Teaching the ritual
The Taylor’s Ritual Association (TRA) is mounting a campaign to improve ceremonies. It has refreshed its website and is introducing new ways to teach ritual, contacting all London lodges during the process. TRA chairman Keith Alexander said, ‘One of the big attractions of Freemasonry is that when ritual is done well, it is a moving, meaningful and memorable experience for all those involved.’
The TRA will seek to identify a number of high quality Lodges of Instruction that may be accredited by the association to teach the ritual according to approved practice.
The Taylor’s Ritual Association plans to publish a lodge directory, consisting of a database of registered lodges that are happy to share the dates of their meetings online.
Go to www.taylorsritual.org for more information
It’s an acknowledged fact that Freemasonry is facing a challenge in recruiting young masons in the UK. But what is the Craft doing to address the issue? Adrian Foster goes in search of answers
For some, the term ‘young Freemason’ is an oxymoron on a par with ‘clear as mud’ or ‘honest broker’. However, a quick search on the internet for ‘young Freemasons’ reveals dedicated Facebook and Twitter sites that point to a new generation who are looking to discover the fraternity and relevance of the Craft.
The Connaught Club’s website proclaims that it has been founded to give young Freemasons in London a means to meet and socialise with like-minded people of similar ages who might otherwise be dispersed over London’s many lodges and large geographic area. Chris Hirst, chairman of the club, explains how it was established: ‘The vast majority of young Freemasons I meet tell me that they are the youngest member of their lodge by twenty, thirty, even forty or more years and, that although they enjoy the company and friendship of the other members, they sometimes feel left on the periphery. This in turn can lead to disillusionment with the Craft and this is exactly what the activities of the Connaught Club are meant to counteract.’
Chris explains that the club was formed to address a gap identified by the Metropolitan Grand Lodge over the lack of a focus for young brethren. ‘It was felt that although our fraternity transcends differences in men, including age, there is still a particular affinity between brethren of a young age. Our non-masonic events are social occasions offering young Freemasons the chance to meet with each other. At open receptions at Freemasons’ Hall, we congregate in and around the Grand Temple. Non-masons are welcome at these events and they have proved to be useful for introducing potential members to the Craft and for showing wives, girlfriends and partners a little about Freemasonry.’
With membership open to any Freemason under thirty-five, the club has an annual picnic on Lincoln’s Inn Fields for friends and family too. It also meets more informally on the first Friday of every month at a pub local to the Freemasons’ Hall for after-work drinks. ‘We do not have recruitment of new Freemasons as a principal objective of the club, but this has occurred quite often as a result of our activities,’ concludes Chris.
Jayson Brinkler, of The Campbell Lodge, No. 1415, offers an insight into what his lodge is doing to connect with young people: ‘Our meetings, which take place at Cole Court, Twickenham, are renowned within the Province for their social events, encouraging brethren to invite non-masons along to join in the fun. These events raise money for charity as well as encouraging our non-masonic friends to ask us questions about Freemasonry in a relaxed and friendly environment. The sort of events include an annual barbecue, golf, clay pigeon shooting, a ladies’ festival – and we recently hosted a discussion meeting about English Freemasonry where twenty-two non-masonic guests attended, nineteen of them ladies. If other lodges followed our example, the Craft would certainly become a lot more vibrant,’ suggests Jayson.
In 2010, Jayson helped to establish The Kent Club – named after Grand Master the Duke of Kent – and became its secretary. Like the Connaught Club, The Kent Club is a social hub that enables young Freemasons between the ages of thirty-five and forty-nine to mix and socialise with brethren of their own age. This initiative, which is supported by Metropolitan Grand Lodge, has a committee that includes an events secretary who organises social events such as masonic talks, an annual dinner and monthly informal drinks. With partners and non-masonic friends encouraged to attend, The Kent Club has gained a membership of around ninety in its first year, clearly showing that it is meeting a need among the younger fraternity.
‘English Freemasonry is doing what it can, but it is the responsibility of individual lodges to find new and inventive ways to attract younger people into the Craft,’ says Jayson. ‘Not enough is being done to reverse a trend which, if not addressed, will result in many more lodges closing and members leaving the Craft. All too often we see lodges holding their standard four meetings a year – and that’s all. Social activities are vital in Freemasonry because they not only provide a means of introducing potential new members to a lodge, but they also prevent young, and new, brethren losing interest between meetings. So it is as much about retention as it is about recruitment.’
adapt to survive
Keith Mitchell runs new masons’ receptions at Freemasons’ Hall and is forthright in his views. ‘Many of us probably believe that Freemasonry is largely populated by men aged sixty to ninety, with a few lively centenarians. However, there are now more than fifty lodges specifically for undergraduates, postgraduates, senior members of a university and their alumni, ranging in age from eighteen upwards,’ he says, pointing to the growing level of interest in Freemasonry shown by enquiries through the UGLE, Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Provincial websites.
‘Should we worry if the average age of a London Freemason is sixty? I believe we should,’ says Keith. ‘We can shrug and ignore our ageing membership, or we can look critically at Freemasonry and ask what we can do to appeal to a broader swathe of society while maintaining our traditions. I believe it’s time to jettison timidity in masonry. London masons have a float in the Lord Mayor’s Parade and wear their regalia. Many Provinces organise open days and there are frequent social events which are open to non-masons across the country.’
Keith accepts that his views might not be popular: ‘I can already hear some senior brethren groaning loudly, but I do think we need to reflect on what changes would help us to maintain a healthy flow of new members and which lodges would be best placed to make those changes. With 1,400 lodges in London alone, there is flexibility for experimentation and trial. I encourage masonic brethren to reflect on the inevitability of decline if we do not adapt, innovate and move with the changing times.’
For the fourth year in succession, London Freemasons supported the Lord Mayor’s Show and the installation of the 684th Lord Mayor of London, Alderman David Wootton
This year’s float theme was the Metropolitan Masonic Charity’s appeal in support of the cancer-busting CyberKnife, currently in use and saving lives at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, which London masons are enthusiastically supporting.
Freemasons feel a particular bond with the City of London, as the history of English Freemasonry has many similarities with the structures, aims and appeal of the ancient Livery Companies of the City. The first-ever Grand Lodge was also founded in the City by London masons meeting in a coffee house in St. Paul’s Churchyard in 1717.
The Lord Mayor’s Show is the world’s oldest civic procession, reflecting nearly 800 years of London’s history and marching unscathed through everything from the Black Death to the Blitz. It is a day out for half a million people, with millions more watching on television. The modern procession is more than three miles long.
Phase 1 of the rebuild at the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (RMBI) care home James Terry Court, in Croydon, has been officially opened. The event was attended by more than 40 representatives from the Province of Surrey, the Association of Friends and the RMBI.
RMBI President Willie Shackell opened the event and spoke about the history of the RMBI, which started in East Croydon with its first home, named ‘Asylum for Worthy, Aged and Decayed Freemasons’ in 1850. Shackell went on to explain why the rebuild of the home was necessary, as it needed to adapt to the changing needs of older people.
Thanks were given to Dennis Vine, who oversaw the development of the home in his role as Co-opted Trustee. Julian Birch, Regional Property Operations Manager, who sadly passed away in October, was remembered for all his efforts in the rebuild. The Association of Friends and the Province of Surrey, Metropolitan Grand Lodge, and the Province of Hampshire & Isle of Wight were also thanked for their support. The event saw the official opening of the lounge and library by Eric Stuart-Bamford.
Launched in 1986, the Relief Chest Scheme provides administrative support for the fundraising activities of masonic units. The Freemasons’ Grand Charity operates the scheme for free, enabling masonic organisations to manage their charitable donations more efficiently by offering individual chests that can be used to accumulate funds for charitable purposes. The scheme maximises the value of charitable donations by pooling funds to ensure that they earn the best possible rate of interest and by claiming Gift Aid relief on all qualifying donations. By taking on this administrative function the scheme saves valuable time and resources involved in lodge fundraising.
The scheme is particularly useful to Provinces running charitable fundraising campaigns, including festivals, with Provinces able to request that the Relief Chest Scheme open special chests. ‘Following our very successful 2010 RMBI Festival, we decided to maintain the culture of regular charitable giving by making use of the Relief Chest Scheme, which had not been previously used by our Province,’ explains Eric Heaviside, Durham Provincial Grand Master. ‘The scheme is a very efficient way to generate funds, as it not only makes giving regularly easy but also provides the opportunity for tax recovery via the Gift Aid allowances. All of this is professionally managed by the Relief Chest Department in The Freemasons’ Grand Charity office in London.’
With over four thousand chests, the scheme is helping Freemasons give charitable support to the people who need it most. Grahame Elliott, President of The Freemasons’ Grand Charity, explains how the scheme has evolved over the years, ‘When the idea for the Relief Chest Scheme was announced in September 1985, it was hoped that it would provide a simple and effective way for lodges to give to charity. Lodges would be able to give practical proof of an ever-increasing attachment to the first two of the grand principles on which our order is founded – brotherly love and relief. Twenty-five years later, it is clear to me that the scheme has successfully met these aims, evolving as an excellent way of helping lodges to spend less time on the administrative work involved in processing donations, giving them more time to spend on other important activities.’
With over £14 million donated to charitable causes via the Scheme in 2010, it is hoped that this success will continue, assisting the masonic community in its charitable giving for many years to come.
To find out more, go to www.grandcharity.org
| Provincial supporters
Provincial Grand Masters from around the UK give their experiences of working with the Relief Chest...
‘We opened our Relief Chest in the name of the Provincial Benevolent Association principally to take advantage of the Gift Aid tax reclaim facility. In addition, by utilising the expertise of the team we have been able to develop a much more efficient and thorough analysis of donations. The Province looks forward to our continuing association with the Relief Chest team and thanks them for their ongoing advice and assistance.’
Cambridgeshire Provincial Grand Master
‘Relief Chests have proved an immense boon to London charity stewards and treasurers in easing the administration of charitable giving. For our big appeals – the RMBI, the CyberKnife and the Supreme Grand Chapter’s 2013 Appeal – the support given by the Relief Chest team is vital.’
Metropolitan Grand Master
‘The record-breaking success of the 2011 Essex Festival for the Grand Charity was not only due to the generosity of the brethren, but also to the support we received from the Relief Chest Scheme. The scheme’s online reports and personal support made the tracking of donations, interest accumulated and Gift Aid recovery
a seamless operation for our administration.
That information enabled us to keep the lodges and brethren informed of their totals.’
Essex Provincial Grand Master
Relief chest breakdown
Who can receive a donation from a Relief Chest?
• Charities registered with the Charity Commission
• Any organisation holding charitable status
• Any individual in financial distress
The benefits provided by the Relief Chest Scheme:
• Interest added to your donation: A favourable interest rate is earned on funds held for each Chest and no tax is payable on interest earned
• Tax relief: The Gift Aid Scheme means HMRC gives 25p for every £1 donated to a Chest, where eligible
• Easy depositing: Make donations by direct debit, cheque and the Gift Aid Envelope Scheme
• Ease of donating to charities: Once a donation is authorised, the payment is made by the Relief Chest Scheme
• Free: There’s no direct cost to Relief Chest holders
• Easily accessible reports: Annual statements are provided, plus interim statements and subscribers’ lists are available upon request
• Additional help for Festival Relief Chests: Comprehensive performance projection reports and free customised stationery are available
Peter Reeves commented, ‘It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but being able to donate a worthwhile sum of money to Cancer Research UK and Macmillan Cancer Support made it all worthwhile.’
James Reeves, a former soldier and Iraq veteran, set the pace up the mountains. ‘After the third one, the soles of my feet felt as if they had been beaten with a baseball bat,’ laughed climbing companion Mark, after completing the three peak challenge.
To donate, please go to www.justgiving.com/Pete-Reeves or www.justgiving.com/Mark-Best1.
Phase 1 of the re-build at RMBI care home James Terry Court, Croydon has been officially opened.
The event was attended by over 40 representatives from the Province of Surrey, the Association of Friends and the RMBI.
RMBI President Willie Shackell opened the event and welcomed all attendees. Willie spoke about the history of the RMBI which started in East Croydon with its first Home named ‘Asylum for Worthy, Aged and Decayed Freemasons’ in 1850. He went on to explain why the re-build of James Terry Court was necessary as the original Home was looking tired and needed to adapt to the ever changing needs of older people.
Thanks were given by Willie Shackell to Dennis Vine who had overseen the development of the Home in his role as Co-opted Trustee, to the residents of the Home for their patience with the building works and to the staff for providing high quality care during the re-build. Julian Birch, Regional Property Operations Manager who sadly passed away in October was remembered for all his efforts in the re-build of the Home
The Association of Friends and the Province of Surrey, Metropolitan Grand Lodge and the Province of Hampshire & Isle of Wight were also thanked for their generous and continued support of the Home and the RMBI.
Eric Stuart-Bamford, PGM of the Province of Surrey went on to speak about his appreciation and gratitude to Home Manager Di Collins and the staff at the Home for the services they provide to the residents. Mr Stuart-Bamford also recognised the support that the Association of Friends provide to the Home.
The event saw the official opening of the Lounge and Library by Eric Stuart-Bamford and also of the Therapy Room by Libby Stuart-Bamford. The Therapy Room was built using the generous donation provided by The Grand Stewards’ Lodge as part of their 275th anniversary celebrations.
Those present were given a tour of the new building and ended with canapés and refreshments.
London masons have organised a bicycle run to Paris to raise funds for charity CyberKnife. The CyberKnife is not a knife at all, but state-of-the-art equipment that allows specialist oncologists to treat tumours and other medical conditions painlessly and without an operation. Participants will meet in London on the evening of 21 July and depart early the next morning, due to arrive in Paris on the afternoon of the 23 July. Most charities and cyclists complete the distance in four days, but this is a challenge to complete the task in two!
For further details go to Porchway via the Metropolitan Masonic Charity at www.porchway.org/charity/metropolitan-masonic-charity/
It will be open to all regular Freemasons, including Brethren from overseas, and is particularly aimed at those who have an interest in sport. The proposed programme includes a reception in the Library and Museum at Freemasons’ Hall and a gala dinner.
The traffic sweeps up Great Queen Street in London, past the grandiose frontage of Freemasons’ Hall. Freemasons dodge in and out of cafés and bars, and among them a tall, sandy-haired, smiling figure weaves his way between the cars to meet me in front of the main doors; this is Russell Race, Metropolitan Grand Master for London. It must be said that since Metropolitan Grand Lodge offices were moved from the opposite side of the street into Freemasons’ Hall itself, there’s been much less crossing the road.
Until 2003 London Freemasons were administered by the Grand Secretary’s office. During that year Grand Lodge voted to set up a London unit, to be self-governing on the pattern of Provincial and District Grand Lodges: Russell Race was appointed Deputy Metropolitan Grand Master and, in 2009, Metropolitan Grand Master.
‘When the idea of Metropolitan Grand Lodge was first mooted, there was opposition wasn’t there?’ I asked.
‘One objection was the feeling that London honours were decided by the Grand Master and by making London a separate organisation you were lowering the bar and giving that decision to a lower authority. In reality it never was the Grand Master – it was a section within the Grand Secretary’s department.
‘The other fear was that London would become “provincialised”. Many members were aware that Provincial Grand Masters give a diktat and it tends to be followed. So some were fearful that London would go down that route, controlling particularly what lodges did with their charity money.
‘The third concern was that there would be a bigger bureaucracy: it would increase their subscriptions, other than increases that would have happened anyway. In practice, the staff of Metropolitan Grand Lodge has grown slightly, though much of that growth has come through volunteers.’
‘Were the fears of the detractors in any sense realised?’
‘No. Dues have gone up, but they have gone up countrywide. Importantly, London masons now have a better focus for charitable giving. There are three main strands for the Metropolitan Masonic Charity – medical care, charities that help younger people in London, and the elderly.
‘A lot of what we have been doing in London is about breaking down barriers. The move across the road has been very important. The old building didn’t make a good showcase for London Freemasonry and it was not a good working environment. The move has also enabled better contact with members of Grand Lodge. But Grand Lodge recognises our independence and that’s important. London has its own issues, its own problems.’
‘How good are you at publicising Freemasonry?’
‘One of the recruitment areas we are keen on is our young group, the Connaught Club, which caters for young people up to the age of thirty-five. Freemasonry is felt by some to be not elitist, but ageist in terms of dealing with young people. But I think young people who come into a lodge benefit immensely from having other young people around them. The Connaught Club has very lively social events and at least two open events a year at which members are encouraged to bring non-masons along. When they come into Freemasons’ Hall we have a reception in the vestibule with a talk about Freemasonry, a very informal question and answer session then we go into the Grand Temple and show them around. It’s about encouraging our members so that they feel relaxed and easy talking to nonmembers.’
I noted that there is cautious optimism in London regarding the numbers of new initiates: ‘Are these new initiates younger men than before?’
‘Definitely. The average age of intake has dropped quite sharply – a lot of young people are coming in. Some of the school lodges are starting to benefit, there are a number of graduates and undergraduates in the universities’ scheme, and some lodges are now inundated with candidates and are having to farm out second degrees in multiples all over the place, so it’s a good sign.
‘We are initiating something like 1500 per year, which equates more or less to the number of lodges, so you might think that’s fine. But it doesn’t work like that. Those 1500 initiates are concentrated on 800 lodges so there’s quite a discrepancy between those that are thriving, those that are doing alright, and those that are doing less than alright.
‘It’s important to get a lodge to recognise early when it’s not doing too well, rather than putting panic measures in place when it’s late. It’s never too late, but if you’ve got eight or ten members, you’re really on a downward spiral. You’ve almost gone past critical mass. Once a year the lodge committee should have a session on the health of the lodge. It’s not just a question of what are we doing next week. It’s where are we going as a lodge: where do we see our membership going in the next few years; are we getting proper succession in the lodge? Are we aware of certain stewards who say, I’m not going to take my place on the ladder. Are we aware of a junior warden who says I’m not going to go through the chair? Or do we say, let’s park that problem because it’s not a very nice thing to hear. Even lodges which are healthy nominally can go down very quickly, and they start losing members.’
The Brotherhood of Creation
I asked what he regards as the ideals of Freemasonry. ‘Like many other people I regard the charitable expression of Freemasonry as being just that – a charitable expression. It’s a means of demonstrating what’s in here’ – he touches his heart – ‘to start with. The ideals of Freemasonry are humanity, the fatherhood of the Creator, allied very closely and inextricably to the brotherhood of His creation, His offspring. If you just keep it at that very simple level, you suddenly think, why are there divisions across society? We are one of the few organisations – this is very important – that has this interreligious ability to share values between people of very different views. Many organisations have good ideals, good principles and good charitable aims but the charitable aims we have are a natural expression of what we should be doing anyway; it doesn’t specialise us.
‘In a lot of what I do, day to day, in this job, it’s very easy to get bogged down in the minutiae. It’s very hard to sit back and say, why do we do this?What we’re trying to do in Metropolitan Grand Lodge is to create environments in which people in their lodges and chapters can focus on the important things. I’ve been to many initiations over the years where it would be very easy to slightly turn off and say, “I’ve seen it all before”. But the only way I can make it work for me is to put myself in the position of that candidate and just share what he is experiencing.
‘So I think we’re setting the framework in which people can go beyond the words of the Craft and think about the more spiritual aspects. I’m very conscious that a lot of our members are in Freemasonry for different reasons. For some of them it’s companionship, meeting their friends, having a good dinner, but every now and again you hope that something from that ceremony suddenly strikes a chord with people. I’m a great believer in the ritual and the sanctity of the ritual does mean a lot to me.’
With Russell Race we have a Metropolitan Grand Master who combines the outer form of Freemasonry with its inner content and thereby manages to make something harmonious of the whole - for the advantage of all his Brethren.