Each year about nine thousand men are initiated into our lodges and hopefully each one will be introduced to the meaning, teachings and traditions of our Craft. Those who do this introduction, whether formally appointed or not, will be mentoring the new Freemason.
These mentors require support – depending on their knowledge and experience. How is this maintained? It is no exaggeration to say that the idea of mentoring, since its formal introduction in 2008, has been enthusiastically embraced by a large number of Freemasons and there has been a great deal of activity across the country over the past year. In February Lord Northampton hosted the first national mentoring Conference in Freemasons’ Hall and then, at the March Quarterly Communication, Grand Lodge approved the offices of Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Mentor.
Since then Metropolitan and many Provincial and District Grand Lodges have made appointments whilst elsewhere Deputy and Assistant Provincial Grand Masters have undertaken the work.
This is probably a good time to remind ourselves of the key recommendations of the Rulers’ Forum Working Party and what we are trying to achieve. It is essential that the new mason and his mentor have a good rapport and it is very likely that they will become, or are already, friends outside the lodge.
It is also probable that the mentor will be of a similar age and have similar interests as the new mason. Furthermore, if this is the case then it is likely that the mentor himself will be a relatively new mason and will require help and support in carrying out his role. He may also require guidance as to where to find answers to questions that are beyond his knowledge. Many basic and frequently asked questions are explored in a number of masonic publications such as the excellent books by Frederick Smyth, particularly his The Freemason at Work and A Reference Book for Freemasons. The best masonic mentoring schemes therefore provide support at every level.
The mentor is there to support the Candidate, the lodge is there to support the mentor, the Province is there to support the lodge and the Provinces, Districts and Metropolitan Grand Lodge are there to support each other. The Working Party produced a diagram to show how this should work in practice. It shows the new mason at the centre with layers of support at every level.
Practical help for Mentors
How is this support being provided in practice? At the basic level Metropolitan and most Provincial Grand Lodges provide booklets and other literature for the mentor to discuss with the Candidates. These give an outline of what Freemasonry is about and the new United Grand Lodge of England website also has an introductory booklet that can be downloaded.
Many provinces are now holding new masons’ evenings many of which include invitations for the wives and partners of the masons. These give an excellent opportunity to answer questions and form friendships. Indeed, we find that many of the more searching questions come from Freemasons’ wives and partners.
In West Yorkshire they have set up ‘Welcome Circles’. An Immediate Past Master is approached and asked to set up a circle of five or six new masons from his Masonic Centre and he arranges for them to visit other lodges on a group basis. This has the advantage that the Immediate Past Master - who has, of course, recently finished his year as Master of his lodge, is able to continue his visiting and is able to introduce his circle to his friends in other lodges.
In Gloucestershire the Hands of Friendship Lodge, No. 9758, recently tried a variation on this theme: at their September meeting they worked an abridged version of the First Lecture and invited all the new masons from the Province with their mentors. The Hall was filled to capacity and eighty-three Brethren are on the waiting list for the next meeting. Not only was it an opportunity for new Brethren to meet, but they also discovered a lot about the symbolism and meaning of the ceremonies. It is hoped that regularly working the Lectures will prepare the ground for the work of the Provincial Grand Orator.
At the next level Metropolitan and many Provincial Grand Lodges have set up courses or workshops for their lodge mentoring officers and coordinators. Metropolitan Grand Lodge invite the lodge mentoring officers to attend a course and when they have successfully completed it, a certificate and lapel badge are sent to their lodge secretary which is presented to the lodge mentoring officer by the Visiting Grand Officer at the next lodge meeting.
In Yorkshire North and East Riding and in Somerset the lodge mentoring officer is presented with a lapel badge at the Installation meeting with suitable words explaining the work involved by the Provincial Representative. Other provinces are looking to implement similar forms of recognition and many intend to adopt or adapt the Metropolitan ‘gold chisel’ emblem as it reflects the Provincial Grand Mentor’s jewel.
At the next level Metropolitan and Provincial Grand Lodges have been working together. During June and July this year a series of Regional Mentors’ Discussion Groups were held where Metropolitan and Provincial representatives exchanged experiences and views and were also able to create local networks so that there is now a channel of mutual support between them. There will also be the Second National Mentoring Conference in February with the theme of sharing knowledge.
Mentoring is therefore, in essence, a very simple concept. To welcome a new member and help him to understand the organisation he has joined and to make him feel comfortable in it. However while the concept might be simple, the work of the mentor is not; he will need a great deal of support if he is to be effective. Those Brethren who have taken up the challenge, and there are many, should be commended and their contribution to the Craft recognised because its future is very much in their hands.
James Bartlett introduced mentoring into the Province of Gloucestershire in 1999. He was a member of the Rulers’ Forum Working Party and is currently coordinating mentoring for the United Grand Lodge of England. He is also Deputy President and Treasurer of the Masonic Samaritan Fund.