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.
As part of the Tercentenary celebrations, 300 masons and civic dignitaries came together for the dedication of the Masonic Memorial Garden in Staffordshire
In late 2001, Lichfield mason Roger Manning suggested the creation of a masonic memorial to be sited at the newly created National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas, Burton-on-Trent.
It was agreed that the masonic garden should serve in the remembrance of all Freemasons, whether they had died in the service of their country or through sickness, accident or old age. There would be no reference on the site to specific lodges, groups or individuals.
Over the next 16 years, following four different Provincial Grand Masters, two architects, more than a dozen designs, planting failures, floods, dozens of detailed reports and many meetings, the Masonic Memorial Garden was finally unveiled on 18 April 2017 to over 300 brethren and civic dignitaries.
The service was witnessed by Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes, Deputy Grand Master Jonathan Spence, Assistant Grand Master Sir David Wootton, President of the Board of General Purposes Anthony Wilson and Grand Secretary Willie Shackell.
A welcome to all in attendance was given by local builder and brother Eddie Ford, who had been responsible for the garden’s development over the entire 16-year period. The dedication service was undertaken by the Provincial Grand Chaplain, the Reverend Bernard Buttery.
Civic leaders at the event included the Lord-Lieutenant of Staffordshire, Ian Dudson; the Mayor of East Staffordshire, Cllr Beryl Toon; and the Mayor of Tamworth, Cllr Ken Norchi. Provincial Grand Masters from many neighbouring Provinces, together with representatives from all of the 96 Staffordshire lodges, were also present.
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’.
Interim Grand Secretary
Following the retirement of RW Bro Nigel Brown as Grand Secretary at the end of April, the MW The Grand Master has been pleased to make an interim appointment to that office.
RW Bro Brigadier WE Shackell, CBE, PJGW, will take up the appointment with effect from Wednesday 8 June, and will be invested as Grand Secretary in the course of the Quarterly Communication of the Grand Lodge on that day.
The Rulers and the Board of General Purposes believe that the process of finding a long-term successor as Grand Secretary should not be hurried, and recruitment is therefore unlikely to begin for some months.
In the meantime, I am sure that you would all wish to join in wishing Bro Shackell well in his new role.
Yours sincerely and fraternally,
President, Board of General Purposes
14 April 2016
An announcement by the President of the Board of General Purposes
It is with great sadness that we inform you that the Grand Secretary, RW Bro Nigel Brown PJGW, has announced his wish to retire, and it has been mutually agreed that this will be effective from 30th April 2016.
Nigel has supported and encouraged the Grand Master's open communication policy and brought both Provinces and Districts to a much closer relationship with Grand Lodge.
He has served the office at a time of rapid change and introduced new initiatives including Mentoring and Communications, to name but two, aimed at ensuring the future of Freemasonry.
We wish him good health and every happiness in the future.
12 September 2012
Statements by the President of the Board of General Purposes and the Grand Chancellor concerning Grande Loge Nationale Française (GLNF)
The President of the Board of General Purposes, RW Bro Anthony Wilson:
MW Pro Grand Master and brethren, I believe that there is nothing in the Board’s Report that calls for comment, except for the paragraphs relating to the National Grand Lodge of France, and even they are largely self-explanatory. Since this Grand Lodge suspended relations with the GLNF twelve months ago the Board has continued to monitor the situation. It is clear that the GLNF is not in full control of its own affairs. For well over a year its administration and finances have been under the control of a Court appointed administrator, Maitre Legrand. She, although not a Freemason or a member of the GLNF, is currently organising the nominations for and election of a new Grand Master.
To complicate matters further, we understand that at the end of April a group of members of the GLNF and their Lodges broke away and formed a new Grand Lodge which now claims over 10,000 members and more than 500 Lodges. It has just been announced that a further group has broken away and is intent on forming yet another Grand Lodge. It is, therefore, becoming impossible to know who are and who are not bona fide members of the GLNF, which at this moment remains the only Grand Lodge in France recognised by this Grand Lodge.
The Board is aware that, if its recommendation is accepted by Grand Lodge, a number of our members who have joint memberships will need to decide with which constitution they will remain. The Board regrets this but it has a duty to have regard to the best interests of the whole English Craft and in the present circumstances believes those interests will be best served by withdrawing recognition from the GLNF. One hundred years ago members of this Grand Lodge were materially involved in the formation of the GLNF and the return of regular Freemasonry to France: for this and other reasons, the Board’s recommendation was not reached lightly but only after considerable discussion and consultation.
It is important to emphasise that in making this recommendation the Board is not stating that the GLNF or its members are in any way irregular, nor will the withdrawal of recognition of itself make them so. They will, however, become unrecognised though capable of being re-recognised at some future point. For that reason the Board has not entered into discussion with any of the other bodies claiming to represent regular Freemasonry in France nor does it have any intention at the present time of recommending to this Grand Lodge the recognition of any other Grand Lodge in France.
Indeed, we have just learnt that in the last few days a candidate for the Grand Mastership has been nominated. His name will go forward for approval by a General Meeting of the GLNF. The Board will continue to monitor events in France and hopes that this may be the first step – and I emphasise the words “the first step” - towards normalising relations between our two Grand Lodges. In the meantime, however, this event does not change the Board’s recommendation to withdraw recognition.
The Grand Chancellor, VW Bro Derek Dinsmore:
MW Pro Grand Master and brethren, in moving the resolution standing in my name at item 3 of the Paper of Business may I add to the President’s comment on the regularity of the GLNF. Although it has serious internal problems we believe that the Lodges and members of the GLNF are working in a regular manner. Withdrawal of recognition will not of itself affect the GLNF’s regularity and it will be capable of re-recognition. There is a long established, fundamental principle of Masonic international relations that where Freemasonry exists within a territory, whether or not it is formally recognised, that territory is closed to other Grand Lodges, and the latter should not set up lodges there. Despite the growing number of Grand Lodges which are withdrawing recognition from the GLNF, France remains closed territory and this Grand Lodge would not look kindly on any other Grand Lodge which attempted to invade French territory by setting up Lodges there or taking into its jurisdiction Lodges warranted by the GLNF.
MW Pro Grand Master and Brethren, for the reasons given in the Report of the Board of General Purposes, I move that recognition of be withdrawn.
Grand Lodge subsequently voted to approve the motion that recognition be withdrawn from the Grande Loge Nationale Française (GLNF) with immediate effect.
President of the Board of General Purposes Anthony Wilson made a statement concerning Grande Loge Nationale Française (GLNF) at the September Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge
Having previously expressed concern over the turbulence within GLNF, the President said the situation has subsequently deteriorated. ‘There appears to be no sign of it improving,’ he confirmed. ‘We cannot ignore the lack of harmony. Nor can we overlook the fact that a significant proportion of the membership of the GLNF apparently no longer recognise the leadership of its Grand Master.’
While the present situation continues, the recommendation of the Board is that relations with the GLNF be suspended. ‘I should emphasise that the suspension of relations does not force any of the brethren who are currently also members of lodges under the GLNF to resign from those lodges,’ he added. Anthony Wilson did, however, draw attention to the possibility that for so long as the GLNF is recognised by UGLE as the sovereign Grand Lodge, any UGLE brethren who are also members of a French lodge that formally repudiates that jurisdiction (even temporary) may find that Rule 176 in the Book of Constitutions requires them to make a choice, in the future, between severing their links with that lodge and remaining members of the Craft in the UGLE constitution.
The full statement by Anthony Wilson, President of the Board of General Purposes, can be found here.
As Letchworth marks its one-hundredth year, John Hamill reports on the centenary of a very special lodge
On 28 March 2011 in Lodge Room No. 10 at Freemasons’ Hall in London, almost 150 brethren gathered for an emergency meeting. Nothing unusual in that – until you look at the signature book and discover that those present included the Pro, Deputy and Assistant Grand Masters, the Metropolitan Grand Master for London, the President and Deputy President of the Board of General Purposes, the Grand Chaplain, Grand Secretary, Grand Director of Ceremonies, Presidents of the Grand Charity and the Masonic Samaritan Fund, and other senior brethren.
What, you might wonder, other than a Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge, would bring such illustrious company together in one tyled meeting? The reason is a joyous one – to take part in the centenary celebrations of Letchworth Lodge, No. 3505. But why such eminent brethren for a Hertfordshire lodge? The answer, to paraphrase Shakespeare, is all in a name. The ‘Letchworth’ after which the lodge was called is not the delightful Hertfordshire town, but Sir Edward Letchworth who was Grand Secretary from 1892 to 1917. As for why the celebrations were in London, when the membership of the lodge was formed in 1911, it was restricted to the permanent clerks in the Grand Secretary’s Office. And even today is limited to those employed in the capital’s masonic headquarters.
Although a Secretary to the Grand Lodge was appointed in 1723 (becoming Grand Secretary in 1734) and the premier Grand Lodge had a permanent building in Great Queen Street from 1775, it was not until 1838 that the Grand Secretary’s Office came into being. From the of the two Grand Lodges in 1813 until 1838, the Grand Secretaryship was a joint office shared by William White, who had held the same office in the premier Grand Lodge, and Edward Harper, who had been Deputy Grand Secretary of the Antients.
In 1838, Harper ‘retired’ and White was asked to take on the role of Grand Secretary. He agreed but on one condition: that Grand Lodge employed two full-time clerks to assist with paperwork. As a result of the expansion in members and lodges in the Victorian period, by the time Letchworth became Grand Secretary in 1892 the office had grown to seven clerks. As they had to be Master Masons it was suggested they should have a lodge. There was one problem: nine was the minimum number of petitioners and there were only seven clerks.
By 1911, there had been an expansion of the Craft and clerk numbers grew to 15. They approached Letchworth to petition for a lodge, and the consecration took place on 28 March 1911. Sir Edward himself was the Consecrating Officer, assisted by the President of the Board of General Purposes, the President of the Board of Benevolence (now the Grand Charity), the Grand Chaplain and Grand Director of Ceremonies and the Chairman of the Board’s Officers and Clerks Committee.
Sir Edward stated that the lodge’s purpose was ‘to meld the clerks into greater harmony’. It would also assist Grand Lodge by bringing into Freemasonry suitable candidates that might become clerks in the office; and get brethren through the Chair in a reasonable time for additional duties. The latter was important, as many lodges had more than 100 members and it could take 15 or more years to reach the Chair.
The lodge’s first year was a busy one with two candidates and three installations. The Master designate had been installed at the consecration and at the July and November meetings two of the senior clerks were installed. In 1913, the lodge began a practice that was to continue until the 1970s – that of initiating as serving brethren members of the portering and maintenance staff of the Hall. They were to assist the Grand Tyler by laying up the lodge rooms and acting as Assistant Tylers whenever Grand Lodge met.
The First World War halted progress of the lodge and office, as half the staff were on active service. Only one did not return, Ponsonby Cox, and another, Guy Mercer, was awarded the Military Cross. Those too old for military service kept the lodge and office going. To help in the office, the rule requiring clerks to be Master Masons was put into abeyance and three lady clerks and two ‘lady typewriters’ were taken on. The latter, Miss Haigh and Miss Winter, proved far from temporary, spending the rest of their working lives as private secretaries to Grand and Deputy Grand Secretaries.
The huge increase in the Craft four years after the war, and the plan to rebuild Freemasons’ Hall as a permanent war memorial, led to an increase in office size. Between 1925 and 1927, five boy clerks were taken on as ‘temporary’ staff ; each of them eventually becoming members of the lodge. There were similar problems during the Second World War, when again the rule on clerks being Master Masons was set aside and women were taken on. They proved so popular and useful that in 1949 the rule (No. 33 in the current Book of Constitutions) was put into abeyance. The lodge had difficulties meeting and reduced its wartime gatherings to two per year. The only ceremonial work was the annual installation of the Master.
The immediate post-war years saw an enormous growth in the Craft. This led to expansion of the office and an increase in the membership of the lodge. Much of the work was in making serving brethren, as the portering and maintenance staff had also grown, and many took on additional work as Tylers for lodges meeting at Freemasons’ Hall.
By the late 1960s, however, things were slowing down and doubts were expressed about the future of Letchworth Lodge. Membership had been limited to Permanent Clerks, but in 1977, Grand Secretary James Stubbs was approached about opening the lodge to the full office, to which he agreed. In the early 1980s, under Grand Secretary Michael Higham, the lodge was opened to the whole of the male staff at Freemasons’ Hall and the staff of other masonic headquarters in London. This has resulted in a vibrant lodge with a steady stream of candidates. The changes have also brought the staff of the various masonic offices in London closer together. Sir Edward Letchworth’s hopes at the consecration can truly be said to have been achieved.
As the Grand Secretary’s lodge, Letchworth has had great support from Sir Edward and his successors. Sir Philip Colville Smith became an honorary member when he became Grand Secretary in 1917. (Sir) Sydney White joined the lodge when he was appointed Chief Clerk in 1918, was its Master in 1920, and was a regular attendee even after election as an Honorary Member when he became Grand Secretary in 1937. (Sir) James Stubbs was elected an Honorary Member when he was appointed Assistant Grand Secretary in 1948, while Michael Higham became a joining member when appointed Deputy Grand Secretary in 1978, and is still active. Nigel Brown joined when he was appointed Grand Secretary in 2007 and members are delighted to have him as their Centenary Master. He was thrilled to have been installed by Michael Higham.
Being involved in central masonic administration, the members of the lodge were only too aware of the privilege extended to them to have the Pro Grand Master present the Centenary Warrant. The happy occasion was followed by a reception and banquet in the Grand Temple vestibules.
14 September 2011
A Statement by the RW President of the Board of General Purposes Anthony Wilson concerning Grande Loge Nationale Française
Right Worshipful Deputy Grand Master and brethren, at the June Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge I expressed the Board’s concern over the turbulence and discord within Grande Loge Nationale Française, including the appointment of an Administrative Receiver over its legal entity.
Since then, as stated in the Board’s Report, the situation has deteriorated. There appears to be no sign of it improving. On the contrary the disharmony within the Membership and the substantial number of Lodges, representing over one-third of the Membership, who appear to be distancing themselves from the leadership of their Grand Lodge continues to give cause for concern.
We cannot ignore the lack of harmony. Nor can we overlook the fact that a significant proportion of the Membership of the GLNF apparently no longer recognise the leadership of its Grand Master, which does not offer much hope for an end to the disharmony and turbulence. It is clear, therefore, that while the present situation continues our Members should not be in Masonic contact with our Brethren in France. Hence our recommendation that relations with the GLNF be suspended.
Set out in the Board’s Report is what we mean by the suspension of relations. I may add that the Board has consulted the Grand Registrar who is satisfied that the Report accurately describes the effect of a suspension of relations; and that the terms of the Resolution which appears at item 5 on the Paper of Business achieve the desired objective.
I should emphasise that the suspension of relations does not, of itself, force any of the Brethren who are currently also members of Lodges under the GNLF to resign from those Lodges. But I should draw attention to the possibility that – for so long as the GNLF is recognised by Grand Lodge as the Sovereign Grand Lodge having jurisdiction over freemasonry in France – those of our Brethren who are members of a French Lodge which formally repudiates that jurisdiction (even on a temporary basis) may find that Rule 176 in the Book of Constitutions requires them to make choice, in the future, between severing their links with that Lodge and remaining members of the Craft in our constitution. The Board will need to keep this issue under review as matters develop in France.
A message from the President of the Board of General Purposes, RW Bro Anthony Wilson, PJGW
As a result of Grand Lodge in March agreeing a substantial increase in Grand Lodge dues next year, the Grand Secretary has received many letters of concern.
It is clear from many of the points raised that the reasons given at the Quarterly Communication in March were not always fully understood. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to reiterate the key reasons and then explain the costs that Grand Lodge has to cover from its dues and, therefore, what our money is spent on.
One of the major reasons is the cost of maintaining Freemasons’ Hall, which was built by the Craft as a memorial to those who died in the Great War. It is not only a monument to them but is the flagship of Freemasonry in England and Wales and our headquarters. It belongs to all our members and we have a duty both morally and legally (it is a Grade 2* listed building) to keep it in good repair. Unfortunately it is now over seventy-five years old and becoming increasingly expensive to maintain.
Another reason is that for a number of years Grand Lodge dues have been subsidised by investment income. If investment income is removed from the accounts, Grand Lodge has been operating on a deficit between operating income and expenditure. Using investment income to bridge that gap has meant that we have not been able to build-up any significant contingency or sinking fund for major expenditure on the structure of Freemasons’ Hall.
Therefore, when faced with the substantial cost of paying for the removal of asbestos we had insufficient funds set aside.
Raising the dues in 2006 by £9 (including VAT) will enable us to meet operating expenditure out of income, build up sufficient reserves for undoubted future major structural repairs and spread the recovery of the asbestos costs over a three-year period, rather than by a one-off charge in one year. In percentage terms the rise in Grand Lodge dues seems enormous but in real cash terms it is about twenty pence per week. The Board is responsible for the finances of Grand Lodge and believes, after lengthy discussion, that this is the best way forward to ensure Grand Lodge’s financial future.
In 2004 we received three windfalls: from the sale of a non-Masonic painting, the sale of a property in Great Queen Street and an unexpected legacy. Whilst these have given us the cash flow to pay for the asbestos removal, without selling our investment portfolio, to have used them permanently would have been like selling the family silver. These windfalls are capital assets which are, and should remain, part of our endowment.
It has been suggested that the proceeds from the sale of the painting should have been used to defray the asbestos costs. The painting was part of the heritage of the Craft. It is only proper that the proceeds should be used to endow the Library and Museum of Freemasonry and be put back into acquiring additions to and maintaining the Masonic collections housed in the Library and Museum.
Turning to the annual costs of Grand Lodge, these fall into two main areas: the costs of administering the Craft and the costs of maintaining Freemasons’ Hall.
The administration of the Craft is carried out by the Grand Secretary’s office, which has five main divisions: the Grand Secretary’s private office, Communications, Finance, Operations and Secretariat and Registration. Their work includes the processing of annual and installations returns for the Craft and Royal Arch; the printing and distribution of business papers and Minutes for Grand Lodge and Grand Chapter; amendments to and new editions of the Book of Constitutions and Masonic Year Book; organisation of Grand Lodge and Grand Chapter meetings; servicing the Board and Committee of General Purposes, and The Grand Master’s Council; dealing with matters relating to the Constitutions, procedure and protocol; publication and distribution of MQ magazine; general printing; public relations and information; promoting a positive image of Freemasonry; developing and maintaining the new Adelphi registration system; maintaining contact with recognised Grand Lodges overseas and facilitating intervisitation by members; running and maintaining Freemasons’ Hall; managing the complex finances of a major membership association; and dealing with a myriad of Masonic questions from both home and abroad which arrive by post, telephone and email.
Each of the departments works to an agreed budget, which is reviewed on a monthly basis. New financial systems were introduced five years ago which enable us to monitor and review progress and to track areas where savings can and have been made.
The costs of Freemasons’ Hall include the standard costs of council tax, water, gas, electricity, insurance and, increasingly, security. They also include general maintenance and repair costs, but not major refurbishment or structural operations which, in an aging, listed building, have to be costed and budgeted for separately.
Whilst over the last few years Grand Lodge dues have risen in line with inflation, in absolute terms there has been only a slight increase in income as a result of falling membership. In contrast, rents at Freemasons’ Hall have risen by more than inflation and now represent 14% of income. This reflects both rises in room rents, so that users pay a fair share of costs, and the success of allowing outsiders to use parts of the Hall. The Board is currently reviewing accommodation at Freemasons’ Hall, and how it can be used further, without detriment to the purposes for which it was built, to maximise the income it can generate.
I can assure you that the decision to raise Grand Lodge dues was, therefore, not taken lightly and only after much thought and debate. The Board is aware that it could have an effect on membership, but in real terms the new level of dues is the equivalent to less than 40 pence per week, which is a very modest amount to belong to such a “club”.
The Board and I are very aware of two particular areas of concern – firstly the effect on those on fixed incomes and on those with multiple memberships. However, any outcome has to avoid relieving one section of our membership by disproportionately increasing the burden of the rest. Whilst we acknowledge the problem of fixed incomes, unfortunately the age profile of our membership, which shows approximately 35% of the membership is over 65, means that giving any reduction would put a disproportionate burden on the younger members, upon whom we depend for the future of our organisation. We are, nevertheless, planning to relieve some of the burden of multiple memberships by giving relief to those who belong to an Installed Masters Lodge as well as another Lodge. A proposal to do so will be laid before Grand Lodge in September.
I hope that the above explanation will increase the Craft’s understanding of why the rise in Grand Lodge dues is necessary. The Board takes its responsibilities very seriously and would be failing in its duty to the Craft if it did not take what it regards as essential steps to safeguard the future financial stability of the Craft, to ensure that the administration can continue efficiently to service the Craft, and that we can maintain and hand on to our successors our flagship building so that it remains a fitting and working memorial to those whom it commemorates.