The traffic sweeps up Great Queen Street in London, past the grandiose frontage of Freemasons’ Hall. Freemasons dodge in and out of cafés and bars, and among them a tall, sandy-haired, smiling figure weaves his way between the cars to meet me in front of the main doors; this is Russell Race, Metropolitan Grand Master for London. It must be said that since Metropolitan Grand Lodge offices were moved from the opposite side of the street into Freemasons’ Hall itself, there’s been much less crossing the road.
Until 2003 London Freemasons were administered by the Grand Secretary’s office. During that year Grand Lodge voted to set up a London unit, to be self-governing on the pattern of Provincial and District Grand Lodges: Russell Race was appointed Deputy Metropolitan Grand Master and, in 2009, Metropolitan Grand Master.
‘When the idea of Metropolitan Grand Lodge was first mooted, there was opposition wasn’t there?’ I asked.
‘One objection was the feeling that London honours were decided by the Grand Master and by making London a separate organisation you were lowering the bar and giving that decision to a lower authority. In reality it never was the Grand Master – it was a section within the Grand Secretary’s department.
‘The other fear was that London would become “provincialised”. Many members were aware that Provincial Grand Masters give a diktat and it tends to be followed. So some were fearful that London would go down that route, controlling particularly what lodges did with their charity money.
‘The third concern was that there would be a bigger bureaucracy: it would increase their subscriptions, other than increases that would have happened anyway. In practice, the staff of Metropolitan Grand Lodge has grown slightly, though much of that growth has come through volunteers.’
‘Were the fears of the detractors in any sense realised?’
‘No. Dues have gone up, but they have gone up countrywide. Importantly, London masons now have a better focus for charitable giving. There are three main strands for the Metropolitan Masonic Charity – medical care, charities that help younger people in London, and the elderly.
‘A lot of what we have been doing in London is about breaking down barriers. The move across the road has been very important. The old building didn’t make a good showcase for London Freemasonry and it was not a good working environment. The move has also enabled better contact with members of Grand Lodge. But Grand Lodge recognises our independence and that’s important. London has its own issues, its own problems.’
‘How good are you at publicising Freemasonry?’
‘One of the recruitment areas we are keen on is our young group, the Connaught Club, which caters for young people up to the age of thirty-five. Freemasonry is felt by some to be not elitist, but ageist in terms of dealing with young people. But I think young people who come into a lodge benefit immensely from having other young people around them. The Connaught Club has very lively social events and at least two open events a year at which members are encouraged to bring non-masons along. When they come into Freemasons’ Hall we have a reception in the vestibule with a talk about Freemasonry, a very informal question and answer session then we go into the Grand Temple and show them around. It’s about encouraging our members so that they feel relaxed and easy talking to nonmembers.’
I noted that there is cautious optimism in London regarding the numbers of new initiates: ‘Are these new initiates younger men than before?’
‘Definitely. The average age of intake has dropped quite sharply – a lot of young people are coming in. Some of the school lodges are starting to benefit, there are a number of graduates and undergraduates in the universities’ scheme, and some lodges are now inundated with candidates and are having to farm out second degrees in multiples all over the place, so it’s a good sign.
‘We are initiating something like 1500 per year, which equates more or less to the number of lodges, so you might think that’s fine. But it doesn’t work like that. Those 1500 initiates are concentrated on 800 lodges so there’s quite a discrepancy between those that are thriving, those that are doing alright, and those that are doing less than alright.
‘It’s important to get a lodge to recognise early when it’s not doing too well, rather than putting panic measures in place when it’s late. It’s never too late, but if you’ve got eight or ten members, you’re really on a downward spiral. You’ve almost gone past critical mass. Once a year the lodge committee should have a session on the health of the lodge. It’s not just a question of what are we doing next week. It’s where are we going as a lodge: where do we see our membership going in the next few years; are we getting proper succession in the lodge? Are we aware of certain stewards who say, I’m not going to take my place on the ladder. Are we aware of a junior warden who says I’m not going to go through the chair? Or do we say, let’s park that problem because it’s not a very nice thing to hear. Even lodges which are healthy nominally can go down very quickly, and they start losing members.’
The Brotherhood of Creation
I asked what he regards as the ideals of Freemasonry. ‘Like many other people I regard the charitable expression of Freemasonry as being just that – a charitable expression. It’s a means of demonstrating what’s in here’ – he touches his heart – ‘to start with. The ideals of Freemasonry are humanity, the fatherhood of the Creator, allied very closely and inextricably to the brotherhood of His creation, His offspring. If you just keep it at that very simple level, you suddenly think, why are there divisions across society? We are one of the few organisations – this is very important – that has this interreligious ability to share values between people of very different views. Many organisations have good ideals, good principles and good charitable aims but the charitable aims we have are a natural expression of what we should be doing anyway; it doesn’t specialise us.
‘In a lot of what I do, day to day, in this job, it’s very easy to get bogged down in the minutiae. It’s very hard to sit back and say, why do we do this?What we’re trying to do in Metropolitan Grand Lodge is to create environments in which people in their lodges and chapters can focus on the important things. I’ve been to many initiations over the years where it would be very easy to slightly turn off and say, “I’ve seen it all before”. But the only way I can make it work for me is to put myself in the position of that candidate and just share what he is experiencing.
‘So I think we’re setting the framework in which people can go beyond the words of the Craft and think about the more spiritual aspects. I’m very conscious that a lot of our members are in Freemasonry for different reasons. For some of them it’s companionship, meeting their friends, having a good dinner, but every now and again you hope that something from that ceremony suddenly strikes a chord with people. I’m a great believer in the ritual and the sanctity of the ritual does mean a lot to me.’
With Russell Race we have a Metropolitan Grand Master who combines the outer form of Freemasonry with its inner content and thereby manages to make something harmonious of the whole - for the advantage of all his Brethren.
Freemasonry Today seeks some answers about its formation
At a convocation of Grand Chapter on Wednesday 13th November, a notice of motion was given for changes to the Royal Arch Regulations in order to allow for the formation of a Metropolitan Grand Chapter. On December 11th a similar motion was put forward at the Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge in order to make it possible to form a Metropolitan Grand Lodge.
These are radical moves: even though the first Grand Lodge was formed by four London Lodges, London has never before had a Grand Lodge or its own Ruler as have the Provinces since the first was created in 1725. Initially London was administered by the Grand Secretary and his team in Freemasons’ Hall; since 1937 it has been the specific focus of the Assistant Grand Master.
When Lord Northampton became Assistant Grand Master in 1995 he realised that London was a very special case and needed a more professional and focussed administrative team. Accordingly, he guided London Management into being in 1997 which, under the leadership of Rex Thorne, has gradually developed both financially and administratively. An important function since London has 1585 active lodges and some 50,000 masons.
But this process towards self-determination for London Freemasonry has now moved a stage further, for the first time in English masonic history there will be two completely new Masonic entities: a Metropolitan Grand Lodge and a Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London; and it opens the possibility that there might be others in the future. This change will allow the Assistant Grand Master to withdraw from his involvement with London and serve the entire Craft as one of the Rulers.
Creating such Masonic entities has not been easy. The new administration and structure had to find ways of fulfilling all the tasks faced by Provincial Grand Lodges while managing, in addition, to remain true to the unique character of London masonry. While the Committee chaired by the Assistant Grand Master made its proposals it was early realised that a widespread and comprehensive consultative effort would be needed amongst London Freemasons in order, on the one hand, to introduce them to the proposals and possibilities, and on the other, to provide a means by which all criticisms and suggestions might be returned back to the Committee and the Rulers for consideration. Accordingly, open letters were sent to all London Lodges and Chapters for distribution to their members with an invitation to comment on the proposals. Visiting Grand Officers were fully briefed and requested to explain and listen to comments.
That there were fears cannot be denied. The latest edition of The London Column, the newsletter produced by London Management, carries a number of responses. The Visiting Grand Officers too reported disquiet in some quarters particularly concerning changes to the London Honours system. There were fears that the London Grand Rank Association would disappear and the value of receiving London Grand Rank would be diminished. This is easily dealt with: the Association will continue its existence as it is now. London honours will remain based entirely upon merit retaining its significant distinction from the Provincial honours system by having no Past Grand Ranks: such ranks are not a London tradition. Visiting Grand Officers have reported that London Masons are happy with the present system of honours and do not wish to adopt the Provincial practice of awarding Past Grand Ranks each year.
Early on there was a proposal to create a fourth level of London honours, that of Junior London Grand Rank. Consultations over the last few months have revealed that few Brethren wish this to be adopted, and the Pro Grand Master announced at Grand Lodge in December that the proposal had been abandoned, so the Committee has now dropped the idea. The London system will remain, as now, based around London Rank, London Grand Rank, and Senior London Grand Rank. Those who take an active office in the Metropolitan Grand Lodge for their term of one year, will be awarded a collar jewel at the end of their service – but emphatically this is not a separate rank.
Is the new Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London a "done deal"? That is, has everything been pre-arranged with all remaining but to rubber-stamp the details? Along the way ignoring any fears that the London Freemason might have?
Not at all. While the leadership of the Craft must indeed accept their responsibility and lead, consultation with members of the Craft is both a necessity and a requirement of acting in such a prominent position. As a result of the consultation process, concessions and amendments have been made following discussions with the Visiting Grand Officers. Indeed, over the past ten months, every group which has been appointed to look after Freemasonry has had the chance to deliberate on these proposals and make recommendations. But this very process has raised another criticism: that non-London Freemasons, attending Grand Lodge, can thus affect the future of London.
Voting for Change
The truth is that a large number of Freemasons throughout England could affect the future of Freemasonry in general, not just that of London. Since 1717 Grand Lodge has made the decisions which affect Freemasonry; Masters and Wardens of every lodge and all subscribing Past Masters working under the English Constitution have the right to attend a meeting of Grand Lodge and to vote on any of the proposals. In March 2003 at a meeting of Grand Lodge, a vote will be taken on changes to the Book of Constitutions in order to allow the formation of Metropolitan Grand Lodges. All present on this occasion will be able to cast their vote. It is not a "done deal".
It is proposed that the new Metropolitan Grand Lodge and the Metropolitan Grand Chapter for London will be formally inaugurated in the Albert Hall on 1 October 2003. All the Rulers of the Craft will be present, as will most Provincial Grand Masters. Every Lodge in London will be entitled to three places, and spare places will be balloted for – any more and the Albert Hall would overflow!
Lord Millett, one of the highest ranking Appeal Judges and a Life Peer since 1998, has been asked to be the first Metropolitan Grand Master of London. Brother Millett is no less distinguished in public life than in the Craft. He was called to the Bar in 1955, took Silk in 1973, and was appointed a High Court Judge in the Chancery Division in 1996, receiving the customary knighthood. Thereafter he became a Lord Justice of Appeal and Privy Councillor in 1994 and a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary (or Law Lord) in 1998. In the Craft, he was made a Mason in the Chancery Bar Lodge, No. 2456, in 1968, joined the Old Harrovian Lodge, No. 4653, in 1971, and is a Past Master of both those Lodges. He served as Assistant Grand Registrar in 1983 and was promoted to Past Junior Grand Warden in 1994. He has also found time to be a Member of the Panel of the Commission for Appeals Courts since 1991. Rex Thorne, present Chairman of London Management, will be awarded the unique rank of Past Metropolitan Grand Master in recognition of his important role over this transitional period. Lord Millett has chosen as his deputy, Russell Race, a London Mason and Deputy Provincial Grand Master of East Kent. The task confronting them is the invigoration of London Freemasonry. Their challenge is to increase the integration of over 50,000 London members without destroying its unique brand of Freemasonry.
The transition is to be simple: the present management of London Freemasonry is being transferred into the Metropolitan Grand Lodge/Chapter since the officers involved all have the experience and expertise to assist the new leadership, as custodians of London Freemasonry. A pattern has been set which will ensure that London Freemasonry remains dynamic and fulfilling for many years to come, particularly in order to attract more younger members.
The Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London was opened with the aplomb that the Grand Chapter team exhibit on all occasions, and Lord Millet was installed as Metropolitan Grand Superintendent by the First Grand Principal, HRH The Duke of Kent. In his address, Lord Millett laid stress on this as the start of a new era, and the opportunities for many more Companions to serve London Royal Arch Freemasonry and to participate more fully.
More than anything else, it was the thunderous singing of the opening hymn that set the tone for the afternoon by an attendance which had swelled to over 4,500. If it didn’t actually lift the roof off the Royal Albert Hall, it certainly provided some serious competition for the traditional last night of the proms. The ceremony of inauguration of the Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London was launched by spirited singing of an anthem by the London Masonic Choir, after which the Grand Chaplain delivered an Oration. He spoke of London as a city of contrasts and diversity and said that the same was true of London Freemasonry. In London, as in any masonic community, there were lodges which had allegiance of trade, profession or school. In spite of their diversity, they were all united in the masonic bonds, not only of brotherly love, relief and truth, but also of compassion, so important in Freemasonry, which was not coldly indifferent to the needs of others. He had seen how in Provinces, a Provincial Grand Lodge can add a dimension to the unity of a provincial area, giving it a sense of identity, of its own peculiarity, its own specialness, and so it would be too with London. He finished with two quotations – one from the anthem ‘Behold how good and joyful’ sung earlier, and the other ‘From the foundation laid this evening, may you raise a superstructure perfect in its parts and honourable to the builder’.
After the Grand Master had installed Lord Millett as Metropolitan Grand Master for London, Lord Millett thanked the Grand Master and his team for the way they had carried out the ceremony. He said how London had always been at the heart of English Freemasonry, and would now face the challenge of developing Freemasonry in London. But there was also a need to adapt to the changed status of London. We had had a tremendous send-off, and it was up to us now, he said. Lord Millett’s first act was to invest and install Russell Race, already well known to many London Freemasons, as Deputy Metropolitan Grand Master.
London Masonry's historic day
In one of the most historic meetings in the history of English Freemasonry, the MW the Grand Master HRH the Duke of Kent inaugurated the Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London and Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London at the Royal Albert Hall on 1st October 2003.
The two glittering ceremonies were attended by a full house that packed the stalls, balconies and galleries of the Royal Albert Hall as the Grand Master installed Lord Millett as both Metropolitan Grand Master for London in the Craft and Metropolitan Grand Superintendent for London in the Royal Arch.
Russell Race was installed as Metropolitan Deputy Grand Master and Deputy Grand Superintendent.
Brian de Neut was installed as Second Metropolitan Grand Principal and Ronald Cox as Third Metropolitan Grand Principal in the Royal Arch.
Ten Group Chairmen and ten Deputies were appointed in both the Craft and Royal Arch.
Rex Thorne, formerly Chairman of London Management, which has now been superseded by the new arrangement, was installed by the Grand Master as Past Metropolitan Grand Master and Past Metropolitan Grand Superintendent.
Royal Arch Ceremony
The First Grand Principal, HRH the Duke of Kent, said:
"Companions, in exercise of the power conferred on me by Royal Arch Regulation 26, I have decided to form a Metropolitan Area of London, to comprise those Chapters which until today have been London Chapters as defined in Rules 128 and 129 of the Book of Constitutions, and I have appointed E Comp. the Rt. Hon. Lord Millett, to be the first Metropolitan Grand Superintendent.
"I am confident that he possesses both the ability and the vision required to lead the Metropolitan Grand Chapter as well as its Companions during what will be its formative years.
"Companion Millett is distinguished in public life as well as in the Craft. He was called to the Bar in 1955, took silk in 1973 and was appointed a High Court Judge in the Chancery Division in 1986, receiving the customary knighthood.
"Thereafter he became a Lord Justice of Appeal and Privy Councillor in 1994 and a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary (or Law Lord) in 1998.
"In the Craft, he was made a Mason in the Chancery Bar Lodge No. 2456 in 1968 and in 1977 was exalted into the Royal Arch in the Chapter of Felicity No. 58, becoming its First Principal in 1985.
"He served as Grand Scribe Nehemiah in 1999. He has also found time to be a Member of the Panel of the Commission for Appeals Courts since 1991".
E. Comp Lord Millett, Grand Superintendent in and over London said:
"Companions, this ceremony marks the start of a new era for the Royal Arch in London.
"It is incumbent upon all of us who are Companions of the Metropolitan Area to play our part in taking this Order forward under the new structure, while at the same time preserving and maintaining London's long established and valued traditions.
"I am confident that under the new Metropolitan Grand Chapter, there will be opportunities for many more Companions, as well as the Metropolitan Grand Officers I have invested today, to serve London Royal Arch Masonry and to participate more fully in its future government and direction.
"I know, Companions, that I have your goodwill and support. I know that I have the enthusiastic commitment of the members of my team. I pledge myself to maintaining and promoting the interests of Royal Arch Masonry in London".
In reply to the toast "The MW The Grand Master" and proposing the toast "The Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London and the Metropolitan Grand Master," the Grand Master said:
"This is an historic occasion as we meet today to constitute the first - and perhaps it will be the only - Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Metropolitan Grand Chapter in the history of English Freemasonry.
"How fitting it is that we should be meeting today at the Royal Albert Hall, which has been the venue over the years for so many Especial Meetings of Grand Lodge, and has therefore a very special place in the hearts and affections of English Freemasons.
"It has a particular resonance for me because the last time Grand Lodge met in this building was the occasion, in 1967, of the 250th anniversary of the formation of the Premier Grand Lodge, when I was also installed as Grand Master.
"In 1967 we celebrated a quarter of a millennium since the beginning of organised Masonry in London and indeed in the world. Today we mark the beginning of a new era for London - an era of separate existence: still an essential part of the English Craft, but no longer directly administered under my direction.
"Today London is 'leaving the nest' and taking wing on its own. The event is bound to be accompanied by feelings of trepidation, but I know that it is also accompanied by the sincerest good wishes of all those who are gathered here to witness it.
"In its new existence London will be better able to respond to the views of its members, who will thus acquire a greater say in their own Masonic affairs than it had been possible for them to enjoy until now.
"I congratulate Brother Lord Millett on taking over the controls from the Assistant Grand Master, RW Brother David Williamson, who will now be free to devote more of his time in future to the affairs of Grand Lodge and the whole of English Craft Masonry.
"For many years it has been the custom to present each new Provincial or District Grand Master or Grand Superintendent with what has come to be known as 'the Kent Cube'.
"It is a paperweight consisting of a gilt medallion, which was first struck in 1967 for my Installation, set in a cube of clear plastic. On one side of the medallion are the arms of the United Grand Lodge of England in low relief, on the other side is my signature.
"Brother Lord Millett, I am delighted to present you with your own Kent Cube - and I say "your own" deliberately: it is my personal gift to you as the first Metropolitan Grand Master.
"Brother Lord Millett has, I know, the understanding and the vision to enable him to lead London at this critical time so that it will flourish and prosper under his direction".
Lord Millett, replying to the Toast, said:
"Most Worshipful Grand Master, thank you for so kindly proposing the toast to my health and to the success of the Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London.
"I am proud that the second Masonic gathering you have attended at the Royal Albert Hall should be the Inauguration of London and my own Installation.
"I wish to thank those Brethren who have contributed - in many cases behind the scenes - to the arrangements for today. In particular I wish to mention:
"RW Bro. Rex Thorne, Chairman of London Management, his Deputy, VW Bro. Brian de Neut, and W Bro. Andrew Henderson and the staff of London Management for the work they have done in bringing London to this stage in its development;
"W Bro. John Wright, who has acted as "Project Manager" for today and VW Bro. Andrew Wigram who has organised the Masonic Stewards;
"VW Bro. Jonathan Spence, Grand Director of Ceremonies, and his Deputies for overseeing the splendid ceremonial;
"VW Bro. Graham Redman, Assistant Grand Secretary, for co-ordinating the necessary changes to the Book of Constitutions as well as Grand Lodge's ceremonial and other arrangements for this meeting;
"VW Bro. Andrew Pearmain, the Craft and Royal Arch Grand Organists and the Choir, for providing the music which adds so much to our enjoyment of today's meetings;
"VW Bro. Russell Race, my Deputy, for his quiet and effective support over the last few months;
"and not least the MW Pro Grand Master, the Marquess of Northampton, for being the guiding inspiration behind the formation of the Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Chapter.
"I should also like to express my thanks to all those individuals and Lodges who have contributed to the Lodge and Chapter furniture and regalia, which have helped to make this such a splendid occasion.
"These, and all who are here at the Royal Albert Hall have seen to it that we receive a rousing send-off. Our task is now to carry forward the work into the future, and that I and my team will endeavour to the best of our ability to do".
The Grand Master said:
"Brethren, in exercise of the power conferred on me by Rule 60 of the Book of Constitutions, I have decided to form a Metropolitan Area of London, to comprise all but five of those Lodges which until today have been London Lodges as defined in Rules 128 and 129, and I have appointed RW Bro. the Rt. Hon. Lord Millett to be the first Metropolitan Grand Master.
"The Lodges which I have decided should not be included in the new Metropolitan Area are the Grand Stewards' Lodge, Lodge of Antiquity No. 2, Royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge No. 4, Lodge of Fortitude and Old Cumberland No. 12 and Royal Alpha Lodge No. 16.
"This is a singular and most important occasion, because the formation of a Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London is unique and represents a departure from the way that Freemasonry in London has been organised for over 280 years.
"I know that those chosen to lead the new Metropolitan Grand Lodge are united in determination that the enterprise shall thrive and prosper, and I know that you will support them today with your good wishes and, at the appropriate times, with your voices".
Lord Millett, Metropolitan Grand Master, said:
"Most Worshipful Grand Master, I am deeply conscious of the honour you have done me by appointing me as the first Metropolitan Grand Master for London, and I thank you not only for that appointment but also for finding time in your very busy schedule to install me today.
"My thanks extend also to your team of Grand Officers - and in particular the Grand Director of Ceremonies - who have supported you so ably and helped to make today an occasion which I, and I am sure all here for this and for this morning's ceremony, will remember for the rest of our lives.
"We have many other visitors from England and Wales as well as overseas, and they are far too numerous for me to be able to welcome them individually.
"But I should like to express my personal appreciation to the District Grand Lodge of Hong Kong, who have shown me such great hospitality on my annual visits to the territory and have made me an Honorary Member of a local lodge.
"London has always been at the very heart of English Freemasonry, and as a London Mason for some 35 years I am very conscious of the trust that has been laid upon me to preserve and maintain it in that position along with its long-established and valued traditions.
"To that trust has been added the challenge of developing Freemasonry in London, to ensure that it fits comfortably in this 21st century both with the whole of the English Craft and also with society at large in London. "The greatest challenge will be to open up the Craft so that it is no longer seen by outsiders as a secret and sinister society. We should be proud to acknowledge that we are Masons - and London Masons at that.
"The establishment of this Metropolitan Grand Lodge will, I am confident, give opportunities not only to me, my Deputy and the ten Metropolitan Group Chairmen, but to many others as well - not least the Metropolitan Grand Officers I have invested today - to serve London Masonry and to participate more fully in its future government and direction.
"I do not pretend that the task before us will always be an easy one, and I know that all of us will need to adapt and adjust to our changed status under the United Grand Lodge of England, and that will take time, and perhaps patience as well.
"We have been given a tremendous send-off today in this great gathering; it is now for us ourselves to build upon that sure foundation, to carry forward the work and to produce an edifice of which we may be justly proud.
"I know, Brethren, that I have your goodwill and support. I know that I have the enthusiastic commitment of the members of my team. I pledge myself to see that the work be duly and faithfully executed".