How open should we be?
London's Kent Club continued its series of educational events with a visit to Kent Lodge No. 15, who were receiving a talk by the Grand Secretary, Nigel Brown, entitled: PR: How open should we be?
As this was a lodge meeting, the talk was preceded by work held over from the host lodge's previous meeting: a near-faultless explanation of the First Degree Tracing Board by W Bro Neil Ryce, which was received with great enthusiasm by the assembled brethren, and in particular by the three brethren who had been initiated at recent meetings.
The Grand Secretary then spoke, without notes, for around half an hour on this very important topic.
Most of us know that masonry is becoming more open, but it was good to hear the reasons why masonry had gone underground and become so secretive. And to see the contrast with the late nineteenth century when The Telegraph and other newspapers had their own masonic journalists to cover events on a constant basis as masonic news.
Bro Brown pointed out that that whilst there had been difficulties for some masons with their employers in previous years, Grand Lodge had gone to court to make sure that discrimination would not be tolerated. Questions on application forms, or other singling-out of brethren which could imply discriminatory intentions against masons, had been found by the court to be illegal. He went on to explain that the courts had not only ruled that Freemasonry was not a secret society, but also (in an earlier judgement) ruled that it was not a religion.
He urged us to assist in placing Freemasonry back at the heart of the community, by dispelling myths and incorrect assumptions.
Bro Brown cited an example of a typical conversation between friends and acquaintances at a dinner party where the question of Freemasonry might come up. Yes, he said, the conversation might start off with laughter about rolled-up trouser legs and talk of us being a secret society, bent on world domination or other nefarious objectives, but if these views were politely but firmly challenged, then it might very well end with those in the conversation revealing that their grandfather or uncle had been a mason, and how impressed they were with the tremendous fundraising done by masons!
This brought him to a further point regarding our strong charitable giving: he emphasised that whilst it was of course "blind" and that we did not expect to get anything in return, it was both fair and proper that we should be thanked for the difference our money was able to make and thanked publicly.
Part of engaging with the non-masonic world and being more open is engaging with the media, both traditional and social - and with the example of official tweets being sent from Quarterly Communications, he underlined that UGLE has embraced technological change.
He went on to say that all of the Provincial and Metropolitan Information Officers had been on training courses to equip them for the requirements of the post, including specific television/media training for those who might be called upon to act as spokesmen for masonry. He also disclosed that the title Information Officer was to change to Communications Officer to reflect this change and to underline our openness.
Diverse questions followed from members of all ages and ranks, including how to deal with unspoken disapproval of Craft membership from more senior colleagues being experienced by some junior professionals; whether the reintroduction of public processions in regalia would continue to be encouraged; how to tackle public misconceptions caused by those amongst our own members who themselves appear to be propagating poor information or pandering to sensationalism; and whether the Orator scheme could be developed as an adjunct to openness.
The questions were answered with the same warmth and wit as the delivery of the speech itself, with the underlying theme that we should be as open as we can (although without nullifying the appropriate mysteries of the Craft), thereby helping to overcome mistakes and negative opinions by setting the record straight. In particular, the Grand Secretary agreed that some Brethren had good reason to keep their membership confidential, explained how it is planned to build further upon the success of the public procession at the Lord Mayor’s Show, emphasized that some masons should be more careful not to endorse nonsense, and announced that the Orator scheme is currently being restructured for greater relevance and effectiveness.
The Grand Secretary sat down to prolonged applause, and afterwards joined the Brethren for a fine dinner with good cheer and traditional formalities.
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.’