Going the distance
Whether it’s a currency fluctuation in India, a typhoon in Vanuatu or an earthquake in New Zealand, Lister Park has made it his job in the UGLE Registration Department to understand what’s going on in all the masonic Districts around the world
Where were you before coming to UGLE?
In my previous life, I was in the advertising industry for some 38 years where I worked in various agencies with responsibility for the media planning and buying aspect of our clients’ marketing budgets. In July 2006, a friend and ex-employee suggested I come to UGLE to interview for a three-month temporary assignment in the Registration Department. I’d been doing some consultancy work, where everyone wanted everything yesterday but weren’t too keen on paying the bills, so my wife suggested I give the job a go. Nine years later, I’m still here.
What was it like when you started?
At first I dealt with the administration of lodges and chapters under Metropolitan Grand Lodge, but after a while it was suggested that I try my hand at the Districts. The old boardroom was being used for storage back then and when I opened the doors to one of its huge cupboards, I found it full of papers. My first job was to sort that into some sense of order, which took quite a while. That was my introduction to the Districts. The next task was to set up a chain of communication. Before I joined, various people at UGLE had been dealing with the Districts so there wasn’t a single point of contact; whenever someone from a District got in touch with a query, they could come through to anyone. District queries tend to be more complex than those of the Provinces, so I created a niche for myself. When first dealing with the District personnel, I was addressing them as ‘Dear District Grand Secretary’, but as time went on, relationships flourished and it became more personalised – it became ‘Dear Bob’ or ‘Dear John’.
What does your job now entail?
My day-to-day responsibilities cover everything from receiving and processing amendments to lodge membership data on annual returns, through to processing registrations and recording incoming payments to ensure that all fees and dues are paid. I also advise the Districts on rules and regulations relating to their membership.
Is it hard to stay in touch with all the Districts?
Part of the challenge we have is distance, but the internet has helped so much. We used to post out UGLE and Grand Chapter stationery, and annual returns to such far-flung places as Nigeria, Malaysia, Australia and Argentina – and you’d never know when they were going to get there.
They might take three months or even get lost in transit. Now documents can be emailed to each District office, where they will be transmitted in a similar fashion to the lodge secretaries. But even then, when we email papers to the District Grand Secretary in Buenos Aires, for example, they will need to find their way to our lodges in Uruguay and Chile. If documents need signatures, you can’t expect the District Grand Secretary to pop in the car and collect the papers from someone hundreds of miles away. You therefore need to give these lodges a certain amount of leeway. You’ve got to understand the geography of the country and the distances involved and be very aware of the vagaries of the local postal system.
‘I make myself available for the Districts, but it’s not a hardship… It is a job but it’s also a way of life.’
Is it a challenge collecting the annual dues?
It all relies on administration and making sure that the databases are up to date. But you do get problems, especially when faced with currency fluctuation. Look at India and the way the rupee has fallen against the pound over the past few years: the District Grand Lodge can collect the dues one month but by the time they come to pay UGLE, the rupee might have dropped further, so they are faced with a shortfall. A few years ago there was astronomical hyperinflation in Zimbabwe and the value of the local dollar could change from hour to hour. The South African rand is another currency that is volatile, so we constantly monitor the currency markets to pre-empt some of the problems and help the Districts find the most beneficial way of paying their dues.
‘It’s heart-warming how much the Districts and their lodges want to belong to UGLE.’
What do you enjoy about the job?
It’s heart-warming how much the Districts and their lodges want to belong to UGLE.
They might have only 10 members, hold their meetings hundreds of miles away from the District office and even have English as a second language, but there is such loyalty to the mother lodge. It’s part of the joy of working with the Districts. Although they are far away from our headquarters, they still want to be associated with UGLE; they’re proud to be part of us.
Does your job complement your Freemasonry?
I was out of masonry for 12 years before I came to work at Freemasons’ Hall. I wasn’t a subscribing member of any lodge and felt that, as I dealt with so many different aspects of Freemasonry five days a week in my job, it was enough. Eventually, though, I took the decision to reactivate my membership and joined St Barnabas Lodge, No. 3771, a London lodge that meets on a Saturday. During the past couple of years, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel, as a guest of the Districts, to both Cyprus and Kuala Lumpur where I gave presentations to gatherings of local lodge secretaries on how to provide more accurate documentation and data to UGLE. I came away from these visits with a tremendous feeling of camaraderie, of belonging to something that is so strong and so far from home.
How important has it been to build relationships with the Districts?
I make myself available for the Districts, but it’s not a hardship. It’s not 24 hours a day, but I always have to be aware of the time differences and gauge when to send emails that elicit a quick response or when to make an urgent phone call.
I joined Royal Arch Freemasonry recently and the District Grand Secretary from Hong Kong flew in especially for the meeting. I was knocked out – it was an amazing thing to do, but that’s the kind of rapport you build with people. I get visitors from the Districts dropping into the office throughout the year. It gets really busy during the week of the Annual Investiture, when you’ve got everyone travelling to Freemasons’ Hall – whether it’s from New Zealand, Singapore, Bombay or the Bahamas – all wanting to catch up. My diary gets pretty full for that period and it’s usually four days of intense meetings, which concentrates the mind as you tend to get a whole year’s worth of problems rolled into one week, as well as having new personnel to meet and old friends to catch up with. It is a job but it’s also a way of life.
The District Network
Lodges meeting abroad are grouped in 33 Districts, each headed by a District Grand Master, with five groups headed by a Grand Inspector and 12 lodges administered from Freemasons’ Hall. There are about 20,000 members in this category.
The largest District is South Africa, North with more than 100 lodges and the smallest is Namibia with just four. Currently, the Districts encompass around 720 lodges and 320 chapters in total.
UGLE has lodges across the globe, taking in Africa, Australia, Canada, the Caribbean, Cyprus, Gibraltar, Greece, Hong Kong and the Far East, India, Malaysia, Malta, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, St Helena, South America, the South West Pacific (including Fiji and Vanuatu) and Thailand.
There are also foreign Grand Lodges not under UGLE’s jurisdiction and it is estimated that there are about six million Freemasons worldwide.