Celebrating 300 years

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

Peak Time Viewing

With a new documentary series revealing the workings of the Craft, Edwin Smith talks to Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes about why this is the perfect opportunity for Freemasonry

For certain members of the general public a misconception persists that Freemasonry is a mysterious organisation shrouded in secrecy. A Sky 1 five-part television documentary series that debuted on 17 April is hoping to finally put these rumours to bed.

Coinciding with the celebration of the Craft’s 300-year anniversary, the timing of Inside The Freemasons could not have been better. ‘We’ve targeted the Tercentenary as a catalyst to being as open as we possibly can,’ says Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes, adding that the decision to let the cameras in does not signify a major shift in philosophy. ‘I actually don’t think our openness is anything new. What is new is the way we’re going about it.’

The series meets members of the Craft at every level, from the Pro Grand Master to James Wootton, a Bedfordshire farmer preparing to take the First Degree under the watchful eye of his father in the first of the five episodes. The second and third episodes follow the fortunes of an Entered Apprentice and a Fellow Craft Freemason undertaking the Second and Third Degrees. After an introduction to Freemasonry in the first episode, each programme takes a theme, exploring masonic charity, brotherhood, myths and the future of the Craft.

BEHIND THE SCENES

It took a year of discussion before the project got off the ground, with the episodes then taking a further year in the making, explains Emma Read, executive producer and managing director of Emporium Productions, the company behind the documentary series.

‘These things always take a long time because everyone’s got to be comfortable [with the process]. But once we started, everyone was 100 per cent committed,’ says Read, who was also responsible for 2013’s Harrow: A Very British School documentary series and has made over 1,000 hours of factual television for the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky and Discovery.

Read believes that UGLE felt comfortable working with Emporium and Sky because they specialise in getting access to institutions and individuals who have a reputation to protect, but about whom there are misconceptions.

‘The way that we make programmes with people is to explain that we are not here to express our opinion – this is not investigative, this is not current affairs, this is a proper documentary where we show people and places as they are,’ explains Read. ‘We film people going about their various activities and they then tell the story themselves. It could also have been called “The Freemasons in their Own Words”. It’s that kind of approach.’

With two small teams carrying out the filming, recording for hundreds of days in total, Lowndes was impressed with the discreet way in which the project was managed. ‘They’ve been very unobtrusive and therefore got the best out of people,’ he says.

‘The most effective way to make observational documentary is not with a hoard of people,’ adds Read. ‘In observational documentary, or in fact in any television, the relationship with the people you’re filming with is everything. Why would somebody allow you to carry on filming if they didn’t like you? I wouldn’t. You have to have trust on both sides or it doesn’t work.’

‘In observational documentary, or in fact in any television, the relationship with the people you’re filming with is everything. You have to have trust on both sides or it doesn’t work’ Emma Read

A DEGREE OF SURPRISE

Despite the levels of trust, certain elements of Freemasonry had to remain off camera. Some of the Second Degree is filmed, but almost nothing of the First or the Third appears on screen. ‘Naturally we would have liked to film elements of both the First and Third Degrees,’ says Read, ‘but that was where the line was drawn. As a mason, you only do those once and each is supposed to be this amazing moment – so if you know what’s coming, it’ll spoil it.’

Read did discover a great deal about Freemasonry, however, and was struck by the scale of the charitable work that is done – ‘they hide their light under a bushel, I think’ – as well as the powerful bond of brotherhood that exists throughout the Craft.

In particular, there were two men whose stories resonated with Read. The first, Peter Younger, draws on the support of his fellow Widows Sons masonic bikers after unexpectedly losing his wife, and the mother of his seven-year-old daughter, after she suffered a heart attack. The second, Gulf War veteran Dave Stubbs, recounts the way that he used to sit up at night and feel as though he had ‘been thrown away’ after leaving the army. Later, says Read, ‘we see him being elected and installed as Worshipful Master of his lodge, which is a tearful moment’.

Read expects the series to draw a varied range of responses from the public. ‘My feeling is that some people will have this ridiculous, conspiratorial approach and say, “You’re not showing X, Y and Z.” There will be other people who already love Freemasonry and hopefully there will be some people who go, “Oh that’s interesting, I didn’t know that. It’s completely opened my eyes to it.”’

Although Lowndes expects some concerns from within the brotherhood, he’s anticipating a positive response overall. ‘I’m sure there will be criticism from some of our brethren that we should never have got involved with the documentary. There will no doubt be things in it that some people think we should not have done. However, the general impression I have is that it will be well received – I think we’ll get a lot of support both internally and externally.’

Marking the Tercentenary of Freemasonry naturally raises the question of what the next 300 years will hold. ‘I think we have a very exciting future ahead,’ says Lowndes. ‘We now have more young people coming in and I think we’re giving them better chances to find their feet in Freemasonry than ever before. Within that age group, I can’t remember the Craft being in better shape.’

Published in UGLE

Annual Investiture of Supreme Grand Chapter

27 April 2017 
An address by the ME Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes

Companions, may I start by congratulating all those whom I have invested today and remind you that, whilst it recognises all that you have done so far, there is an expectation placed upon you for further endeavours to promote our Holy Royal Arch, thus ensuring its continued success in the future.

You can be forgiven for thinking that this year is all about the Craft – it is its Tercentenary year – but I am sure you all recognise that, the more successful the Craft is in attracting new members, so the greater is our opportunity for capitalising on this success for the benefit of the Royal Arch. It is not all that long ago that we seemed satisfied with 30% of Craft masons joining the Royal Arch. This never seemed anywhere near sufficient and we should be aiming for nearer 50%. We are undoubtedly making progress in that respect. It is a unique opportunity so let us all enjoy the year and use it to promote our Order.

For us in the Royal Arch it is the 50th anniversary of our First Grand Principal, HRH The Duke of Kent being installed as such and he has asked me to let you know that, in recognition of this milestone, he wishes to award a number of extra Grand Ranks. The details of how these will be awarded will be made known in due course but we very much hope that His Royal Highness will be able to carry out that Investiture in November this year.

Companions, we all know that our Grand Director of Ceremonies and his team are very accomplished at organising these events but on your behalf I must congratulate them on another splendid performance. Similarly, our Grand Scribe Ezra and his staff have once again put a tremendous effort into ensuring that you all enjoy the proceedings and so well done to them.

Finally, my sincere thanks to you all for coming along to support your friends who I have invested today.

Published in Speeches

Highlights of today's unveiling of the memorial to Freemasons awarded the Victoria Cross during The Great War 1914 - 1918.

Published in UGLE
Wednesday, 08 March 2017 13:16

Pro Grand Master's address - March 2017

Quarterly Communication

8 March 2017 
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes

Brethren, it seems that we have been anticipating 2017 for longer than I care to remember and now we have arrived and I hope we have all been looking forward to our celebrations with great excitement and expectation. It is vital that these celebrations do not disappoint and, from what I have seen and heard so far and from what I know will be happening in the future, they most certainly will not disappoint.

From my point of view there was an early kick off in our District of East Africa who held a terrific celebration in Dar es Salaam last August. The District described the event as a Masonic Conference. That may well be the case, but to me it seemed like a 3-day party, superbly organised and attended by many of our Districts in Africa and elsewhere. I was also able to see the extraordinary charitable work that our brethren have carried out in that District which I am sure is mirrored elsewhere. Since then the Deputy Grand Master has been to Bombay. He can’t, of course, compare this event to Dar es Salaam, but he reports extremely favourably about it.

Between myself and the Deputy and Assistant Grand Masters we will be visiting most of our Districts or gatherings of our Districts during the year and I am quite certain that they will all make us proud that they are part of UGLE and that they will use every opportunity to advance the cause of Freemasonry in their parts of the world.

It is, of course, equally important that our Provinces take up the challenge in the same way and I am in absolutely no doubt that this will be the case. There are far too many events being organised around the country for me to start trying to highlight them. I hope it is true to say that all Provinces, who have asked for the Rulers to visit, are being visited either by the current Rulers or Past Rulers, no doubt I shall be told later if this is not the case, but we have tried very hard to ensure that we do get everywhere and I am most grateful to MW Bro Lord Northampton, PPGM and RW Bros David Williamson and George Francis PAstGMs for giving so readily of their time to help us out. We will be attending services in many of our great cathedrals and this started when the Grand Master visited Canterbury last month.

Our Provinces have been most original in their planning of events and I am sure they will all be a great success – they certainly deserve to be so with the amount of time and effort that numerous brethren have put in to the organisation. At the same time individual lodges and groups of lodges are really entering in to the spirit of the occasion.

It is not just at home that this milestone is being recognised and many of our sister Grand Lodges are celebrating with us. Indeed I was invited to the Grand Lodge of Denmark in January and they made our tercentenary very much the central theme. During their meeting they announced that our Grand Master was to become an Honorary Member of the Order of Danish Freemasons, Grand Lodge of Denmark and I had the privilege of receiving this honour on behalf of the Grand Master.

How are we going to know whether the year has been a success. It will be very easy to sit back and bask in reflected glory. This must not happen. The year is a tremendous opportunity to put all the great things that Freemasonry stands for in front of the public. We must not and will not waste this chance. The five programmes to be shown on Sky1 at 8.00pm on five consecutive Mondays commencing on April 17th, will, I believe, go a long way to displaying to the public at large what we stand for and the tremendous amount of work we put into the community both by way of financial charitable giving and by physical help to those who need it. I fear not everyone will be able to receive Sky1, but do tell all your friends about it – who knows they might ask you to come and watch it with them. Some will, no doubt, consider that we have taken a huge risk by opening ourselves up in this way, but I am in no doubt that, having been given the chance, we would have thrown away the biggest opportunity we have, perhaps, ever had for getting our story across, had we not proceeded.

In addition a further DVD has been prepared by the makers of the Documentaries for distribution – I should probably say sale – to our members and to the general public. I strongly recommend that you try to gain access to all the above.

In a perfect world at the end of the year we will see our numbers soaring and the press, printing story after story about how wonderful Freemasonry is. I am not naive enough to believe that this will be the case immediately, but I shall be very disappointed if we don’t see an increase in our membership, perhaps, just small to start with, but improving gradually as time goes on. In addition it will be fascinating to see what the press, as a whole, make of our opening our doors to such an extent.

These are exciting times brethren, let us all make the most of them.

Published in Speeches
Wednesday, 08 March 2017 00:00

Grand Secretary's column - Spring 2017

From the Grand Secretary

By the time you receive this issue, our Tercentenary year will be well under way and our Rulers will have already attended overseas events in Denmark, Mumbai, India, and Zakynthos, Greece, at our unattached Star of the East Lodge, No. 880. His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent has also attended a church service at Canterbury Cathedral for the Provinces of East and West Kent, Sussex and Surrey. We now await the broadcast in April of the long-anticipated Sky TV documentary Inside The Freemasons.

It is an exciting year as we build towards our showpiece event at the end of October. So far, it is likely that we will welcome around 160 Grand Lodges from around the world to celebrate with us at the Royal Albert Hall and look forward to our next 300 years. We now need to build on our successes and use this year to show ourselves as the vibrant and relevant organisation which is Freemasonry.

Looking forward to the Tercentenary in this issue of Freemasonry Today, Keith Gilbert highlights the planning and organisation of celebratory events taking place across not just the UK but the entire world. As Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes notes in his Senior Insights column, these are exciting times, so we should celebrate in style by showing our pride in being Freemasons.

When it comes to showing the best in Freemasonry, Spinnaker Lodge in the Province of Hampshire & Isle of Wight is a shining beacon. We find out how its members are encouraging younger Freemasons into the Craft with a shared interest in all things sailing. The sixth specialist lodge in the Province to be consecrated in the past four years, Spinnaker will be visiting new marinas and hosting social events at sailing clubs to raise both its own profile and that of Freemasonry in 2017.

Best foot forward

In the north-west of England, we meet a 54-strong group of Freemasons, their families and friends who trekked across Morecambe Bay. Cumberland & Westmorland Provincial Grand Master Norman Thompson and his intrepid travellers not only raised money to help victims of the Cumbria floods, but also showed how Freemasonry is connecting with local communities. The team joined some 1,000 walkers at Arnside Promenade to brave the wet and puddled sands for a memorable day that is now an annual event in the Provincial calendar.

The opportunities for Freemasonry are not just in the face we show the world, but are also in our governance, our leadership, our retention and our management of masonic halls. The Chairman of the Improvement Delivery Group, David Wootton, reports on how he and his team are leading the implementation and delivery of our agreed strategy for Freemasonry to 2020. As David notes, there is much to do but also much to enjoy.

Willie Shackell
Grand Secretary

‘We need to use this year to show ourselves as vibrant and relevant’

Published in UGLE

A year to be proud of

From fundraising to the formation of new masons clubs, Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes reflects  on the reasons to celebrate Freemasonry in 2017

I have received a copy of the Report of the New and Young Masons Clubs’ Conference and was delighted to learn just how well the clubs are progressing with more than 30 established across London and the Provinces. This is a fantastic achievement and I would encourage those new Freemasons in Provinces without such a club to consider setting one up. You would have our full support and I am sure you would be greatly encouraged by your Provincial hierarchy.

I have asked Gareth Jones, Provincial Grand Master for South Wales and Third Grand Principal, to act as the focal point for the movement. It really is a splendid initiative and I congratulate all those involved.

Shared achievement

I have frequently said how proud we should be of all our charities, and not just the big four. They all do tremendous work. The astonishing sum of £14.5 million was raised through the hard work of our brethren. The Hampshire & Isle of Wight Festival total of nearly £7.75 million is the highest total ever achieved.

Across the board, the money raised per capita by all four Provinces in Festival during 2016 was extraordinary and of a similar level. Your generosity is not taken for granted and is greatly appreciated.

The Masonic Charitable Foundation has launched a scheme to give £3 million to your local charities next year in recognition of both its own formation and, of course, our Tercentenary. This not only shows your generosity but is also aimed at promoting our involvement in the community.

Cause for celebration

I know that some of you have become frustrated at not being able to get hold of a Tercentenary Jewel. Please be assured that there are now plenty available in Letchworth’s Shop. Unfortunately, initial demand far outstripped supply. In spite of your frustration, may I ask you to beware of cheap imitations. Sadly, they do exist and are being offered at a very reduced price, but they are unauthorised and unlawful copies. We are working closely with the Provinces to get them all removed.

The forthcoming Sky documentary entitled Inside The Freemasons gives us a great opportunity to capitalise on the publicity being generated, and we anticipate that other high-profile events throughout the year will keep us in the public eye and produce some really positive results.

These are exciting times; let us celebrate in style by showing our pride in and talking about our membership. I am absolutely certain that we will all enjoy a splendid year in 2017.

‘Your generosity is not taken for granted and is greatly appreciated’

Published in UGLE
Tuesday, 07 March 2017 00:00

Memorial wood marks Tercentenary

Leicestershire & Rutland PGM David Hagger and the trustees of the Bradgate Park Trust marked the commencement of the first tree clearance for the reflection area of the memorial wood at Bradgate Park, Leicestershire.

The memorial wood, located opposite the Cropston Reservoir, is being funded by the Province and the United Grand Lodge of England to enhance a small woodland at the park to create a tranquil and reflective space. It is one of a number of Provincial projects to mark the 300th anniversary of the formation of English Freemasonry in 1717. It will be officially opened on 5 October by Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016 09:18

Pro Grand Master's address - December 2016

Quarterly Communication

14 December 2016 
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes

Brethren, our December meeting is always one of the best attended and I am really encouraged to see so many of you here today. In particular well done to Lincolnshire with over 100 members travelling here; 40 from Wiltshire; 20 all the way from Yorkshire, West Riding and, I believe, that there are 16 newly installed Masters from Oxfordshire. Since we changed the rules to allow Master Masons to attend Grand Lodge we have had an excellent display of light blue aprons and they are very much in evidence again today. Bearing in mind work commitments and the eccentricities of our transport system it is a tremendous effort.

I have recently received a copy of the Report of the New and Young Masons Clubs’ Conference and was delighted to learn just how well the clubs are progressing with over 30 established across London and the Provinces. This is a fantastic achievement and I would encourage those new masons in Provinces without such a club to consider setting one up. You would have our full support and I am sure you would be greatly encouraged by your Provincial hierarchy. Indeed, I have asked RW Bro Gareth Jones, Provincial Grand Master for South Wales and Third Grand Principal to act as the focal point here for the movement. It really is a splendid initiative and I congratulate all those involved.

We have heard a lot about charity during the course of today and I have frequently said how proud we should be of all our charities, and not just the big four. They all do tremendous work. You have already heard that during the course of this year the astonishing sum of £14.5m was raised through the hard work of our brethren. The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Festival total of nearly £7.75m is the highest total ever. I can’t believe, brethren, that it was all down to me having moved into Hampshire last year. I suspect that is purely coincidental. Across the board the money raised per capita by all four Provinces in Festival during 2016 was extraordinary and of a similar level. Brethren, your generosity is not taken for granted and is greatly appreciated.

You have also heard from the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) about their scheme to give to your local charities £3m next year in recognition of both their own formation and, of course, our Tercentenary. This not only shows your generosity but is also aimed at promoting our involvement in the community.

Brethren, I know that some of you have become frustrated at not being able to get hold of a Tercentenary Jewel. Please be assured that there are now plenty available in the Letchworth’s shop. Unfortunately, initial demand far outstripped supply. In spite of your frustration, may I ask you to beware of cheap imitations. Sadly they do exist and are being offered at a very reduced price, but they are unauthorised and unlawful copies. We are working closely with the Provinces to get them all removed.

The Deputy Grand Master mentioned that the Sky documentary titled Inside Freemasonry would be shown in January. However this has been put back to the Spring. I have seen three of these so far – there are five in all – and have been most encouraged at the sensitive way that we have been portrayed by Emporium, the makers of the film. I would like to thank those Provinces, lodges and, perhaps most of all, those individuals who have so willingly participated.

This gives us a great opportunity in the early part of the year to capitalise on the publicity being generated and we anticipate that other high profile events throughout the year will keep us in the public eye and produce some really positive results. These are exciting times and let us celebrate in style by showing our pride in and talking about our membership. I am absolutely certain that we will all enjoy a splendid year in 2017.

In the meantime, I thank you all for what you have done for Freemasonry in preparing for next year. Keep the enthusiasm going and have a very happy Christmas.

Published in Speeches

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.

Published in UGLE
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