Celebrating 300 years

Last Wednesday’s Regular Convocation of Supreme Grand Chapter was a special meeting as HRH The Duke of Kent celebrated his Golden Jubilee as First Grand Principal with a special investiture of Grand Ranks

Afterwards HRH The Duke of Kent was photographed with the Pro First Grand Principal, Second Grand Principal and Third Grand Principal to mark the occasion.

Read the First Grand Principal’s address here.

Read the Pro First Grand Principal’s address here.

Published in SGC

A blue plaque has been unveiled on Cardiff Masonic Hall in Guildford Crescent to commemorate 263 years of Freemasonry within Cardiff

Brian Langley, the Chairman of Cardiff Masonic Hall, was invited to join the Provincial Grand Master for South Wales Gareth Jones OBE in the task of unveiling the blue plaque.

The plaque now sits secured proudly above the front doors of Cardiff Masonic Hall for all to see. It was also proudly shown to all those who recently visited the Hall as part of the CADW Open Doors Heritage Initiative during September 2017.

Original records show Corinthian Lodge No. 226, the first Cardiff Lodge, was warranted in August 1754.

Lodges met at the Cardiff Arms Hotel until 1855, when moved to its own premises at 4 Church Street. Again, with the growth in membership, new lodge premises were established in Working Street on 12 January 1877.

In 1893, the United Methodist Church was determined to sell their building in Guildford Street and relocate. The premises were originally built in 1863 for the United Methodist Church at an initial cost of £1600 and boasted seating for 800 parishioners.

The architect Mr John Hartland was well known at the time and other Cardiff examples of his work still in existence are Capel Tabernacle Welsh Baptist Church in the Hayes and Bethany Baptist Church in Wharton Street, now incorporated into Howells department store. 

Three Masonic Lodges, Glamorgan Lodge No. 36, Bute Lodge No. 960 and Tennant Lodge No. 1992, who were at that time meeting above a potato store in Wharton Street, made an offer of £4,500 which was accepted. In 1894, the Cardiff Masonic Hall Company was incorporated, funded by member's subscriptions raising the necessary sum plus a further £2,300 for alterations and furnishings.

The premises were finally opened to Freemasonry on 26th September 1895 by the Provincial Grand Master Lord Llangattock, who presided over its first meeting assisted by officers of Provincial Grand Lodge and distinguished brethren totalling around 500.

The building is based in design on Regency Classical coupled with the ancient Doric architecture of Greece.

In 1904 the building was fitted with Electric Lighting at the expense of the Master of Duke of York Lodge. A suitable illuminated scroll was presented to him in recognition of his gift.

In 1918 and in the following eight years, the directors acquired the cottages to the north of the building. These acquisitions enabled the building of a new temple which was named after the Deputy Provincial Grand Master of that time, Edgar Rutter.

The contribution to the community during those 263 years is immeasurable and represents a social history of the life and times of an emerging capital city from its beginnings.

South Wales Freemasons are celebrating the Tercentenary 300 years of Freemasonry within the United Grand Lodge of England and are affixing blue plaques to many of its Masonic Halls across South Wales.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017 06:00

Presentation on the Improvement Delivery Group

Quarterly Communication

13 September 2017
A presentation by RW Bro Bro Sir David Wootton, Assistant Grand Master

Pro Grand Master and brethren, we all have our own view of what we see in masonry. For me, it’s five things:

  1. We’re all volunteers: none of us have to be masons or do what we do. The magnificent total of £3,100,000 announced at the North Wales Festival on Saturday was all the result of volunteering: voluntary time, voluntary effort, voluntary money;
  2. What we now call “social inclusion”: bringing together people of different origins, backgrounds, occupations, interests, locations, opinions, faiths; people who would not otherwise meet; in a common activity in which all are fundamentally equal;
  3. Our purposefulness: when we meet, there’s a purpose, whether it’s a masonic meeting, ritual; or charity or a community project; the best recent example I saw, the Jurassic Coast Youth Adventure organised by Dorset, 200plus children in need from all over the country taken on a week’s healthy activities by the sea. Whatever it is, we want to do it well, and we do;
  4. The practice of every moral and social virtue: words cited by the Bishop of Worcester, not a mason, at the Provincial Tercentenary Service on Sunday in a sermon that would inspire every mason. Our, if you like, moral code, best illustrated in the Charge to the Initiate, is a huge asset which will play increasingly well with younger generations for whom such things are in short supply;
  5. The social side: we do do the best parties, don’t we, getting to know each other informally, in friendship, and it works because of the other factors I’ve mentioned.

We all sense a steady move to greater openness: the Sky TV programmes; publicity in the right way for our charity and community activities: the word Freemasons on the London's Air Ambulance; wearing regalia in public: all in the right direction.

Recognising masonry’s good things but sensing that the make-up and profile of our membership – age, number – were going in the wrong direction, the Board of General Purposes – BGP – set up the Membership Focus Group – MFG – under the inspired leadership of Ray Reed to find out what was happening to today’s membership, to assess the likely affect on tomorrow’s and, if we didn’t like that – which we didn’t – to decide what to do.

Deciding what to do is called STRATEGY – YES! The MFG produced, and everyone adopted, Strategy: The Future of Freemasonry 2015-2020, which I know we’ve all read and like.

Thoughts then turned to implementing the Strategy. Ooh, the MFG said, could be difficult – better get someone else to do it, and so was born the Improvement Delivery Group – IDG (I hope you’re keeping up with the jargon, brethren) to Deliver the Improvements which should flow from the work of the MFG.   

I was out of the room at the time, so they made me Chairman. Also out of the room was Provincial Grand Master for South Wales and Third Grand Principal Gareth Jones, so we made him Deputy Chairman.

Strategy is no good unless it is accepted, understood and embraced by the membership – remember we’re all volunteers. The IDG had to show it was including Craft and Royal Arch, and all areas of the country, and Head Office. So, in addition to Gareth and me:

  • Michael Ward, London
  • Jeff Gillyon, Yorkshire North and East Ridings
  • Stephen Blank, Cheshire
  • Peter Taylor, Shropshire
  • Tim Henderson-Ross, Gloucestershire
  • Charles Cunnington, Derbyshire
  • Ian Yeldham, Suffolk
  • Mark Estaugh, West Kent
  • Stuart Hadler, Somerset
  • Gordon Robertson, Buckinghamshire, who leaves us on retiring as PGM and is replaced by James Hilditch, Oxfordshire
  • Ray Reed

 ...and from Head Office:

  • Grand Secretary Willie
  • Assistant Grand Secretary Shawn
  • ..and now Chief Executive David

Brethren, in light of all they do, I would like all those I’ve named to stand and be recognised. Thank you.

To pick up the work of the MFG we formed Working Groups matching the elements of the Strategy. The Strategy talks about effective governance at all levels; a leadership development programme; the attraction and retention of members; and the sustainability of masonic halls. Thus…

Gareth Jones is leading our Governance Group looking at who and what does what, the roles and responsibilities of each office and body, what they and what they’re not, and how we ensure that people understand what their roles and responsibilities are and aren’t, and what is expected of them. From the esteemed Adelphi2 we have lots of lovely statistics which will help show how Provinces and Districts are doing in terms of membership and help them to direct their efforts where they are needed.

Leadership – Michael Ward – aims to equip office-holders for their roles. Workshop sessions for PGMs and Grand Superintendents; workshops for Deputy PGMs and Grand Superintendents; next week the first training session for secretaries. We now have a UGLE training officer, Andrew Kincaid, to devise and roll-out training roles for all different roles. This not about imposing uniformity – you will do it this way – but helping people to see what’s involved and how to do the job well.

Jeff Gillyon’s Masonic Halls Group have published the Masonic Halls Centres of Excellence Guide, now available, best electronically, and those responsible for the management of masonic halls are strongly encouraged to use it: you will find it very useful. It is now in the charge of John Pagella, Grand Superintendent of Works, who has formed a Steering Group to manage the Guidance Manual and keep it up to date. There will be an annual meeting for all Provincial Grand Superintendents of Works.

The five Provinces in Regional Communications Group 1 – North of England – on the initiative of Gordon Brewis, Provincial Grand Superintendent of Works for Durham, have recognised the need for professionally qualified Provincial Grand Superintendents of Works and arranged for them to meet so that the adoption of best practice can be recommended uniformly across them all.

The Guidance Manual is not a book to be read from cover to cover: it is a reference tool, to be consulted as circumstances lead. It is guidance, support and advice: a guide to best practice. It can’t give definitive advice on, for example, legal issues, because so much depends on individual circumstances.

We want our halls and centres to be at the centre of the local community. Maybe we should refer to them as Masonic Community Centres.

Our Membership Group, headed by Peter Taylor, has circulated for comment the Membership Pathway, the product of several years of devoted effort, and parts well piloted in ten Provinces and 110 lodges Its purpose is to help lodges attract and retain the right members in the right place: to show what we need to do to attract the members we want to join us, stay and enjoy the full masonic journey.

Again, it is not a book, you do not read it cover to cover, you look at the parts you want as and when you need to.

The Pathway will be launched at the Provincial and District Rulers’ Forum – PDRF – on 18 October and then rolled out. So no-one should worry that they will be presented with it and then left on their own. Roll-out will be organised for you: to Regions and Provinces from January to March next year, and then to lodges….and there will be a folding leaflet on the front of Freemasonry Today in December.

There is much demand from masons to know more about masonry, its origin, history and meaning. Stuart Hadler’s Education Group is creating an online store of masonic learning materials, readily accessible in a Virtual Learning Environment. It will be tested later this year, introduced to a number of pilot Provinces in the new year, and full roll-out will be in later in 2018. What the group want is more materials to include, so contributions welcome, please.

In parallel to all this continues the excellent progress of the Universities Scheme, of which I am honoured to be the President. Existing and new lodges, and chapters, here and in Districts, recruit among students at universities and equivalent across the country and outside the UK, and do so very successfully. There are still a number of universities in this country not represented in the scheme, and we are addressing that.

I would like to thank all who are involved in the scheme, all volunteers, for all they do, and in particular the Chairmen: the founding Chairman, Oliver Lodge, now moonlighting as the Grand Director of Ceremonies; Edward Lord, current Chairman who retires after eight distinguished years at the Scheme conference in this building on 4th November; and Chairman-Designate Mark Greenburgh, who takes over on that date, and I would ask them to stand and be recognised too.

Many Provinces and Districts have New and Young Masons’ Clubs, with a wide variety of imaginative names, and those that don’t will. These clubs are an excellent way of those newer to masonry getting to know more other newbies, and building essential camaraderie. The clubs are holding their conference on 14 October in Birmingham under Gareth Jones’ leadership.

All this, IDG and others, is about creating our future, which is in our hands and which we are doing. The figures already show that it is working: in many areas there is a discernible shift in the trend of the numbers, and there will be more.

I have illustrated this talk with scenes from the everyday life of an Assistant Grand Master. Here’s the last one. In his sermon at the Durham Tercentenary Service last Thursday – I’m into clergy this morning, brethren – the Dean of Durham, also not a mason, said he saw masonry as a confident, open and engaged fraternity with strong foundational values.

We can do this, brethren, we can do this.  

Thank you. 

 

 

Published in Speeches

A dementia support house has been opened at the RMBI’s Albert Edward Prince of Wales Court care home in Mid Glamorgan, South Wales, following a £300,000 donation from the Province

The new dementia support house, E Wyndham Powell, has 12 bedrooms, reminiscence areas, themed corridors and an internal courtyard with sensory plants. The new facilities are designed to support older people with complex needs and include additional nursing rooms with overhead hoists, a palliative care suite and specially equipped bathrooms.

Sir Paul Williams, Chairman of the RMBI Care Company, and Gareth Jones, Provincial Grand Master for South Wales, welcomed Lord and Lady Northampton to the official opening at the home in Porthcawl. Lord Northampton addressed guests before unveiling a commemorative plaque.

Gareth paid tribute to the late Edward Wyndham Powell, after whom the support house is named. Edward played a key role in organising the £300,000 donation from the Province to support the renovation.

A year to be proud of

From fundraising to the formation of new masons clubs, Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes reflects  on the reasons to celebrate Freemasonry in 2017

I have received a copy of the Report of the New and Young Masons Clubs’ Conference and was delighted to learn just how well the clubs are progressing with more than 30 established across London and the Provinces. This is a fantastic achievement and I would encourage those new Freemasons in Provinces without such a club to consider setting one up. You would have our full support and I am sure you would be greatly encouraged by your Provincial hierarchy.

I have asked Gareth Jones, Provincial Grand Master for South Wales and Third Grand Principal, to act as the focal point for the movement. It really is a splendid initiative and I congratulate all those involved.

Shared achievement

I have frequently said how proud we should be of all our charities, and not just the big four. They all do tremendous work. The astonishing sum of £14.5 million was raised through the hard work of our brethren. The Hampshire & Isle of Wight Festival total of nearly £7.75 million is the highest total ever achieved.

Across the board, the money raised per capita by all four Provinces in Festival during 2016 was extraordinary and of a similar level. Your generosity is not taken for granted and is greatly appreciated.

The Masonic Charitable Foundation has launched a scheme to give £3 million to your local charities next year in recognition of both its own formation and, of course, our Tercentenary. This not only shows your generosity but is also aimed at promoting our involvement in the community.

Cause for celebration

I know that some of you have become frustrated at not being able to get hold of a Tercentenary Jewel. Please be assured that there are now plenty available in Letchworth’s Shop. Unfortunately, initial demand far outstripped supply. In spite of your frustration, may I ask you to beware of cheap imitations. Sadly, they do exist and are being offered at a very reduced price, but they are unauthorised and unlawful copies. We are working closely with the Provinces to get them all removed.

The forthcoming Sky documentary entitled Inside The Freemasons gives us a great opportunity to capitalise on the publicity being generated, and we anticipate that other high-profile events throughout the year will keep us in the public eye and produce some really positive results.

These are exciting times; let us celebrate in style by showing our pride in and talking about our membership. I am absolutely certain that we will all enjoy a splendid year in 2017.

‘Your generosity is not taken for granted and is greatly appreciated’

Published in UGLE
Wednesday, 14 December 2016 09:18

Pro Grand Master's address - December 2016

Quarterly Communication

14 December 2016 
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes

Brethren, our December meeting is always one of the best attended and I am really encouraged to see so many of you here today. In particular well done to Lincolnshire with over 100 members travelling here; 40 from Wiltshire; 20 all the way from Yorkshire, West Riding and, I believe, that there are 16 newly installed Masters from Oxfordshire. Since we changed the rules to allow Master Masons to attend Grand Lodge we have had an excellent display of light blue aprons and they are very much in evidence again today. Bearing in mind work commitments and the eccentricities of our transport system it is a tremendous effort.

I have recently received a copy of the Report of the New and Young Masons Clubs’ Conference and was delighted to learn just how well the clubs are progressing with over 30 established across London and the Provinces. This is a fantastic achievement and I would encourage those new masons in Provinces without such a club to consider setting one up. You would have our full support and I am sure you would be greatly encouraged by your Provincial hierarchy. Indeed, I have asked RW Bro Gareth Jones, Provincial Grand Master for South Wales and Third Grand Principal to act as the focal point here for the movement. It really is a splendid initiative and I congratulate all those involved.

We have heard a lot about charity during the course of today and I have frequently said how proud we should be of all our charities, and not just the big four. They all do tremendous work. You have already heard that during the course of this year the astonishing sum of £14.5m was raised through the hard work of our brethren. The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Festival total of nearly £7.75m is the highest total ever. I can’t believe, brethren, that it was all down to me having moved into Hampshire last year. I suspect that is purely coincidental. Across the board the money raised per capita by all four Provinces in Festival during 2016 was extraordinary and of a similar level. Brethren, your generosity is not taken for granted and is greatly appreciated.

You have also heard from the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) about their scheme to give to your local charities £3m next year in recognition of both their own formation and, of course, our Tercentenary. This not only shows your generosity but is also aimed at promoting our involvement in the community.

Brethren, I know that some of you have become frustrated at not being able to get hold of a Tercentenary Jewel. Please be assured that there are now plenty available in the Letchworth’s shop. Unfortunately, initial demand far outstripped supply. In spite of your frustration, may I ask you to beware of cheap imitations. Sadly they do exist and are being offered at a very reduced price, but they are unauthorised and unlawful copies. We are working closely with the Provinces to get them all removed.

The Deputy Grand Master mentioned that the Sky documentary titled Inside Freemasonry would be shown in January. However this has been put back to the Spring. I have seen three of these so far – there are five in all – and have been most encouraged at the sensitive way that we have been portrayed by Emporium, the makers of the film. I would like to thank those Provinces, lodges and, perhaps most of all, those individuals who have so willingly participated.

This gives us a great opportunity in the early part of the year to capitalise on the publicity being generated and we anticipate that other high profile events throughout the year will keep us in the public eye and produce some really positive results. These are exciting times and let us celebrate in style by showing our pride in and talking about our membership. I am absolutely certain that we will all enjoy a splendid year in 2017.

In the meantime, I thank you all for what you have done for Freemasonry in preparing for next year. Keep the enthusiasm going and have a very happy Christmas.

Published in Speeches

Not to be frowned upon

Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes points to the enjoyment that can be found in masonic ritual

As you are well aware, Freemasons’ Hall is a peace memorial to all those who gave their lives for us during World War I. It is worth, therefore, drawing your attention to two events taking place next year.

The first is on 18 April 2017 at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, when the new Masonic Memorial Garden, built in memory of all those masons who gave their lives during conflict in the service of our country, will be opened.

The second is the unveiling of the Victoria Cross Memorial by the Grand Master on 25 April 2017. It will be placed on the pavement in front of the Tower Entrance of Freemasons’ Hall and will take the form of a number of paving stones, with the names of the 63 Victoria Cross holders who were awarded the military decoration in World War I and who were members of the United Grand Lodge of England. Of these, 17 were also companions in the Royal Arch.

Past and future

Companions, this seems to be an appropriate time to say a few words about Denis Beckett. He was a very remarkable man and I had the good fortune to know him well. Indeed, Beckett was President of the Committee of General Purposes when I joined it in 1987.

Beckett was a Craft mason for 71 years and a Royal Arch mason for 59 years. He was initiated immediately after World War II, in which he served with such distinction. He was awarded the DSO for his extraordinary courage during the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy – there were those who felt a Victoria Cross would have been more appropriate. We were privileged to have him as a member and particularly in that he presided over the Committee of General Purposes for seven years.

‘In the Royal Arch... our Exaltation Ceremony is one of the finest.’

While it is clearly important to remember the past, we must also look to the future. I am therefore very pleased that the successor to the Membership Focus Group, the Improvement Delivery Group, is composed of both Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents, with our Third Grand Principal, Gareth Jones, as its Deputy Chairman. It will be designing and delivering the future direction of both the Craft and Royal Arch.

You may have seen that, after my Quarterly Communications address in June, I have been accused in the national media of suggesting that masons are all grumpy and boring – a misrepresentation, companions. I said that if an amusing incident occurs at one of our meetings, it should not be frowned upon as had sometimes been the case in the past.

It is not a capital offence to smile during meetings. While I was not suggesting we should turn our meetings into a pantomime, there is no harm in us being seen to enjoy ourselves. I believe this to be particularly so in the Royal Arch, as our Exaltation Ceremony is one of the finest and, in my experience, candidates derive great enjoyment from it. I think this is particularly so when the new format of the ritual is used, which involves more of the companions and has the benefit of changing the voice that the candidate hears, which I always feel refreshes his interest.

Published in UGLE

The perfect complement

For Gareth Jones, the roles of South Wales PGM, Third Grand Principal and Deputy Chairman of the Improvement Delivery Group (IDG) share a number of common goals – in particular, ensuring a strong future for the Craft and Royal Arch

How has your career built up to this moment?

I retired this time last year. I had been a civil servant for nearly 37 years, working in a variety of roles – from private secretary to a cabinet minister in the Thatcher government, to head of operations for Wales during the foot and mouth crisis, to Registrar of Companies for the UK, and finally director general for national resources in the Welsh government. I say retire, but that’s a bit of a misnomer because I’m still very busy doing my masonic activities and some non-executive work.

I saw the civil service going through massive changes. Over the years there was a realisation that it needed to deliver more efficiencies as well as respond to increasing customer expectations.

We went from an environment where people were pretty risk-averse to a huge explosion of expectations that meant change was the only show in town.

There are quite a few parallels with Freemasonry in that regard because there has been an increasing realisation in the Craft and the Royal Arch that we’ve got to change if we are to survive and flourish.

How has Freemasonry changed?

Society is changing around us – people are less deferential than they used to be, they have busy lives, and families rightly expect to be involved more in what their partners do. There is also a need for better relations and good engagement with local communities. And all of this feeds into a clear agenda for us to change.

Freemasonry is like any big organisation; whether it be public sector or private sector, there will be some people who are reluctant or resistant to change and some who are prepared to lead that change and embrace it. The difference between Freemasonry and professional organisations is that while we’re here to develop, we’re also here to enjoy ourselves. The fact that we’re mostly volunteers in some ways makes it even more difficult to drive change.

One of the key challenges that faces Freemasonry now is that, over the years, we haven’t set out clearly enough who is responsible for what and therefore who is accountable for what. That’s arguably why Freemasonry found itself in the situation where it was losing so many members in an unplanned way. Nobody was actually responsible and no one could be held accountable because a clear framework of accountability hadn’t been established.

Does that framework exist now?

This is work in progress. Freemasonry is by and large populated by people who believe in traditional values and traditional ways of doing things. So you can’t change things overnight, but there’s been a realisation among the Rulers and among Provinces and Districts that we have got to establish such a framework and drive changes within that context.

In establishing the strategy for 2020, which was sent out to brethren in December last year, there is now a real framework for change. It’s a strategy within which we can deliver improvements in a realistic timescale – not that we will stop in 2020; continuous improvement has to be the order of the day from now on.

‘Continuous improvement has to be the order of the day from now on.’

When did you become a Freemason?

It was in 1984 via my rugby club in Cardiff. My brother and I had been interested in Freemasonry... not that we knew very much about it. I think I relied on the fact that the members of the lodge I knew were people I liked and respected.

For me, Freemasonry moved beyond membership of my lodge and chapter when I was asked to sit on an organising committee for a festival event in 1999. I enjoyed this greater involvement and in the same year I was appointed to my first Provincial office when we had a new Provincial Grand Master (PGM). He was getting out and about a lot more, so I spent time with him travelling around the Province. This eventually led to me being appointed as the Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies in 2004. At that point, I was also starting to get more involved with other Provinces, meeting new people and broadening my outlook on Freemasonry very considerably.

How was the progression to Provincial Grand Master?

After serving as Assistant and Deputy PGM, I was appointed to the role in 2013. I’ve had nothing but enjoyment as PGM. One never dares to think that one will get that job but, when asked, it was one that I seized very enthusiastically and I had great support from my wife and family, as well as the understanding of my lodge and chapter.

South Wales is quite a big Province. We have 163 lodges based over a wide geographical area; there are some large urban areas with many lodges and then quite a few small rural and semi-rural areas with just a handful. So it’s quite an eclectic mix.

But the thing that binds it together is that it’s a very friendly and happy environment within which we all enjoy our Freemasonry. It’s an environment that is very caring and I like to think that we do a lot to improve our relations with communities as well as help those who need support.

One of the things that I learned from my professional career in terms of managing organisations is that you can never communicate too much and you can never communicate in too many ways. There are still a lot of brethren who like to be communicated with face-to-face, but there are an increasing number who like to be communicated with electronically via a good-quality website or social media. We have tried in South Wales to embrace all possible channels of communication.

‘We need to make sure that we have the tools in place for leaders in Provinces to take good decisions.’

Did your appointment as Third Grand Principal creep up on you?

It didn’t creep up on me; it jumped out at me! I was lucky enough, in autumn last year, to be asked by the Pro First Grand Principal whether I would be prepared to take on the role of Third Grand Principal. I didn’t have to think very long about the answer. The Royal Arch has always been really important to me.

I have always believed it important for brethren to join the Royal Arch when the time is right for them, but hopefully before they attain the Chair in the Craft. Not only does it complete the pure and ancient Freemasonry story, it is a beautiful and enjoyable ceremony and a significant contributor to improving retention.

The roles of PGM and Third Grand Principal dovetail with each other very neatly. I am not, and never have been, the Grand Superintendent of my Province, although in many Provinces the PGM and Grand Superintendent are the same. Both the Grand Superintendent of South Wales and I believe that my two roles provide an ideal opportunity to encourage more Craft masons in South Wales to join the Royal Arch.

There are some issues that are specific to the Craft, such as the whole concept of recruitment at the outset, but with the Royal Arch being the completion of one’s journey in Freemasonry we have been very keen to ensure that the Royal Arch is part of everything we’re doing in the context of the Improvement Delivery Group (IDG). Grand Superintendents need to feel that they are fully a part of this whole change agenda.

Can you explain what your work with the IDG entails?

The Membership Focus Group was a creature of the Board of General Purposes. We realised last year that we needed to go beyond the realms of surveying, strategising and thinking about the future to a point of saying, ‘Right, we’ve actually got to start delivering some of these priorities.’

We recognise that one size definitely does not fit all. Different Provinces have different priorities, different structures, different sizes and different geographical make-ups, so the idea is to provide options, a toolkit of best practice.

It’s not an overnight job. The strategy is a 2020 strategy and we need to make sure that we have the tools in place for leaders in Provinces to take good decisions as to how they drive things forward.

Is the IDG setting hard or soft targets?

I think both, to be honest. There are a few hard-edged targets in the strategy – for example, reducing the number of brethren who resign shortly after they’re initiated, and turning around the decline in membership. But there are some much softer things as well that are equally important, around helping PGMs and Grand Superintendents realise that action does have to be taken to ensure the sustainability of the Craft and the Royal Arch in their Provinces.

We as members have to make some conscious decisions to make changes to improve Freemasonry for the future and to ensure that it moves with the times, meets people’s expectations better and provides enjoyment for our members and their families while still not forgetting our responsibility to help others.

By 2020, I’d like to be answering questions about how successful the IDG has been. It would be very nice to think we’ll be answering questions about why it is that our image seems to have improved so markedly, as well as our relations with community groups more generally. And from a Royal Arch perspective, it would be lovely to think I’ll be answering questions about why the Royal Arch has become so popular right across England, Wales and our Districts.

Published in UGLE

Regular Convocation of Supreme Grand Chapter

9 November 2016 
An address by the ME Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes

Companions, I am very pleased to see so many of you here both from our Districts overseas and from our Provinces, including sixty companions from Cambridgeshire.  Since our last meeting in April the Most Excellent First Grand Principal has been pleased to appoint Comp Willie Shackell as Grand Scribe Ezra and we wish him well. He was, of course, formally invested as Grand Secretary at the June Quarterly Communication.

This meeting, companions, always falls near to 11th November, Armistice Day, and as you are well aware this marvellous building is a peace memorial to all those who gave their lives for us during the First World War. It is worth, therefore, drawing your attention to two events taking place next year.

The first is on 18th April 2017 at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, when the newly constructed Masonic Memorial Garden in memory of all those masons who gave their lives during conflict in the service of our country will be opened. You are all invited.

The second is the unveiling of the Victoria Cross Memorial by the Grand Master on 25th April 2017. It will be placed on the pavement in front of the Tower Entrance of this building and will take the form of a number of paving stones with the names of the 63 Victoria Cross holders who were awarded the Victoria Cross in World War I and who were members of UGLE. Of these, 17 were also companions in the Royal Arch.

Companions, this seems to be an appropriate time to say a few words about Comp Denis Beckett who was one of the companions we stood in memory of earlier in the meeting. Comp Beckett was a very remarkable man and I had the good fortune to know him well. Indeed he was President of the Committee of General Purposes when I joined it in 1987. He was a Craft mason for 71 years and a Royal Arch mason for 59 years. He was initiated immediately after World War 2 in which he served with such distinction. He was awarded the DSO for his extraordinary courage during the battle of Monte Cassino. There were those who felt a VC would have been more appropriate.

Companions, we were privileged to have him as a member and particularly so that he presided over the Committee of General Purposes for 7 years.

Companions, whilst it is clearly important to remember the past, we must also look to the future. I am therefore very pleased that the successor to the Membership Focus Group, the Improvement Delivery Group, is composed of both Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents, with our Third Grand Principal, Gareth Jones, as its Deputy Chairman. It will be designing and delivering the future direction of both the Craft and Royal Arch.

Companions, you may have seen that, after my address at Quarterly Communications in June, I have been accused in the national media of suggesting that masons are all grumpy and boring – a misrepresentation, companions. At least I consider it to be a misrepresentation, but, if any of you think otherwise, I apologise. I said that if an amusing incident occurs at one of our meetings, it should not be frowned upon as had sometimes been the case in the past. It is not a capital offence to smile during meetings. Whilst I was not suggesting we should turn our meetings into a pantomime, there is no harm in us being seen to enjoy ourselves.

I believe this to be particularly so in the Royal Arch, as our Exaltation Ceremony is one of the finest and, in my experience, candidates derive great enjoyment from it. I think this is particularly so when the new format of the ritual is used which involves more of the companions and has the benefit of changing the voice that the candidate hears which I always feel refreshes his interest.

Finally, since Supreme Grand Chapter arranged the refurbishment of our magnificent organ, we have been treated to a number of superb concerts in this temple and I congratulate the Organ Committee on its achievements to date. I am very keen to draw your attention to the next concert at 5.00 pm, on 14th December, after the Quarterly Communication, to be given by the international concert artist, Jane Parker-Smith. The concerts are free, companions, and, so far, they have been wonderfully entertaining, and I am quite certain that this will be no exception.

Companions, I have no doubt that after our closing, you will enjoy listening to a team from the Royal College of Surgeons led by Professor Neil Mortensen, RCS Research Board Chairman at Oxford University, who will enlighten us on what has been achieved through your most generous support.

Thank you, companions.

Published in Speeches

Actions speak loudest

At a special roundtable held at Freemasons’ Hall, members of the newly launched Improvement Delivery Group explained how they intend to support lodges and chapters as they build a strong and sustainable future for Freemasonry

What is the Membership Focus Group’s legacy?

DW: The reasoning behind the Membership Focus Group [MFG] lay in the words ‘membership’ and ‘focus’, with the realisation that membership was declining and that there was a need to address that. What the MFG has done is communicate very well that there is an issue and then develop a strategy by collecting information. Now there is a need to put those ideas into action.

GJ: We thought we knew what the issues were, but we needed to gather evidence that this was the case. The surveys have been very important to ensure that the membership had the opportunity to provide input into the thinking around what the strategy should be and how we should address the challenges that we face over the next few years.

SH: I’ve detected a concern from some members that the focus is about what Grand Lodge wants, but I think our surveys have demonstrated very clearly that we want to be driven by the needs and expectations of members. We’ve had some valuable information, which has helped us define the various projects that the MFG’s put into action.

SC: Having visited Provinces it’s apparent how enthused people are with the consultative approach the MFG has taken, which may not have happened as much in the past. The MFG has also done an incredible job of fostering collaboration and an environment where UGLE; Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Lodges; and, importantly, individual lodges and members are all working together for the common good of the fraternity. Looking at how we attract into and select new members for the Craft, I know that Membership Officers, introduced through the MFG, will play a very important role.

What contribution does the Royal Arch make to the Improvement Delivery Group (IDG)?

DW: The MFG was established by the Board of General Purposes and it sits underneath that. The IDG has a more formal constitutional place in that it’s headed by a Craft Ruler, me, and deputy chaired by a Royal Arch Grand Principal, Gareth, who also happens to be a Provincial Grand Master. The IDG reports to the Grand Master’s Council and has on it one member from each of the regional communications groups in England and Wales. To make sure the Royal Arch is very much part of it, the IDG includes Provincial Grand Masters, Grand Superintendents, those who are one and those who are both.

GJ: With the Royal Arch being such a key step in pure and ancient Freemasonry, it’s very important that members of the Craft are made aware of its importance at an early stage. What we also know from the surveys is that being a member of the Royal Arch is a very important factor in the context of retaining members. By and large, if people join the Royal Arch, they enjoy their masonry more, learn more about masonry and want to stay in it.

‘I think our surveys have demonstrated that we want to be driven by the needs and expectations of members.’ Stuart Hadler

To what extent is the IDG about implementation?

GJ: The next stage from gathering evidence and evaluating options is delivering on what we have decided the priorities are, in conjunction with the membership, to deliver a sustainable Craft for the future.

SH: I believe the launch of the Improvement Delivery Group is a very important demonstration that there’s real ownership by UGLE of the work that the MFG’s done, as well as an intent to take that work forward with the widest possible buy-in from all Provinces, be they Royal Arch or Craft.

GJ: As we take this forward, we also need to make sure that all of the geographical areas in England and Wales are properly represented. We know that by and large our members are hungry for learning. They want to know more about what Freemasonry can give them. They want to know more about the meaning of Freemasonry.

DW: One thing that we’ve already done is to write a document and give it to new Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents to explain their roles and responsibilities – from financial controls through to understanding that being a mason is supposed to be fun. We’re not doing this so that we can negatively mark people down but to encourage them to think positively about what they’re going to do with our support.

SH: There’s a greater willingness and intent to help Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents be successful, to be effective and take their Province forward. It wasn’t too many years ago when you were expected, perhaps tacitly, to maintain a tidy ship, not rock the boat, and hopefully hand your Province on in a better shape than you inherited. We already have a much clearer agenda, evolving to deliver quality Freemasonry for our members and indeed their families, which is quite a challenging agenda, of course.

How important is sharing best practice?

SH: It’s a key piece of work because this is not just about organisational change, it’s cultural change within lodges themselves, identifying what makes for successful attitudes, culture, opportunities and engagement with the community. Some lodges are very good at that and others struggle.

GJ: Our work will be in providing what you might call a toolkit for Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents when they’ve identified what the particular challenges are in their Provinces. Be it supplying written documentation or examples of best practice around England and Wales, we want to empower Provincial Rulers to make decisions about how to drive their Province forward by providing them with the right information and support. What we’re not trying to do is to say we have all the answers.

SC: One of the key roles of Provincial Membership Officers is to facilitate the sharing of best practice. They’re looking at lodges that are successful in their own Provinces and then trying to find the best way of sharing that information with lodges that might need support.

DW: There are some Provinces that have done very well in particular areas. The Metropolitan area, for example, has done well in recruitment. So where there is something that works, we want to know about it.

SC: It is one thing for UGLE or a Metropolitan, Provincial or District Grand Lodge to say to a lodge, ‘we suggest you do this, this and this,’ and present them with a formula. In practice, it is a lot better if they hear first-hand what has worked direct from another lodge. We have countless examples of formerly struggling lodges that came up with a plan, took action and are now thriving. This success can be replicated.

GJ: And we also want to get Freemasons better connected and more involved with delivering good things in their communities. That’s a responsibility upon us all as Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents to make sure that we do, in part, enhance our reputation by being positive forces for good in our communities and therefore, as a spin-off, attract more good men into our ranks.

‘We want to empower Provincial Rulers to make decisions about how to drive their Province forward.’ Gareth Jones

What changes will be made at the centre?

DW: We’re looking at whether we’ve got the right structures, making sure that people know what their roles are and what they are not. I think it’s important to be looking at things like visits by Rulers. We could arrange their visits so they see and meet more people – going to some Provincial annual meetings, for example, so that more people see them, which can give members a stronger feeling of belonging and also give Rulers a better idea of the talent to watch for the future.

GJ: We should also say a word about the Pathway – a key membership programme being developed. One of the principal aims of the IDG will be to ensure that we become better at looking after people from the time they express an interest in joining Freemasonry, through managing their expectations and then, to being initiated, passed, raised and exalted into the Holy Royal Arch. The whole journey needs to be better managed so that people are better looked after throughout that process.

We know that far too many resign from Freemasonry very quickly after joining and that’s simply not good enough. It can only be down to two reasons – either we’ve chosen the wrong people or we’re not properly looking after them.

I rather think that it’s the latter category that we really need to give attention to.

SH: Some lodges may find this challenging because they’re perhaps too focused on a routine of ceremonies, making these the focus rather than the brethren who need to be enthused in order to become active members and future leaders.

What’s the IDG’s biggest challenge?

DW: The first challenge is maintaining the momentum of the MFG and the other is the agenda – we’ve got to deliver, which means making sure that we’re carrying people with us. The easiest thing in the world would be to produce lengthy documents and just send them out to the membership.

GJ: We have to deliver some early wins for the IDG to show people that we’re making a difference and we have to respond to the points that brethren are making in their survey responses. People are giving up their time to fill in surveys.

If they don’t think that we’re responding positively to the points they’re making, they’ll stop responding to us.

SH: We also need to recognise the capacity of Provinces to respond. Some are well-equipped but others will benefit from support and time to move forward.

GJ: This is why we’re currently running pilots in a number of Provinces, such as interviewing techniques, in order to iron out any problems before we roll them out to everyone.

SC: Another challenge is that people are pressed for time. Masons have a lot to do between their personal lives, work and just running a regular lodge without bringing in extra things for them to do. So it’s finding individuals to help who have the right skills and the time to contribute.

DW: As well as a force enabling good men to be better, we want Freemasonry to be fun and valued by all, where young and old together can develop friendships for themselves and their families, and be themselves in a happy, compatible and pleasant environment.

Published in UGLE
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