Speaking at Great Queen Street on 26 April, masonic leaders explained how Freemasonry can grasp success if members can learn to share ideas and work together
William Shakespeare, John F Kennedy and even Steve Jobs all managed to find their way into the Gallery Suite at Freemasons’ Hall in a typically entertaining afternoon of speeches at the Pro Grand Master’s Annual Briefing Meeting.
Before an audience made up of Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents, speakers took their turn at the lectern to review the developments in Freemasonry in 2015 and looked forward to an exciting future for the Craft and Royal Arch.
Understandably, the Tercentenary featured heavily, but there was also much to discuss about the recommendations of the Membership Focus Group (MFG) on how best to attract, recruit and retain members at a time when membership has shown a decline. The overall message was overwhelmingly positive, with several new initiatives announced.
Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes kicked things off by reporting that a four-part television series on Freemasonry is under way. This will be broadcast to coincide with the Tercentenary celebrations and will include the Pro Grand Master’s fly-fishing technique at the Hampshire and Isle of Wight fishing day.
The Pro Grand Master then reported that commemorative paving stones containing the names of Freemasons who received a Victoria Cross (VC)
in World War I would be installed at the front of the Peace Memorial, adding that ‘there are 60 such VCs to be commemorated’. He also encouraged brethren to wear a special commemorative tie and jewel for the celebratory period, and announced that a major charitable gift of £3 million would be distributed by the Masonic Charitable Foundation in the form of 300 grants, allocated according to the outcome of votes cast both by masons and the general public.
The Pro Grand Master felt that the celebration of Grand Lodge’s 300th year is a great opportunity for publicity. ‘The Tercentenary gives us all a chance to reflect on the place of Freemasonry today and the role of our lodge and our brethren,’ he said. ‘This is an opportunity not to be missed and it is up to us to ensure that Freemasonry benefits.’
Facts and figures
Next up was Anthony Wilson, President of the Board of General Purposes (BGP), to discuss the 2015 financial accounts and recent BGP initiatives. He revealed a strong yearly surplus generated from investment income, which has supported capital expenditure and the ongoing maintenance required to deal with Regent Street disease (corrosion) at Freemasons’ Hall. Anthony emphasised the importance of the building for filming and events while also being mindful of its core purpose.
The cost of the Tercentenary celebrations were included in the 2016 forecast for the first time, but ‘there would be no call upon members for funds’, as this would be supported by events and reserves. Anthony asked brethren to spread the word about the benefits of the Masonic Insurance Mutual, and, most importantly of all, noted that Freemasonry Today costs less than £1 per member, per issue.
Second Grand Principal Russell Race discussed the ‘encouraging straws in the wind for membership of the Royal Arch’ before Sir David Wootton gave some thoughts on governance – ‘who does what with what authority’ – based on findings from the MFG.
‘If we can bottle the masonic sizzle from the best lodges and spread it around the rest, we can start to address all the issues.’ Michael Ward
Taking up the theme in more detail, Third Grand Principal Gareth Jones explained how ‘we need to build on the work that has been started, moving from securing evidence to emphasising delivery and implementation’. Gareth also talked about the importance of communication and spreading best practice from the Provinces and Districts.
Sir David then announced a proposal to take forward the work of the MFG: this would be a new body of a dozen members who would represent all ‘the talents, geographies and constituent parts of the Craft and Royal Arch’. The hope was to get this up and running by the end of 2017 to ‘develop and embed systems, ensuring that the necessary steps will be taken to continue and enhance Freemasonry’.
Looking after initiates
John Roscoe, an industrial psychologist, then presented the MFG’s findings on the negative effect of un-masonic conduct in lodges. John cited ‘the greatest cause for early dissatisfaction with initiates’ as being a perception of senior members dominating the lodge. He read out a number of testimonies in which masons recounted incidents of brethren being overzealous or overbearing.
John then asked those present to think of three ways to deal with behaviour that is not in keeping with the spirit of Freemasonry. Each table put their heads together to engage with this issue, and there was much debate as solutions were considered.
After a coffee break, PGM for Warwickshire David Macey led a commendation of ADelphi 2, showing some of the possibilities of the new membership database. ‘It’s now working well and is generally very stable. We are continuing to improve performance and security,’ he said. David gave a demonstration
of its promising new dashboard system. ‘The MFG gave us a very clear list of what PGMs and Grand Superintendents need,’ he said, showing how a simple dashboard will allow users to find a summary of every lodge in their Province, showing the 10 best and worst performing lodges, comparisons of members’ ages and contact information.
Deputy Metropolitan Grand Master Michael Ward then gave a careful analysis of the findings of an MFG survey that explored why so many initiates drop out soon after joining and what could be done to counteract this. It was vital, he said, to capitalise on work already done in the Provinces on these issues rather than try to ‘reinvent the wheel’.
Michael discussed what could be done to help lodges that were struggling to attract new members and finished by exhorting that, ‘success is within our grasp. If we can bottle the masonic sizzle from the best lodges and spread it around the rest, we can start to address all the issues. It’s in our hands.’
PGM for East Kent Geoffrey Dearing spoke about the importance of data protection and compliance before Malcolm Aish, President of the Committee of General Purposes, presented the annual report and statistics for the Royal Arch. Malcolm noted the enthusiasm for charitable contributions and also thanked brethren for completing the survey.
Chairman of the MFG and Deputy President of the BGP Ray Reed then gave highlights from the Craft annual report, showing that new initiates were rising and resignations declining, with the annual membership loss down to 1.65 per cent. Lodges reported an 83 per cent reduction in resignations, while 69 per cent reported increasing initiate figures. Ray singled out areas for improvement, including a willingness to engage with ‘local press, business, civic and religious leaders’ and the importance of attracting and mentoring quality initiates.
Emphasising the need for Provinces to share ideas, Ray concluded by thanking brethren for their ‘support, energy, creativity, hard work and, most importantly, belief in helping make things happen’.
On 28 April, masonic leaders celebrated the achievements of the past year, revealing an organisation that is embracing transparency and taking positive steps to ensure its long-term future
Held in the Gallery Suite at Freemasons’ Hall, the Pro Grand Master’s Annual Briefing Meeting brought together Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents to hear about the state of Freemasonry and why its future is in their hands.
With Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes welcoming attendees to the meeting, the President of the Board of General Purposes (BGP), Anthony Wilson, ran through the accounts for 2014, showing United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) finances to be healthy. He also highlighted the increasing importance of hiring out Freemasons’ Hall to third parties as a source of income.
Second Grand Principal George Francis and President of the Committee of General Purposes Malcolm Aish explained how the Royal Arch was faring. ‘The good news is that we had some magnificent figures on exaltations for 2014,’ said George, congratulating attendees for the results that return the Royal Arch to the level it was at six to eight years ago. ‘We’re now hitting the 50 per cent mark of initiations so the prospects for the Royal Arch really do look rather good. I think there’s still more to be done.’
Provincial Grand Master for Warwickshire David Macey looked at the progress being made with the membership database, ADelphi 2, which goes live at the end of July this year. Offering improved reporting capability and ease of use, ADelphi 2 will give Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents all the membership information they need, at their fingertips. David also stressed that a structured training plan is in place to offer support to everyone using the new system.
Taking virtual steps
With the Papers of Business for Quarterly Communications circulated electronically for the first time in 2014, James Long from the Electronic Systems Committee explained why it was felt necessary to make this change. ‘We were prompted to some degree by looking to save money and make efficiency enhancements,’ said James, ‘but there was something else that actuated our motive here: we thought it entirely appropriate for a modern membership organisation. We must be responsive and reactive to what our members want.’
Looking at the need to improve communication within UGLE, James congratulated the attendees for embracing new technology. ‘There are many Provinces and Districts that have well-constructed, thought-through and properly controlled communication strategies on social media. What we have to do is learn from all of those,’ he said. ‘We’re going to continue to ensure that UGLE is making the best use of all electronic media for communication, both internal and external.’
Next on the agenda was the 2017 Tercentenary, which starts with events around the country in January 2017 and culminates with a celebration at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 October 2017. Anthony Wilson said that Grand Lodge expects to offer seats at the Royal Albert Hall to each Province and District on the basis of one place for every 80-90 members. Grand Lodge wants to widen the participation and is looking at ways to screen the event live in all the Districts and Provinces.
Staying on the subject of the Tercentenary, Provincial Grand Master for Somerset Stuart Hadler announced the design of a new branding for UGLE, which will make its appearance in the run up to 2017. While the coat of arms has for generations been a mark of status and standing in society, Stuart said: ‘Society has changed over the past 50 years and a coat of arms no longer communicates the image and messages that a modern membership organisation needs to convey. One might also observe that we are seeking no longer to be silent.’
Stuart went on to discuss how the Membership Focus Group (MFG), the BGP and the Rulers believe that a positive and attractive image is vital. ‘To preserve the integrity of the brand and achieve a corporate image, there is to be a strict protocol for us all to follow that will dictate how the symbol is to be used,’ he said, adding that Provinces and Districts will need to review and revise their existing paperwork by 24 June 2016.
Freemasonry’s image is just one of the areas being explored by the MFG. Tasked with assuring the long-term success of both the Craft and the Royal Arch, the MFG has been talking to Provinces about their experiences of recruitment and retention. Assistant Grand Secretary and MFG member Shawn Christie highlighted that many growing lodges hold vibrant meetings and regular social events that are open to non-masons. These provide an opportunity for prospective candidates to ask questions in an informal environment, learn more about Freemasonry and possibly, in time, join if both sides feel the fit is right.
Provincial Grand Master for Nottinghamshire Robin Wilson explained that the road to retention starts with proper preparation. ‘For that to happen, the prospective members must be made aware of the essence of Freemasonry, what it involves and how it involves them,’ he said. For this to succeed, expectations must be managed: ‘Otherwise they could feel ambushed or disappointed by what they find on joining.’ (See here for more details about the MFG’s conclusions on membership retention.)
Next on the podium, Deputy Metropolitan Grand Master Michael Ward discussed how MFG research into leadership and education showed that many people, if not most, are motivated to join Freemasonry with an expectation of self-development. ‘The opportunity for specific leadership and management development tends to emerge as our brethren get into more senior roles,’ said Michael, adding that while there is a wealth of information available in all the Provinces, there has been limited sharing of best practices. ‘Provinces are consequently reinventing and duplicating.’
Michael believes that there is a window of opportunity to develop and deliver high-quality training material using some of the best practices from around the Provinces. ‘This creates a huge potential for us to enrich members’ experiences and demonstrate that we have listened to and understood their needs. It also shows that we are committed to modernising while maintaining our traditions,’ he said. ‘The alternative is to ignore reality and ignore the needs of our members. Our future depends on inspiring and re-energising our membership. This can only be achieved with the full and active support of the Provincial Grand Masters and the Grand Superintendents.’
Malcolm Aish echoed Michael’s sentiments when he outlined the MFG’s proposed strategy for Freemasonry going forward, which had been circulated to the attendees prior to the meeting. ‘The MFG feels a coordinated approach will achieve greater success but it is each Province that should consider its participation and support – for it is you that will implement a large part of the agreed strategy.’
Chairman of the MFG and Deputy President of the BGP, Ray Reed discussed the results from the annual survey for Provincial Grand Masters. He noted that 54 per cent of Provinces are providing training for new masters and 34 per cent for communications officers. ‘These must be two of the most important areas because they can make such a massive difference in our Provinces,’ said Ray. ‘It’s essential that we encourage those who don’t have training for lodge masters to contemplate giving it.’
In a 30-minute address, Ray touched on the need to innovate and speed up communication, adding that there is broad agreement on what the key areas for development are. ‘We’re talking about training and educating people, about effective mentoring and about best practice in recruitment, retention and retrieval,’ he said. ‘The MFG has sought to better understand the problems we face in Freemasonry and we are now ready to move from analysis to implementation.’
Ray ended on a strong message, saying ‘a successful future for Freemasonry will only come through quality leadership, consultation and collaboration’.
The presentations at the Pro Grand Master’s Annual Briefing Meeting finished with a fitting quote from Henry Ford: ‘Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.’
As the Grand Lodge of England approaches its tercentenary in 2017, the Membership Focus Group has been established to consider how best to attract, recruit and retain good men. In July, five members of the group met to discuss why the strategy for the future of Freemasonry in the Craft must be a collaborative exercise involving all its members
Why was the Membership Focus Group (MFG) formed?
Ray Reed: The objectives of the MFG are to advise the Rulers and the Board of General Purposes of how best Freemasonry can focus members, lodges, Provinces and staff to work in a collaborative manner to create and implement a strategy that will assure the long-term successful future of both the Craft and the Royal Arch.
We want to look at the whole organisation as well as its ceremonial structure to identify what’s really worked for the past three hundred years, what’s good to keep and what we need to modify. We especially need to consider how to attract and retain the ‘modern man’ and future leaders in this fast-changing world.
Peter Taylor: When we looked at the numbers from the ADelphi database, which contains the masonic life histories of our members going back to 1984, there were some very telling statistics. In many areas around the country we’re attracting new members in good numbers, yet total membership is still going down. The group wants to discover why and find solutions to reverse this trend.
Malcolm Aish: We found that for every age group, the length of time before members resigned was the same. The more we looked at the statistics, the more we felt that it wasn’t just an issue of how to make Freemasonry more attractive to young people as they make up a relatively small proportion of our membership. They are still very important to us, as they could be joining for forty to fifty years, but the big recruitment age is around forty, so we need to discover why fortysomethings are just as likely to resign as twentysomethings.
Ray Reed: Our biggest strength and greatest opportunity is that we’re getting lots of people wanting to join. That number is on the increase at the moment, so we’ve got to make sure that when new people join, their expectations match with what we have to offer.
What sort of questions is the MFG asking?
Shawn Christie: The United Grand Lodge of England is a very special organisation. We can rightfully be proud of our past and our present, but it’s important to look ahead and plan for the future.
This is the reason why we’re asking about the kinds of things we can do better. We’ve analysed membership statistics, identified key focus areas and established working groups to develop those areas further. For example, I’m chairing a working group looking at recruitment, and there are other groups focusing on areas such as governance and the image of Freemasonry. Moving on from our initial analysis, we’ll soon start surveying the membership to make sure that we have an accurate understanding of their feelings.
Stuart Hadler: I’m concerned that we provide very little formal leadership development in Freemasonry, whether that’s progressing to become Master of a lodge or a senior Provincial officer. I think that Freemasonry is poorer for not having the opportunity to develop those skills – we could actively promote it as one of the opportunities offered by our society when attracting new members.
Malcolm Aish: My interest in the Royal Arch means I’m very happy to be involved in the MFG, because success in the Craft will lead to greater success in the Royal Arch. We’ve found out from the statistics that when masons go on to join another lodge or the Royal Arch – the ‘multiple members’ as we call them – then their membership longevity extends significantly. That’s something that we need to analyse. We could find out if people who join their second lodge are more selective about the kind of members they team up with.
If that’s the case, then we might be able to improve overall retention.
Stuart Hadler: Another point we’ve identified is that there’s no clear external perception of what Freemasonry is and why people join. We haven’t prepared members in how to communicate clearly and consistently. If we’re going to attract people in the right numbers and keep them, then we have to find good examples in simple, modern language about what Freemasonry offers.
Malcolm Aish: We don’t want to be seen to be intrusive; it’s quite difficult for someone outside the Province to ask quite personal questions, but we have to be able to find out the real reasons why someone has left a lodge. Was it because they didn’t feel welcome or had an argument? The whole process we’re undertaking aims to open everyone’s minds to consider doing things differently.
‘In many areas around the country we’re attracting new members in good numbers, yet total membership is still going down. One of the aims of the MFG is to discover why and reverse the trend.’ Peter Taylor
Is Freemasonry set for big changes under the MFG?
Stuart Hadler: We have many cherished traditions, but we should be prepared to question their continuing importance to our principles and image. In recent years, for example, there have been more cases of Freemasons parading in public, which is great – it’s a return to where we left off in the 1930s. But are gentlemen of a certain age walking through the streets, parading their regalia, the only images we want to portray? We need to think about the kind of image we’re trying to put across, and the MFG can be about offering a range of choices, perhaps saying that it’s fine if a lodge decides to wear jackets and ties rather than dress in full regalia.
Malcolm Aish: The fundamentals of Freemasonry are not going to change. Why would we want to modify the core ceremonial and ritual traditions of a highly successful organisation? But how we communicate among ourselves – how we formulate the ideas and direction that we are going to take, as well as organise ourselves – is an opportunity for members to make a major contribution.
Peter Taylor: I hope that the membership will be pleased to see that the MFG comprises members from around the country. We’re looking at the wider aspects of Freemasonry from an inclusive standpoint, and will be surveying views taken from a wide range of geographic areas that have different socio-economic challenges.
Ray Reed: We’re a bottom-up, not top-down member organisation. If you want to have your views on the future of the Craft reflected, then you must get involved with the surveys. This is all about meeting the needs of both existing and future members in today’s society in order to ensure the future of Freemasonry.
‘We’re listening to all our members, we want feedback, and before we come to any conclusions, we want to understand what the membership has to offer and what it can improve on.’ Malcolm Aish
How will the MFG communicate its findings?
Shawn Christie: The MFG will use various channels to keep the membership informed, including Freemasonry Today and communication through Provincial and District Grand Lodges. Whatever the findings, we hope to identify and share successful practices and approaches throughout our society. We want to work with Provinces, Districts, lodges and members rather than simply communicating in only one direction.
Ray Reed: Communication is going to be continuous. The strategy document might prove to be substantial, but we’ll need to summarise it and allow everyone at every level to understand. We’ll always take our conclusions to the Board, Rulers and PGMs first because we want them to be the first ones to know – we can’t let magazines like Freemasonry Today know something before the PGMs do. The information route will be focus groups first; then surveys; followed by findings and talks with the Board, Rulers and PGMs. Finally, there’s communication with all our members.
Malcolm Aish: Having this round-table article is a great starting point in reaching a wide proportion of our membership, but we’ll have to feed back what we’re doing in order to be as effective as possible. We don’t know what the outcomes are going to be yet, but we’re listening to all of our members, we want their feedback, and before we come to any conclusions, we want to understand what the membership has to offer and what it can improve on.
Have your say
During the next six months, the Membership Focus Group will be seeking the assistance of members by way of several short surveys. Many of the subjects on which we shall be seeking views are mentioned in this article.
If you wish to have your say and are willing to help, then please email your details as indicated below.
UGLE members can only register at: www.ugle.org.uk/mfg
Your registration will be confirmed by us asking for your name, lodge number, masonic rank and years of membership
Other members of the MFG
Sandy Stewart, Provincial Grand Master for Staffordshire, Michael Ward, Deputy Metropolitan Grand Master, Paul Gower, Provincial Grand Master for Hertfordshire, Gareth Jones, Provincial Grand Master for South Wales, Marc Nowell, Representative from the Universities Scheme, Jeffrey Gillyon, Provincial Grand Master for Yorkshire, North and East Ridings, Robin Wilson, Provincial Grand Master for Nottinghamshire