Mentoring as a concept has been widely embraced by members of the Craft and as The Pro Grand Master, MW Bro Peter Lowndes, said in his address to the Provincial Grand Lodge of West Lancashire in May this year, “it has to be right to explain to a brother what he has joined and to help him enjoy his masonry so that he wants to contribute to its future”. The Rulers’ Forum Working Party stated in their address to Grand Lodge in March 2008 that “Mentoring has to run through the Craft like Blackpool through a stick of rock”, however there is still a huge amount of work to be done to reach this utopian state. In this article I am going to consider what steps the Craft should take, if we are to achieve this goal, but before you say this is a wild “pipe dream” the encouraging news is that there are many Lodges around the country where this is the case and what happy places they are to visit, they are vibrant and they have candidates waiting to join. These Lodges are not clones of each other, I know one that is two hundred years old and others that are much younger. They each have their own unique character, but they all have the same feeling of warmth, of welcome and of caring about each other that is not just superficial and shallow, but genuine and deeply felt.
How can we achieve this?
How easy our task would be if we could just bottle the essence of these lodges and pass it around the others so that they could imbibe it and enjoy its efficacious effects. Unfortunately, as in most things in life, it is not that easy, but the concept is very simple, a genuinely caring attitude, a deep feeling of friendship and a respect for the other members of the Lodge. The challenge for the craft is to convey this simple message to every mason and the method we have chosen is mentoring. The majority of Provinces, London Metropolitan and some Districts now have systems in place that are either cascading the message from the top or allowing it to “well up” from the Lodges, depending on their preference and the individual character of their Lodges. I suspect that we are going to find that this first stage will prove to be the easy bit and that embedding the understanding and belief in the principles will be a much longer task. The image of painting the Forth Bridge comes to mind, but our prize is a happy vibrant and active Craft with an important role to play in society that is both inspirational and aspirational.
To attain this goal we must equip our brethren with the knowledge and understanding to achieve it. To use one of our own allegories we must take the rough ashlar and shape it into a smooth ashlar fit for the intended structure and, as I said above, the tool we are going to use – the chisel – is Mentoring. However, we will not attain our goal by substituting mentoring with “tick box” exercises or a series of hoops for a candidate to jump through.
Neither will it be achieved with the occasional chat when a new brother leaves the Lodge room whilst there is a higher degree ceremony taking place. The whole point of mentoring is that it is a one to one relationship where a more experienced person guides, encourages and supports a less experienced one. The objective of the various Mentoring Schemes is to provide support at every level. The Personal Mentor is supported by the Lodge Mentor (or Lodge Mentoring Coordinator or Lodge Mentoring Officer). He in turn is supported by the Metropolitan, Provincial or District Grand Lodge and they in turn are supported by each other and by Grand Lodge.
It is the responsibility of the Lodge Mentoring Coordinator to select an appropriate Personal Mentor for every new candidate who joins his Lodge. In an ideal world there would be a number of suitable brethren to act as Personal Mentors who have each attended Workshops and who understand what mentoring entails. It is these brethren who will help the new member understand the principles and tenets of the Craft and ensure that he is included and involved in the life of his Lodge.
What else can we do?
We should also ask ourselves, is the role of the Personal Mentor finished when the new mason is raised to the Third Degree? It has been said that once a mason has been introduced to the Preceptor of the Lodge of Instruction the Mentor’s role is finished, but I would suggest that as a brother progresses through each of the offices he continues to need a mentor, especially when he is appointed Junior Warden. This Mentor may not necessarily be the same person who looked after him when he was a new member in fact this is an excellent role for a recent Past Master. It utilises his experience to help, for example a Warden to avoid any pitfalls that may await him. It also gives them both the opportunity to visit other Lodges together so that the Warden can meet brethren who will be in his Masters’ Circle and the Past Master can maintain his friendships with other Past Masters. When the Master is Installed he does of course have the guidance of his IPM and the support of all the Past Masters of the Lodge, but if he has been properly prepared by a mentor then his time will, hopefully be even more enjoyable and successful than might otherwise have been the case.
There are of course other offices in the Lodge that would benefit from having a Mentor. Some offices have an assistant and this is a good opportunity for a future Secretary or Director of Ceremonies to learn the role, but others such as the Almoner or Charity Steward do not. The position of Almoner is a demanding one and requires particular skills to carry it out and so the need for a mentor in this case is essential. But even where a Lodge Officer has been an assistant for a number of years he will still need to be mentored when he steps into the actual Office.
The Royal Arch
We should also consider the Royal Arch. If the Masonic journey is from Initiation to Exaltation as stated in the Book of Constitutions then the Candidate’s Mentor must prepare him for Exaltation just as he does for the other ceremonies. He must not allow him to be rushed into Chapter too soon by over enthusiastic companions, but make certain that he is ready to take the important decision to be exalted. I will digress for a moment and say that many mentors agree that part of their role is to protect their charge from over-zealous masons who are eager to introduce them into various other side degrees before they have had time to enjoy and understand the Craft. A surfeit of a good thing can become indigestible and some promising masons have been lost through too much masonry. Equally the Mentor may need to advise caution to the Lodge if they are pushing the new mason into Office before he is ready for it. However, back to the Royal Arch; because the Chapter ceremony is so different to the Lodge ceremonies, even being set in a different time frame, I believe the candidate again needs to be mentored. Not in the understanding of the teachings of the Craft in general because this will be covered in Lodge, but in the specific meaning and teachings of the Royal Arch which should to be set in context with the other ceremonies. I would suggest that if it was possible for the same Mentor who had guided him through the three degrees in Lodge, to guide him through the meaning of the Royal Arch this would provide continuity, but very often this will not be possible.
Making it happen
All of the above requires organising. In the original presentation to Grand Lodge in 2008 the proposition was made that the role of the Lodge Mentoring Coordinator was to organise the appointment and training of the Personal Mentors, but as the scheme develops so will his role. There is a concern amongst some brethren that, if the Lodge Mentor becomes a Lodge Officer with a Collar and Jewel, appointments may be made for the wrong reasons, perhaps just to fill the office or to help a brother “up the ladder”. Of course we cannot rule this out, but the role of Lodge Mentor is demanding and not for the faint hearted. A Lodge Mentor who fails in his role will very soon be found out. Also a Lodge could be risking its future by making the wrong appointment and the Provincial Grand Mentor should be in contact with, and be aware of the abilities of, all the Lodge Mentors either personally or through his Group Mentors to prevent this happening. Strangely there have been some reports of Lodges that will not adopt a Mentoring Scheme because the Office is not in the Book of Constitutions. At the end of the day unless the brethren make mentoring work and believe in it, nothing will happen.
If we succeed in achieving the goal, we will have created an organisation where every member will be a competent and confident ambassador for the Craft who has the ability to talk to the outside world about Freemasonry and answer any questions he may be asked. Our Lodges should be vibrant, warm and friendly places in which to meet, where the brethren feel involved and will want to encourage their friends to join and it is quite likely that the brethren will be more generous in their charitable giving because they will have a better understanding of our charitable aims. But all of this requires each of us to help new brethren to understand the principles of Freemasonry and to become involved in their Lodges so that they can enjoy being members of the Craft as much as we do.
James Bartlett - UGLE Mentoring Scheme Coordinator