10 June 2015
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes
Brethren, in the middle of May I was at the Grand Charity Festival in West Wales and, as you have heard, what a great success it was. It exemplified how good we, as masons, are at raising money and, dare I say, also at celebrating the achievement at the end of the road. A wonderful evening was had by all. However, I have said many times in the past that charity is not our raison d'être, but it is certainly a most important by product of how we are all taught to live our lives.
In this regard I have always thought that the Charge after Initiation is the best possible rule to guide us through life. It lays out quite clearly the duties that we owe to God, our neighbours and ourselves, how we should respect the laws of the country in which we live, whether the country of our birth or the country where we currently reside, how we should behave as individuals and then points out the other excellencies of character that we should adhere to.
Whenever I deliver this Charge it never fails to strike home to me the important message that it contains. At a personal level, I find the piece 'by paying due obedience to the laws of any State which may for a time become the place of your residence or afford you its protection' extremely pertinent. This is as a result of having delivered this Charge on the evening of 9/11 and I have to admit to having stumbled a bit when I got to that section and I am still always reminded of those dreadful events every time I hear this Charge delivered.
Brethren, as we all know, any member of the public can acquire a copy of our ritual simply by going into a shop and making the purchase. We have no concerns in that regard, as there is nothing therein that we are not happy for them to know about. I would go further. I believe there are certain passages that we should be proud to show to non-members, most particularly members of our families, and top of my list would be the Charge to the Initiate, with a close second being the Charity Charge, although that, perhaps, needs a bit of explanation.
Brethren, 2017 is fast approaching and the run up to it, as well as the celebrations during the year, are surely the right time to show our pride in being a member of our wonderful Order. We have improved our public image immeasurably over the last 20 years and now is the time to really push this aspect hard. We have so much to shout about – our history, our charity, our enjoyment and our code of conduct being just a few. Of course any organisation with 200,000 members is going to have a few rotten apples, but we most certainly have no more than our fair share and I suspect we have a great many fewer than most equivalent sized organisations.
Brethren let’s approach our tercentenary with both pride and confidence.
Letters to the Editor - No. 33 Spring 2016
Further to Bob Needham’s letter in the last issue, I too read the recent article by the Pro Grand Master with great interest as I have thought for many years that the Charge to the Initiate is one of the best pieces of our ritual, so much so that during my year as Master I asked for Provincial approval to give each new member a copy on their first night. My reasons were firstly, I was aware that on going home after initiation candidates get asked what went on and can find it difficult to properly convey, whereas if we give them the Charge to take home specifically for this purpose, they feel much happier. Also, as most of us remember very little about our initiation, it gives each new member a chance to read and reflect on our principles.
So, I had the Charge printed on vellum-type paper and from then on each new mason was presented with one, duly signed by the Master and the two Wardens. This practice proved to be a great success and I commend it to other lodges.
Roger Foulds, Lodge of Agriculture, No. 1199, Yatton, Somerset
I read with great interest the letters headed ‘Changing Perceptions’ in the winter edition of the magazine. It led me to reflect on how many readers appreciate the enormous breadth of the Craft.
Three weeks after being initiated into Rhyddings Lodge, No. 5205, in East Lancashire I arrived in Aden to join my first operational squadron as a co-pilot on Beverley transport aircraft. I there quickly discovered the existence of Lodge Light in Arabia, No. 3870. There was also a Scottish lodge on the other side of the harbour in Little Aden.
Arrangements were eventually made for me to be Passed and Raised there, as a visitor, in Light in Arabia. The regular membership was made up of both European and local brethren who lived and worked in Aden. There were also a number of transitory service people like me.
But it was the range of religions and cultures that made Light in Arabia truly remarkable. Sitting down in the lodge, besides we Christians, there would be Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus and Parsee Indians.
To witness all these brethren enjoying the masonic ritual together and afterwards sitting down together at the Festive Board was really quite something and made plain the true universality of Freemasonry: something I will never forget.
Bryan Lamb, Old Blackburnian Lodge, No. 7933, Blackburn, East Lancashire
Letters to the Editor - No. 32 Winter 2015
I have always enjoyed reading Freemasonry Today and I found the latest edition aligns to my views on how we should depict Freemasonry. I read the comments by Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes, where he comments that any member of the public can purchase a copy of the Charge after Initiation, adding that ‘there is nothing therein that we are not happy for them to know about’.
I hold a view that we as Freemasons are far too modest about our society.
As we approach the celebration of 300 years of modern Freemasonry, shouldn’t we make a point of removing the doubts and speculation at large with regard to Freemasonry by taking it upon ourselves to replace them with knowledge and truth?
Bob Needham, Colne Lodge, No. 2477, Wivenhoe, Essex
Touching a nerve
By identifying a protein that is vital in nerve development, Professor Roger Keynes and his team hope they might help to cure spinal cord paralysis. Imogen Beecroft reports on how Freemasons are supporting this groundbreaking research
A promising gymnast since the age of eight, Josh trained six days a week to fulfil his ultimate goal of competing in the London 2012 Olympic Games. When Josh was 16, a fall ended this dream and left him paralysed from the chest down.
Of the 20 people a day who sustain a spinal injury in the UK, three are told they will never walk again. There is currently no effective medical treatment for the 50,000 people in the UK and Ireland living with spinal cord paralysis, meaning that people like Josh face a lifetime of round-the-clock care.
The figures are so high because the nerves connecting the brain and the body are commonly damaged – or even severed – in a spinal cord injury, destroying this vital communication link.
However, after decades of research, a spinal cord injury may no longer result in a life spent in a wheelchair. Two Cambridge academics, Professor Roger Keynes and Dr Geoffrey Cook, have identified a protein that has the potential to aid recovery after injury, possibly even helping nerves to regrow and self-repair.
In November 2014, The Freemasons’ Grand Charity and the Masonic Samaritan Fund (MSF) donated £42,000 to the International Spinal Research Trust (ISRT), which is supporting the project. Despite being the UK’s leading charity funding research into medical treatment for spinal cord paralysis, the ISRT team operates on just £2 million of donations a year.
ISRT trust manager James Clark says: ‘Given the size of the charity, this is a really significant donation. The project costs about £90,000, so the MSF and The Freemasons’ Grand Charity are effectively funding about half of it.’ Specifically, the masonic donation has helped to fund one of the ISRT’s PhD studentships. These three-year projects will identify the researchers of tomorrow – those who will go on to play a central part in the development of treatments for spinal injury.
Professor Keynes speaks highly of the studentship, emphasising that it not only provides his team with a PhD student, Julia Schaeffer, to assist them, but also gives her a great education. ‘It’s absolutely essential that we have a student to work with,’ he says. ‘Julia is learning lots of different techniques, and her input, ideas and skills at the bench are absolutely critical as these are very tricky experiments.’
‘The professors have worked for two decades to identify a protein that performs a vital function in the early stages of development.’
Calling these experiments ‘tricky’ might be something of an understatement: the professors have been working for two decades to identify a crucial protein that performs a vital function in the early stages of development. It is an inhibitor, stopping the growth of nerves where necessary and controlling the pattern in which they develop.
Humans are able to move and feel because they have a patterned system of nerves connecting the spinal cord with muscles and skin. In order to make this connection, nerves must navigate through the vertebrae that surround the spinal cord and it is this specific protein that allows them to do so.
Professor Keynes now hypothesises that the body expresses more of this protein following a spinal cord or brain injury, which could inhibit nerve development and prevent recovery. ‘The protein’s normal function is to steer nerves out of the spinal cord,’ he explains, ‘but we believe that it is also expressed at an injury site, preventing the nerves within the spinal cord from regrowing.’
The idea is being tested at the Cambridge Centre for Brain Repair in collaboration with Professor James Fawcett. If it is possible to stop this protein from functioning in such a way after injury, the damaged nerves might be able to regrow.
It might seem far-fetched, but, as Clark notes, ‘When we started the ISRT in 1980, people thought the things we were working on were a waste of time. They believed that once someone had been paralysed it was impossible to repair their central nervous system. Work over the past 30 years has proved that wrong – you potentially can.’
Progress has only been possible because of donations like the one made by the masonic charities, as the ISRT receives no government funding. Ian Sabin, MSF trustee and research committee member, explains the decision to donate to this particular project: ‘This charity was thought to be well worth supporting. The research will provide another piece of the jigsaw and contribute towards the understanding of nerve-growth-blocking factors and spinal cord regeneration. It will hopefully help to show the way forward in the development of new treatments for spinal cord injury.’
‘We’re convinced by the potential importance of what we’re doing, so charity funding is critical.’ Professor Roger Keynes
Barriers to research
As a consultant neurosurgeon, Sabin is well aware of the difficulties facing medical researchers in the UK. ‘Medical and scientific research in the UK is handicapped by a relative lack of funding. Doctors are choosing not to go into research posts for all sorts of reasons but the difficulty in obtaining research grants is certainly one of them. The fact that we [the MSF] can provide some funds is very important – it’s a shame that as a country we don’t take scientific research more seriously.’
Professor Keynes echoes Sabin’s point about the importance of research funding. ‘It has taken us a long time to get this far, and it’s not easy to keep funding going if you’re not producing vast amounts of publications. But we’re convinced by the potential importance of what we’re doing, so this sort of charity funding is critical.’
If their ideas are correct, and yield successful results, what will this mean for those suffering from spinal cord injuries? ‘If we are right,’ says Professor Keynes, ‘and this protein is blocking nerve growth in damaged areas, and we could stop this, then regeneration could take place.’
Professor Keynes notes that regeneration has always been possible in nerves of the arms and legs. ‘If they are damaged they can regrow, self-repair and wire up reasonably well. The problem is that nerves in the brain and spinal cord don’t do this, so the hope is that if we can identify the brakes on these nerves and what they’re due to, they too could self-repair.’
While perhaps still a long way off, this research could open up a whole world of hope and opportunity for those paralysed after a spinal cord injury. As Professor Keynes says, ‘It’s not impossible, put it that way.’
Letters to the Editor - No. 32 Winter 2015
I read with personal interest your article titled ‘Touching a Nerve’ [in the summer edition of Freemasonry Today] regarding the Masonic Samaritan Fund’s donation to the spinal injury research by Professor Roger Keynes and Dr Geoffrey Cook.
As the result of a motorbike accident, my son is paralysed from the upper chest down with a spinal cord injury. There is no cure other than surviving day to day with available medication and regular visits to the hospital.
I would like to thank Ian Sabin, MSF trustee and research committee member, for his support in the donation to this research. The funding for medical research is lacking in the UK and it is nice to know that Freemasons and Freemasonry really do care.
Don Williams, Lodge of Philosophy, No. 6057, Redcar, Yorkshire, North and East Ridings