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
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

The perfect complement

For Gareth Jones, the roles of South Wales PGM, Third Grand Principal and Deputy Chairman of the Improvement Delivery Group (IDG) share a number of common goals – in particular, ensuring a strong future for the Craft and Royal Arch

How has your career built up to this moment?

I retired this time last year. I had been a civil servant for nearly 37 years, working in a variety of roles – from private secretary to a cabinet minister in the Thatcher government, to head of operations for Wales during the foot and mouth crisis, to Registrar of Companies for the UK, and finally director general for national resources in the Welsh government. I say retire, but that’s a bit of a misnomer because I’m still very busy doing my masonic activities and some non-executive work.

I saw the civil service going through massive changes. Over the years there was a realisation that it needed to deliver more efficiencies as well as respond to increasing customer expectations.

We went from an environment where people were pretty risk-averse to a huge explosion of expectations that meant change was the only show in town.

There are quite a few parallels with Freemasonry in that regard because there has been an increasing realisation in the Craft and the Royal Arch that we’ve got to change if we are to survive and flourish.

How has Freemasonry changed?

Society is changing around us – people are less deferential than they used to be, they have busy lives, and families rightly expect to be involved more in what their partners do. There is also a need for better relations and good engagement with local communities. And all of this feeds into a clear agenda for us to change.

Freemasonry is like any big organisation; whether it be public sector or private sector, there will be some people who are reluctant or resistant to change and some who are prepared to lead that change and embrace it. The difference between Freemasonry and professional organisations is that while we’re here to develop, we’re also here to enjoy ourselves. The fact that we’re mostly volunteers in some ways makes it even more difficult to drive change.

One of the key challenges that faces Freemasonry now is that, over the years, we haven’t set out clearly enough who is responsible for what and therefore who is accountable for what. That’s arguably why Freemasonry found itself in the situation where it was losing so many members in an unplanned way. Nobody was actually responsible and no one could be held accountable because a clear framework of accountability hadn’t been established.

Does that framework exist now?

This is work in progress. Freemasonry is by and large populated by people who believe in traditional values and traditional ways of doing things. So you can’t change things overnight, but there’s been a realisation among the Rulers and among Provinces and Districts that we have got to establish such a framework and drive changes within that context.

In establishing the strategy for 2020, which was sent out to brethren in December last year, there is now a real framework for change. It’s a strategy within which we can deliver improvements in a realistic timescale – not that we will stop in 2020; continuous improvement has to be the order of the day from now on.

‘Continuous improvement has to be the order of the day from now on.’

When did you become a Freemason?

It was in 1984 via my rugby club in Cardiff. My brother and I had been interested in Freemasonry... not that we knew very much about it. I think I relied on the fact that the members of the lodge I knew were people I liked and respected.

For me, Freemasonry moved beyond membership of my lodge and chapter when I was asked to sit on an organising committee for a festival event in 1999. I enjoyed this greater involvement and in the same year I was appointed to my first Provincial office when we had a new Provincial Grand Master (PGM). He was getting out and about a lot more, so I spent time with him travelling around the Province. This eventually led to me being appointed as the Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies in 2004. At that point, I was also starting to get more involved with other Provinces, meeting new people and broadening my outlook on Freemasonry very considerably.

How was the progression to Provincial Grand Master?

After serving as Assistant and Deputy PGM, I was appointed to the role in 2013. I’ve had nothing but enjoyment as PGM. One never dares to think that one will get that job but, when asked, it was one that I seized very enthusiastically and I had great support from my wife and family, as well as the understanding of my lodge and chapter.

South Wales is quite a big Province. We have 163 lodges based over a wide geographical area; there are some large urban areas with many lodges and then quite a few small rural and semi-rural areas with just a handful. So it’s quite an eclectic mix.

But the thing that binds it together is that it’s a very friendly and happy environment within which we all enjoy our Freemasonry. It’s an environment that is very caring and I like to think that we do a lot to improve our relations with communities as well as help those who need support.

One of the things that I learned from my professional career in terms of managing organisations is that you can never communicate too much and you can never communicate in too many ways. There are still a lot of brethren who like to be communicated with face-to-face, but there are an increasing number who like to be communicated with electronically via a good-quality website or social media. We have tried in South Wales to embrace all possible channels of communication.

‘We need to make sure that we have the tools in place for leaders in Provinces to take good decisions.’

Did your appointment as Third Grand Principal creep up on you?

It didn’t creep up on me; it jumped out at me! I was lucky enough, in autumn last year, to be asked by the Pro First Grand Principal whether I would be prepared to take on the role of Third Grand Principal. I didn’t have to think very long about the answer. The Royal Arch has always been really important to me.

I have always believed it important for brethren to join the Royal Arch when the time is right for them, but hopefully before they attain the Chair in the Craft. Not only does it complete the pure and ancient Freemasonry story, it is a beautiful and enjoyable ceremony and a significant contributor to improving retention.

The roles of PGM and Third Grand Principal dovetail with each other very neatly. I am not, and never have been, the Grand Superintendent of my Province, although in many Provinces the PGM and Grand Superintendent are the same. Both the Grand Superintendent of South Wales and I believe that my two roles provide an ideal opportunity to encourage more Craft masons in South Wales to join the Royal Arch.

There are some issues that are specific to the Craft, such as the whole concept of recruitment at the outset, but with the Royal Arch being the completion of one’s journey in Freemasonry we have been very keen to ensure that the Royal Arch is part of everything we’re doing in the context of the Improvement Delivery Group (IDG). Grand Superintendents need to feel that they are fully a part of this whole change agenda.

Can you explain what your work with the IDG entails?

The Membership Focus Group was a creature of the Board of General Purposes. We realised last year that we needed to go beyond the realms of surveying, strategising and thinking about the future to a point of saying, ‘Right, we’ve actually got to start delivering some of these priorities.’

We recognise that one size definitely does not fit all. Different Provinces have different priorities, different structures, different sizes and different geographical make-ups, so the idea is to provide options, a toolkit of best practice.

It’s not an overnight job. The strategy is a 2020 strategy and we need to make sure that we have the tools in place for leaders in Provinces to take good decisions as to how they drive things forward.

Is the IDG setting hard or soft targets?

I think both, to be honest. There are a few hard-edged targets in the strategy – for example, reducing the number of brethren who resign shortly after they’re initiated, and turning around the decline in membership. But there are some much softer things as well that are equally important, around helping PGMs and Grand Superintendents realise that action does have to be taken to ensure the sustainability of the Craft and the Royal Arch in their Provinces.

We as members have to make some conscious decisions to make changes to improve Freemasonry for the future and to ensure that it moves with the times, meets people’s expectations better and provides enjoyment for our members and their families while still not forgetting our responsibility to help others.

By 2020, I’d like to be answering questions about how successful the IDG has been. It would be very nice to think we’ll be answering questions about why it is that our image seems to have improved so markedly, as well as our relations with community groups more generally. And from a Royal Arch perspective, it would be lovely to think I’ll be answering questions about why the Royal Arch has become so popular right across England, Wales and our Districts.

Published in UGLE

Regular Convocation of Supreme Grand Chapter

9 November 2016 
An address by the ME Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes

Companions, I am very pleased to see so many of you here both from our Districts overseas and from our Provinces, including sixty companions from Cambridgeshire.  Since our last meeting in April the Most Excellent First Grand Principal has been pleased to appoint Comp Willie Shackell as Grand Scribe Ezra and we wish him well. He was, of course, formally invested as Grand Secretary at the June Quarterly Communication.

This meeting, companions, always falls near to 11th November, Armistice Day, and as you are well aware this marvellous building is a peace memorial to all those who gave their lives for us during the First World War. It is worth, therefore, drawing your attention to two events taking place next year.

The first is on 18th April 2017 at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, when the newly constructed Masonic Memorial Garden in memory of all those masons who gave their lives during conflict in the service of our country will be opened. You are all invited.

The second is the unveiling of the Victoria Cross Memorial by the Grand Master on 25th April 2017. It will be placed on the pavement in front of the Tower Entrance of this building and will take the form of a number of paving stones with the names of the 63 Victoria Cross holders who were awarded the Victoria Cross in World War I and who were members of UGLE. Of these, 17 were also companions in the Royal Arch.

Companions, this seems to be an appropriate time to say a few words about Comp Denis Beckett who was one of the companions we stood in memory of earlier in the meeting. Comp Beckett was a very remarkable man and I had the good fortune to know him well. Indeed he was President of the Committee of General Purposes when I joined it in 1987. He was a Craft mason for 71 years and a Royal Arch mason for 59 years. He was initiated immediately after World War 2 in which he served with such distinction. He was awarded the DSO for his extraordinary courage during the battle of Monte Cassino. There were those who felt a VC would have been more appropriate.

Companions, we were privileged to have him as a member and particularly so that he presided over the Committee of General Purposes for 7 years.

Companions, whilst it is clearly important to remember the past, we must also look to the future. I am therefore very pleased that the successor to the Membership Focus Group, the Improvement Delivery Group, is composed of both Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents, with our Third Grand Principal, Gareth Jones, as its Deputy Chairman. It will be designing and delivering the future direction of both the Craft and Royal Arch.

Companions, you may have seen that, after my address at Quarterly Communications in June, I have been accused in the national media of suggesting that masons are all grumpy and boring – a misrepresentation, companions. At least I consider it to be a misrepresentation, but, if any of you think otherwise, I apologise. I said that if an amusing incident occurs at one of our meetings, it should not be frowned upon as had sometimes been the case in the past. It is not a capital offence to smile during meetings. Whilst I was not suggesting we should turn our meetings into a pantomime, there is no harm in us being seen to enjoy ourselves.

I believe this to be particularly so in the Royal Arch, as our Exaltation Ceremony is one of the finest and, in my experience, candidates derive great enjoyment from it. I think this is particularly so when the new format of the ritual is used which involves more of the companions and has the benefit of changing the voice that the candidate hears which I always feel refreshes his interest.

Finally, since Supreme Grand Chapter arranged the refurbishment of our magnificent organ, we have been treated to a number of superb concerts in this temple and I congratulate the Organ Committee on its achievements to date. I am very keen to draw your attention to the next concert at 5.00 pm, on 14th December, after the Quarterly Communication, to be given by the international concert artist, Jane Parker-Smith. The concerts are free, companions, and, so far, they have been wonderfully entertaining, and I am quite certain that this will be no exception.

Companions, I have no doubt that after our closing, you will enjoy listening to a team from the Royal College of Surgeons led by Professor Neil Mortensen, RCS Research Board Chairman at Oxford University, who will enlighten us on what has been achieved through your most generous support.

Thank you, companions.

Published in Speeches

Actions speak loudest

At a special roundtable held at Freemasons’ Hall, members of the newly launched Improvement Delivery Group explained how they intend to support lodges and chapters as they build a strong and sustainable future for Freemasonry

What is the Membership Focus Group’s legacy?

DW: The reasoning behind the Membership Focus Group [MFG] lay in the words ‘membership’ and ‘focus’, with the realisation that membership was declining and that there was a need to address that. What the MFG has done is communicate very well that there is an issue and then develop a strategy by collecting information. Now there is a need to put those ideas into action.

GJ: We thought we knew what the issues were, but we needed to gather evidence that this was the case. The surveys have been very important to ensure that the membership had the opportunity to provide input into the thinking around what the strategy should be and how we should address the challenges that we face over the next few years.

SH: I’ve detected a concern from some members that the focus is about what Grand Lodge wants, but I think our surveys have demonstrated very clearly that we want to be driven by the needs and expectations of members. We’ve had some valuable information, which has helped us define the various projects that the MFG’s put into action.

SC: Having visited Provinces it’s apparent how enthused people are with the consultative approach the MFG has taken, which may not have happened as much in the past. The MFG has also done an incredible job of fostering collaboration and an environment where UGLE; Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Lodges; and, importantly, individual lodges and members are all working together for the common good of the fraternity. Looking at how we attract into and select new members for the Craft, I know that Membership Officers, introduced through the MFG, will play a very important role.

What contribution does the Royal Arch make to the Improvement Delivery Group (IDG)?

DW: The MFG was established by the Board of General Purposes and it sits underneath that. The IDG has a more formal constitutional place in that it’s headed by a Craft Ruler, me, and deputy chaired by a Royal Arch Grand Principal, Gareth, who also happens to be a Provincial Grand Master. The IDG reports to the Grand Master’s Council and has on it one member from each of the regional communications groups in England and Wales. To make sure the Royal Arch is very much part of it, the IDG includes Provincial Grand Masters, Grand Superintendents, those who are one and those who are both.

GJ: With the Royal Arch being such a key step in pure and ancient Freemasonry, it’s very important that members of the Craft are made aware of its importance at an early stage. What we also know from the surveys is that being a member of the Royal Arch is a very important factor in the context of retaining members. By and large, if people join the Royal Arch, they enjoy their masonry more, learn more about masonry and want to stay in it.

‘I think our surveys have demonstrated that we want to be driven by the needs and expectations of members.’ Stuart Hadler

To what extent is the IDG about implementation?

GJ: The next stage from gathering evidence and evaluating options is delivering on what we have decided the priorities are, in conjunction with the membership, to deliver a sustainable Craft for the future.

SH: I believe the launch of the Improvement Delivery Group is a very important demonstration that there’s real ownership by UGLE of the work that the MFG’s done, as well as an intent to take that work forward with the widest possible buy-in from all Provinces, be they Royal Arch or Craft.

GJ: As we take this forward, we also need to make sure that all of the geographical areas in England and Wales are properly represented. We know that by and large our members are hungry for learning. They want to know more about what Freemasonry can give them. They want to know more about the meaning of Freemasonry.

DW: One thing that we’ve already done is to write a document and give it to new Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents to explain their roles and responsibilities – from financial controls through to understanding that being a mason is supposed to be fun. We’re not doing this so that we can negatively mark people down but to encourage them to think positively about what they’re going to do with our support.

SH: There’s a greater willingness and intent to help Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents be successful, to be effective and take their Province forward. It wasn’t too many years ago when you were expected, perhaps tacitly, to maintain a tidy ship, not rock the boat, and hopefully hand your Province on in a better shape than you inherited. We already have a much clearer agenda, evolving to deliver quality Freemasonry for our members and indeed their families, which is quite a challenging agenda, of course.

How important is sharing best practice?

SH: It’s a key piece of work because this is not just about organisational change, it’s cultural change within lodges themselves, identifying what makes for successful attitudes, culture, opportunities and engagement with the community. Some lodges are very good at that and others struggle.

GJ: Our work will be in providing what you might call a toolkit for Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents when they’ve identified what the particular challenges are in their Provinces. Be it supplying written documentation or examples of best practice around England and Wales, we want to empower Provincial Rulers to make decisions about how to drive their Province forward by providing them with the right information and support. What we’re not trying to do is to say we have all the answers.

SC: One of the key roles of Provincial Membership Officers is to facilitate the sharing of best practice. They’re looking at lodges that are successful in their own Provinces and then trying to find the best way of sharing that information with lodges that might need support.

DW: There are some Provinces that have done very well in particular areas. The Metropolitan area, for example, has done well in recruitment. So where there is something that works, we want to know about it.

SC: It is one thing for UGLE or a Metropolitan, Provincial or District Grand Lodge to say to a lodge, ‘we suggest you do this, this and this,’ and present them with a formula. In practice, it is a lot better if they hear first-hand what has worked direct from another lodge. We have countless examples of formerly struggling lodges that came up with a plan, took action and are now thriving. This success can be replicated.

GJ: And we also want to get Freemasons better connected and more involved with delivering good things in their communities. That’s a responsibility upon us all as Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents to make sure that we do, in part, enhance our reputation by being positive forces for good in our communities and therefore, as a spin-off, attract more good men into our ranks.

‘We want to empower Provincial Rulers to make decisions about how to drive their Province forward.’ Gareth Jones

What changes will be made at the centre?

DW: We’re looking at whether we’ve got the right structures, making sure that people know what their roles are and what they are not. I think it’s important to be looking at things like visits by Rulers. We could arrange their visits so they see and meet more people – going to some Provincial annual meetings, for example, so that more people see them, which can give members a stronger feeling of belonging and also give Rulers a better idea of the talent to watch for the future.

GJ: We should also say a word about the Pathway – a key membership programme being developed. One of the principal aims of the IDG will be to ensure that we become better at looking after people from the time they express an interest in joining Freemasonry, through managing their expectations and then, to being initiated, passed, raised and exalted into the Holy Royal Arch. The whole journey needs to be better managed so that people are better looked after throughout that process.

We know that far too many resign from Freemasonry very quickly after joining and that’s simply not good enough. It can only be down to two reasons – either we’ve chosen the wrong people or we’re not properly looking after them.

I rather think that it’s the latter category that we really need to give attention to.

SH: Some lodges may find this challenging because they’re perhaps too focused on a routine of ceremonies, making these the focus rather than the brethren who need to be enthused in order to become active members and future leaders.

What’s the IDG’s biggest challenge?

DW: The first challenge is maintaining the momentum of the MFG and the other is the agenda – we’ve got to deliver, which means making sure that we’re carrying people with us. The easiest thing in the world would be to produce lengthy documents and just send them out to the membership.

GJ: We have to deliver some early wins for the IDG to show people that we’re making a difference and we have to respond to the points that brethren are making in their survey responses. People are giving up their time to fill in surveys.

If they don’t think that we’re responding positively to the points they’re making, they’ll stop responding to us.

SH: We also need to recognise the capacity of Provinces to respond. Some are well-equipped but others will benefit from support and time to move forward.

GJ: This is why we’re currently running pilots in a number of Provinces, such as interviewing techniques, in order to iron out any problems before we roll them out to everyone.

SC: Another challenge is that people are pressed for time. Masons have a lot to do between their personal lives, work and just running a regular lodge without bringing in extra things for them to do. So it’s finding individuals to help who have the right skills and the time to contribute.

DW: As well as a force enabling good men to be better, we want Freemasonry to be fun and valued by all, where young and old together can develop friendships for themselves and their families, and be themselves in a happy, compatible and pleasant environment.

Published in UGLE
Tuesday, 07 June 2016 00:00

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

Travelling together

Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes explains how strong leadership combined with a responsible approach will help to build a successful future for the Royal Arch

I congratulate all the Grand Officers whom I have invested on behalf of the Most Excellent the First Grand Principal. At the same time I would remind you that with your new ranks come new obligations. 

Appointments and promotions are therefore not just a reward but an encouragement for further participation in the success of the Order, whether providing support for members of your chapters or giving encouragement to those in the vital role of Royal Arch representatives in your Craft lodges. If, indeed, you are not that representative yourself.

It has been a great pleasure to invest Most Excellent Companion Gareth Jones as Third Grand Principal in succession to Most Excellent Companion David Williamson, who was himself appointed in 2010. We owe Companion Williamson an enormous debt of gratitude for his many contributions, both in our Order and in many others as well. This succession, coupled with that of Most Excellent Companion Russell Race in November last year, continues the strong leadership that the Royal Arch has enjoyed for many years and ensures an exciting future for the Order.

I believe that the Royal Arch is in its strongest position for many years. The profile of the Order was greatly enhanced by the outstanding success of the bicentenary celebrations in 2013, coupled with several key initiatives during and since that time, including the Royal Arch participation in the Freemasons’ Fund for Surgical Research.

As a reminder, there are two Royal Arch fellows in every five fellowships supported. This is thanks to the incredible generosity of our members and the skilful management of our assets.

I take great pride in the work of the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his team and want to thank the retiring Grand Scribe Ezra for his work over the past nine years. We have travelled a lot together, although we have not always returned without mishap. But be it Icelandic volcanic ash, Barbadian hurricanes or Heathrow snow, we have made it in the end, one way or another. 

‘Appointments and promotions are not just a reward but an encouragement for participation in the success of the Order.’

Published in SGC

Annual Investiture of Supreme Grand Chapter

29 April 2016 
An address by the ME Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes

Companions, I know that you would want me to congratulate all of the Grand Officers whom I have invested today on behalf of the Most Excellent the First Grand Principal. At the same time I would remind you that with your new ranks come new obligations. Appointments and promotions are therefore not just a reward, but an encouragement for further participation in the success of the Order whether providing support for the members of your chapters or giving encouragement to those in the important role of Royal Arch Representatives in your Craft lodges. If, indeed, you are not that representative yourself.

It has been a great pleasure to invest today Most Excellent Companion Gareth Jones as Third Grand Principal in succession to Most Excellent Companion David Williamson who was himself appointed in 2010. We owe Companion Williamson an enormous debt of gratitude for his many contributions, both in our order and in many others as well. Today’s succession coupled with that of Most Excellent Companion Russell Race in November last year, continues the strong leadership that the Royal Arch has enjoyed for many years and ensures an exciting future for the Order.

Companions, I believe that the Royal Arch is in its strongest position for many years. The profile of the Order was greatly enhanced by the outstanding success of the bicentenary celebrations in 2013 coupled with several key initiatives during and since that time, including the Royal Arch participation in the Freemasons’ Fund for Surgical Research. As a reminder, there are two Royal Arch fellows in every five fellowships supported. This is thanks to the incredible generosity of our members and the skilful management of our assets.

Finally, companions, I must, on your behalf and mine, thank the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his team and the Grand Scribe Ezra’s staff for the success of today. Somewhat naturally I take great pride in the work of the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his team, but on this occasion I want to thank, particularly, the retiring Grand Scribe Ezra for his work over the last nine years. We have travelled a lot together, although we have not always returned without mishap – be it Icelandic volcanic ash, Barbadian hurricanes or Heathrow snow, but we have made it in the end one way or another. I am sure he would agree with me that these were testing events and we were both extremely grateful for the calming influence of his PA, Louise, back at base.

Thank you companions.

Published in Speeches

The Craft and beyond

As the Tercentenary and new masonic charity launch approach, Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes reflects on the work required to reach these milestones

The past year has been a busy one. The emphasis was on honing the initiatives to keep us in line with the mission to build a positive reputation for Freemasonry and assure its long-term future.

Fundamental to ensuring that future has been the development of a clear strategy. The Membership Focus Group – supported by 18,000 responses to recent surveys – has shaped this plan, which has, in turn, been approved by the Rulers and by the Provincial Grand Masters. It concentrates on our vision and values but can only be achieved with the support of the majority of members.

Concurrently, the Tercentenary Planning Committee has been making great progress while liaising with Provincial Grand Masters, Provincial Grand Secretaries and Provincial 2017 Representatives. The majority of Provinces have advised the Planning Committee of their main events – sometimes with neighbouring Provinces. 

I am very encouraged by the level of enthusiasm that is being shown as we approach the United Grand Lodge of England’s 300th milestone celebration. 

I am delighted to confirm that the Charity Commission has formally approved the establishment of the Masonic Charitable Foundation. This has taken a long time to achieve and was a complicated operation overseen by the Deputy Grand Master, with most able help from the charity Presidents, Chief Executives and boards of trustees. We should all be most grateful to them for their hard work.

‘I am very encouraged by the level of enthusiasm that is being shown.’

Preparations for the launch in April 2016 are continuing. A shadow board and various committees have been formed and the first senior staff appointments have been made. David Innes of the RMBI will be the Foundation’s first Chief Executive and Les Hutchinson of the RMTGB will be the Chief Operating Officer. 

They both have a wealth of experience and knowledge and are well placed to lead the Foundation. I believe it is important to note that they faced strong competition for these jobs from outside the masonic charities. In advance of the launch, publicity about the Foundation will be increased throughout the Craft and beyond. 

I am also delighted to announce that the Grand Master in his capacity as First Grand Principal has appointed Gareth Jones, Provincial Grand Master for South Wales, to succeed David Williamson as Third Grand Principal in Supreme Grand Chapter, with effect from the Annual Royal Arch Investiture on 28 April 2016. 

The contribution made by David Williamson in his capacity as Third Grand Principal has been colossal, as his contribution has been throughout masonry. 

Published in UGLE
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