Crucially, and blessedly, Millennials are becoming masons
Those under thirty constitute at present only two per cent of British masons. This may seem negligible – apart from when you note they are also precisely the one age group in masonry whose numbers are growing.
Membership for people under thirty is currently on the uptick by 7.65 per cent. Contrast this with a decrease in all other age groups – just over ten per cent for people in their 40s, by seven per cent for people in their 50s, and just under ten per cent for people in their 60s.
This is a significant reprieve from a death-knell for us all. In the United Kingdom, a postwar peak pushed our numbers to over half-a-million masons.
In recent years, we are not quite half that – 228,000 in 2011, 214,000 in 2013.
And this is not the case for English Freemasonry alone. Trends have been broadly parallel across the Atlantic, where 1959 saw a height of American masonic membership at four million, buoyed by a generation of stalwart joiners home from war, then hitting a trough at half that shortly after 2000.
If we would know what the future of Freemasonry holds, we might do worse than look to Millennial masonry. What do masons in their twenties and early thirties say about what they want from their masonic experience? What in masonry do they tell us they would like to change?
I've spoken to a sample set of masons in their late twenties and early thirties, putting these two questions to them. Amongst them, they run the gamut from a Fellowcraft, newly in his first office as Inner Guard, through to two current Masters, and three past Masters, one of whom is now a lodge Secretary. They are joining masonry in some numbers – what do they, in turn, wish masonry to look like?
John works in IT and is in his young thirties. An active London Past Master, he has earned three silver matchboxes for word-perfect ceremonies, from the Emulation Lodge of Improvement, and was just invested as a Metropolitan Grand Steward. He replies with four ways in which he would like masonry to change:
1. Later starting times. A 4pm starting time is just too early for most salaried workers. Leave days are precious, and I don't like booking days off or half-days off for masonry unless it's strictly necessary.
2. Preserve the ritual. It's at the core of what we do. It's a little hard to do this while starting later, but it is possible. I don't go to meetings to listen to minutes or Charity Steward's reports (sorry, Bro Charity Steward – try email next time).
3. Cheaper meals. This is a controversial one, as many affluent young gentlemen are looking for some really fine dining. I, alas, have found myself skipping such meals as I find it difficult to justify with our darling little financial constraint crawling around.
4. Taking it seriously. It's fine to have a laugh, but if your lodge or unit does not essentially take what they're doing seriously, I'd rather be somewhere else.
Niall, 27, works as an investment manager, and is secretary of a London lodge, where he is also a Past Master. He says, 'One thing that keeps popping up is the dress code and meeting times. I find that interesting at least.'
Richard, 33, is a senior manager at a professional services firm. He joined Freemasonry in September, is now a Fellowcraft, and has just taken his first office as Inner Guard. He thoughtfully observes:
'I think one of the challenges with Millennials is that they may see masonry like they see Young Farmers or Conservative Future. It is for a certain type of wealthy, privately educated nerd. There are plenty of geeks out there that would enjoy Freemasonry, but have a worldview opposite or at least different to Young Farmers or Conservative Future. Then there are the festive boards – socialising with people outside of your age group is often challenging for younger people. That's not to mention the expense of dining.
'For me, I think Freemasonry offers a journey of personal discovery, something I can't find in politics or religion alone. I told my two closest friends and their responses were: 1) isn't it a bit weird all that dressing up? And 2) I guess it will be good for your career as masonry is about men getting up the greasy pole. I then had to explain brotherhood, charity, etc.
Danny, in his thirties, is a Leicestershire mason, works as a consultant, and is heavily involved with the Universities' Scheme. He calls for more of Project Streamline (late starts, cut out the unnecessary bits etc.) whilst maintaining the tenets of the Craft.
'Expanding the Universities' Scheme and light blue clubs across the country. Stronger mentorship schemes to look after and retain members. Greater openness and awareness of the public, including in the Tercentenary celebrations. Modernisation in terms of the use of electronic communication to keep lodge members up-to-date at lodge, Provincial and UGLE level. Wider awareness of what's going on outside your own lodge. And an advance in the use of social media.'
Richie, in his thirties, is a local government officer. He is a recent past master of a university scheme lodge, Honor and Generosity Lodge No.165. He wants to see more of the Universities' Scheme, multiple ceremonies, multiple candidates and get them quickly on the ladder.
Tim, 34, is a consultant in Oxford, where he finished a doctorate five years ago. He is currently master of the Apollo University Lodge No.357.
'The key with Freemasonry for younger people is to think of it as a charitable and social personal development course. To consider the three relationships it tries to encourage us to think about our relationship with our Creator, between each other, and with ourselves.'
To sum up, the masons interviewed were not in it for dining. They each, without prompting, emphasised ritual, personal and moral development, and charity.
They asked for a masonry which is adapted to working practices, as in the case of John and Niall; and one which responds to desires for individual charitable entrepreneurship.
The young masons which whom we've spoken display many of the most striking characteristics of Millennials – roughly those born from 1982 onwards.
This generation is so named – first, by historians William Strauss and Neil Howe in the United States – to note a demographic bump from roughly 1980 to 1990, as Baby Boomers born after the Second World War themselves produced children. And the name captures the fact that they would reach maturity from the year 2000 onward, in this brave millennium.
If they are joining masonry, it is not as yet another thread within a fabric of the establishment, and it is not – in striking difference to the hardy serial 'joiners' who returned from the Somme and Normandy to seek communal experiences at home after their demobilisation – because they very much like joining things.
In fact, it likely is rather the opposite. According to the British Social Attitudes survey, the Millennial generation is less likely than those that which before to consider themselves part of a particular religious denomination, less likely to join a political party or a trade union, and less likely to have an especially high view of the forces. Though interest in current affairs is quite strong (at two-thirds, when asked by the Hansard Society in a 2013 study of political engagement), party politics leaves Millennials cold (with one-third confessing any interest there whatsoever).
They are fiercely individualistic. Polling by YouGov shows them more likely than their elders to consider confronting social problems a responsibility of individuals, instead of the government. British Millennials especially, compared with their European neighbours of the same generation, are relaxed about social issues – same sex marriage, for one, or consumption of alcohol, tobacco, or cannabis, according to a Eurobarometer study.
They also are much more likely to have set up their own business than counterparts in any other European country. Part of this is to do with Britain – a country with high university attendance, which correlates with social liberalism, with a flexible and competitive labour market, tending towards competitiveness and individualism, and whose citizens (according to the Economist) 'chart their lives on social media with more zeal than most'.
'Detached from institutions and networked with friends,' is how the Pew Research Center describes Millennials in a study from March 2014. The millennial generation's world is digital, with 41% admitting they would rather communicate electronically than in person or by telephone. This generation's affinity with the digital world, as digital natives, seeps into what they seek from organisations – flexibility, varied and interesting experiences, regular feedback, an opportunity to keep learning.
Uncomfortable with rigid organisational structures, their paradigmatic employer is Google or Apple, or still better, the tech start-up. They value mentors from older generations, but there are hints of possible generational conflict afoot – 38% say that in the workplace, older senior management do not relate to them, 34% say their personal drive intimidates older generations, and half found their managers did not always understand they ways they used technology.
A Price Waterhouse Cooper report on Millennials at work says the global economic crisis was their formative coming-of-age experience, making them scrappy, deeply afraid of unemployment (72 per cent feeling they had made some sort of trade-off to get into work), but with personal learning and development still the most important thing they seek from employers – flexible working hours comes second, with cash bonuses in a surprising third place.
They do not especially like to join institutions, but they are joining this one. Why? Doubtless, the deeply personal engagement with moral development encouraged by the Craft – that the ritual is there, supremely evocative, but how you interpret and engage with it is utterly up to you – appeals to Millennials with a disillusion towards authoritative institutions. As does the exclusion from the masonic space of religion and politics, both discredited discourses for Millennials.
As Richard noted above, they are hardly joining Freemasonry because, having already joined Young Conservatives and Young Farmers, they wish for more of the same – going perhaps back marvelously full-circle to the organisation's Enlightenment-era origins, motivated by tolerance, free-thinking, and scepticism.
Masonry's countercultural nature in 2016 may even appeal. Conspiratorial theories hold less traction amongst Millennials, equally alongside all other received viewpoints.
Future of Freemasonry
Millennial masonry so far has thrown up its own institutions. The Connaught Club, founded in 2007 for those London-area Freemasons under 35, is one – for members of lodges which span the mix of ages, it is a novel affiliation which is cross-lodge and generational. The Universities' Scheme is another, set up in 2005, with a remit to 'establish and enhance arrangements and opportunities for undergraduates and other university members to enjoy Freemasonry.'
Masonry in universities has its own flavour – multiple-candidate ceremonies, and in many cases more than one degree worked in an evening, are the norm, as is a speedy progression into office – in both cases, in order to see new masons through as much of their masonic journey as possible within the context of a short university time.
Though our numbers are gratefully stabilising, the contraction of membership from the postwar boom will mean there is a slight excess of units, with many of the twentieth-century lodges and chapters being permitted to return warrants and charters, to permit a slightly smaller number of healthy units rather than a much larger number of units with smatterings of seven or eight members. Interestingly, says Mike Baker, the UGLE Director of Communications in an interview for this paper, compared with the state of the Craft at the consecration of the current Freemasons' Hall in Great Queen Street, the numbers now and then 'are not dramatically different, but the number of lodges is incredibly numerous now'.
Another trend is the repurposing of other dying units – especially the 19th century lodges that are our Victorian family silver, holders of Hallstone Jewels and slightly longer pasts. Often, this is into class lodges uniting people around particular shared interests. I owe a personal confession that in the past year I have contributed to precisely such mischief, in refounding a dying Hallstone lodge as a London book group lodge called Tivoli Libris Lodge No.2150, whose festive boards are all open to guests (including non-members and women) and which discuss a different book each occasion over pudding and port. The openness, we have found, demystifies us a bit, shows masonry off as something endearingly erudite, quirky, and welcoming, and we have had initiates from out of the guests of every meeting so far.
In a similar vein, June saw the consecration of a football lodge in Hampshire and Isle of White – which already had consecrated a cycling lodge, and a rugby lodge with the sturdy name Rugby Bastion. West Kent is making moves to form a cycling lodge as well.
Another convenient point of reference might be the Future of Freemasonry report, which UGLE commissioned in 2012. The document was largely a stock-taking exercise with the tercentenary of the UGLE – and modern masonry – beginning to lumber into view next year, in 2017. On page 29, the report – by the independent Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford – concludes 'even at the cutting edge of twenty-first century communication technologies, our need for symbolic exchanges that reinforce social bonds remain as evident as ever.'
It goes on to observe, similarly to the Millennials above, 'perhaps surprisingly, it was the younger masons who put the greatest emphasis on the rituals, seeing them as a distinct pull of Freemasonry from the beginning', all 'as the more formal rituals of British life decay'. This appeals strongly to younger members, in the way it combines enjoyable, entertaining aspects with more serious ones involving the 'transmission of moral codes' by reflection on the dramaturgical experiences and antique phrases.
There is an excellent quote there, from a mason holding a senior office in a university lodge, who says: 'The ritual is a strange, seductive thing. As an outsider you would wonder at this. As an intelligent man you would say, "This is extraordinary." And yet I see these [undergraduates] come into masonry and they love it.
'And they compete with each other in a sort of serious game. They throw in stray words in the ritual to catch each other out.'
What does this mean for their masonry? Cheery things, I think. The Craft is acquiring, quickly and in some numbers, a generation who show no signs of caring especially for rank, whose predilection to see masonry as a dining club (though admittedly, the best dining club) is weak, guided by a sense of moral seriousness and dissatisfaction with the answers, for the grand questions, on offer either from organised religion or political parties – questions to which their strong disposition is to answer themselves, educated, and charitably entrepreneurial.
More speculatively, others have raised the question whether Millennial masonry may produce a different and closer working relationship between UGLE and the two women's grand lodges.
For a more national perspective, I went to greater Manchester recently and shared much of this with a Provincial conference which included both younger and older masons, as well as the Provincial Grand Master. One older mason went so far as to suggest that if younger masons were less drawn by dining, perhaps masonic centres should consider converting some of their dining rooms to gyms, with free access to masons. Retaining young members who joined through the Universities' Scheme appeared as a key challenge, too – relations with London 'receiver' lodges are well established for the older university-linked lodges in the South East, but less so for, say, Northern graduates moving to the capital.
In any case, and in nearly all respects, the inclination of Millennials will be to nudge us back to where we began – a less top-heavy institution, a haven of tolerance in a partisan and angry world. And a Craft whose charitable efforts share a bit more in common with the entrepreneurial start-up culture of the tech sector, and show a bit less of what Mike Baker calls 'masonic porn', what one Millennial quoted above called 'grip'n grin' – old men, holding a very large cheque.
Pádraig Belton is a journalist, and secretary of London's book group lodge, Tivoli Libris Lodge No. 2150. Its book dinners are very much open to everyone, and it raises pennies for inner London, British, and overseas literacy charities.
London’s young masons' club to raise cash for mental illness charity
On Saturday 12 March 2016, the Connaught Club will endeavour to row the length of the Thames and back (on rowing machines – a distance of nearly 700km) in aid of the mental health charity Rethink Mental Illness at the Fulham Reach Rowing Club.
So far, the club has raised nearly £3,000 for the charity via donations from its members, club members’ lodges and the sale of over 200 specially designed lapel pins which bear the event’s logo. Lapel pins are available via the club’s website: http://www.connaughtclub.org/the-thames-to-change-lapel-pin/
All monies raised will be donated directly to Rethink Mental Illness who run services and support groups that change people’s lives and challenge attitudes about mental illness.
If you would like to get involved by rowing a few kilometres with the club, raise awareness of the endeavour, raise funds for the appeal, or would just like some more information, please see: http://www.connaughtclub.org/thames-to-change-our-201516-charity-endeavour/
As Freemasonry searches for new ways to build membership, Sarah Holmes learns what insights were revealed at an innovative light blue clubs’ conference
On a crisp Saturday in late October, young Freemasons from across the country congregated at London’s Freemasons’ Hall. The event was the New and Young Masons Clubs’ Conference, organised to share knowledge and best practice about how to keep the next generation of masons engaged with the Craft.
Testament to the growth of ‘light blue’ clubs within Freemasonry, the conference was hosted by the Connaught Club, whose Chairman Mitchell Merrick-Thirlway is a strong advocate of the need to support Freemasons after they have joined a lodge. As rites of passage go, initiation is a definitive milestone for a mason. ‘I couldn’t sleep for a whole week before mine,’ admits Mitchell, who joined Lodge of Candour, No. 7663, in 2010. ‘The ceremony was beautiful. I couldn’t have been more excited to start learning about this ancient Order.’
When Mitchell discovered that his lodge wouldn’t be meeting for another three months, however, he was understandably disappointed. ‘I imagined we’d be meeting every week, learning about different aspects of Freemasonry, its history and getting to know one another,’ says Mitchell. ‘Fortunately, my lodge secretary told me about the Connaught Club.
‘I went along to the Friday social and discovered a whole new side to Freemasonry.’
Launched at a reception held by Metropolitan Grand Lodge in 2007, the Connaught Club was formed as a social club for masons under 35 years old who were eager to engage in a more active brand of Freemasonry. ‘There are lots of masonic events and trips to get involved with. Just this October, 15 of us went to Dublin to visit the Grand Master’s Lodge to witness a First Degree,’ says Mitchell.
‘I’ve experienced so much more of Freemasonry because of the Connaught Club,’ he continues. ‘The guys are constantly bouncing ideas off each other on Facebook, and inviting one another to their lodge meetings. It’s given me an outlet for the energy and excitement that I wanted to put into the Craft.’
Although a London-based social club, the concept has spread as far afield as Kuala Lumpur and South Africa, where ‘Connaught Clubs’ have also been formed. Today, the London club enjoys a membership of 284 Freemasons under 35 years old, with numbers on the rise. It even has its own lodge, Burgoyne Lodge, No. 902. In April 2015, just five years into his masonic career, Mitchell became Connaught Club Chairman.
‘The energy is one thing,’ says Mitchell. ‘But it’s also about meeting like-minded people. Brethren of a similar age can relate to each other’s lives more easily. The club is about complementing one’s Freemasonry, not replacing it.’
The need for this early support has become clear, as masonic social clubs are cropping up throughout the Provinces. The New and Young Masons Clubs’ Conference heralded the first formal meeting for this national network. ‘It’s a chance for Provinces to exchange ideas, and share the lessons learned from the establishment of their clubs,’ explains Mitchell.
But it’s not just young masons who are benefiting. Light blue clubs give new masons of any age the support they need to get the most out of Freemasonry from day one. As founder of the Southampton Light Blue Club, Andy Venn appreciates the challenges of integrating new masons into the Craft. ‘I remember how daunting it was to come into a lodge full of established, older Freemasons,’ he says. ‘I wasn’t young myself – I was 43 coming in – but most of the brethren were between 60 and 80 years old.’ Thanks to the Southampton Light Blue Club, new members are now greeted at the door by brethren and officially introduced to the lodge.
A social structure
Regular social events have played an important role in easing new members and their families into masonic life. From an impromptu drink down the pub through to organised lodge visits and trips to places of masonic interest, the structure is informal and unpressured. Masons can get involved as often as they like, and events are scheduled to fit around family and work commitments.
‘So far this year, we’ve had three really successful breakfast meetings. We invited British Superbike rider Kyle Wilks to talk, and after that the actor Jeremy Bulloch, who played the bounty hunter Boba Fett in the Star Wars films,’ says Andy, adding that it was a talk by Lance Bombardier Gary Prout, who won the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for his service in Afghanistan, that really struck a chord with the Southampton masons. ‘When one of his comrades was hit by an explosive device, Gary ran out under Taliban fire to administer first aid and attempt to rescue him,’ recalls Andy. ‘It was an amazing story. He had 40 or so Freemasons with tears in their eyes.’
Having shared the story of his light blue club at the conference, Andy hopes other Provinces will be inspired to establish their own. ‘New Freemasons are our future. They bring a lot of value to the Craft. If we don’t stop this steady drip of younger masons leaving, we’ll stagnate.’
Retention is one benefit, but many clubs also offer a taste of masonic life for prospective members of the Craft. ‘We’ve seen a number of membership applications come off the back of our informal drinks receptions,’ says Ben Gait from Cardiff, who helped found the Colonnade Club in 2015. ‘They work well because there’s no pressure attached.’
For Ben, the conference has been fundamental in demonstrating the importance of the clubs to the rest of Freemasonry, particularly Grand Lodge.
‘If you look historically, things have tended to filter down from Grand Lodge to the Provinces. But the fact that members have organised themselves and grown this network organically says something about the changing face of Freemasonry.’
Indeed, the light blue clubs are more than an excuse for having a pint; they are actively building an organisation that’s fit for the 21st century.
Holding a social event
Andy: ‘Every time I try to get an evening social event together it falls flat. But our breakfast meetings work a treat, because they don’t intrude on family plans for the weekend.’
Ben: ‘It’s important to try different types of events. We organised a dinner at an all-you-can-eat buffet; it wasn’t the best-attended event, but the feedback we received gave us great ideas for the next one.’
Mitchell: ‘Charity events are a great way to unite people. This year, a group of us are rowing the length of the Thames on rowing machines to raise money for the mental health charity, Rethink.’
National conference for young masons
An invitation has gone out from the Connaught Club and other ‘light blue’ organisations to take part in the first ‘New and Young Masons Clubs’ Conference’ at Freemasons’ Hall in London on Saturday, 24 October 2015.
Each club will present any ideas they have, explain which events have worked well for them, and discuss best practices. The two-hour conference will include time to meet other members. Representatives from Provinces without a young masons club are also encouraged to attend.
After the conference, guests are invited to the installation meeting and Festive Board for the Connaught Club’s lodge, Burgoyne Lodge, No. 902.
For full details and to register, go to www.connaughtclub.org/nymcc2015
The New and Young Masons Clubs’ Conference 2015
Please join the Connaught Club, and many other new and young masons' clubs, at Freemasons’ Hall, London, on Saturday, 24th October 2015, and take part in the first New and Young Masons Clubs’ Conference
After a short introduction, representatives of each club will be given the opportunity to present any ideas they have, explain which events have worked well for their respective clubs, present best practices they’ve discovered and impart any event organising tips they might possess. Of course, no one and nothing is perfect, so tips for avoiding pitfalls will also be most welcome.
The event promises to be very insightful, informative and helpful for all clubs which attend. We believe by bringing many of the new and young masons' clubs together in this way, we can all gain from the shared knowledge and experience, and reach our shared objective – keeping new and young masons engaged with the Craft. With increased and continuous engagement with the Craft, we hope, in some small way, to prolong its existence.
We would encourage as many of the new and young masons' clubs from around the United Kingdom to attend this conference for the betterment of the masonic social clubs’ movement which is spreading, not just across the UK, but also around the world. We would also like to cordially invite any representatives from the various Provinces in the UK, which don’t currently have a ‘light blue’ or young mason club, to come along, and hopefully, be inspired to establish a club in their own Province.
The conference will start at 13.00 and last two hours, which will include time to mingle and chat to the members of other clubs, whilst enjoying some light refreshments.
After the conference, the Connaught Club’s lodge, Burgoyne Lodge No. 902, will be holding its Installation meeting, which you are most fraternally welcome to attend. The lodge will tyle at 17.00 and will be held in one of the many splendid temples at Freemasons’ Hall, Great Queen Street. Following the Lodge meeting, a three-course Festive Board will be enjoyed at a local dining venue.
If you would like to register your interest in attending the conference, please enter your details below and a member of the Club Committee will be in touch here: http://www.connaughtclub.org/nymcc2015/
The new experience
Freemasonry has a refreshingly open-minded attitude when it comes to age. The routes to the Craft for engaged young people are now more accessible than ever. The emergence of the Connaught Club, a social club for Freemasons under thirty-five, and the hugely successful Universities Scheme prove as much
But while there’s plenty for this younger generation to take from Freemasonry, what can these new brethren bring to the Craft? From a choreographer with all the right moves and a stonemason preserving the nation’s heritage, to an archaeology student unearthing our past, Sarah Holmes meets three young Freemasons with fresh perspectives, experiences and knowledge just waiting to be shared.
Mat Tindall, stonemason, King Egbert Lodge, No. 4288, Province of Derbyshire
Mat Tindall rarely has a typical day at the office. He is currently rebuilding the roof of Castle Drogo on Dartmoor – the last ‘castle’ to be built in Britain in 1911. It’s a painstaking process that involves re-fixing 3,000 granite blocks back into their original positions. ‘It’s like piecing together a giant jigsaw puzzle,’ Mat reveals, adding that the puzzle is made all the more difficult by the fact that some of the pieces weigh as much as one-and-a-half tonnes.
The whipping autumnal winds blowing in from the exposed Dartmoor landscape certainly don’t make it any easier. Fortunately, Mat isn’t deterred. ‘If I didn’t enjoy my job, I wouldn’t be here,’ he admits. ‘I’m lucky I get to experience some of the country’s most incredible heritage first hand.’
Just last year, Mat ventured below the floors of Sheffield Cathedral into the sixteenth-century crypt of George Talbot, the fourth Earl of Shrewsbury.
‘It was amazing being able to explore this archaic space by lamplight, to stand beside these huge coffins and read the eulogies chiselled into their lids in lead. It’s not something everybody gets to do.’
It was Mat’s love of the historical aspects of his job that first inspired his interest in Freemasonry. Working in great halls, cathedrals and castles, Mat became fascinated with the masonic symbols that he regularly encountered. ‘But it wasn’t until I was working on a farmhouse conversion next to King Egbert Lodge in Derbyshire that I finally got in touch with the Worshipful Master,’ he says.
In September 2014 Sheffield-born Mat was initiated into the Craft. ‘I loved the camaraderie of it all,’ he recalls. ‘The history, the tradition – it’s exactly what
I’m interested in, but my partner felt unsure. I think she worried that the lodge would take time away from our three-year-old daughter, Willow. But she knows now it won’t come to that. There’s never been a pressure to prioritise the lodge over family.’
Despite having only just started his journey into Freemasonry, Mat is already feeling confident in this new undertaking. ‘It’s definitely broadened my horizons,’ he says. ‘As the youngest person in my lodge I feel I bring a fresh perspective, too. Young people do have a different way of thinking about things, and when everybody brings their own stories and insights to their lodges it can benefit Freemasonry as a whole.’
‘Freemasonry has definitely broadened my horizons. As the youngest person in my lodge I feel I bring a fresh perspective, too.’
John Henry Phillips, archaeology student, Wyggeston Lodge, No. 3448, Province of Leicestershire and Rutland
Unlike many students, partying was the last thing on John Henry Phillips’ mind when he headed to the University of Leicester in 2013. Having spent the past four years of his life touring Europe as part of a burgeoning rock band, John was eager to immerse himself in his archaeological passions.
It was the discovery of a World War I grenade during his first visit to the fields at Flanders in Belgium that inspired John to apply to study archaeology. He was just ten minutes into his visit when he and his dad happened upon the small explosive shell.
‘One hundred and sixty tonnes of ammunition are ploughed up from under the fields each year, so people often find artefacts,’ says John. ‘Even so, it’s astonishing to find yourself face to face with a soldier’s boot after over a century. I’m now in talks with various projects in France about excavating the trenches in the future.’
It was after being accepted to study in Leicester (with the same university department that discovered Richard III’s remains in a local car park in 2013) that John became interested in the Universities Scheme, which forges links between lodges and young people who are seeking to become involved in Freemasonry.
‘Student living can be quite intense,’ recalls John, ‘so Freemasonry was a great opportunity to step away from it all, to do something positive and unselfish rather than just going on a pub crawl.’ In December 2013, John was officially initiated into Wyggeston Lodge.
The overlap between the history of Freemasonry and the world wars had a strong appeal for him.
‘As a historical fraternity, it ties in with my interests. I particularly like masonic traditions that originate from those eras – such as raising a glass to absent brethren at lodge dinners, which stems from World War I,’ he says.
It is this sense of tradition, combined with the support of the fraternity, that John believes young people could benefit from most. ‘It’s an uncertain time for young people. We’ve more debt than ever – the old guarantees of a steady job and a mortgage are gradually disappearing. I think Freemasonry could be a welcome constant for many,’ he says.
‘But ultimately it’s a two-way street. Young people today have more diverse experiences and perspectives than they did fifty years ago. We’re better travelled than before and education is more accessible, so I think we have just as much to offer in the way of new ideas.’
‘Student living can be quite intense, so Freemasonry was a great opportunity to step away from it all and do something positive.’
Anthony King, Choreographer, Howard Lodge of Brotherly Love, No. 56, Province of Sussex
After balancing his entire frame on tiptoes, Anthony King bursts across the Pineapple dance studio in a fit of energy and excitement. A Michael Jackson song booms from the speakers above as he moonwalks his way across the white floors.
By day, Anthony is a born performer, specialising in the trademark routines of the King of Pop. His Michael Jackson-style dance classes are a firm favourite on the London fitness scene, and this October he performed two sell-out tribute shows at the Shaw Theatre. But outside the dance studio, he is a dedicated Freemason of Howard Lodge of Brotherly Love, where he was initiated in May 2014.
‘As a performer, I live in quite a superficial daily environment, so Freemasonry gives me insight into another world,’ explains Anthony. ‘It appeals to my philosophical and historical side.’
In particular, it was the idea of being part of a centuries-old brotherhood that drew Anthony to the Craft. ‘I loved the idea of being part of something bigger, of the continuity of the past through the ritual and tradition,’ he explains.
On entering the lodge, Anthony was inspired by the honesty and warmth of his fellow brethren towards him. ‘They made me feel valued and respected from the moment I arrived,’ he says. ‘That really impressed me.’
Anthony became interested in Freemasonry through his friend Simon, whose father, Richard, is a Freemason. ‘But I never thought I’d be able to join until we were discussing it over dinner one night. Richard saw how passionate I was about it, so the next day he gave me the forms and we got the process underway.’
While the prospect of balancing the commitments of Freemasonry with rehearsing for sell-out shows and preparing for dance classes might seem a challenge, for Anthony it’s not an issue. ‘I’ll always be able to make time for it,’ he says. ‘When Simon and I joined, we both agreed this was a turning point in our lives. We were committing ourselves to improvement through Freemasonry.’
Despite being the youngest person in his lodge, Anthony doesn’t pay much heed to the age difference between himself and his brethren. ‘The Craft attracts a certain type of person, regardless of age. Perhaps young people bring a little more vibrancy, but over three hundred years what difference does a generation make? The important thing is that we all value one another.’
‘I loved the idea of being part of something bigger, of the continuity of the past through the ritual and tradition.’
Connaught Club is in the swim
Every year the Connaught Club launches a charity appeal for the Metropolitan Masonic Charity.
With its membership made up of London masons aged under 35, the club decided to make this year’s charity venture a simulation of the 56-mile swim from mainland Britain to Ireland. Around 20 club members set themselves the challenge of swimming 1,802.5 lengths in the outdoor Olympic-sized pool at London Fields Lido, working in shifts. The swim took more than eight hours and raised over £5,000 for the Metropolitan Masonic Charity. A bottle of champagne went to Fabian Rosso, who swam 350 lengths and covered more than 10 miles.
It’s an acknowledged fact that Freemasonry is facing a challenge in recruiting young masons in the UK. But what is the Craft doing to address the issue? Adrian Foster goes in search of answers
For some, the term ‘young Freemason’ is an oxymoron on a par with ‘clear as mud’ or ‘honest broker’. However, a quick search on the internet for ‘young Freemasons’ reveals dedicated Facebook and Twitter sites that point to a new generation who are looking to discover the fraternity and relevance of the Craft.
The Connaught Club’s website proclaims that it has been founded to give young Freemasons in London a means to meet and socialise with like-minded people of similar ages who might otherwise be dispersed over London’s many lodges and large geographic area. Chris Hirst, chairman of the club, explains how it was established: ‘The vast majority of young Freemasons I meet tell me that they are the youngest member of their lodge by twenty, thirty, even forty or more years and, that although they enjoy the company and friendship of the other members, they sometimes feel left on the periphery. This in turn can lead to disillusionment with the Craft and this is exactly what the activities of the Connaught Club are meant to counteract.’
Chris explains that the club was formed to address a gap identified by the Metropolitan Grand Lodge over the lack of a focus for young brethren. ‘It was felt that although our fraternity transcends differences in men, including age, there is still a particular affinity between brethren of a young age. Our non-masonic events are social occasions offering young Freemasons the chance to meet with each other. At open receptions at Freemasons’ Hall, we congregate in and around the Grand Temple. Non-masons are welcome at these events and they have proved to be useful for introducing potential members to the Craft and for showing wives, girlfriends and partners a little about Freemasonry.’
With membership open to any Freemason under thirty-five, the club has an annual picnic on Lincoln’s Inn Fields for friends and family too. It also meets more informally on the first Friday of every month at a pub local to the Freemasons’ Hall for after-work drinks. ‘We do not have recruitment of new Freemasons as a principal objective of the club, but this has occurred quite often as a result of our activities,’ concludes Chris.
Jayson Brinkler, of The Campbell Lodge, No. 1415, offers an insight into what his lodge is doing to connect with young people: ‘Our meetings, which take place at Cole Court, Twickenham, are renowned within the Province for their social events, encouraging brethren to invite non-masons along to join in the fun. These events raise money for charity as well as encouraging our non-masonic friends to ask us questions about Freemasonry in a relaxed and friendly environment. The sort of events include an annual barbecue, golf, clay pigeon shooting, a ladies’ festival – and we recently hosted a discussion meeting about English Freemasonry where twenty-two non-masonic guests attended, nineteen of them ladies. If other lodges followed our example, the Craft would certainly become a lot more vibrant,’ suggests Jayson.
In 2010, Jayson helped to establish The Kent Club – named after Grand Master the Duke of Kent – and became its secretary. Like the Connaught Club, The Kent Club is a social hub that enables young Freemasons between the ages of thirty-five and forty-nine to mix and socialise with brethren of their own age. This initiative, which is supported by Metropolitan Grand Lodge, has a committee that includes an events secretary who organises social events such as masonic talks, an annual dinner and monthly informal drinks. With partners and non-masonic friends encouraged to attend, The Kent Club has gained a membership of around ninety in its first year, clearly showing that it is meeting a need among the younger fraternity.
‘English Freemasonry is doing what it can, but it is the responsibility of individual lodges to find new and inventive ways to attract younger people into the Craft,’ says Jayson. ‘Not enough is being done to reverse a trend which, if not addressed, will result in many more lodges closing and members leaving the Craft. All too often we see lodges holding their standard four meetings a year – and that’s all. Social activities are vital in Freemasonry because they not only provide a means of introducing potential new members to a lodge, but they also prevent young, and new, brethren losing interest between meetings. So it is as much about retention as it is about recruitment.’
adapt to survive
Keith Mitchell runs new masons’ receptions at Freemasons’ Hall and is forthright in his views. ‘Many of us probably believe that Freemasonry is largely populated by men aged sixty to ninety, with a few lively centenarians. However, there are now more than fifty lodges specifically for undergraduates, postgraduates, senior members of a university and their alumni, ranging in age from eighteen upwards,’ he says, pointing to the growing level of interest in Freemasonry shown by enquiries through the UGLE, Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Provincial websites.
‘Should we worry if the average age of a London Freemason is sixty? I believe we should,’ says Keith. ‘We can shrug and ignore our ageing membership, or we can look critically at Freemasonry and ask what we can do to appeal to a broader swathe of society while maintaining our traditions. I believe it’s time to jettison timidity in masonry. London masons have a float in the Lord Mayor’s Parade and wear their regalia. Many Provinces organise open days and there are frequent social events which are open to non-masons across the country.’
Keith accepts that his views might not be popular: ‘I can already hear some senior brethren groaning loudly, but I do think we need to reflect on what changes would help us to maintain a healthy flow of new members and which lodges would be best placed to make those changes. With 1,400 lodges in London alone, there is flexibility for experimentation and trial. I encourage masonic brethren to reflect on the inevitability of decline if we do not adapt, innovate and move with the changing times.’