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.
The second national Masonic Mentoring conference was hosted by Grand Lodge at Freemasons’ Hall on Great Queen Street on Wednesday, 10th February. Provinces and Districts were well represented, with delegates contributing from almost every Craft Province, the Metropolitan Grand Lodge and from Districts overseas, including the Eastern Archipelago and South Africa. A variety of perspectives were shared throughout the day, never with a shortage of discussion.
Proceedings were opened with an address from the Grand Secretary, who described the importance of equipping our members to act as advocates and ambassadors of the Craft. The opening address was followed by a key note presentation by W Bro Stuart Esworthy PPrSGW(Warks), titled 'The Values and Expectations of the 21st Century Mason', assessing the characteristics and nature of the Craft that may attract prospective candidates in the early 21st century.
Following the opening sessions, W Bro David Wilkinson PDGSuptWk, Metropolitan Grand Inspector and W Bro Jon Leech, MetGMen, presented the Metropolitan Grand Lodge’s Training of Mentors in London. W Bro Jon Leech also shared the Metropolitan Grand Lodge’s Initiate’s Guide, Guide for Royal Arch Masons and Mentoring Officer’s Guidance.
Lunch provided an opportunity to meet other Mentors, share experiences and browse a wide range of Mentors’ and Candidates’ support materials brought to the Conference by the delegates.
W Bro Gary Brown, ProvGStwd(Yorks W Riding) and W Bro David Loy PM ably tackled the after lunch session, energising the audience with an imaginative presentation of Masonry Matters, the Province’s successful, new initiatives enthusing new Masons, sharing ideas between Lodges and providing important, stimulating roles for new Past Masters .
The day concluded with a look at the year ahead from the national coordinator, W Bro James Bartlett, PJGD. The delegates discussed the 3R Library, the role of the Internet in attracting prospective candidates, recruitment materials and enthusiastically endorsed a further national conference in 2011, together with more regional meetings.
Trevor Sherman on the Northants and Hunts Provincial Demonstration Group
The mandate was clear from the start: in May 2008, Derek Young, then Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Northamptonshire and Huntingdonshire, asked me to set up a Provincial Demonstration Group, requesting that I, ‘Research for material that can be presented in dramatic form to inform, inspire and entertain Brethren regarding the history, origins and meaning of Craft Freemasonry and the Royal Arch’.
Freemasonry Today seeks some answers about its formation
At a convocation of Grand Chapter on Wednesday 13th November, a notice of motion was given for changes to the Royal Arch Regulations in order to allow for the formation of a Metropolitan Grand Chapter. On December 11th a similar motion was put forward at the Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge in order to make it possible to form a Metropolitan Grand Lodge.
These are radical moves: even though the first Grand Lodge was formed by four London Lodges, London has never before had a Grand Lodge or its own Ruler as have the Provinces since the first was created in 1725. Initially London was administered by the Grand Secretary and his team in Freemasons’ Hall; since 1937 it has been the specific focus of the Assistant Grand Master.
When Lord Northampton became Assistant Grand Master in 1995 he realised that London was a very special case and needed a more professional and focussed administrative team. Accordingly, he guided London Management into being in 1997 which, under the leadership of Rex Thorne, has gradually developed both financially and administratively. An important function since London has 1585 active lodges and some 50,000 masons.
But this process towards self-determination for London Freemasonry has now moved a stage further, for the first time in English masonic history there will be two completely new Masonic entities: a Metropolitan Grand Lodge and a Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London; and it opens the possibility that there might be others in the future. This change will allow the Assistant Grand Master to withdraw from his involvement with London and serve the entire Craft as one of the Rulers.
Creating such Masonic entities has not been easy. The new administration and structure had to find ways of fulfilling all the tasks faced by Provincial Grand Lodges while managing, in addition, to remain true to the unique character of London masonry. While the Committee chaired by the Assistant Grand Master made its proposals it was early realised that a widespread and comprehensive consultative effort would be needed amongst London Freemasons in order, on the one hand, to introduce them to the proposals and possibilities, and on the other, to provide a means by which all criticisms and suggestions might be returned back to the Committee and the Rulers for consideration. Accordingly, open letters were sent to all London Lodges and Chapters for distribution to their members with an invitation to comment on the proposals. Visiting Grand Officers were fully briefed and requested to explain and listen to comments.
That there were fears cannot be denied. The latest edition of The London Column, the newsletter produced by London Management, carries a number of responses. The Visiting Grand Officers too reported disquiet in some quarters particularly concerning changes to the London Honours system. There were fears that the London Grand Rank Association would disappear and the value of receiving London Grand Rank would be diminished. This is easily dealt with: the Association will continue its existence as it is now. London honours will remain based entirely upon merit retaining its significant distinction from the Provincial honours system by having no Past Grand Ranks: such ranks are not a London tradition. Visiting Grand Officers have reported that London Masons are happy with the present system of honours and do not wish to adopt the Provincial practice of awarding Past Grand Ranks each year.
Early on there was a proposal to create a fourth level of London honours, that of Junior London Grand Rank. Consultations over the last few months have revealed that few Brethren wish this to be adopted, and the Pro Grand Master announced at Grand Lodge in December that the proposal had been abandoned, so the Committee has now dropped the idea. The London system will remain, as now, based around London Rank, London Grand Rank, and Senior London Grand Rank. Those who take an active office in the Metropolitan Grand Lodge for their term of one year, will be awarded a collar jewel at the end of their service – but emphatically this is not a separate rank.
Is the new Metropolitan Grand Lodge of London a "done deal"? That is, has everything been pre-arranged with all remaining but to rubber-stamp the details? Along the way ignoring any fears that the London Freemason might have?
Not at all. While the leadership of the Craft must indeed accept their responsibility and lead, consultation with members of the Craft is both a necessity and a requirement of acting in such a prominent position. As a result of the consultation process, concessions and amendments have been made following discussions with the Visiting Grand Officers. Indeed, over the past ten months, every group which has been appointed to look after Freemasonry has had the chance to deliberate on these proposals and make recommendations. But this very process has raised another criticism: that non-London Freemasons, attending Grand Lodge, can thus affect the future of London.
Voting for Change
The truth is that a large number of Freemasons throughout England could affect the future of Freemasonry in general, not just that of London. Since 1717 Grand Lodge has made the decisions which affect Freemasonry; Masters and Wardens of every lodge and all subscribing Past Masters working under the English Constitution have the right to attend a meeting of Grand Lodge and to vote on any of the proposals. In March 2003 at a meeting of Grand Lodge, a vote will be taken on changes to the Book of Constitutions in order to allow the formation of Metropolitan Grand Lodges. All present on this occasion will be able to cast their vote. It is not a "done deal".
It is proposed that the new Metropolitan Grand Lodge and the Metropolitan Grand Chapter for London will be formally inaugurated in the Albert Hall on 1 October 2003. All the Rulers of the Craft will be present, as will most Provincial Grand Masters. Every Lodge in London will be entitled to three places, and spare places will be balloted for – any more and the Albert Hall would overflow!
Lord Millett, one of the highest ranking Appeal Judges and a Life Peer since 1998, has been asked to be the first Metropolitan Grand Master of London. Brother Millett is no less distinguished in public life than in the Craft. He was called to the Bar in 1955, took Silk in 1973, and was appointed a High Court Judge in the Chancery Division in 1996, receiving the customary knighthood. Thereafter he became a Lord Justice of Appeal and Privy Councillor in 1994 and a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary (or Law Lord) in 1998. In the Craft, he was made a Mason in the Chancery Bar Lodge, No. 2456, in 1968, joined the Old Harrovian Lodge, No. 4653, in 1971, and is a Past Master of both those Lodges. He served as Assistant Grand Registrar in 1983 and was promoted to Past Junior Grand Warden in 1994. He has also found time to be a Member of the Panel of the Commission for Appeals Courts since 1991. Rex Thorne, present Chairman of London Management, will be awarded the unique rank of Past Metropolitan Grand Master in recognition of his important role over this transitional period. Lord Millett has chosen as his deputy, Russell Race, a London Mason and Deputy Provincial Grand Master of East Kent. The task confronting them is the invigoration of London Freemasonry. Their challenge is to increase the integration of over 50,000 London members without destroying its unique brand of Freemasonry.
The transition is to be simple: the present management of London Freemasonry is being transferred into the Metropolitan Grand Lodge/Chapter since the officers involved all have the experience and expertise to assist the new leadership, as custodians of London Freemasonry. A pattern has been set which will ensure that London Freemasonry remains dynamic and fulfilling for many years to come, particularly in order to attract more younger members.