Are you bored of wearing the same old ties every day?
Would you like to wear something outside the lodge that shows who you are and what you believe in? Could you create a tie that UGLE members around the world would enjoy and feel proud to wear?
If the answer is yes, then this is your chance to enter a new competition and design an informal masonic tie. The competition is open to all UGLE members and the winning entry will be made into a tie in time for Christmas.
All you need to do is:
- Design it
- Colour it in
- Cut along the serrated line
- And then send it in, with your name and contact details
Post your entry to:
60 Great Queen Street
Closing date for entries is 19 October 2018.
Worn for a reason
A new exhibition, Bejewelled: Badges, Brotherhood and Identity, at the Library and Museum of Freemasonry will explore the role of jewels, how they are designed and made, and what they mean to members
Jewels have been worn by Freemasons since the earliest days of Grand Lodge, and for members they are part of their everyday masonic world. For non-masons, however, they are beautiful but mysterious objects.
Bejewelled: Badges, Brotherhood and Identity at the Library and Museum will feature some of the most beautiful and emotive jewels in the collection. It will also showcase overseas jewels that have not been seen for many years.
The exhibition will contextualise the masonic jewel, making the point that everyone has worn a badge that has meant something to them. Freemasonry is not an exception in wearing jewels, but it is one of the most significant organisations to do so.
Bejewelled: Badges, Brotherhood and Identity opens Thursday, 20 September 2018. Admission is free.
Freemasonry on the march
John Hamill, Deputy Grand Chancellor, on how the shared values and camaraderie found in Freemasonry have appealed to members of the British armed forces through history
Retirement has enabled me to spend more time at my home in the Fens. I have been surprised by how often the peace and tranquillity have been disturbed by aeroplanes from the Royal Air Force and American air bases that still exist in East Anglia flying over the area. Given the recent celebrations marking the centenary of the formation of the Royal Air Force and the commemorative events to honour the closing months of the First World War, I began to reflect on the enormous contribution that members of the services have made to the development and spread of Freemasonry over the last 300 years.
It was the Grand Lodge of Ireland that, in the early 1730s, introduced the practice of issuing travelling warrants to form lodges in regiments of the British Army, enabling the lodge to meet wherever the regiment might be stationed. The idea was quickly taken up by the Premier and Antients Grand Lodges in England and the Grand Lodge of Scotland. The travelling military lodges of the Home Grand Lodges took Freemasonry around the globe; its development mirrored that of the development of the British Empire.
The travelling lodges did a great deal to help establish Freemasonry in the North American colonies, Canada, the West Indies and Caribbean, and India.
Constitutionally, the English Grand Lodges would only issue travelling military warrants in regiments in which the commanding officer agreed to there being a lodge. Equally, they were only supposed to take in members of the particular regiment and not initiate civilians. Inevitably, when a travelling lodge was stationed overseas in an area where there were no lodges, they would take in locals. When the regiment moved on, those civilians would usually apply to a Home Grand Lodge for a warrant to meet as a stationary lodge to enable them to carry on their Freemasonry.
Although there are anecdotes of lodge meetings held on board ships, there is no evidence that the Home Grand Lodges issued travelling warrants for lodges to be held on ships. There is, however, a great deal of evidence in the membership registers, from the earliest registers, of many members of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and merchant navy being involved in Freemasonry and helping to spread it overseas.
Indeed, lodges in the ports around the English coast in the 18th and 19th centuries became cosmopolitan in their membership, holding meetings when foreign ships were in port and taking in officers and crew members, often putting them through all three degrees on the same day. Equally, lodges in the colonies would hold meetings or social events when ships came into port. Admiral Nelson himself recorded being entertained at a masonic ball in the West Indies.
One of the problems for seafaring brethren was that being at sea for long periods meant that their masonic progress could be rather slow, as it would be dependent on being on shore at a time when their lodge met. Many naval officers had to wait until they retired before they could fully participate, but others appear to have taken full advantage of every opportunity to do so.
One such officer was Admiral Sir Albert Hastings Markham, KCB (1841–1918), who appears to have joined a lodge in every port he spent any time in or visited regularly. Being stationed in the Mediterranean, he rose to the rank of District Grand Master of Malta. In today’s slimmed-down navy, it is even more difficult for serving members to become fully involved in Freemasonry unless they receive a shore-based appointment.
The attraction of Freemasonry to members of the services appears to be a combination of shared values; the ideals of service and tradition; and the continuation of the camaraderie they have experienced within the armed forces. It was certainly the latter that led to the huge expansion of Freemasonry in the English-speaking world at the end of both World Wars. Long may the connection continue.
‘The travelling military lodges took Freemasonry around the globe’
Instrumental in shaping the way that Freemasonry is now run, Anthony Wilson embraced modernisation with a focus on teamwork
Anthony Wilson, a long-time Freemason, died on 14 May this year after a long battle with cancer fought with great dignity. Anthony was born in 1950, educated at Eton, and subsequently qualified as a chartered accountant. One of the first audits he conducted was for the Grand Lodge 250th Anniversary Fund. Some 20 years later he became a Trustee of the charity, which is now known as The Freemasons’ Fund for Surgical Research.
Initiated into Tuscan Lodge, No. 14, in March 1976, Anthony was appointed Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies in 1997 and served as President of the Committee of General Purposes from 2001 to 2004. He subsequently became President of the Board of General Purposes in March 2004.
Anthony was instrumental in reducing the Board to a more manageable size and making it more effective, efficient and fit for purpose. ‘My background is in chartered accountancy, and I’ve always been interested in business and how you can improve it,’ Anthony told Freemasonry Today 10 years after becoming Board President. ‘Working on the Board was a way of helping the running of Freemasonry that wasn’t purely ceremonial but rather administrative. It’s very much a collegiate affair – we’re a team and I’m very fortunate with the support and counsel I get.’
Promoted to Past Senior Grand Warden in April 2012, Anthony played a prominent role during the Tercentenary celebrations, including unveiling the memorial stones to Freemasons awarded the Victoria Cross during the First World War, through to the Especial meeting of Grand Lodge at the Royal Albert Hall, where he was seated in the Royal Box with the Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent.
He retired as President of the Board of General Purposes at the end of 2017. Following his death, the United Grand Lodge of England sent condolences on behalf of all members of Grand Lodge to his widow, Vicky, and family.
Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes paid tribute to Anthony’s work: ‘I don’t often mention individuals in this context, but Anthony Wilson was a very special mason and a very special friend to so many of us. He carried out his duties in a very understated way, but he presided over the Board during a very busy period including, of course, the 300th celebrations.
‘He was an incredibly hard-working and efficient President who managed to carry out his role without falling out with anyone – quite a feat! And all this despite his illness, which was with him for far too many years. But he never, ever complained, and many would not have known how ill he was. He is sorely missed by all who knew him.’
Looking back on why he first became a Freemason, Anthony told Freemasonry Today: ‘Initially, what attracted me was the intrigue of finding out what Freemasonry was about, but once I’d been through the ceremonies, my whole view of it changed. It was relaxed, but there was also a formality – it wasn’t an easy ride. Don’t just expect to get things out of it; put things into it and you’ll get enjoyment. I realised that there was a lot of knowledge, that it was telling you a story linked to your values and that it gelled with what I stood for in life.’
The tools of the craftsmen
I n his 2018 Prestonian Lecture, Christopher Noon examines the Ancient Greek texts that would have inspired the founders of modern Freemasonry
When Christopher Noon switched careers from lecturing in ancient history and classical languages at Oxford to becoming a data scientist for a major tech company, he feared he was leaving his love of the classical world behind for good. But a chance to revisit the subject presented itself when he was asked if he would give the 2018 Prestonian Lecture. Given under the authority of the United Grand Lodge of England, the annual lecture offered Christopher the opportunity to once more pore over the texts of Ancient Greek writers, but this time with the aim of finding masonic metaphors.
‘When I was studying and lecturing I’d looked at some references to workers’ tools in Ancient Greek texts that were used in a metaphorical way. Not just people talking about squares and compasses, but people talking about squares, rules and compasses as a way of measuring conduct,’ he explains. ‘I wanted to find really concrete references to things that are actually masonic rather than somebody saying “be a good man”, which is very general.’
On the hunt, Christopher found that ‘working tools’ showed promise. ‘It’s not an immediately obvious thing to tell somebody that their conduct must be tried by the square or they should keep within the bounds of the compass. These are very carefully thought-out metaphors that link conduct with tools. And as far as I could see, they began in the sixth century BC.’
The research formed the basis for ‘A Good Workman Praises his Tools: Masonic Metaphors in Ancient Greece’, a lecture that Christopher has already delivered to wide appreciation in several lodges throughout the country. He is well qualified for the task. As well as having studied and taught Ancient Greek literature, Christopher is also a dedicated mason, having joined Apollo University Lodge, No. 357, in Oxford when he was 19. Now 32, he is a member of four other lodges as well as several side Orders. ‘I am fairly masonically busy,’ he adds, with a touch of understatement.
Christopher first became intrigued by masonry when he saw his father leaving for meetings in a black tie and with a briefcase. Now, he particularly enjoys the chance to engage with the variety of people drawn to masonry.
‘I love seeing a ceremony performed well, and uncovering new meanings and then discussing it afterwards, sharing ideas of where it came from with people of all ages and backgrounds,’ he says. ‘It was only when I became a mason that I realised I could sit with somebody who is 18 or 80 and have a really interesting conversation.’
FINDING NEW PARALLELS
Masonry fuels Christopher’s intellectual curiosity, but it also taps into his academic rigour. For his lecture, he deconstructs the received wisdom regarding the origins of masonic metaphor in relating the tools of a craftsman to the measurement of good conduct. He discusses some of the ways previous writers and historians have found parallels between the visual imagery of the ancient world and the Craft, proposing that such visual references are too ambiguous.
‘A lot of people have come up with highly speculative theories about our ancient origins, but I wanted to look at early literary evidence rather than more ambiguous pictures that could mean a lot of different things,’ Christopher explains. ‘In a way, I’m trying to be boring – I’m asking what is the least we can say based on this evidence. The visual evidence isn’t strong, so let’s look at what we can prove. I see this as providing a baseline: the earliest very clear masonic references in classical literature.
‘The Classics were incredibly important in educated English society three centuries ago, and there was a lot of value placed in Greek architecture and literature,’ he says. ‘Freemasonry was created by an intellectual elite who would have been steeped in these metaphors, and they would have been an inspiration, providing the building blocks for modern-day masonry. The Greek writers would have been very well known among the circles the forefathers of Freemasonry moved in.’
After a quick perusal of the Delphic maxims – which include masonic principles such as ‘know thyself’, ‘help your friends’ and ‘do not tire of learning’ – Christopher looks in close detail at three Greek writers: Theognis, the lyric poet; Xenophon, the historian and biographer; and Euripides, the dramatist and tragedian. These writers were from different eras, writing for different audiences and located in different parts of the Greek world. However, they all used similar metaphors for similar purposes – metaphors that centuries later provided inspiration for masonic ceremonies.
‘The Greek writers would have been very well known among the circles the forefathers of Freemasonry moved in’
DIVING INTO THE CLASSICS
Christopher found the earliest references were made in the sixth century BC by Theognis of Megara, who wrote from the position of an aristocratic tutor educating a young gentleman pupil in the ways of decent behaviour. Much of his poetry survives only as fragments, with one verse discussing ‘a path straight as a rule, not veering off to either side’. As Christopher notes, this is a phrase very similar to that found in the Second Degree Working Tools: ‘neither turning to the right hand nor to the left from the strict path of virtue.’
Further references can be gleaned from other fragments, such as an instruction for man ‘to be straighter than the compasses, rule and square’. For Christopher, this is the earliest surviving example of literature that expresses masonic principles using masonic metaphors.
‘I’d seen things with masonic undertonesin Plato and Aristotle, and a chap called Isocrates – not Socrates – who used masonic ideas and talked about virtuous conduct. But it was only when I read Theognis of Megara that I saw these really clear references to squares,’ he says. ‘I began to dig through Greek literature broadly chronologically and found a lot more examples. However, Theognis was the first definite masonic link, whereas the philosophers showed a more general interest in the ideas.’
The better-known later writers, such as Xenophon of Athens and Euripides, also embraced this imagery, using the symbols of line and rule in the context of fashioning moral goodness. Christopher does not believe the three writers necessarily came up with these concepts independently. ‘The literature would have been passed around by the elite. They form a thread that runs through Greek literature.’
Christopher hopes his lecture will provoke further study; he would particularly like it to be read by a mason of his acquaintance who lectures in ancient philosophy. ‘I hope he will follow up by exploring Aristotle,’ he says.
Further insight could also come when Christopher takes the Prestonian Lecture to Athens for a talk early next year. Will he deliver it in Ancient Greek? ‘No, that might be a bridge too far,’ he chuckles. ‘But it will be a lot of fun.’
Blood bike volunteers deliver vital medical supplies, whatever the weather, whatever time of day. Steven Short discovers how Freemasonry is helping
Blood bikes, often referred to as the fourth emergency service, act as an out-of-hours courier service for the NHS, delivering not just blood and plasma, but a variety of medical samples and equipment throughout the day and night. And they’re operated entirely by volunteers.
‘The most urgent thing I’ve ever delivered was very early on a Sunday morning,’ recalls blood bike volunteer John Watts, Assistant Provincial Grand Master for the Province of Durham. ‘I got a call to go to a children’s ward at one of the hospitals we work with, and as I walked in a doctor came running up to me and put a small vial of liquid in my hand. “Please take this as fast as you can; a child’s life depends on it,” he told me.’
After delivering the vial, John discovered that it contained a sample from a very young baby with suspected meningitis. Until the sample had been tested, life-saving treatment could not be started. ‘It felt amazing to know that what I’m doing is helping save lives,’ he says.
Strange as it may seem, the Greek authorities are partly responsible for John becoming a volunteer. ‘I’d heard that Greece was about to bring in a law that meant you couldn’t even hire a moped there without a bike licence,’ he recalls. ‘I’d been going on holiday to Greece for years, always hiring a bike while I was there, so I did my motorbike training and really caught the bug.’
When the retired policeman saw a feature in The Gazette (Durham’s masonic magazine) about a Freemason who was volunteering for a blood bike charity, he decided to investigate. ‘I’ve always been a keen volunteer, and I thought getting involved with blood bikes would be the perfect way to enjoy my new-found passion of riding motorbikes while doing something positive and useful.’
Digging a little deeper, John learned about the work of Northumbria Blood Bikes and got involved. He has now been riding for them for more than two years and recently earned his silver badge, which volunteers receive after working 50 shifts.
‘It’s just so rewarding for our work to be appreciated’
Pointing to the increased demand for blood bikes over recent years, Graham Moor, fundraising officer for Northumbria Blood Bikes and a member of Hammurabi Lodge, No. 9606, says there is a need to raise awareness as well as money. ‘All our groups need new volunteers so we can keep going. When we first started in my area, we might only get a couple of calls per night. Now, sometimes as soon as one call has been answered, another will come in. We might get 20 or 30 calls during a shift.’
Blood bikes primarily operate between 7pm and 7am on weekdays, and 24 hours on weekends and on bank and national holidays. ‘The NHS doesn’t have infinite resources, and we can help out logistically with no cost to it. We’re like taxis, but we don’t charge,’ John says.
Volunteers typically do two shifts a month, either collecting and delivering goods or working as controllers to coordinate bikes. Cars are used if conditions are unsafe for bikes, or in winter when the temperature on the back of a bike with wind chill drops below 3°C, at which point blood can crystallise and can't be used. Riders can also be asked to deliver printed medical records as well as breast milk for premature babies or babies whose mothers have died in childbirth.
John once delivered a family photograph that a young man with autism had left behind in hospital so that it would be in its usual place when he woke up. ‘I was told he would have been extremely distressed to wake up and find it missing.’
There are more than 30 blood bike groups around the country currently providing this much-needed courier service. As well as delivering blood to and from hospitals, some groups supply air ambulances with their daily supplies of blood and platelets – blood typically has a five-day shelf life – allowing on-board doctors to do blood transfusions wherever they may be needed.
‘Motorbikes get stuck in traffic much less than four-wheeled vehicles, meaning they’re faster and more efficient at getting to their destination,’ explains another volunteer, Neville Owens of Wrexhamian Lodge, No. 6715, and a member of the North Wales Chapter of the Widows Sons Masonic Bikers Association. ‘Bikes can better manoeuvre through traffic, we can avoid traffic jams, and because we’re liveried, people tend to get out of our way.’ Bikes are also cheaper to run, which is important, as funding comes entirely from donations.
Neville volunteers as a controller, coordinating deliveries and pickups. ‘It’s high-concentration work. You have to calculate how long each journey should take and keep tabs on where all your riders are at any one time,’ he says.
‘We’re like taxis, but we don’t charge’
FREEING UP FUNDS
‘Like any emergency service, when we’re busy, we’re really busy,’ adds Colin Farrington of Wayford Lodge, No. 8490, who volunteers as a controller at SERV Norfolk. ‘Sometimes it can be 4:30am before you get a break.’
Last year, Colin’s group saved Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital enough from its transport budget that the hospital was able to replace some of its ageing freezers.
‘They were always breaking down, but there was no budget for new ones,’ Colin says. ‘We saved them so much money on transport that they had free funds. It’s great to be able to actually see where your time and volunteering is going.’
While nothing would keep him off his bike, John says that shifts can sometimes be tough. ‘The weather can be challenging. No matter what protective clothing you’re wearing, when you’re doing 70mph in the pouring rain, the water will get in. It’ll start going down the back of your neck, then down your back…’
For John, the biggest reward comes when he’s sitting at a hospital waiting for a call. Someone will approach him and say that they or a relative needed a transfusion and a blood bike delivered the blood that saved their life. ‘They’ll shake my hand and say thank you. I’ll just well up – it’s just so rewarding for our work to be appreciated.’
Changing up a gear
Freemasons around the UK have donated funds, bikes and cars to blood bike groups. ‘With their livery and Freemasonry branding, the bikes are a great way to take masonic values into the community. When people see the masonic livery, they can see that we are doing good community work,’ says Graham Moor from Northumbria Blood Bikes.
Among the donated vehicles are two BMW police spec bikes from Cumbria Freemasons and two from West Lancashire Freemasons, which will help North West Blood Bikes Lancashire and Lakes to answer more calls. ‘We have completed 50,350 runs since we started in 2012,’ says trustee and founder Scott Miller, from Bank Terrace with King Oswald Lodge, No. 462, whose blood bike group has 365 volunteers – a mix of riders, controllers and fundraisers.
Local masons supported SERV Norfolk with the purchase of three motorbikes. ‘I was invited to various meetings to give talks about blood bikes and was invited to Norwich to pick up a cheque for £250,’ says controller Colin Farrington. While there, he was asked how much a bike would cost by the Provincial Charity Steward, who said they would organise a Christmas raffle to try to buy one.
‘The Great Yarmouth lodges got together and by early December raised the £15,000 for the bike on their own,’ Colin says. ‘Then, at the end of January I was told Norfolk had raised enough money to buy another two fully equipped Yamaha FJRs. I was flabbergasted.’
Fraternity without limits
Freemason Jason Liversidge may be living with motor neurone disease, but he's not letting it hold him back from any challenge
When asked what motivates him, Jason Liversidge has no hesitation. ‘It’s simple: my children, my wife and raising awareness of disability and the part I play in that. It’s showing the world that having a life-limiting illness isn't a reason to stop.’
Jason was just 37 years old when he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND), an illness mostly affecting people in their 60s and 70s. The condition progresses over time, leading to muscle weakness, paralysis and death – sometimes within months of diagnosis. Jason is now in his fifth year with MND, but experienced symptoms as early as 2008.
There are 5,000 people living with MND in the UK at any one time, affecting two in every 100,000, but Jason has also been diagnosed with Fabry disease, which is even rarer. According to his doctors, he is the only person in the world suffering from both conditions.
He’s reliant on the support of others and He’s reliant on the support of others and is unable to walk or feed himself. But being virtually paralysed doesn’t hold him back.
Since his diagnoses, Jason has been breaking the boundaries of what should be possible. In 2017 he became the first person to climb Mount Snowdon in a wheelchair. A few months later he made history as the first person with MND to abseil the Humber Bridge. He’s also ridden the fastest zip line in the world, lapped Silverstone in a Formula One race car and raised thousands of pounds for charity – all in the past year.
In 2018, Jason will attempt his biggest and riskiest record yet. Speaking through the voice synthesiser he now has to use, he declares: ‘I plan to set the Guinness World Record for fastest speed in an electric wheelchair. The speed to beat is 55mph, but I want to go close to 100mph.’
‘Jason shows people that no matter what happens to you, no matter how bad things get, there’s always joy in life’
Sitting in the lobby of Tickton Grange Hotel in East Yorkshire, Jason is joined by his wife, Liz, and fellow masons from Wyke Millennium Lodge, No. 9696, into which he was initiated earlier this year.
‘Normally when a candidate is initiated, they do an undertaking – an oath. But, of course, Jason can’t speak properly; he can only talk through a voice synthesiser,’ explains Lodge Almoner Edward McGee. ‘So, the lodge sought permission for another member, Paul Matson, to have power of attorney and act as Jason’s voice. It was wonderful. Jason has proved to everyone that disabilities aren’t a barrier to becoming a Freemason.’
‘It was always something I had hoped to do – to follow in my family’s footsteps,’ says Jason, whose father, stepfather and grandfather were all masons. ‘The members have all been very welcoming. I’ve only been to the lodge once due to the summer break, so I’m waiting to go again and get a better insight. I’m looking forward to learning more about it.’
Whether it’s inspiring others through charity work, breaking world records or simply joining the Freemasons, Jason is resolute in making the most of his time. ‘He tries as hard as he can to live life to the absolute fullest,’ says Liz. ‘He’s amazingly positive – and so is our family. We’re determined to live life as normally as we can, for as long as we can.’
As Jason is the son of a Freemason, his daughters Poppy (five) and Lilly (six) have been receiving various forms of support from the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) since his diagnosis. ‘The masons have done a lot for the girls,’ Liz says. ‘They’ve provided grants for extracurricular activities like horse riding and swimming lessons, and they've paid for school uniforms. They’ve given us money for some family days out so we can make memories together. The Freemasons are a fantastic organisation. They do so much good.’
WHENEVER AND WHEREVER
The MCF will continue to support the family however it can through grants that aim to relieve financial pressure. But it’s up to Jason’s masonic fraternity to be there when it matters the most. ‘There are two things we’ll do in the future,’ says Edward. ‘First is look after Jason and the immediate family. Then, when Jason passes away, we’ll look after Liz and the two kids. It’s a long-term issue. We’ll give them whatever support we can, wherever and whenever it’s appropriate.’
Sometimes the support will be financial. At other times it will be something as simple as a friendly chat or quick cup of tea. Either way, Edward lives just down the road from Jason, so he and his fellow masons will continue to be there for the rest of his family.
In the meantime, Jason has plenty of zest for life. Next up is a fundraising event for the Bendrigg Trust: potholing in the Yorkshire Dales. And then there’s the big one: aiming for 100mph in an electric wheelchair. Jason says it will be just like riding a bike.
‘I’ve always had a passion for speed, whether it’s on two wheels, four wheels or skis. But I can’t do that anymore; I can only drive my wheelchair,’ he says, smiling. ‘So, it seemed like the right way to go.’
‘Maybe people think Jason’s mad for doing all the things he does,’ adds Liz. ‘But it’s about breaking down the boundaries of disability. It’s about raising awareness of MND, of Fabry disease and of disability. Jason shows people that no matter what happens to you, no matter how bad things get, there is always joy in life. You just have to find it.’
Building from inspiration
Wyke Millennium Lodge was introduced to Jason through his power of attorney, Paul Matson, a builder and army veteran who served in the British military. In 2015, two years after Jason was diagnosed with MND, Paul received an email from the producers of the TV show DIY SOS, asking if he’d like to help renovate the home of a man suffering from a terminal illness. ‘Of course, I said yes,’ says Paul. ‘But before filming started, I had to survey the property – that’s when I met the owners, Jason and Liz. We quickly got to know each other and have been friends for a long time.’
Paul was so inspired by Jason’s determination that he started his own charity, Hull 4 Heroes, which provides homes for homeless veterans. One of his biggest projects has been to turn an entire row of derelict houses into a ‘Veteran Street’, complete with specially adapted homes for ex-service personnel. ‘It’s amazing. Because of Jason this whole thing has come about,’ says Paul.
Watch a video of Jason's initiation into Wyke Millennium Lodge, No. 9696, at: www.mcf.org.uk/jasons-initiation
It's the start
With an emphasis on professionalism and transparency, President of the Board of General Purposes Geoffrey Dearing wants to take Freemasonry to a new level of alignment
How would you describe your masonic progression?
It was a very slow burn. I helped to manage a law practice in East Kent and became a Freemason in 1974 when two of my partners, whom I respected, proposed and seconded me. I only used to go to four meetings a year as I couldn’t do more than that; I was very busy working around the courts. But I found that those four evenings were very relaxing, because you’re with different people who have a similar view of life.
I joined the Royal Arch in 1981. That was purely accidental: somebody’s son was a member of our lodge, and I got talking to his father, who turned out to be the Grand Superintendent for the Province of East Kent. But, again, I was very busy with the business, so nothing else happened until the end of the 1980s, when I was made a Steward in the Province in the Craft and the following year Senior Warden.
Along the way I spent a year as president of the Kent Law Society and became a Past Assistant Grand Registrar in 1994, which is a common office for a lawyer to take in Grand Lodge. But I wasn’t involved at all in the Province, as I had been made managing partner of one of Kent’s largest law firms. I just had no time for anything other than getting on with the business.
When did your focus change?
In 2004, I stepped down as managing partner. My firm very kindly kept me on as a consultant, and I found the change quite reinvigorating. When you’re responsible for two or three hundred people, you’re not able to do your own thing, because you are looking for consensus. I was able to go off and do things that interested me. I did a lot of lecturing on various legal-related bits and pieces and worked with some small companies.
By 2011, I had ceased to be a consultant and coincidentally received a telephone call asking if I would become Provincial Grand Master and Grand Superintendent for East Kent. I’ve never had any grand career plan; if I have been asked to do a job and think I can do it, I’ve done it, simple as that. So that’s really why I’m sitting here now – it was never my ambition.
How did you approach the PGM role?
I went in there entirely cold. I hadn’t been on the executive and knew nothing about how the office ran. But I had run a business. So, I went in there and started asking questions – it was not commercial, and there was a lot that I could bring to it that would make it work better.
I believe strongly that communication is fundamental. Most of the really big errors and some of the biggest claims as a lawyer that I’ve been involved in were avoidable. Things get to where they get to because of poor communication or, indeed, a total lack of it. So, when I started in East Kent in 2011, I supported a communications team.
We don’t tend to know enough about what Freemasons do for a living, but I found that we had web designers, we had people who really understood software and we had people connected with the media and the written word. It meant that when we had the Holy Royal Arch 200-year celebrations in 2013, we were able to interest the media, and ITV came down.
‘When you have to make big calls, you need as much information as possible in order to get it right’
How have you found becoming President?
You’re in touch with every single aspect of how the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) runs, which is fascinating. I’m trustee of the Library and Museum, I’m on the Grand Master’s Council and I’m involved with the External Relations Committee. All aspects of what’s happening in Grand Lodge are ultimately the responsibility of the Board. It gives you an insight into the entire picture, and very few have that privilege.
When you have to make big calls, you need as much information as possible in order to get it right. I think in order to get everything joined up, to get alignment, the communication with the Provinces is very important. What goes on outside UGLE is every bit as important as what goes on inside it, so coming from the background I’ve had, I know about what goes on around the country in the Provinces. I’ve dealt with the same problems that other Provinces have experienced; I’ve got some understanding and some sympathy.
What do you mean by alignment?
The biggest thing in terms of what I hope can be achieved is improving alignment. If you ask what Freemasonry is about, it might be expressed entirely differently if it’s in Cornwall, Durham, Carlisle or London, but it should be broadly the same message. This hasn’t necessarily been the case, because everyone’s in their own areas, not always talking to others.
After the Second World War, there was a period when you just didn’t talk about Freemasonry, and people thought that was the norm. That did us no favours at all. You’re always going to have a lot of conspiracy theorists, and if you’re not providing correct information, that’s their oxygen. If they put false accusations in enough newspapers and say it often enough, people will believe it. We have to communicate.
What role does communication play in alignment?
What you do with communications and how you address those people who are talking nonsense is important. If someone publishes a newspaper article that says Freemasons have a lodge in Westminster with many MPs in it, that’s untrue. So challenge it. You do it quietly, but you do it fairly. And you make sure there’s an audit trail. I know the truth is far less exciting, but why don’t we have transparency? Why don’t we have complete openness? Why aren’t we relaxed? Why don’t we encourage the Library and Museum to talk openly about Freemasonry to people who visit us? I think that’s exactly how it should be and how it should develop.
How are you different to your predecessors?
I’m hugely respectful of tradition and history, but the success of Freemasonry will come from it being able to evolve. That’s how it has managed to survive for 300 years. My responsibility as President of the Board of General Purposes is to try to ensure that we stay relevant. It is our job to look at the big picture and the messages we put forward. We’ve got to get our thinking straight at the centre and then consider how to get the messages out there, making sure that all our organs of communication are going down the same lines.
The more we communicate, the better. David Staples is going to be a very good CEO for the organisation, and I think his approach to management has not been seen before at UGLE. But that is how it needs to be in the modern world. If we get the set-up, professionalism and the operation here as good as it can be, it’s the start.
Why should someone become a Freemason?
One of the attractions of Freemasonry is that it actually takes away a lot of insecurity, because it creates stability and has very good support mechanisms. If you think about the world today, a bit of consistency doesn’t go amiss.
If we can get alignment, I think Freemasonry will become more normal, more accepted and more understood. And that’s a good thing. It’s not for everybody; a lot of people don’t like the ceremonial that goes with it, but others do.
I don’t think it’s any accident that those who have been involved in the armed services or organisations that have a certain disciplinary culture find Freemasonry very attractive. I absolutely get that, but we all have different reasons. For me it’s actually about the people. I have met some terrific people along the way, and it’s been my privilege to know them and to spend time with them.
‘I’m hugely respectful of tradition and history, but the success of Freemasonry will come from it being able to evolve’
Where do you want masonry to be in five years?
It’s a big question. I don’t have a burning ambition for massive change, but I do have a goal to improve and evolve. The basics would be that we have good alignment within UGLE, including the Library and Museum and the Masonic Charitable Foundation. They’re separate and independent operations, but they’re both masonic and are golden opportunities for communication with the wider world.
I mentioned relevance before, because if Freemasonry is going to regenerate and be here in another 50 or 100 years, staying relevant will be part and parcel of that journey. Then there’s the way in which we communicate what we’re about – we have to do this in a much better way in order to strengthen our membership. It’s a big ambition, and I’m not sure that it can be achieved in five years, but we can certainly start the process.
We have a fantastic opportunity here. Today is not going to repeat itself tomorrow, or any other time, so we need to make the most of it. I always have the ambition that, every day, something constructive gets done.
A better place
If Freemasonry is to thrive by spreading a consistent and strong message, Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes believes that every member needs to behave and act responsibly
During the early part of this year, we have built on the euphoria of our Tercentenary year. In March, 149 brethren were invested with their special Tercentenary ranks, and in April we had the usual Annual Investiture presided over by the Grand Master. I felt both meetings had a wonderful atmosphere.
I have lost count of the number of times that I have been asked why Freemasonry is relevant in today’s society. I think it would be right to turn this round and ask how today’s society cannot fail to be improved by Freemasonry.
I have said in the past that I believe that the Charge after Initiation explains very clearly what is expected of a Freemason throughout his life – at home, at work, in lodge and in the community at large. If the world lived their lives in accordance with that Charge, how much better a place it would be.
Over and above this, Freemasonry provides continuity and reliability – qualities so often missing in the lives of so many. We all know when our lodges meet, and that Grand Lodge meets on set dates every year. We all know the format that our meetings will take, and there is perhaps solace to be drawn from that comfortable regularity of the masonic year.
LIVING UP TO RESPONSIBILITIES
We are all confident that those needed at our meetings will turn up, usually on time, unless there is a very good reason. We all know that our lodge Secretaries will produce the minutes and that the Treasurer will have prepared the accounts and had them audited for the appropriate meeting. Surely, in a world where there is so much disharmony and a general lack of agreement, an organisation that can provide so much unanimity and concord should be welcomed with open arms?
If I may use a cricket analogy, just as the Marylebone Cricket Club is considered to be the custodian of the laws of the game, the United Grand Lodge of England, in conjunction with the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland, are looked on by the majority of the masonic world in rather the same light. It is important that we live up to that responsibility in all aspects of our behaviour – from the individual mason to Grand Lodge.
There is an annual meeting between the three ‘Home’ Grand Lodges, and I have recently returned from this year’s meeting in Dublin. We are agreed that Freemasonry is going through a good phase at the moment, but we are equally agreed that there is no room for complacency.
Lodges must give a good account of themselves in their communities, which should be backed up by the Provinces and Districts in a wider context. It is Grand Lodge’s duty to monitor all this and, at the same time, ensure that we exemplify all that is good in Freemasonry to the world at large.
Brethren, if we are all successful in this, the world will be a better place, and a better place for the positive influence we bring to it. Long may that continue.
‘Freemasonry provides continuity and reliability’
Assistant Grand Master and Chairman of the Improvement Delivery Group Sir David Wootton explains how a new online service will allow members to access the learning resources necessary to enjoy Freemasonry to the full
A survey conducted three years ago by the Membership Focus Group found that 68 per cent of respondents thought that understanding the moral and philosophical issues underpinning Freemasonry and its symbolism was either very important or essential. These values and principles define us as Freemasons and our relevance as an organisation. Explaining them to our members is a strategic imperative of the Rulers.
Ritual and ceremonies are a core activity of lodge and chapter life. While many members attend Lodge of Instruction and enjoy learning and performing ritual, often key messages and nuances are simply missed. With the emphasis on performance, devoting time to gaining the underpinning knowledge about ritual and ceremony has all too often become peripheral or optional. The opportunity to explore and understand is often not provided at lodge or chapter meetings or is considered second best to a ceremony.
There are, however, growing instances of well-delivered presentations about masonry and an evident enthusiasm for more. So, it is important that we ensure that our members have ready access to the intellectual and practical resources necessary to enjoy their Freemasonry to the full.
UNDERSTANDING THE WAY
The history of Freemasonry and the evolution of our ceremonies is fascinating. Our ceremonies originated during a period of relative instability and intolerance, and our forebears saw a need to create a society founded on moral and social values.
Back in the 18th century (the Age of Enlightenment), Freemasons were stimulated by the desire to explore and explain the world through the application of moral, religious and intellectual principles. Over time, this intellectual aspect has dropped away.
But as we seek to demonstrate Freemasonry’s relevance in the 21st century, it is timely to remind ourselves of those moral and social lessons contained within our ritual and their fundamental value to our lives today.
There is a genuine concern that a concentration on the performance of ritual, without appreciating what we are doing and why, overlooks the important messages that lie within, and that this is one reason why some members choose to leave. Although a wide selection of books and online resources are available, it takes effort to identify appropriate pieces to use within the lodge environment. Additionally, there is a need to have someone with excellent presentation skills who can really engage members and stimulate lively discussions that will assist them along their individual masonic journeys.
This provides three key challenges. The first is to identify suitable material that is appropriate to any given situation. This might be a short nugget or a quick talk; at other times it may be a longer presentation with questions and answers. Or perhaps a demonstration of a ceremony with a detailed explanation of the underlying symbolism. A further development would be the provision of material in audiovisual formats.
The second is how to deliver the material. We need to identify, recruit and support people with the enthusiasm and ability to communicate the essence of the material, delivering it in an attractive, understandable and engaging way. This will also require investment in suitable equipment and resources.
The third and perhaps the biggest challenge is how to build and sustain the demand for and interest in learning to become a regular part of masonic activity. This is a challenge for Provinces as well as for those in lodges and chapters, such as Mentors and Directors of Ceremonies who have a responsibility for doing this anyway.
Learning and development is an important element of Freemasonry. On behalf of the Improvement Delivery Group, an online repository of masonic learning called ‘Solomon’ has been created. It will provide informative and accessible material to inform and point members along the path of a daily advancement in masonic knowledge. It is designed to be used by individual masons, lodges, chapters and Provinces, evolving over time.
Solomon will also offer examples of good practice – submitted by Provinces – to help develop and deliver learning activities and opportunities. It will facilitate the obtaining of knowledge at a local level and in forms that will fit comfortably with the needs of both the younger and the more experienced mason. Solomon will complement the Membership Pathway as well as individual Provincial mentoring programmes.
I look forward to the launch of our Learning and Development programme and the introduction of Solomon. It is due to be launched in November and will be explained in detail in the next edition of Freemasonry Today.