12 March 2014
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes
Brethren, it has been a pleasure to install Right Worshipful Brother Sir David Wootton as Assistant Grand Master. In offering him our congratulations I know that you would want me to wish him well in his important task at this exciting time for Freemasonry.
I also take this opportunity to thank RW Bro David Williamson for his thirteen years as Assistant Grand Master serving the English Constitution admirably in that role. I can think of few people who have done more for Freemasonry in general and the Craft in particular. I also know that I speak for Lord Northampton when I say that there could not have been a more loyal and supportive AGM.
It is, in fact, the unity of the English Constitution that I wish to talk about today. That unity is crucial to our survival as a relevant organisation in society for men of quality to join. In particular I want to emphasise the importance of all the component parts of our organisation working together. Enormous progress has been made in the liaison between the centre, here, and London, the Provinces and Districts.
The consistent approach from the centre is now very much a consultative one, working directly to seek views before making proposals for consensus approval. This is typically through the Grand Secretary, on behalf of the Rulers and Board of General Purposes by direct contact, online surveys or by Provincial Grand Masters championing or being members of committees looking into and ensuring the future of Freemasonry. This inclusive approach is working well. I am keen that it continues.
I will illustrate this inclusive approach with some examples to support this starting with the Board of General Purposes whose nine members include the Metropolitan Grand Master, two current and two past Provincial Grand Masters. They not only bring a wealth of experience but also an understanding of the issues directly facing the Provinces. For your information the latest issue of Freemasonry Today, which has just come out, has an article in which the President of the Board explains how the Board is fully transparent, where every member is an active contributor. He also mentions the increasing professionalism in the way the Craft is run with standards you would expect to find in successful businesses.
I mentioned that this is an exciting time for Freemasonry with several initiatives dealing with both future recruitment and retention as well as business effectiveness in running a large membership organisation. For example the newly formed Membership Focus Group which includes eight Provincial Grand Masters. Their brief is to advise the Board of General Purposes on how best Freemasonry can concentrate the minds of members, lodges, Provinces and Rulers to work in a collaborative and focused manner in stemming the decline in membership and meeting the long term needs of the Craft. Interestingly, they have already identified the high loss of members throughout the first ten years of membership. It is also already clear that the majority of recruitment is carried out by a relatively small number of members.
The Tercentenary Planning Committee is working closely with the Board of General Purposes looking at the overall plans for celebrations in 2017. Although there will be a final event in London towards the end of the year, I am determined that the Provinces and Districts run their own celebratory events throughout the year at times convenient to them. With this in mind two Provincial Grand Masters sit on the Committee with the aim of supporting and coordinating the planning with other Provincial and District Grand Masters. This way, many more members, throughout the English Constitution, will be able to participate in celebrating this milestone in our great history.
I have talked about Provincial Grand Masters being involved with helping to set the strategy as members of committees. But, brethren, wider views are also sought with online surveys which are quick and informative. For example, we have run a survey seeking opinions on communication strategies for the English Constitution. More recently, we have had a survey on potential new branding as we move towards 2017.
There are, of course, many other examples of how well we are all working together. I hold a business meeting for all Provincial Grand Masters the day before the annual Craft Investitures in April each year, and later this year I will be holding my next round of regional meetings with Provincial Grand Masters. These meetings have proved invaluable in the past, openly exchanging views and opinions.
Let us not forget the Districts who form an important part of the English Constitution. Last year, accompanied by the Grand Secretary, I attended business meetings with groups of District Grand Masters in Trinidad, Harare and Lagos whilst the Deputy Grand Master attended the inaugural Asia Oceanic Conference of District Grand Lodges in Kuala Lumpur. In addition I hold a dedicated meeting for all District Grand Masters who attend the Investitures in April to discuss issues that particularly affect them.
So, brethren, we are, as a united English Constitution, working more closely together than at any other time in our history. At a strategic level, I believe that continuing to work together will not only stem the decline in membership but start to increase it to ensure the future of Freemasonry. At an individual level, consider the fact that the more members there are, the better chance Grand Lodge has of keeping the dues down.
Changing tack, brethren, you will all be more than well aware of the appalling conditions being experienced by thousands of people as a result of the winter floods. Whilst the south west has been worst hit, Kent, Sussex and Berkshire as well as parts of Wales are not far behind, in fact there is barely a part of the south that does not have its tales of woe.
It will not surprise you to know that Freemasonry has been to the fore with providing relief funding. The Somerset Community Fund has received £750,000 in all, of which £125,000 has been from various masonic sources. The Provincial Grand Master of Somerset set a target of £50,000 and so, brethren, you can imagine how overwhelmed he is by the support the Province has received, from the Grand Charity, other Provinces (Essex alone donating £40,000) and many Lodges from all over the country, as well as those in his own Province.
The Grand Charity can and does react quickly in these situations and as well as its support of Somerset, it has donated to the Red Cross, Berkshire, Devonshire and West Wales. In all, so far, it has made donations of nearly £60,000.
We should all be immensely proud of the way in which our members respond to emergencies and how well we are able to coordinate our giving. Thank you to all those concerned.
From the Grand Secretary
For any of our members to celebrate fifty years in the Craft is a great achievement, and one that is usually commemorated with fellow lodge members and the acknowledgement of the Province or District. However, when our Grand Master celebrated his fifty years in Freemasonry in December 2013, it was an occasion marked by the whole English Constitution. You will, I am sure, be interested to read more about this important event further on in this issue of Freemasonry Today.
Many of you will know that, at the March Quarterly Communication, Sir David Wootton succeeds David Williamson as Assistant Grand Master. We all thank David Williamson for his tremendous contribution during the thirteen years that he has held the role, and wish David Wootton every success in his new appointment. David Williamson’s address at the December 2013 Quarterly Communication is well worth reading.
Now that 2014 is underway and with only three clear years to our tercentenary, I take this opportunity to remind us all of our values of integrity, kindness, honesty, fairness and tolerance. These values apply internally as well as externally. Remember too, above all, that Freemasonry is to be enjoyed.
In this issue, you will read about how Freemasonry enables its members to explore their hobbies and interests while also making new friends. Our profile of Connaught Lodge reveals a community that has been uniting dog lovers, Freemasonry and The Kennel Club for more than one hundred years. We also report on the University Lodges’ Ball, which saw one thousand Freemasons and members of the public come together for a fantastic night that recalled the grand balls of yesteryear.
A feature on Freemasonry Cares shows another side to membership. For David Blunt, accepting that he needed support, after illness left him severely disabled, was a challenge. Encouraged by his lodge Almoner to call the Freemasonry Cares hotline, David now has a new scooter that has given him the freedom to live his life. At the other end of the age spectrum, we look at the work of pregnancy and birth charity Tommy’s and how the masonic charities are supporting its research.
I believe that the breadth and depth of stories in this issue shows an organisation that can hold its head high as we count down to our three hundredth anniversary.
‘In this issue, you will read about how Freemasonry enables its members to explore their hobbies and interests while also making new friends.’
With Sir David Wootton succeeding him, outgoing Assistant Grand Master David Williamson looks back at his achievements and the support he has received
During my thirteen years as Assistant Grand Master, I have visited every continent for a variety of purposes: to install District Grand Masters and Grand Inspectors, to attend landmark meetings of private lodges, and to represent the Grand Master at other Grand Lodges. Here at home, I have installed Provincial Grand Masters, attended charity festivals and lodges in their Provinces, and in Metropolitan London. I have always received a warm welcome, for which I thank them all.
There are many other people to whom I owe personal debts of gratitude for the support and encouragement they have given me during my term of office, not least the several Rulers I have been privileged to serve under, and the many people at Freemasons’ Hall.
Over the years I have witnessed many changes, such as the formation of Metropolitan Grand Lodge, in which I was privileged to play a part. Nine years ago, I started the Universities Scheme, which now has fifty-nine lodges, many of which I have visited. I am proud of what they are achieving and grateful to my organising committee for the time they have devoted to promoting the scheme.
In parallel with the growth of the scheme, I have seen the mentoring initiative have an increasingly positive effect in making masonry meaningful to new masons and aiding retention. One of the biggest changes has been in the way we portray ourselves to the outside world, through social media and our publications, all of which contribute to what we know as ‘openness’, helping us regain what the Grand Master has called ‘our enviable reputation in society’.
As I reflect on the past thirteen years, I can say that it has been an honour to have had the opportunity to contribute to English Freemasonry; I have enjoyed every moment.
My sincere thanks to the many masons it has been my privilege to meet. I will always remember the collective and individual encouragement you have given me over the years.
Derbyshire lodge initiates first student
One year after Assistant Grand Master David Williamson accepted it into the Universities Scheme, Derbyshire’s Hartington Lodge, No. 1085, has initiated its first student candidate, 18-year-old Philip Tomlinson.
The meeting was attended by more than 80 brethren, including Provincial Grand Master Graham Rudd; Assistant Provincial Grand Master Steven Varley; and 12 Entered Apprentices, as well as two Fellowcrafts from other lodges.
The lodge has already secured six further candidates, having run a stand at the University of Derby’s freshers’ fair, followed by an open evening at Derby Masonic Hall.
11 December 2013
An address by the RW Assistant Grand Master David Williamson
Brethren, the more observant among you may have noticed that I acted as Deputy Grand Master at the last two Quarterly Communications, in September and June. However, you should not infer from the fact that you see me in this chair today, that this is a portent of what the future holds for me!
You will remember that at the June Quarterly Communication, the Pro Grand Master announced that the Grand Master had appointed VW Bro Sir David Wootton to succeed me as Assistant Grand Master. He is a man of great quality, and I wish him every success in his new role; he will be installed on 12th March next year. Thus today is my last appearance as Assistant Grand Master at Grand Lodge, and the Pro Grand Master, with the collusion of the Deputy Grand Master, has contrived to be otherwise engaged today, to permit me the extraordinary privilege of presiding over Grand Lodge, for the first and last time, for which I am deeply grateful.
By the time I retire next March, I will have served thirteen years as Assistant Grand Master, during which time I have visited every continent, for a variety of purposes; to Install District Grand Masters and Grand Inspectors, to attend landmark meetings of private lodges, and to represent the Grand Master at other Grand Lodges. Here at home, I have installed Provincial Grand Masters, attended Charity Festivals and lodges in their Provinces, and in Metropolitan London; I have always received a warm and generous welcome, for which I thank them all.
There are many other people to whom I owe personal debts of gratitude for the support and encouragement they have given me during my term of office, not least the several Rulers I have been privileged to serve under, two of whom, I am delighted to see here today, MW Bro Lord Northampton, and RW Bro Iain Bryce. I am also very grateful to so many people here at Freemasons' Hall, who have helped smooth my path with their advice and support.
Over the years I have witnessed many changes and exciting initiatives, not least the formation of Metropolitan Grand Lodge, in which I was privileged to play a part. Nine years ago, with Lord Northampton’s encouragement, I started the Universities Scheme, which now has fifty nine lodges around the country, many of which I have visited. I am proud of what those lodges are achieving, and very grateful to successive members of my organising committee for the time and effort they have devoted to promoting the Scheme.
Parallel with the growth of the Scheme, I have seen the mentoring initiative take an increasingly positive effect in making masonry meaningful to new masons and aiding overall retention. One of the biggest changes has been in the development of the way we portray ourselves to the outside world, through websites, social media, and our publications, all of which contribute to what we know as 'openness', and in helping us regain, what the Grand Master has called, 'our enviable reputation in society.'
Finally, brethren, as I reflect on the last thirteen years, it is with all humility I can say that it has been a great honour to have had the opportunity to contribute to English Freemasonry; I have enjoyed every moment. My grateful thanks to all of you who may have made a special effort to be here today; it is wonderful to see the Grand Temple so full!
My sincere thanks too to the many masons it has been my pleasure and privilege to meet, in London, in the Provinces, and overseas. I will always remember the collective and individual encouragement you have given me over the years. Brethren, thank you all.
Staffordshire support: In challenging conditions, Staffordshire masons have raised £1,675,000 for The Freemasons’ Grand Charity
Staffordshire’s five-year Festival culminated in a dinner held at Keele University in September, during which Dr Alexander Stewart, Provincial Grand Master, announced the £1,675,000 total. The five hundred members and guests at the event included David Williamson, Assistant Grand Master. Richard Hone QC, President of the Grand Charity, thanked the Provincial Grand Master and Staffordshire masons for raising such a wonderful amount.
Alexander said, ‘It has been our intention to raise as much as we could to further the marvellous work of the Grand Charity. It has been a difficult time financially for many of our members and our numbers have fallen in the past ten years. We set no target and I am so proud of all our members and their families for their generous support and the enormous efforts they have all made.’
The money raised will be used to assist the Grand Charity’s important work helping people in need.
The nave of Canterbury Cathedral welcomed around 1,000 masons, their families and friends for a service to celebrate the bicentenary of Royal Arch Masonry
On Saturday 21 September, a unique event was held at Canterbury Cathedral that not only marked a special milestone in masonic history but also demonstrated a great affinity between Freemasonry and the cathedral’s stonemasons. Freemasonry has its roots in the lodges of medieval stonemasons and to this day supports the training of apprentice stonemasons at the cathedral.
The occasion was a combined celebration for the Provinces of East Kent, West Kent, Sussex and Surrey, each led by their respective Grand Superintendents, Geoffrey Dearing, Jonathan Winpenny, Kenneth Thomas and Eric Stuart-Bamford. The significance of the event was acknowledged by the presence of the Second and Third Grand Principals, George Francis and David Williamson, respectively. Russell Race, the Metropolitan Grand Superintendent, and David Boswell, the Grand Superintendent of Suffolk, were also in attendance, as was the Sheriff of Canterbury, Cllr Ann Taylor, who represented the city and people of Canterbury.
The Archdeacon of Canterbury, the Venerable Sheila Watson, conducted the service, with the grand setting and the superb King’s School Crypt Choir adding to the memorable ambience. The Archdeacon referred to the long connection between the cathedral and Freemasons, in particular the gifts of the Chapter House east window and the Coronation window. She paid tribute to the masonic principles of unity, fellowship and service to the community, and spoke of ‘service beyond ourselves’, a virtue embraced by the Church and Freemasonry alike.
Cornwall digs deep for Samaritan Fund
There has been a magnificent effort by the Province of Cornwall in raising £1,876,879 in its Festival on behalf of the Masonic Samaritan Fund (MSF).
Provincial Grand Master Peter George commented, ‘This amount greatly exceeded the target I set when I became Provincial Grand Master, and demonstrated yet again that one of the core principles of our Order is very much alive within our membership.’ The guest of honour at the Atlantic Hotel, Newquay, was Assistant Grand Master David Williamson.
As he approaches retirement from the position of Assistant Grand Master, David Williamson reflects on a career as an airline pilot, becoming President of the Universities Scheme and why Freemasonry is not about a ‘blinding light’
When did you become interested in flying?
I’ve had a fascination with aeroplanes since I was a boy. I won a flying scholarship when I was seventeen and my first passenger was my wife –my girlfriend at the time. It was one of my biggest disappointments; there I was thinking she’d be impressed, but she hated every minute of it!
I joined British Overseas Airways Corporation in 1968, and eventually became assistant flight training manager on the 737 at Heathrow. Later, I worked as assistant flight training manager on the 747-400 fleet until I retired in 1998.
How did you come to Freemasonry?
It was the early 1970s and I was approaching thirty. I knew that my father was a Freemason, but I had little idea what it was about. After my mother died I would go and spend time with him and it was then that he spoke to me about Freemasonry. He was Junior Warden and his lodge wanted him to become Master the next year. He asked me what I thought, so I asked him what was involved and whether he thought it was something that would interest me. He said it might.
What attracted you to join?
I did a lot of reading. There was no internet then but I found out that notable people such as Mozart had been Freemasons. It struck me that there was something special about Freemasonry. On the night I was going to be initiated I was excited because I felt there was going to be some kind of revelation. And it wasn’t like that at all. The night was amazing, the atmosphere incredible and I can’t remember if the ritual was good or bad. I read the Book of Constitutions I had been given later that night. In retrospect, I was a little disappointed, but it taught me a valuable lesson: Freemasonry is a journey – not a blinding light but a series of learning events.
How did you become Assistant Grand Master?
I became the Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies, both in the Craft and the Royal Arch in Middlesex, before becoming Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies in 1998. In March 2001, Lord Northampton took over from Lord Farnham as Pro Grand Master. The chatter within Grand Lodge was about who the next Assistant Grand Master was going to be. I certainly didn’t think it would be me as I had been appointed to take over as Pro Provincial Grand Master of Middlesex, so it came as a bolt out of the blue. But I took on the role in March 2001.
‘Freemasonry has an appeal for young people... It has a set of values, it has structure and it combines many aspects of life that you don’t always get elsewhere.’
What was your first duty?
London Freemasonry was not like it is now – it didn’t have a Metropolitan Grand Master and the Assistant Grand Master would carry out most of the ceremonial functions. But around the same time as I was appointed, there was a push for London to be self-governing, as it is now. Lord Northampton asked me to chair the committee to make this happen. It was a very exciting time.
What kicked off the Universities Scheme?
Around nine years ago I visited Apollo University Lodge in Oxford. I had been extremely impressed; the members were very young and the ritual was excellent. I spoke about it to Lord Northampton, saying it was fantastic and that we should have lodges like this all around the country. He said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’ From that was born the Universities Scheme. I formed a committee with Oliver Lodge, now the Grand Director of Ceremonies, as Chairman and we used Apollo University Lodge and Isaac Newton University Lodge, Cambridge, as a pattern. We now have fifty-nine lodges.
What do you feel appeals to young people?
Freemasonry has an appeal for young people, which we’ve perhaps overlooked. It has a set of values, it has structure and it combines many aspects of life that you don’t always get elsewhere. The motivation for me is that these are bright people who are going to make their way in society with a knowledge of Freemasonry. Even if they were to leave, hopefully they will have a positive view of Freemasonry that they can take out into the world, although of course we hope they will stay. While the goal of the scheme is to ‘attract undergraduates and other university members to join and enjoy Freemasonry’, we also want to keep them; retention is our biggest challenge.
What about recruiting masons from elsewhere?
The principles of recruitment and retention in the scheme don’t just apply to universities. It’s about approaching membership in a different way. You’ve got to think about how things are different now from fifty years ago. The scheme is a good way of saying
‘if it works here, why can’t it work there?’ It certainly does not address the membership issue but it points to how things could be done elsewhere.
Is Freemasonry changing?
Rulers used to come from the nobility, with Provincial Grand Masters often local landowners, whom you might see once or twice a year. That has all changed. I am the first Assistant Grand Master for several years without a title and Peter Lowndes is the first ever Pro Grand Master not to have one. We have learned to communicate at a different level. You can stand on a stage or you can stand on the floor and we appreciate that we need to put ourselves about. We’ve got to sell our message at a personal level and lead by example. That’s a big change.
‘We have learned to communicate at a different level... We’ve got to sell our message at a personal level and lead by example.’
The Bicentenary Celebrations for Supreme Grand Chapter started with a demonstration of the new ceremony of exaltation by the Metropolitan Grand Stewards Chapter, which was followed by a celebratory luncheon in the Grand Connaught Rooms, presided over by the Pro First Grand Principal, ME Comp Peter Lowndes