Enough is Enough
With the misconceptions surrounding the nature of Freemasonry commonplace, one particular news story in 2018 proved the catalyst for a nationwide campaign that would confront these beliefs head on, as Dean Simmons discovers
The doors to Freemasons’ Hall in London may be open to the public, but this hasn’t stopped rumours, myths and conspiracy theories from grabbing the headlines over the decades. However, it was a news story in The Guardian at the beginning of 2018, which was subsequently covered by other national newspapers, accusing the Freemasons of blocking policing reforms, that proved to be a turning point for the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE).
Dr David Staples, Chief Executive Officer of UGLE, rejected the claims as laughable in a letter to the newspapers. With the accusations following a well-trodden path of inaccurate and misleading information about Freemasonry, he called for an end to the discrimination against its members, citing the 2001 and 2007 European Court of Human Rights rulings that Freemasonry was not a secret or unlawful organisation.
Reflecting on the decision to respond, David says, ‘It’s something that has been building up over the past 20 years, as we haven’t argued our case or countered the increasingly ridiculous claims of our critics. I think the trouble, as we’ve seen in the past, is that if we don’t answer those critics, the vacuum is then filled by further ludicrous accusations.’
More was to come. In February 2018, The Guardian alleged that two masonic lodges were operating secretly at Westminster. ‘This was on the front page of an award-winning national newspaper and it was complete nonsense,’ David says. ‘Every aspect of that story was deliberately designed to give a false impression of Freemasonry and its influence.’ David again wrote to the newspaper, drawing attention to several inaccuracies, including the fact that the lodges did not operate in Westminster and that their existence is not secret – all of which could have been verified by a quick search on Wikipedia. While the letter led to corrections being made, there was clearly an appetite for these types of stories, and therefore a pressing need for Freemasonry to debunk the myths.
ON THE OFFENSIVE
‘In light of a new approach towards how we manage the media and how we represent ourselves and our members, we needed to go on the offensive – it was a good one to put the gloves on for,’ says David.
Contesting accusations is one thing, putting a stop to them in the first place is another. It was to this end that UGLE responded with a letter from David, titled ‘Enough is Enough’, which ran as a full-page advert in both The Times and Daily Telegraph newspapers. The letter called for an end to the ongoing gross misrepresentation of its 200,000-plus members.
‘We need to open up and talk about what we do; we needn’t be afraid of being both proud of who we are and our membership,’ David says. ‘We are the only organisation that faces repeated calls to publish our membership lists. We are the only organisation linked to a whole host of rumours and conspiracy theories, despite there being no substantial evidence to any of it. It’s important to not allow these myths to perpetuate in the public eye, and take on the critics with the facts.’
In the spirit of transparency, David embarked on a series of interviews with the press. Whether it was laying to rest myths, highlighting community work and charity fundraising or outlining what it means to be a Freemason, no stone was left unturned. ‘I did 24 interviews in one day,’ he recalls. ‘But if you’re portraying yourselves as an open organisation, you need to make yourself available in order to demonstrate that openness.’
With Freemasonry thrust into the spotlight, David believes the ‘Enough is Enough’ campaign provides a strong communication platform going forward. ‘We need to be out there, as we have been for the last few months, taking journalists around our masonic centres, introducing journalists to Freemasons and letting them make their own minds up, according to what they see and what they find.
‘The Open Days being held in our Provinces are also important, as they allow us to engage not just with potential members, but also with our critics,’ continues David. ‘We shouldn’t shy away from that – we won’t convince everybody and we certainly won’t change everybody’s mind, but we want to give a true impression of who we are and what we do, and allow people to make up their own minds. Ultimately, we need to be in the public space for the things we should be known for.’
Opening up, inviting in
Freemasons’ Hall in London may have initially taken centre stage, but Provinces up and down the country have now embraced the campaign. Open evenings and interactive Q&A events have been taking place in masonic halls, inviting members of the public to find out more about Freemasonry and ask any questions.
Demonstrating the effectiveness of the campaign, there has been a rise in membership enquiries as people seek to find out more. Philip Bullock, Wiltshire Provincial Grand Master, says, ‘It’s had an effect in raising our profile, which has had a positive effect on the number of enquiries made to our Provincial office and website. Our Sarsen Club for younger members is also proving extremely popular and is growing in terms of membership and activities.’
‘Enough is Enough’ has been an opportunity to further highlight the ongoing efforts of many Provinces. ‘For the past four years we’ve taken a very proactive approach in making ourselves more visible,’ says Philip. ‘At the end of last year, we acquired a new display trailer that will be out and about appearing at county fairs, shows and marketplaces. This will allow us to expand our visible presence in the community.’
Further north, in West Lancashire, the Province has been busy giving the media guided tours of its masonic halls. ‘The reaction across the Province has been positive,’ says Tony Harrison, West Lancashire Provincial Grand Master, ‘and most agree that it’s about time we answered back.’
Cheshire Provincial Grand Master Stephen Blank, who also faced the cameras in an interview with the BBC, echoes those sentiments: ‘The reaction from my members has been overwhelmingly positive,’ he says. ‘We’ve always been proactive with our open evenings at masonic halls. We’ll continue to publicise these across the county, alongside our charitable and community activities. I think it’s very important that we continue to react swiftly and positively to any future attacks on Freemasonry.’
University Lodge of Chester No. 4477, welcomed Assistant Grand Master Sir David Wootton, Cheshire Provincial Grand Master Stephen Blank and more than 100 masons to witness the initiation of seven new members
The ceremony was conducted by Professor Andrew Thomas. The Provincial Grand Master presented Sir David with a bottle of Scotch whisky, while the lodge presented him with a bottle of Cheshire gin.
Cheshire masons donated £55,000 to The Children’s Adventure Farm Trust in September for a 14-seat minibus, and PGM Stephen Blank presented the keys of the vehicle to charity president and football legend Sir Bobby Charlton
The minibus has been adapted to transport disabled, ill and disadvantaged children from north-west England to participate in activities such as sports, animal care, arts, crafts and music therapy.
13 September 2017
A presentation by RW Bro Bro Sir David Wootton, Assistant Grand Master
Pro Grand Master and brethren, we all have our own view of what we see in masonry. For me, it’s five things:
- We’re all volunteers: none of us have to be masons or do what we do. The magnificent total of £3,100,000 announced at the North Wales Festival on Saturday was all the result of volunteering: voluntary time, voluntary effort, voluntary money;
- What we now call “social inclusion”: bringing together people of different origins, backgrounds, occupations, interests, locations, opinions, faiths; people who would not otherwise meet; in a common activity in which all are fundamentally equal;
- Our purposefulness: when we meet, there’s a purpose, whether it’s a masonic meeting, ritual; or charity or a community project; the best recent example I saw, the Jurassic Coast Youth Adventure organised by Dorset, 200plus children in need from all over the country taken on a week’s healthy activities by the sea. Whatever it is, we want to do it well, and we do;
- The practice of every moral and social virtue: words cited by the Bishop of Worcester, not a mason, at the Provincial Tercentenary Service on Sunday in a sermon that would inspire every mason. Our, if you like, moral code, best illustrated in the Charge to the Initiate, is a huge asset which will play increasingly well with younger generations for whom such things are in short supply;
- The social side: we do do the best parties, don’t we, getting to know each other informally, in friendship, and it works because of the other factors I’ve mentioned.
We all sense a steady move to greater openness: the Sky TV programmes; publicity in the right way for our charity and community activities: the word Freemasons on the London's Air Ambulance; wearing regalia in public: all in the right direction.
Recognising masonry’s good things but sensing that the make-up and profile of our membership – age, number – were going in the wrong direction, the Board of General Purposes – BGP – set up the Membership Focus Group – MFG – under the inspired leadership of Ray Reed to find out what was happening to today’s membership, to assess the likely affect on tomorrow’s and, if we didn’t like that – which we didn’t – to decide what to do.
Deciding what to do is called STRATEGY – YES! The MFG produced, and everyone adopted, Strategy: The Future of Freemasonry 2015-2020, which I know we’ve all read and like.
Thoughts then turned to implementing the Strategy. Ooh, the MFG said, could be difficult – better get someone else to do it, and so was born the Improvement Delivery Group – IDG (I hope you’re keeping up with the jargon, brethren) to Deliver the Improvements which should flow from the work of the MFG.
I was out of the room at the time, so they made me Chairman. Also out of the room was Provincial Grand Master for South Wales and Third Grand Principal Gareth Jones, so we made him Deputy Chairman.
Strategy is no good unless it is accepted, understood and embraced by the membership – remember we’re all volunteers. The IDG had to show it was including Craft and Royal Arch, and all areas of the country, and Head Office. So, in addition to Gareth and me:
- Michael Ward, London
- Jeff Gillyon, Yorkshire North and East Ridings
- Stephen Blank, Cheshire
- Peter Taylor, Shropshire
- Tim Henderson-Ross, Gloucestershire
- Charles Cunnington, Derbyshire
- Ian Yeldham, Suffolk
- Mark Estaugh, West Kent
- Stuart Hadler, Somerset
- Gordon Robertson, Buckinghamshire, who leaves us on retiring as PGM and is replaced by James Hilditch, Oxfordshire
- Ray Reed
...and from Head Office:
- Grand Secretary Willie
- Assistant Grand Secretary Shawn
- ..and now Chief Executive David
Brethren, in light of all they do, I would like all those I’ve named to stand and be recognised. Thank you.
To pick up the work of the MFG we formed Working Groups matching the elements of the Strategy. The Strategy talks about effective governance at all levels; a leadership development programme; the attraction and retention of members; and the sustainability of masonic halls. Thus…
Gareth Jones is leading our Governance Group looking at who and what does what, the roles and responsibilities of each office and body, what they and what they’re not, and how we ensure that people understand what their roles and responsibilities are and aren’t, and what is expected of them. From the esteemed Adelphi2 we have lots of lovely statistics which will help show how Provinces and Districts are doing in terms of membership and help them to direct their efforts where they are needed.
Leadership – Michael Ward – aims to equip office-holders for their roles. Workshop sessions for PGMs and Grand Superintendents; workshops for Deputy PGMs and Grand Superintendents; next week the first training session for secretaries. We now have a UGLE training officer, Andrew Kincaid, to devise and roll-out training roles for all different roles. This not about imposing uniformity – you will do it this way – but helping people to see what’s involved and how to do the job well.
Jeff Gillyon’s Masonic Halls Group have published the Masonic Halls Centres of Excellence Guide, now available, best electronically, and those responsible for the management of masonic halls are strongly encouraged to use it: you will find it very useful. It is now in the charge of John Pagella, Grand Superintendent of Works, who has formed a Steering Group to manage the Guidance Manual and keep it up to date. There will be an annual meeting for all Provincial Grand Superintendents of Works.
The five Provinces in Regional Communications Group 1 – North of England – on the initiative of Gordon Brewis, Provincial Grand Superintendent of Works for Durham, have recognised the need for professionally qualified Provincial Grand Superintendents of Works and arranged for them to meet so that the adoption of best practice can be recommended uniformly across them all.
The Guidance Manual is not a book to be read from cover to cover: it is a reference tool, to be consulted as circumstances lead. It is guidance, support and advice: a guide to best practice. It can’t give definitive advice on, for example, legal issues, because so much depends on individual circumstances.
We want our halls and centres to be at the centre of the local community. Maybe we should refer to them as Masonic Community Centres.
Our Membership Group, headed by Peter Taylor, has circulated for comment the Membership Pathway, the product of several years of devoted effort, and parts well piloted in ten Provinces and 110 lodges Its purpose is to help lodges attract and retain the right members in the right place: to show what we need to do to attract the members we want to join us, stay and enjoy the full masonic journey.
Again, it is not a book, you do not read it cover to cover, you look at the parts you want as and when you need to.
The Pathway will be launched at the Provincial and District Rulers’ Forum – PDRF – on 18 October and then rolled out. So no-one should worry that they will be presented with it and then left on their own. Roll-out will be organised for you: to Regions and Provinces from January to March next year, and then to lodges….and there will be a folding leaflet on the front of Freemasonry Today in December.
There is much demand from masons to know more about masonry, its origin, history and meaning. Stuart Hadler’s Education Group is creating an online store of masonic learning materials, readily accessible in a Virtual Learning Environment. It will be tested later this year, introduced to a number of pilot Provinces in the new year, and full roll-out will be in later in 2018. What the group want is more materials to include, so contributions welcome, please.
In parallel to all this continues the excellent progress of the Universities Scheme, of which I am honoured to be the President. Existing and new lodges, and chapters, here and in Districts, recruit among students at universities and equivalent across the country and outside the UK, and do so very successfully. There are still a number of universities in this country not represented in the scheme, and we are addressing that.
I would like to thank all who are involved in the scheme, all volunteers, for all they do, and in particular the Chairmen: the founding Chairman, Oliver Lodge, now moonlighting as the Grand Director of Ceremonies; Edward Lord, current Chairman who retires after eight distinguished years at the Scheme conference in this building on 4th November; and Chairman-Designate Mark Greenburgh, who takes over on that date, and I would ask them to stand and be recognised too.
Many Provinces and Districts have New and Young Masons’ Clubs, with a wide variety of imaginative names, and those that don’t will. These clubs are an excellent way of those newer to masonry getting to know more other newbies, and building essential camaraderie. The clubs are holding their conference on 14 October in Birmingham under Gareth Jones’ leadership.
All this, IDG and others, is about creating our future, which is in our hands and which we are doing. The figures already show that it is working: in many areas there is a discernible shift in the trend of the numbers, and there will be more.
I have illustrated this talk with scenes from the everyday life of an Assistant Grand Master. Here’s the last one. In his sermon at the Durham Tercentenary Service last Thursday – I’m into clergy this morning, brethren – the Dean of Durham, also not a mason, said he saw masonry as a confident, open and engaged fraternity with strong foundational values.
We can do this, brethren, we can do this.
The Cheshire Freemasons’ Charity will be supporting its community during the Tercentenary year by donating more than £300,000 to charities, including £55,000 for the Children’s Adventure Farm Trust (CAFT) for a specially adapted bus
Noddy Holder, former frontman of pop group Slade and a patron of CAFT, thanked Cheshire PGM Stephen Blank for the donation, saying it would normally take one to two years for the charity to raise £55,000 through events.
Festival welcome in Chester
The 15th annual festival of the Association of Medical, University and Legal Lodges (AMULL) was held this year in Chester and attended by around 130 members, their wives and other guests.
During the past year AMULL lost its chairman, John Harvey, who was killed in a motor accident. Subsequently David Williamson, Past Assistant Grand Master and the then President of the Universities Scheme, accepted the offer to become the Association’s new leader.
Chester Cathedral was the venue for the annual ecumenical service, led by the Dean of Chester and Nigel Pett, Assistant Grand Chaplain. Next year the festival returns to London to be hosted by Western Circuit Lodge, No. 3154.