Burlington Lodge, No. 3975, hosted a momentous event at Bridlington in the Province of Yorkshire North & East Ridings in November, when Past Deputy Grand Master Iain Ross Bryce celebrated his 50 years as a mason. Joining him for the event were Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes, Deputy Grand Master Jonathan Spence, Assistant Grand Master David Williamson and Past Pro Grand Master Lord Northampton.
This was followed by the Installation meeting of Lancaster Lodge, No. 9413, in the evening and a festive board enjoyed by about 70 brethren. The lodges in Portugal had all been consecrated within the District of Gibraltar 20 years ago, and a strong contingent, led by District Grand Master Alfred Ryan, was in attendance, as was the Grand Inspector of the Grande Loja Regular de Portugal (Legal).
The following evening, at a meeting of Lancaster Chapter, Robert Levitt was confi rmed as Grand Inspector of the Group of Chapters in Portugal.
English masons in Portugal have three lodges: Prince Henry the Navigator Lodge, No. 9360, Lodge of Discoveries, No. 9409, in the Algarve and Lancaster Lodge, No. 9413, in Estoril, as well as a roving lodge, Britannia Masters Lodge, No. 9575, which has one meeting a year in each of the homes of the three other lodges.
The first three lodges each have a Royal Arch Chapter attached to them. Estoril Lodge is nearly 350km away from the Algarve, so visiting is no easy matter. However, all lodges and chapters extend a very warm welcome to any brethren visiting from England or any other constitutions recognised by UGLE.
Lancaster Lodge recently passed and raised a brother from the Grand Lodge of Texas, on instruction from UGLE, via the usual channels, and he is to join the lodge. Scottish and German masons have also been recent visitors. Anyone interested in visiting any of the lodges or chapters in Portugal should check details on the Group website: www.freemasonryinportugal.com
1972 Initiated, Barnard Lodge, No. 5100
1980 Master, Barnard Lodge, No. 5100
1987 PProvDGDC (Warks)
1990 Founding Secretary, Prince Henry the Navigator Lodge, No. 9360
1992 PDistGSuptWks (Gib)
1993 Joined Lancaster Lodge, No. 9413
1993 First Exaltee, Prince Henry the Navigator Chapter, No. 9360
1995 Founder, Britannia Master Lodge, No. 9575
1996 Master, Lancaster Lodge, No. 9413, and 2008 & 2009
1996 Overseas Grand Rank
2000 First Principal, Prince Henry the Navigator Chapter, No. 9360
2002 Founder, Lancaster Chapter, No. 9413
2003 Past Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies
2004 & 2005 First Principal, Lancaster Chapter
2005 Master, Britannia Masters Lodge, No. 9575
2007 Perfected, Bayard Chapter, No. 70, Rose Croix
Ostrea Lodge No. 8209 has become the designated lodge for the Masonic University Scheme in the Province of Essex in a ceremony held in the presence of the Assistant Grand Master David Williamson, Provincial Grand Master John Webb and regional co-ordinator for the scheme, Dr Richard Lewin.
Ostrea Lodge is the 37th lodge to become part of the scheme and experience in other areas showed that membership was gained from students, whether graduate, undergraduate or postgraduate. The Alumni Society at Essex University was showing interest in the scheme and two possible applications had been received through the provincial website. The scheme itself would have a website in the near future.
Provincial Grand Master John Webb said that other local lodges could assist with the scheme in due course and long term it might become possible to form a university lodge. The lodge was reminded that, under the scheme, members under the age of 25 paid only half the Grand Lodge and Charity dues.
I am pleased to let you know that, in my capacity of head of Grand Lodge Communications, I am now the Publishing Co-ordinator for the magazine. This means that, for the first time since the merger, the magazine is being entirely run from Great Queen Street. It also successfully completes the merger. Be assured that we will be looking at constantly improving Freemasonry Today and its website. In January I accompanied the Assistant Grand Master to Montreal for the installation of the new Grand Inspector for Montreal and Halifax. This was a very happy occasion and a pleasure to meet many of our Canadian Brethren (see p.22). In February we ran the second Mentoring conference. I was impressed by the outstanding turnout of the Metropolitan and Provincial Mentors. The Scheme – essential to the future – is going from strength to strength.
What is particularly heart-warming is to see the co-operation between Mentors as well as the huge success of the Regional Discussion Groups. I have agreed that we host next years’ meeting – again at Grand Lodge.
You have often read about our strong support for the Districts. This year the Pro Grand Master is running a business meeting for all District Grand Masters, the day before the Annual Investitures. This prompted a talk about our Districts at the March Quarterly Communication, which the Editor has reproduced in this issue (see p8).
Many of you would have seen my appearance on Tony Robinson’s Channel 4 programme entitled Decoded: Dan Brown’s Lost Symbol. Five hours of filming with six minutes of valuable air time.
The majority feedback is that people were pleasantly surprised at the openness and that the programme has done us a great deal of good. You may also have seen the new Sherlock Holmes film with Robert Downey and Jude Law and the very recently released film The Green Zone with Matt Damon.
Both these Hollywood blockbusters had sections filmed here at Freemasons’ Hall.
Interestingly, we are looking at the messages that will take us forward to 2017 and beyond. We have many great messages to be proud of and we will not forget to stress that, for most of us, it is primarily about enjoyment and friendship. Don’t you agree?
David Williamson, Assistant Grand Master, discusses Freemasonry with Michael Baigent
Our new Assistant Grand Master, RW Bro. David Williamson, cares deeply about Freemasonry and one of his major tasks is to help plan its role in 21st century society: it cannot simply roll into the future without change. But that change must emerge from Freemasonry itself, for many of the challenges facing the Craft today derive from within: the lack of commitment, for example, demonstrated by many modern masons. It is important, he believes, for Freemasonry to be so revitalised in the future that it again plays a significant part in every mason’s life.
But how might this sense of value be instilled? Especially in those who, through apathy or dissatisfaction, are drifting away? David Williamson mentioned a phrase used by his predecessor, Lord Northampton, that aptly addressed the solution, "to bring back the enchantment of Freemasonry". An enchantment which masons felt when they first entered but which some have since allowed fade. He urges masons "to revisit the feelings they had at their initiation" in order to rekindle that sense of mystery and commitment which will draw masonry’s moral and spiritual precepts into their lives.
He is keen that all Freemasons should benefit from the wisdom in the rituals but explains that this demands positive action. "We must look at what the words in our rituals mean." While he is aware that not every Freemason is going to have the same level of appreciation, all need to be encouraged to seek meaning. And what of those who enter seeking the spiritual aspects of Freemasonry? And who get disenchanted with the rather rigid system they find? It is true, he regretted, that "there is an over-emphasis on the letter of the ritual, rather than the spirit."
I asked whether he remembered his own initiation? He clearly did, and it still meant a lot to him. It was in 1972; his mother had just died. At the time, his father was Junior Warden of Andover Combined Services Lodge. It was a difficult period and they often spent time together. On one occasion his father began discussing Freemasonry: he explained that he had been asked to accept the office of Master but he was apprehensive about accepting such an advance.
As the conversation progressed David Williamson became so intrigued about Freemasonry that he asked his father, "would I like it?" With the result that his father, "went into the Chair a year early and initiated me." He remembers being blindfolded, he remembers entering the lodge, and he remembers that the first voice he heard was his father’s. The evening proved a very moving experience, particularly so, he recalls, when, in a voice highly charged with emotion, his father called him, "Brother, and son…".
At the time David Williamson was flying VC10 aircraft for BOAC. This was a demanding career requiring a complicated personal schedule. I alluded to the difficulties which many modern Freemasons have with the separate demands on their time of career, family, and Freemasonry. He understood: as a long-haul pilot, he had to confront that problem right from the beginning. His response was to re-organise his life in order to accommodate Freemasonry, which, once he took office in his lodge, meant being present fourteen times a year. But he felt that regular attendance was important. All Freemasons, he believes, should take the commitments they have made seriously; all should demonstrate their "fidelity to the lodge."
Following his initiation he entered the Royal Arch in Sir Francis Burdett Chapter in Middlesex; he also joined the Mark, Royal Ark Mariner and Rose Croix degrees. From 1995 to 1998 he served as Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies for Middlesex, when he was appointed a Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies: his recent promotion took him by surprise.
The Assistant Grand Master
The post of Assistant Grand Master was created in 1937 specifically to look after London, which now has 1600 lodges and 55,000 Freemasons. At present, this primary role remains David Williamson’s main focus. Lord Northampton changed the face of London Freemasonry by setting up an executive structure, London Management, which looks after the day to day running of London masonry thus allowing the Assistant Grand Master more time to focus upon its future development, a vital task in this time of internal reflection and change. He chairs an important committee which is looking into all aspects of the future of London Freemasonry: its recommendations are to be presented to the Board of General Purposes next year. This is a task of immense responsibility for its findings will affect London Freemasonry for the century to come.
Among the Assistant Grand Master’s other major tasks is to undertake some of the Rulers’ official visits in England, Wales and overseas. While there are only three rulers of the Craft, there are 47 provinces in England and Wales, and 33 districts overseas, for which they have responsibility. In addition there are fraternal visits to the other Grand Lodges with whom United Grand Lodge of England maintains a cordial relationship. He recently returned from the 220th annual meeting of the Grand Lodge of the State of New York, the first representative of the United Grand Lodge of England to do so for some twenty years. "The United Grand Lodge of England is the Mother Grand Lodge of the world," he explains, and "we should be playing our part in world Freemasonry as well as learning from other jurisdictions."
Masonry in the 21st Century
"We have to aim at being accepted in the community. We must start this from within Freemasonry; we must change the manner in which we involve our families." He is grateful to his wife, Margaret, who has always supported his masonic activities while pursuing her own full-time career in education, latterly as a secondary headteacher and school inspector.
He considers that Freemasonry must modify its orientation as a strictly male association, because in the modern world, with its changes in social behaviour, this is no longer possible. Our wives, sons and daughters, and our non-masonic friends, need to be more involved. We must try to get them interested and demonstrate that we are not a "bunch of old fogeys".
He is impressed by the support given by American freemasonry to women’s organisations such as the Order of the Eastern Star, and youth organisations, such as the Order of DeMolay for boys and the Order of Job’s Daughters for girls and thinks that there could be a case for building bridges between such organisations and English Freemasonry.
Of course, he points out, Freemasonry can only change as fast as those inside and outside allow. But, "we must be imaginative – look at ways of positive change. Many of our practices are becoming seen as obstacles to young people who might otherwise join. We must look at our lodge working and see if it can be improved: the time of the meeting, the length of speeches, the type of festive board, and even dress." Freemasons must also address some basic questions: can they afford the time for masonry? Can they afford to spend their family money on a purely male pursuit?
David Williamson is determined to seek those changes which might be necessary for Freemasonry to remain relevant and to flourish throughout the 21st century and beyond. Changes which render it fit for modern life but which continue to draw upon the tradition of wisdom, morality and charity which has characterised Freemasonry through the centuries.