13 September 2017
A presentation by RW Bro Bro Sir David Wootton, Assistant Grand Master
Pro Grand Master and brethren, we all have our own view of what we see in masonry. For me, it’s five things:
- We’re all volunteers: none of us have to be masons or do what we do. The magnificent total of £3,100,000 announced at the North Wales Festival on Saturday was all the result of volunteering: voluntary time, voluntary effort, voluntary money;
- What we now call “social inclusion”: bringing together people of different origins, backgrounds, occupations, interests, locations, opinions, faiths; people who would not otherwise meet; in a common activity in which all are fundamentally equal;
- Our purposefulness: when we meet, there’s a purpose, whether it’s a masonic meeting, ritual; or charity or a community project; the best recent example I saw, the Jurassic Coast Youth Adventure organised by Dorset, 200plus children in need from all over the country taken on a week’s healthy activities by the sea. Whatever it is, we want to do it well, and we do;
- The practice of every moral and social virtue: words cited by the Bishop of Worcester, not a mason, at the Provincial Tercentenary Service on Sunday in a sermon that would inspire every mason. Our, if you like, moral code, best illustrated in the Charge to the Initiate, is a huge asset which will play increasingly well with younger generations for whom such things are in short supply;
- The social side: we do do the best parties, don’t we, getting to know each other informally, in friendship, and it works because of the other factors I’ve mentioned.
We all sense a steady move to greater openness: the Sky TV programmes; publicity in the right way for our charity and community activities: the word Freemasons on the London's Air Ambulance; wearing regalia in public: all in the right direction.
Recognising masonry’s good things but sensing that the make-up and profile of our membership – age, number – were going in the wrong direction, the Board of General Purposes – BGP – set up the Membership Focus Group – MFG – under the inspired leadership of Ray Reed to find out what was happening to today’s membership, to assess the likely affect on tomorrow’s and, if we didn’t like that – which we didn’t – to decide what to do.
Deciding what to do is called STRATEGY – YES! The MFG produced, and everyone adopted, Strategy: The Future of Freemasonry 2015-2020, which I know we’ve all read and like.
Thoughts then turned to implementing the Strategy. Ooh, the MFG said, could be difficult – better get someone else to do it, and so was born the Improvement Delivery Group – IDG (I hope you’re keeping up with the jargon, brethren) to Deliver the Improvements which should flow from the work of the MFG.
I was out of the room at the time, so they made me Chairman. Also out of the room was Provincial Grand Master for South Wales and Third Grand Principal Gareth Jones, so we made him Deputy Chairman.
Strategy is no good unless it is accepted, understood and embraced by the membership – remember we’re all volunteers. The IDG had to show it was including Craft and Royal Arch, and all areas of the country, and Head Office. So, in addition to Gareth and me:
- Michael Ward, London
- Jeff Gillyon, Yorkshire North and East Ridings
- Stephen Blank, Cheshire
- Peter Taylor, Shropshire
- Tim Henderson-Ross, Gloucestershire
- Charles Cunnington, Derbyshire
- Ian Yeldham, Suffolk
- Mark Estaugh, West Kent
- Stuart Hadler, Somerset
- Gordon Robertson, Buckinghamshire, who leaves us on retiring as PGM and is replaced by James Hilditch, Oxfordshire
- Ray Reed
...and from Head Office:
- Grand Secretary Willie
- Assistant Grand Secretary Shawn
- ..and now Chief Executive David
Brethren, in light of all they do, I would like all those I’ve named to stand and be recognised. Thank you.
To pick up the work of the MFG we formed Working Groups matching the elements of the Strategy. The Strategy talks about effective governance at all levels; a leadership development programme; the attraction and retention of members; and the sustainability of masonic halls. Thus…
Gareth Jones is leading our Governance Group looking at who and what does what, the roles and responsibilities of each office and body, what they and what they’re not, and how we ensure that people understand what their roles and responsibilities are and aren’t, and what is expected of them. From the esteemed Adelphi2 we have lots of lovely statistics which will help show how Provinces and Districts are doing in terms of membership and help them to direct their efforts where they are needed.
Leadership – Michael Ward – aims to equip office-holders for their roles. Workshop sessions for PGMs and Grand Superintendents; workshops for Deputy PGMs and Grand Superintendents; next week the first training session for secretaries. We now have a UGLE training officer, Andrew Kincaid, to devise and roll-out training roles for all different roles. This not about imposing uniformity – you will do it this way – but helping people to see what’s involved and how to do the job well.
Jeff Gillyon’s Masonic Halls Group have published the Masonic Halls Centres of Excellence Guide, now available, best electronically, and those responsible for the management of masonic halls are strongly encouraged to use it: you will find it very useful. It is now in the charge of John Pagella, Grand Superintendent of Works, who has formed a Steering Group to manage the Guidance Manual and keep it up to date. There will be an annual meeting for all Provincial Grand Superintendents of Works.
The five Provinces in Regional Communications Group 1 – North of England – on the initiative of Gordon Brewis, Provincial Grand Superintendent of Works for Durham, have recognised the need for professionally qualified Provincial Grand Superintendents of Works and arranged for them to meet so that the adoption of best practice can be recommended uniformly across them all.
The Guidance Manual is not a book to be read from cover to cover: it is a reference tool, to be consulted as circumstances lead. It is guidance, support and advice: a guide to best practice. It can’t give definitive advice on, for example, legal issues, because so much depends on individual circumstances.
We want our halls and centres to be at the centre of the local community. Maybe we should refer to them as Masonic Community Centres.
Our Membership Group, headed by Peter Taylor, has circulated for comment the Membership Pathway, the product of several years of devoted effort, and parts well piloted in ten Provinces and 110 lodges Its purpose is to help lodges attract and retain the right members in the right place: to show what we need to do to attract the members we want to join us, stay and enjoy the full masonic journey.
Again, it is not a book, you do not read it cover to cover, you look at the parts you want as and when you need to.
The Pathway will be launched at the Provincial and District Rulers’ Forum – PDRF – on 18 October and then rolled out. So no-one should worry that they will be presented with it and then left on their own. Roll-out will be organised for you: to Regions and Provinces from January to March next year, and then to lodges….and there will be a folding leaflet on the front of Freemasonry Today in December.
There is much demand from masons to know more about masonry, its origin, history and meaning. Stuart Hadler’s Education Group is creating an online store of masonic learning materials, readily accessible in a Virtual Learning Environment. It will be tested later this year, introduced to a number of pilot Provinces in the new year, and full roll-out will be in later in 2018. What the group want is more materials to include, so contributions welcome, please.
In parallel to all this continues the excellent progress of the Universities Scheme, of which I am honoured to be the President. Existing and new lodges, and chapters, here and in Districts, recruit among students at universities and equivalent across the country and outside the UK, and do so very successfully. There are still a number of universities in this country not represented in the scheme, and we are addressing that.
I would like to thank all who are involved in the scheme, all volunteers, for all they do, and in particular the Chairmen: the founding Chairman, Oliver Lodge, now moonlighting as the Grand Director of Ceremonies; Edward Lord, current Chairman who retires after eight distinguished years at the Scheme conference in this building on 4th November; and Chairman-Designate Mark Greenburgh, who takes over on that date, and I would ask them to stand and be recognised too.
Many Provinces and Districts have New and Young Masons’ Clubs, with a wide variety of imaginative names, and those that don’t will. These clubs are an excellent way of those newer to masonry getting to know more other newbies, and building essential camaraderie. The clubs are holding their conference on 14 October in Birmingham under Gareth Jones’ leadership.
All this, IDG and others, is about creating our future, which is in our hands and which we are doing. The figures already show that it is working: in many areas there is a discernible shift in the trend of the numbers, and there will be more.
I have illustrated this talk with scenes from the everyday life of an Assistant Grand Master. Here’s the last one. In his sermon at the Durham Tercentenary Service last Thursday – I’m into clergy this morning, brethren – the Dean of Durham, also not a mason, said he saw masonry as a confident, open and engaged fraternity with strong foundational values.
We can do this, brethren, we can do this.
As the Grand Lodge of England approaches its tercentenary in 2017, the Membership Focus Group has been established to consider how best to attract, recruit and retain good men. In July, five members of the group met to discuss why the strategy for the future of Freemasonry in the Craft must be a collaborative exercise involving all its members
Why was the Membership Focus Group (MFG) formed?
Ray Reed: The objectives of the MFG are to advise the Rulers and the Board of General Purposes of how best Freemasonry can focus members, lodges, Provinces and staff to work in a collaborative manner to create and implement a strategy that will assure the long-term successful future of both the Craft and the Royal Arch.
We want to look at the whole organisation as well as its ceremonial structure to identify what’s really worked for the past three hundred years, what’s good to keep and what we need to modify. We especially need to consider how to attract and retain the ‘modern man’ and future leaders in this fast-changing world.
Peter Taylor: When we looked at the numbers from the ADelphi database, which contains the masonic life histories of our members going back to 1984, there were some very telling statistics. In many areas around the country we’re attracting new members in good numbers, yet total membership is still going down. The group wants to discover why and find solutions to reverse this trend.
Malcolm Aish: We found that for every age group, the length of time before members resigned was the same. The more we looked at the statistics, the more we felt that it wasn’t just an issue of how to make Freemasonry more attractive to young people as they make up a relatively small proportion of our membership. They are still very important to us, as they could be joining for forty to fifty years, but the big recruitment age is around forty, so we need to discover why fortysomethings are just as likely to resign as twentysomethings.
Ray Reed: Our biggest strength and greatest opportunity is that we’re getting lots of people wanting to join. That number is on the increase at the moment, so we’ve got to make sure that when new people join, their expectations match with what we have to offer.
What sort of questions is the MFG asking?
Shawn Christie: The United Grand Lodge of England is a very special organisation. We can rightfully be proud of our past and our present, but it’s important to look ahead and plan for the future.
This is the reason why we’re asking about the kinds of things we can do better. We’ve analysed membership statistics, identified key focus areas and established working groups to develop those areas further. For example, I’m chairing a working group looking at recruitment, and there are other groups focusing on areas such as governance and the image of Freemasonry. Moving on from our initial analysis, we’ll soon start surveying the membership to make sure that we have an accurate understanding of their feelings.
Stuart Hadler: I’m concerned that we provide very little formal leadership development in Freemasonry, whether that’s progressing to become Master of a lodge or a senior Provincial officer. I think that Freemasonry is poorer for not having the opportunity to develop those skills – we could actively promote it as one of the opportunities offered by our society when attracting new members.
Malcolm Aish: My interest in the Royal Arch means I’m very happy to be involved in the MFG, because success in the Craft will lead to greater success in the Royal Arch. We’ve found out from the statistics that when masons go on to join another lodge or the Royal Arch – the ‘multiple members’ as we call them – then their membership longevity extends significantly. That’s something that we need to analyse. We could find out if people who join their second lodge are more selective about the kind of members they team up with.
If that’s the case, then we might be able to improve overall retention.
Stuart Hadler: Another point we’ve identified is that there’s no clear external perception of what Freemasonry is and why people join. We haven’t prepared members in how to communicate clearly and consistently. If we’re going to attract people in the right numbers and keep them, then we have to find good examples in simple, modern language about what Freemasonry offers.
Malcolm Aish: We don’t want to be seen to be intrusive; it’s quite difficult for someone outside the Province to ask quite personal questions, but we have to be able to find out the real reasons why someone has left a lodge. Was it because they didn’t feel welcome or had an argument? The whole process we’re undertaking aims to open everyone’s minds to consider doing things differently.
‘In many areas around the country we’re attracting new members in good numbers, yet total membership is still going down. One of the aims of the MFG is to discover why and reverse the trend.’ Peter Taylor
Is Freemasonry set for big changes under the MFG?
Stuart Hadler: We have many cherished traditions, but we should be prepared to question their continuing importance to our principles and image. In recent years, for example, there have been more cases of Freemasons parading in public, which is great – it’s a return to where we left off in the 1930s. But are gentlemen of a certain age walking through the streets, parading their regalia, the only images we want to portray? We need to think about the kind of image we’re trying to put across, and the MFG can be about offering a range of choices, perhaps saying that it’s fine if a lodge decides to wear jackets and ties rather than dress in full regalia.
Malcolm Aish: The fundamentals of Freemasonry are not going to change. Why would we want to modify the core ceremonial and ritual traditions of a highly successful organisation? But how we communicate among ourselves – how we formulate the ideas and direction that we are going to take, as well as organise ourselves – is an opportunity for members to make a major contribution.
Peter Taylor: I hope that the membership will be pleased to see that the MFG comprises members from around the country. We’re looking at the wider aspects of Freemasonry from an inclusive standpoint, and will be surveying views taken from a wide range of geographic areas that have different socio-economic challenges.
Ray Reed: We’re a bottom-up, not top-down member organisation. If you want to have your views on the future of the Craft reflected, then you must get involved with the surveys. This is all about meeting the needs of both existing and future members in today’s society in order to ensure the future of Freemasonry.
‘We’re listening to all our members, we want feedback, and before we come to any conclusions, we want to understand what the membership has to offer and what it can improve on.’ Malcolm Aish
How will the MFG communicate its findings?
Shawn Christie: The MFG will use various channels to keep the membership informed, including Freemasonry Today and communication through Provincial and District Grand Lodges. Whatever the findings, we hope to identify and share successful practices and approaches throughout our society. We want to work with Provinces, Districts, lodges and members rather than simply communicating in only one direction.
Ray Reed: Communication is going to be continuous. The strategy document might prove to be substantial, but we’ll need to summarise it and allow everyone at every level to understand. We’ll always take our conclusions to the Board, Rulers and PGMs first because we want them to be the first ones to know – we can’t let magazines like Freemasonry Today know something before the PGMs do. The information route will be focus groups first; then surveys; followed by findings and talks with the Board, Rulers and PGMs. Finally, there’s communication with all our members.
Malcolm Aish: Having this round-table article is a great starting point in reaching a wide proportion of our membership, but we’ll have to feed back what we’re doing in order to be as effective as possible. We don’t know what the outcomes are going to be yet, but we’re listening to all of our members, we want their feedback, and before we come to any conclusions, we want to understand what the membership has to offer and what it can improve on.
Have your say
During the next six months, the Membership Focus Group will be seeking the assistance of members by way of several short surveys. Many of the subjects on which we shall be seeking views are mentioned in this article.
If you wish to have your say and are willing to help, then please email your details as indicated below.
UGLE members can only register at: www.ugle.org.uk/mfg
Your registration will be confirmed by us asking for your name, lodge number, masonic rank and years of membership
Other members of the MFG
Sandy Stewart, Provincial Grand Master for Staffordshire, Michael Ward, Deputy Metropolitan Grand Master, Paul Gower, Provincial Grand Master for Hertfordshire, Gareth Jones, Provincial Grand Master for South Wales, Marc Nowell, Representative from the Universities Scheme, Jeffrey Gillyon, Provincial Grand Master for Yorkshire, North and East Ridings, Robin Wilson, Provincial Grand Master for Nottinghamshire