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.’