high when we filled a much-needed role in society but that changes because society changes. So that’s something we’re looking at more and more, to find that relevance. One of the things I feel very strongly about is that Freemasonry has to fit in with your family life – we’ve got to keep an eye on that, to make sure that members don’t focus too much on their Freemasonry to the detriment of their family. 

What’s being planned for 2017?

The tercentenary will increasingly take up our focus and we have a working party looking at key elements. We believe very strongly that this will be a time for our members to celebrate – as the premier Grand Lodge of the world we will involve the foreign Grand Lodges, but we won’t lose sight of the fact that it’s a celebration by our members, of our members. 

Published in UGLE

Quarterly Communication

12 September 2012 
Statements by the President of the Board of General Purposes and the Grand Chancellor concerning Grande Loge Nationale Française (GLNF)

The President of the Board of General Purposes, RW Bro Anthony Wilson:

MW Pro Grand Master and brethren, I believe that there is nothing in the Board’s Report that calls for comment, except for the paragraphs relating to the National Grand Lodge of France, and even they are largely self-explanatory. Since this Grand Lodge suspended relations with the GLNF twelve months ago the Board has continued to monitor the situation. It is clear that the GLNF is not in full control of its own affairs. For well over a year its administration and finances have been under the control of a Court appointed administrator, Maitre Legrand. She, although not a Freemason or a member of the GLNF, is currently organising the nominations for and election of a new Grand Master.

To complicate matters further, we understand that at the end of April a group of members of the GLNF and their Lodges broke away and formed a new Grand Lodge which now claims over 10,000 members and more than 500 Lodges. It has just been announced that a further group has broken away and is intent on forming yet another Grand Lodge. It is, therefore, becoming impossible to know who are and who are not bona fide members of the GLNF, which at this moment remains the only Grand Lodge in France recognised by this Grand Lodge.

The Board is aware that, if its recommendation is accepted by Grand Lodge, a number of our members who have joint memberships will need to decide with which constitution they will remain. The Board regrets this but it has a duty to have regard to the best interests of the whole English Craft and in the present circumstances believes those interests will be best served by withdrawing recognition from the GLNF. One hundred years ago members of this Grand Lodge were materially involved in the formation of the GLNF and the return of regular Freemasonry to France: for this and other reasons, the Board’s recommendation was not reached lightly but only after considerable discussion and consultation.

It is important to emphasise that in making this recommendation the Board is not stating that the GLNF or its members are in any way irregular, nor will the withdrawal of recognition of itself make them so. They will, however, become unrecognised though capable of being re-recognised at some future point. For that reason the Board has not entered into discussion with any of the other bodies claiming to represent regular Freemasonry in France nor does it have any intention at the present time of recommending to this Grand Lodge the recognition of any other Grand Lodge in France.

Indeed, we have just learnt that in the last few days a candidate for the Grand Mastership has been nominated. His name will go forward for approval by a General Meeting of the GLNF. The Board will continue to monitor events in France and hopes that this may be the first step – and I emphasise the words “the first step” - towards normalising relations between our two Grand Lodges. In the meantime, however, this event does not change the Board’s recommendation to withdraw recognition.

The Grand Chancellor, VW Bro Derek Dinsmore:

MW Pro Grand Master and brethren, in moving the resolution standing in my name at item 3 of the Paper of Business may I add to the President’s comment on the regularity of the GLNF. Although it has serious internal problems we believe that the Lodges and members of the GLNF are working in a regular manner. Withdrawal of recognition will not of itself affect the GLNF’s regularity and it will be capable of re-recognition. There is a long established, fundamental principle of Masonic international relations that where Freemasonry exists within a territory, whether or not it is formally recognised, that territory is closed to other Grand Lodges, and the latter should not set up lodges there. Despite the growing number of Grand Lodges which are withdrawing recognition from the GLNF, France remains closed territory and this Grand Lodge would not look kindly on any other Grand Lodge which attempted to invade French territory by setting up Lodges there or taking into its jurisdiction Lodges warranted by the GLNF.

MW Pro Grand Master and Brethren, for the reasons given in the Report of the Board of General Purposes, I move that recognition of be withdrawn.

Grand Lodge subsequently voted to approve the motion that recognition be withdrawn from the Grande Loge Nationale Française (GLNF) with immediate effect. 

Published in UGLE
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