Fourth Mentoring Conference
22 March 2012
An address by the MW Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes
I would like to give you an overview of our various initiatives and how they fit together into our overall strategy. You are all very well aware of the many factors that have been affecting the Craft over the last thirty years or so. All of which resulted in a negative image for Freemasonry, discrimination against our members and despite a rise in the population as a whole a steady decline in our own numbers. Whilst we are not alone in having a declining membership, I believe that we have something special to offer and that there are many men, who if they joined would enjoy and benefit from their membership, just as we have done.
So what is our strategy and how do you and the Mentors fit into it? Our first task was to counter unfair discrimination that our members were facing mainly in public office, local government and the armed services and to promote a positive image of the Craft. You will all know that Jack Straw had to change the Government’s stance on Freemasonry and the Judiciary. Local Government has had to remove its discriminatory enquiries into membership of Freemasonry. At the same time both at a National and Local level we have been talking to the Press, Chief Constables, Local Radio and Television to counter the misunderstandings that have arisen about the Craft. We have encouraged local Masonic Halls to open their doors to the public and we have promoted this building as a venue for Films, Fashion Shows, Launch Parties and other events. Whilst it brings in welcome revenue it has also meant the last year alone 100,000 members of the general public came into Freemasons’ Hall to see for themselves that we had nothing to hide.
We have also reviewed our image on the Internet. Grand Lodge now has two sites. The Grand Lodge Website which is outwardly facing and is mainly for the use of the general public and prospective members, looking for information about Freemasonry, and the Freemasonry Today website which is for our members. This not only has copies of the latest edition of the magazine, but also other topical items of news and interest. In addition nearly every Province and District has its own website as do many Lodges.
All of this has made the Craft more accessible than ever before and is helping to dispel the myths and misinformation that have grown up about us. At the same time we have been developing the Universities Scheme. If young men become interested in Freemasonry and find it enjoyable then we are building a firm foundation for the future and they are spreading the word to the next generation.
But the best way to show the world what we stand for and that we have nothing to hide is through our members. If we have 250,000 members of the Craft talking confidently and competently to friends and family about their membership and why they enjoy it then word will quickly spread like ripples on a pond in ever increasing circles.
Brethren - enjoyment is the key and enjoyment comes through involvement and understanding and that is where the mentor comes in. When I addressed Grand Lodge last December I said that there were three stages to Mentoring. The first two cover logistics and a basic understanding of the ritual and developing a sense of belonging. The third is how to talk about our Freemasonry to the non mason. To be able to do this confidently and competently our members must have a sense of involvement and understanding that comes from the other two stages.
I have said on many occasions that the key to our future is quality candidates, that is - men who will “come to appreciate the value of masonry” and who will indelibly imprint on their hearts its sacred dictates. But we must look after these candidates, make them feel welcome in fact treat them as we would wish to be treated ourselves. It is a simple message, the right men, properly looked after, enjoying and understanding what they have joined. We need these men to talk about their membership to others of like mind, who may then become interested enough to want to join as well.
I see pastoral care being – at the very least – eighty per cent of what mentoring is all about. Put simply, the real test is how you would like to have been welcomed when you first joined and how you would like to have been supported from then onwards. I do not want, nor I am sure do any of us, to have a complicated or onerous scheme – rather one that is as natural as possible yet, at the same time, allowing consistency of advice and support.
The first stage is for each candidate to understand the basic logistics that are involved in becoming a Freemason. It is really about a proper welcome. I am not going into that in detail today – other than to say that a candidate should never feel under briefed and should be made aware of his financial and time commitment. During this stage the personal mentor answers any questions the candidate may have for him to gain a sense of belonging. In other words, there should never be any surprises.
The second stage is to understand the basics of the ritual, especially after initiation and then passing and raising. This understanding should lead to the ability to answer questions about the myths that non Masons have – so that right from the start, members can counter the questions about the so-called funny handshakes, the nooses and trouser leg being rolled up – all these classics. The questions on these myths need to be answered accurately and without embarrassment. I am not talking about an in depth knowledge, but more a common understanding. The Mentor can, of course, point them in the right direction for this additional and important information as they require it.
We all understand the need to look after candidates, but it is the third stage of giving them the confidence – from the very outset – in order that they can speak to, in particular, family and friends about Freemasonry. That, Brethren, is vital to ensuring the future. A candidate – and indeed this applies equally to the rest of us – needs to understand how to talk to the non Mason about what Freemasonry means. The aim is to have as many members as possible as ambassadors for Freemasonry.
Brethren let me repeat what I said in December that an ambassador is not a rank or office - it is a mode of behaviour. On the fundamental understanding that we recruit only people who live up to our principles – an ambassador will not only understand the basics of ritual but also, importantly will be able and willing, with our support and guidance, to talk to family and friends about their Freemasonry, as and when appropriate. We need to have confidence in them to do so competently. To quote the Grand Master, “Talking openly about Freemasonry, as appropriate, is core to my philosophy, central to our communications strategy and essential to the survival of Freemasonry as a respected and relevant membership organisation”.
I hope that I have set in context the work you are going to do today. Firstly in helping Lodges to effectively adopt the new office of Mentor and secondly in discussing ways in which mentors can help our members become confident and competent ambassadors for Freemasonry. We at Grand Lodge will give you every support.
In a nutshell brethren our strategy is:
• To promote a positive image of the craft.
• To remove discrimination towards our members.
• To encourage the right men to join.
• To help them enjoy their membership.
• To encourage them to talk positively about Freemasonry.
• Thus completing the circle.
This is our strategy and you, brethren, and the Lodge and Personal Mentors are key to its success.