Wednesday, 11 December 2019 11:51

Pro Grand Master's address - December 2019

Quarterly Communication

11 December 2019 
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes

Brethren. If you look up, you will see one of the finest mosaics in London. It took Italian craftsmen 10 man-years to create and, like so much of our Craft, it is laden with symbols, allegory and meaning. But look more closely, especially in the South-West and you will see that all is not quite as it should be. Cracks have been appearing over the last few years. Tesserae have fallen, and the Grand Superintendent of Work’s brow has furrowed, but he informs me that you are not in immediate danger!

After extensive research, chemical analysis, ultrasounds, X-Rays, thermal studies, endoscopies, not to mention all manner of expert opinion, we are now able to confidently conclude that we have no idea why. We do know the many things that are not responsible for these cracks, and contrary to scurrilous rumour, hot air from this chair has nothing whatsoever to do with it, but pinning down the exact cause has proved elusive. Take a good look Brethren because in a few weeks’ time, it will be shrouded in scaffolding, and for the first time in nearly a hundred years, men, and probably women, will begin work on restoring it to its former splendour.

We recently heard from the Grand Superintendent of Works about his role within the organisation and some of the work being done by his team to ensure that not only this building, but all of our masonic halls up and down the country are up to scratch. A huge amount of work has been put into producing the Masonic Halls Guide, available in the members’ section of the UGLE website, to provide a ‘Best Practice’ guide to help Lodges and Provinces improve their Halls and meeting places, and how they are managed.

I was recently told of a Lodge in Cambridgeshire (Stone Cross) which has transformed its own hall from a rather dingy affair to something the whole community can be proud of.  Members, under the guidance of more expert Craftsmen – also members of that Lodge – have spent weekends, and time over consecutive summers to transform it into a venue that they can all look forward to using – and it has made a huge difference to the first impressions and attendance of new members. 

As we actively seek out new members to join us, we should ensure that we are examining what it is that we would expect them to find – not just in the physical spaces we occupy, but in our Lodges too.

Many of us find a great deal of fulfilment in volunteering and giving of our time for the benefit of the community at large. We will shortly be sending out a survey to estimate just how great an impact we, as Freemasons have within our local communities – our last estimate was that our members contribute over 5 million hours volunteering for worthy causes.

We must be unique as an organisation in that we have premises embedded in almost every community in the Country. Just as we draw our members from all walks of life and all backgrounds, so our halls are found in village and cities, in areas rich and poor. Over the next few months, the Communications Working Party of the Board, made up of Provincial Grand Masters from each region of the country, will be looking at what we might do to raise our profile by putting these to better use – not only for ourselves, but also for those communities from which we are drawn. What does your Hall say about you, and the wider organisation, to a person seeing it for the first time and, indeed, to that potential new member, or that member of public giving blood, being screened, or just looking around?

Many of our Halls are both precious and beautiful; some, cracking a little around the edges and in need of loving care. But I’m sure, Brethren, we all feel like that at times. Let us remember that we are custodians not just of the Craft and its heritage and traditions, but also those meeting places which have, for generations, inspired our members.

I wish you and your families a very Happy Christmas period and I look forward to seeing you again in the New Year.

Published in Speeches

Regular Convocation of Supreme Grand Chapter

13 November 2019
An address by the ME Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes

Companions, for a long time we have been trying to come up with good reasons why all Brethren should join the Royal Arch and I think between us we have had some success and the percentage of brethren who are members has increased almost everywhere over the last few years.

Today I want to turn the question round and ask, 'Why don’t all our Brethren join the Royal Arch'.

It seems to me that there are five main reasons (but I am sure others will come up with many more).

Firstly, they don’t know anything about it. If this were to be the main reason, I would be very depressed, which I am not. However, I am sure that there will be some who fall into this category and that is a real condemnation of those who appoint the Royal Arch Representatives in Lodges. They must clearly be failing in their duties. Where there are no Royal Arch representatives then senior Brethren and particularly Mentors as well as Proposers and Seconders must step up.

Secondly, they have heard about it, but have been put off by some aspect. Frequently I have heard people talking about how difficult the ritual is to learn. Surely our Brethren should be able to make up their own minds about that and not have seeds of doubt sewn in their minds without having tried it. Let them find out for themselves and if they are reluctant to join the ladder they can watch from the side until they feel ready. The exaltation ceremony is one of the best to sit and watch.

Personally, I don’t consider it any more difficult than any other ritual and the main long sector delivered by the Principal Sojourner is a good story which I have always found sticks in the mind reasonably well. Also, Companions, the Principal Sojourner has two assistants. Why should they not live up to their names and assist in the ceremony. The work splits naturally and gives the Assistant Sojourners good reason to attend.

With the fairly recent changes to the ritual the 1st Principal’s task has been considerably eased by sharing much of it with the other Principals.

Thirdly, cost. This is clearly relevant, and it is imperative that any candidates are fully briefed on this just as they should have been when joining the Craft. In part this can be considered in the same way as my fourth reason, time. Again, extremely relevant. Many Chapters only meet three times a year, but that is still an added burden for working people to manage. Do our Lodges, perhaps meet too often. Many meet 10+ times a year and along with Lodges of Instruction and rehearsals this is an enormous time burden on the young working brother. I know I shall be unpopular with many, but if Lodges that meet that often considered reducing the number of their meetings, it could possibly invigorate their Chapters, by saving the Brethren both time and money.

Fifthly, they have joined other orders already and have reached the limit of the involvement in Freemasonry that they want. If this is the case, we have again failed in our duties as Craft Masons. There can be no logical masonic reason for a craft mason to join any other order before joining the Royal Arch, unless they don’t know about the Royal Arch or the reasons for joining have been poorly explained.

I must add that I am all for our craft brethren joining whatever other legitimate order that they want, but strongly believe that the Royal Arch should come first.

Companions, the Royal Arch is a wonderful order as everyone here this morning knows, I am extremely proud of being the Pro First Grand Principal and look forward to the day when we can boast that more than 50% of Craft masons have joined the Order and we can then move upwards from there.

Published in Speeches
Wednesday, 11 September 2019 12:39

Pro Grand Master's address - September 2019

Quarterly Communication

11 September 2019 
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes

Brethren I have been a Freemason for nearly 50 years and there have been so many changes during that time that one might think it has been all change. However, that is not the case and the principles emphasised at that time are still very much at the centre of what we all do and strive to pass on today.

What has changed, and I hope very much for the better is our ability to discuss our membership and what we do, with non members, as well as a greatly improved internal communications system.

Since my first involvement at Grand Lodge there have been four Pro Grand Masters, Lords Cornwallis, Farnham and Northampton and myself. Those three predecessors were acutely aware of the need for change, as, indeed, were their senior advisers. They, with the tremendous and very much continuing support of the Grand Master, started and continued the process. Where I have been lucky is that so much of it seems to have come to fruition on my watch. It would be very easy for me to claim credit for this. However, I hope that those of you who know me well enough, appreciate that it is not my style, but, much more importantly, it would be totally untrue.

Very little gets done in the world in general and certainly not in Freemasonry unless it is overseen by a strong team and I have been fortunate in having had excellent support from exceptional people throughout my period of office.

It is, perhaps, now a rather hackneyed expression, but Mark McCormack’s saying that there is no 'I' in team still rings true. Everything works better when there is collective responsibility and everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet.

In Freemasonry we should look at the whole membership as one team. Provinces and Districts are teams in their own right, as are individual Lodges and I would go further and say that the executives at the head of all these bodies should consider themselves teams. We must all pull in the same direction and support each other. 

Reverting to the team theme, there will, inevitably, be some decisions made with which not all in the team agree, but again there should be collective responsibility and support should be given.

If this is not the case, we run the risk of being 'picked off' by ill wishers both externally and, dare I say, internally as well.

Of course, we won’t all agree on everything, but mutual support and respect goes a long way to finding the right answers, even if there has to be tinkering along the way.

I really do believe that during the last 10 years we have made giant strides in the right direction, but I do stress again that this was enormously helped by the building blocks that had started to be put in place earlier. We have a long way to go, but I can’t remember a time when I have seen so much enthusiasm around the world and I am primarily, but by no means solely, referring to UGLE members because they are the ones that I meet most. We have a large number of visitors from other Constitutions with us today and I hope that they would concur with what I have said.

Wherever I go in the world I find our Brethren openly talking to non masons about their membership. There is no embarrassment and no secrecy involved. I even had a most convivial conversation with the Passport Control Officer in Kingston, Jamaica. I didn’t manage to sign him up, but he showed great interest in our visit to the Jamaica Cancer Charity.

Brethren we should all consider ourselves lucky to be members of our Order at this exciting time, but I make no apology for repeating that the current positive situation is very largely down to team work in every aspect of what we do, most certainly not forgetting the incredible teams who raise money for and manage our Charities. Please don’t forget Brethren that when anything has gone well, none of us should say 'I have done such and such' we should say 'we have done such and such'. I feel certain that I have just made a rod for my own back and, no doubt, I shall fall into my own trap perhaps even later today, and I can think of a few people sitting not far from me who will delight in picking me up on it.

Brethren, please forgive me if I finish by saying I know that I have spoken for quite long enough and WE must go to lunch. 

Thank you, Brethren.

Published in Speeches
Wednesday, 12 June 2019 15:31

Pro Grand Master's address - June 2019

Quarterly Communication

12 June 2019 
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes

Brethren we have a number of firsts today. It is June and, therefore, the first meeting of Grand Lodge since the investiture of the new team of Acting Grand Officers. Some old hands, some new, including, of course, the Grand Director of Ceremonies. We wish them all well and hope they enjoy their term of office how ever long that may be.

Another first is the luncheon arrangements. This is not the place to go into the whys and wherefores of the action that the Grand Secretary has taken. Many of you will be aware of the reasoning. What I will say is that the Grand Secretary deserves our support and, whilst I know how reluctant you all are ever to comment on such issues, I am sure that he would welcome constructive comments.

Changing the subject: I was in Stockholm three weekends ago at the Installation of the new Grand Master of the Swedish Order of Freemasons. In his address the new Grand Master laid out his vision for the future which included ensuring that all new candidates who wished to join their Order were properly interviewed and briefed prior to their initiation so that they knew what was expected of them as Freemasons and what they, as Freemasons, should and should not expect from their membership. This struck a slight chord with me, Brethren. Are we, perhaps, ahead of the game with Pathway which is now being so widely used within our Constitution?

I am quite certain that Pathway is a 'game changer' for many of our Lodges and I am so pleased that so many of you have embraced it, as it makes attracting new Brethren much more effective and we are far more likely to effectively engage our new members if they have been introduced to Freemasonry in this way.

I have also been delighted to have seen the use of Solomon in a number of Lodges not least on my visit to Cyprus in April. Many of the excerpts are ideal for filling in idle moments in Lodge, when there is a natural gap in proceedings, without extending the overall time of the meeting.

I have said before, but it bears repeating. Time is a precious commodity in most people’s lives and becomes more so as time goes on. The time that we meet and the time we spend in Lodge are very relevant. Personally it might suit me very well to meet at 5 o’clock or even earlier, spend two hours in the meeting and then be finished by 9 to 9.30, but that would be a pretty selfish attitude when it comes to the younger brethren and in the case of most Lodges, a sure way of reducing its popularity for new members.

Brethren, let’s all be flexible and listen to each others’ requirements. If suitable, the meeting times can be varied from meeting to meeting as many Lodges already do, and we should not be afraid to consecrate new lodges that meet the needs of those we hope to attract rather than blindly supporting lodges that don’t.  Every Lodge has a natural life span. 

Brethren that is enough lecturing for one day. The gap between now and our meeting in September has the natural summer break from which I am sure we will all emerge with renewed vigour.

Published in Speeches

Quarterly Communication

12 June 2019 
A presentation by Dr Ric Berman

Some years ago I was invited to a lodge in Greensboro, North Carolina. Having been seated, my neighbour informed me in a low voice that the ritual – like that elsewhere in North Carolina - was modelled on the form used in England in the early nineteenth century. However, much to my surprise, before the lodge was opened, the master asked the senior warden to order the deacons to ‘take the word’ from each of those present. And as the deacons walked the lines to receive the whispered password from each attendee, I was thankful that I had recently visited a lodge in Dublin and knew what was required. But rather than focus on my potential embarrassment, the more important point is this: North Carolina’s Masonic ritual was not from nineteenth-century England but had descended from the Irish and Antients, with roots dating back another sixty years to the mid-eighteenth century.

This made me think about historical context and how an awareness of the background to our ceremonies and ritual helps inform our understanding of Freemasonry and why we do what we do.

Many people consider that the origins of our Constitutions, published in 1723, lies in the ‘Old Charges’. These were the documents that governed the creation and regulation of stonemasons’ lodges and guilds, the first known of which – the Regius manuscript, dates from around 1390-1400. The second, the Cooke manuscript, is believed to date from around twenty to thirty years later. And there are more than a hundred such documents that reach from the end of the fourteenth century into the early eighteenth.

Each document follows almost exactly the same format. They begin with a statement of belief in God and the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; continue with a pledge of allegiance to the king and lawful authorities; contain a ‘traditional history’ of Freemasonry; and conclude with the regulations governing the operation of the guild or lodge.

There is a reason for this structure. Anti-labour legislation enacted by Parliament rendered wage bargaining illegal and in order to circumvent this the guilds need to demonstrate that they were not seeking to disrupt but rather respected the established order of Church and State, and that their demands for ‘fair wages’ were part of a long tradition that dated back centuries and was associated with leading historical figures.

The Regius manuscript dates the arrival of Freemasonry in England to King Athelstan, an Anglo-Saxon king reigning in the tenth century. He is regarded as the first true English king, a man who united England against the Vikings and an iconic figure to mediaeval Britons.  The Cooke manuscript pushed the date back 700 years further to the third century and St Alban, the earliest English Christian martyr.  The manuscript notes that ‘Saint Alban loved well masons, and gave them … their charges and manner first in England’.  

Cooke also states that the level of wage rates the stonemasons were seeking to obtain had been ‘approved’ by Athelstan, who had also given his imprimatur to masonic guilds and assemblies: ‘and he loved well masonry and masons.  And he became a mason himself, and he gave them charges and names as it is now used in England, and in other countries.  And he ordained that they should have reasonable pay and purchased a free patent of the king that they should make [an] assembly when they saw a reasonable time.’

And James Anderson’s 1723 Constitutions appear to follow a similar vein, with Anderson noting that Freemasonry began with ‘Adam, our first parent … [who] had Geometry written on his Heart’.

It is important to understand that such histories were not to be taken literally. As with the Old Charges, Anderson’s historical account was designed to set a literary context for Freemasonry.  By positioning it as an ancient institution linked to icons from the past, the narrative afforded the organisation legitimacy and gave it an aura and attraction that was important in a society that valued tradition. 

But although the overall form and structure of the 1723 Constitutions may have been similar to that found in the Old Charges, the substance was fundamentally different.

The most important aspect of the 1723 Constitutions is a section known as the Charges.  This was written by Dr Jean Theophilus Desaguliers, a Huguenot, the third grand master and a subsequent deputy grand master.  Desaguliers’ Charges comprise a set of Enlightenment principles and provide the foundations for the creation of what is now modern Freemasonry.  The philosophical outlook that Desaguliers’ Charges embrace was radical at the time, and the thoughts expressed remain valid today.

The first masonic charge - Concerning God and Religion - replaced the traditional invocation to the Trinity and formal declaration of Christian belief. As written, the charge obliged Freemasons only to ‘obey the moral law’ within a framework of ‘that Religion in which all Men agree’.  It would no longer be the case that a mason should ‘be of the religion of that country or nation’ where he resided, but necessary only to believe in God and be a ‘good man and true’.

The charge was not an avowal of support for a specific religious canon or church.  The new Masonic oath was a simple declaration of faith in a divine being without a stated preference for any given form of worship.  It was openly latitudinarian, if not almost deist, and represented a denial of the importance of doctrine and of ecclesiastical organisation.

The second charge - Of the Civil Magistrate Supreme and Subordinate - made plain that there would no longer be fealty to a divinely-appointed absolute monarch – instead, a Mason will be ‘a peaceable subject to the Civil Powers wherever he resides’. He would also respect civil order – ‘A Mason is a peaceable Subject to the Civil Powers … is never to be concerned in Plots and Conspiracies against the Peace and Welfare of the Nation.’

At a deeper level, the second charge echoed the changes to England’s constitutional structure in the wake of the 1688 Glorious Revolution.  Where allegiance to the crown – ‘to be a true liege man to the king’ – was core to the Old Charges, the 1723 Constitutions and later oaths would state that Freemasons were subject to the ‘supreme legislature’.  For Desaguliers and the new Grand Lodge of England, the ideal political structure was that ‘which does most nearly resemble the Natural Government of our System’. Grand Lodge and hence Freemasonry would be supportive of constitutional monarchy and parliamentary government aligned with an independent judiciary - the ‘supreme legislature’.

The implication was that resistance to the crown could be justified where a king was in breach of his Lockean moral contract with those he governed.  This had been the basis of the Glorious Revolution and the justification for replacing James II with William and Mary.  It was no longer obligatory for Freemasons to be bound to ‘be true liegemen to the King of England without any treason or falsehood’. They would instead ‘attend’ and ‘respect’, but be ‘guided, not enslaved’.

And in the fourth charge there would be a rejection of patronage, the wheel upon which eighteenth-century Britain turned: in Freemasonry, ‘all preferment is to be grounded upon real worth and personal merit’.

Taken as a whole, this was a social and political manifesto born of Enlightenment values and based on Enlightenment philosophical ideas pioneered by John Locke, Isaac Newton and others. 

In June 1723, Freemasonry faced a threat to these tenets from one of its own – the Duke of Wharton, the second noble Grand Master.  During his term of office the duke had embraced the Jacobites – the supporters of the exiled Pretender, James Stuart. In response, and at Desaguliers’ request, the Grand Lodge of England resolved ‘that it is not in the power of any man, or body of men, to make innovations in the body of Masonry without the consent first obtained of the Annual Grand Lodge’.

2023 will of course be the tercentennial anniversary of the publication of Anderson’s Constitutions and of Desaguliers’ Charges. The Constitutions and Charges provide the cornerstone upon which English and much of international Freemasonry rests. And it is not only appropriate but incumbent upon us to mark and celebrate this event. To paraphrase T. S. Elliot, we should explore our past and, at the end of so doing, arrive where we began and know the place for the first time.

But as we look back over three hundred years along the Road to 1723, it is also incumbent upon us to turn and to look forward.

Published in Speeches

Annual Investiture of Supreme Grand Chapter

25 April 2019 
An address by the ME First Grand Principal HRH The Duke of Kent

Companions. It is an enormous pleasure to be with you today. May I first offer my congratulations to all of those whom I have invested today. Grand Rank in the Holy Royal Arch is an achievement to be proud of, and serves not only to recognise your contributions to our order, but also as an inducement to your future efforts in explaining and representing the Royal Arch to our brethren in the Craft and beyond. It is not only a senior position within the order, but also a public position and one which should only be held by those Companions who publicly exemplify our principles, enjoy their Freemasonry, and go out of their way to welcome and support others in their masonic journeys.

This year I have invested new Companions into one of the most senior roles within our order – President of the Committee of General Purposes, and also one of our most visible roles – that of the Grand Director of Ceremonies. It is only right and proper that I pause to again pay tribute to those companions who have held these offices before them, in both cases for more than a decade.

So, to companions Malcolm Aish and Oliver Lodge, on behalf of all the Companions here present, I thank you for your leadership, patience, wise counsel, stewardship and good humour. You will be missed and we wish your successors good fortune for the future. They both have quite a task ahead of them, defining the Royal Arch for a younger generation of Masons, ensuring that it is both relevant and enjoyable, but I have no doubt that they will find no shortage of volunteers to help them in that task from amongst those other Companions that I have invested today.

One aspect that I am sure they will want to emphasise is that no Mason should be joining other orders without first completing their journey in Pure Antient Masonry by becoming a member of the Holy Royal Arch.

Companions, events like this do not just happen and I would like, on your behalf, to congratulate the new Grand Director of Ceremonies and his team for once again arranging such an impressive ceremony and the Grand Scribe Ezra and his team for ensuring all the other arrangements have gone so smoothly.   

Companions, I congratulate you all on your preferment and wish you peace, happiness and good will in the next stage of your masonic journeys.

Published in Speeches
Wednesday, 24 April 2019 00:00

Pro Grand Master's address - April 2019

Craft Annual Investiture

24 April 2019
An address by the MW The Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes

Brethren, I am sure you will agree that the Grand Temple is a magnificent sight at all times, but most particularly when it is full to bursting as it is today.

The first thing I must do today is congratulate all those brethren who have been reappointed, appointed to or promoted in Grand Rank. It is, I am sure, a well deserved honour, but, as always, let me stress this does not mean that you should sit back and rest on your laurels. Much more work is expected from you, brethren.

Looking back over the years it doesn’t seem to me that we ever thanked the outgoing officers. Many of the Acting Grand Officers of the year have been reappointed today and this would not have happened if they did not perform their duties in exemplary style and, mostly, retaining a sense of humour in the process.

For those who had term of office of one or more years, thank you for what you have done. Some will have been more involved than others, but you have all been part of the Grand Lodge spectacle.

I often mention retaining a sense of humour and as I have said in the past, this does not mean turning our ceremonies into pantomime events, but it does mean keeping everything in proportion. A mistake in the ritual or the ceremonial is not a matter of life and death and often has a humorous side to it, particularly when discussed later. Who here hasn’t made mistakes – I know I have frequently. However, I am sure we would all agree that a masonic ceremony performed well is a memorable occasion and let us all strive to perform to the best of our ability.

Brethren, today is a big occasion in all respects and it takes a huge amount of work behind the scenes by all those working in the secretariat and beyond, I think you will agree that they have done a splendid job.

That brings me to the actual ceremony. I have already made mention of the retiring Grand Director of Ceremonies and it is he who put the bricks in place for today and he and his team have conducted everything impeccably. I am sure we would all also like to offer the new Grand Director of Ceremonies the very best of luck for his time in office.

Thank you brethren for all those who have been involved in the organisation and thank all of you for being here.

Published in Speeches

Quarterly Communication

13 March 2019 
A talk by RW Bro John Pagella, Grand Superintendent of Works

Most Worshipful Pro Grand Master and Brethren

If you want to understand the responsibilities which you have as a Grand Lodge Officer you can do one of two things. Consult the Book of Constitutions, or speak to Graham Redman.

Rule 35 states – ‘The Grand Superintendent of Works shall advise the Board of General Purposes when required on any matter in connection with the building and the works. He shall furnish reports on the state of repair of the properties of the Grand Lodge when required’.

When I asked Graham if this meant that I simply had to submit periodic reports on necessary works we intended to carry out to keep this building in repair his reply was to the effect that ‘well - you may find that in practice it is rather more than that’

He was right.

I will start with Freemasons’ Hall.

You are surrounded in the Grand Temple by the centrepiece of one of this country’s foremost art deco buildings with a heritage value sustained by the fact that it remains today in use for the purpose for which it was originally designed and built. We are in the middle of a Conservation Area, and the building itself is Listed Grade 11*. What this means in practice is that anything which we do which affects the exterior of the building requires planning permission, and anything other than very minor like for like repairs to both the interior and the exterior must be notified to, and approved by, the Conservation Officer.

Planning Officers have to work within National Planning Policy Guidelines, and they are required to implement Local Plan Policies. Conservation Officers on the other hand have responsibility for protecting the heritage value of buildings of architectural and historic interest which, by their nature, are individual. They have wide ranging powers, which frequently involve subjective judgements which, even with professional advice, can be hard to predict.

Carrying out work to a listed building which requires, but does not have, Listed Building consent is a criminal offence. As I have no wish to return to address Grand Lodge on my experience as Grand Superintendent of Works after 12 months in Ford Prison I treat the need for works in this building to be approved by the Conservation Officer with the utmost care and respect.

Late and unexpected interventions by the Conservation Officer can be a very real problem, as we discovered when we renewed the West Door steps. To avoid this in the future we are at an early stage in negotiations with the Conservation Officer and Historic England for an HPA, a Heritage Partnership Agreement, which will give pre-approval in principle to specified works which we are likely to carry out, often repeatedly. Examples range from future phases of repairs to the building’s steel frame ( Regents Street Disease ), through work to repair and refurbish the many original toilets in the building ( not very glamorous, but nevertheless necessary ) down to the specification of the paint to be used when redecorating some of the more elaborately embellished Lodge Rooms.

HPAs are complex, time consuming, and costly, but the prize is securing for UGLE ownership and control of the timing and phasing of major works of repair which we need to carry out.

Keeping a building in repair can require reacting to the unexpected, but for the most part it can be anticipated through planned property maintenance. We are working to a ten-year time horizon in implementing recommended works within this building so that, for example, phased repairs to deal with RSD will include routine maintenance and general repairs within the same area. As far as possible once we have access to any hard to reach area within this building, or for that matter any area, our aim is to complete all necessary work properly and to a high standard so that an early return is not needed.

I have concentrated up to this point on repair, but the more interesting challenge is working to deliver changes to the way in which Freemasonry needs to use Freemasons’ Hall to support the vision of the Craft’s place in society today which the Grand Secretary outlined at the Quarterly Communication in December.

Freemasons’ Hall is and will remain a Masonic building, but our needs are changing. Many of you will know from personal experience that most of the Lodge Rooms here in Freemasons’ Hall, with the notable exception of Lodge Room No 10, were designed to accommodate meetings with an attendance of between 70 and 80. Today average attendance is in the mid 20s.

We cannot subdivide Lodge Rooms in response to this. Their scale and proportions were an important element within the original design of the building, and we know that any attempt to change this would meet with strong opposition from the Conservation Officer.

We can, however, adapt space to form smaller Lodge Rooms from accommodation in the building designed for other uses. Examples of where this has been achieved are the conversion of two committee rooms on the Sussex Corridor to provide two Chapter Rooms, and the three Lodge Rooms created on the third floor in what was originally two caretaker’s flats.  

While these changes take place we are also looking at how this building can play its part in encouraging a wider understanding of Freemasonry in society. This means improving public access, both generally and through supporting outside hire events. Both encourage improved awareness, while providing the opportunity for education through community engagement.

Improving public access, while at the same time meeting the continuing needs of UGLE as well as those of MetGL, the Library & Museum and the Masonic Charitable Foundation is far from straightforward, and we always have to keep in mind that our ideas and ambitions may not always meet with approval from the Conservation Officer if work is involved requiring Listed Building Consent.

I don’t want to overstate the problem. There are projects which receive immediate support, at least in principle.

Freemasons’ Hall, like many public buildings, fails to provide enough female toilets. The building was designed to provide toilets for the convenience of members, and the paid employees of Grand Lodge were thought unlikely to include women. How the world has changed.

We have legal obligations to provide facilities for both men and women who work in the building, and if we are serious in wanting to host events such as Letters Live and London Fashion Week we must provide facilities which are as good, if not better, than competing venues. The unisex toilets off the vestibule and those on the floor below meet this need, and as we approach the refurbishment of the Gallery Suite to improve the facilities available for Masonic use and outside hire in what was Lodge Room 1 and its ante room, we will be restoring to their original use nearby toilets on the lower ground floor. These will, however, be designed with flexible male / female use use in mind.

As I and others on the Hall Committee oversee these projects I do so in the knowledge that my responsibilities as Grand Superintendent of Works do not end at the front door.

From the very early years of Freemasonry, Grand Lodge has owned a number of buildings in Great Queen Street. These include the Grand Connaught Rooms and the Sway nightclub, together with most of the buildings opposite on the north side of Great Queen Street. They are in the same Conservation Area as Freemasons’ Hall, and many of them are listed, including several which are Grade 11 *.

A diverse property portfolio such as this is by its nature management intensive, and just over 10 years ago the Board of General Purposes received a report from the then Grand Superintendent of Works John Edgcumbe drawing attention to the possibility of selling the properties to reinvest in a modern, well let commercial property which might provide better growth prospects without the need for continuous oversight, and periodic investment in refurbishment and repair.

Mindful of the importance which heritage has to Freemasonry, and the fact that ownership provides control over the setting of Freemasons’ Hall, the decision was taken by the Board that the buildings should be retained.

Maximising value by improving tenant mix, and income quality, while refurbishing and modernising the properties where necessary, became a long-term objective of the Property Investment Committee chaired by the Grand Treasurer, Quentin Humberstone. As well as being Grand Superintendent of Works I am a Chartered Surveyor with practical experience of property investment and asset management, and the valuation of commercial properties. With this background I should perhaps have expected that my work would extend beyond looking after Freemasons’ Hall to include contributing to the work of the Property Investment Committee.

Pausing at this point it is perhaps worth drawing attention to the fact that the Property Investment Committee’s investment objectives have served Grand Lodge well.    

The accounts of Grand Lodge are not exactly bedtime reading, but in 2006 the north side of Great Queen Street had a book value in the region of £14.5m. By 2011 an external independent valuation confirmed that the value of the whole portfolio including the Grand Connaught Rooms, and with the benefit of investment in the refurbishment of several of the properties, had risen to £31.1m, and as at 31st December 2017 the figure in the UGLE accounts was just over £56.5m. You must wait for publication of the 2018 accounts for the corresponding value as at December last year, but I can reveal that a further increase in value will be reported.

Given the long-term commitment of Grand Lodge to holding this portfolio improvements in capital value, while reassuring, are perhaps less important than rental income. This is currently just over £2.5m pa. which contributes to the investment income which is available for Grand Lodge to maintain, repair and improve Freemasons’ Hall without making a call on individual members’ Grand Lodge dues.

Masonic ownership of land and building extends well beyond Great Queen Street to the many Masonic Halls and Centres throughout the country. These are the responsibility of their owners. Whilst Freemasonry is a Craft, running and managing Masonic Halls and Centres is a business. Over the years there have been many successes, but occasionally things have gone wrong, and the accompanying adverse publicity compromises years of hard work in promoting the reputation of Freemasonry for the better.

We have within our membership valuable knowledge and experience of how to manage a Masonic Hall and Centre in a way which is both sustainable, and financially viable. What we did not have until recently was a reference resource which brought together in one place experience and best practice. This gap was recognised by the Membership Focus Group in 2015 which set up a Masonic Halls Working Group tasked with creating a Guidance Manual to share knowledge of best practise.

Unlike the Book of Constitutions compliance with the Guidance Manual is not mandatory, although ignoring advice inevitably leaves room for criticism if things go wrong.

As Grand Superintendent of Works I am now responsible for issuing updates to the Masonic Halls Best Practise Guidance Manual. Working with a Steering Group we issue periodic updates – best practise is not static. It evolves in the light of new legislation, and widened experience. We hold annual seminars here at Freemasons’ Hall as a way of making sure that Provincial Grand Superintendent of Works and those looking after Masonic Halls and Centres can contribute their knowledge and experience to the Guidance Manual and its advice.

As Grand Superintendent of Works here at Grand Lodge I am as much a user of the Guidance Manual as my counterparts in MetGL and across the Provinces.

As you can see Graham Redman was correct when he explained to me that I would be spending my time doing rather more than simply submiting periodic reports to the Board of General Purposes on the condition of this building. 

Published in Speeches
Wednesday, 13 March 2019 12:05

Pro Grand Master's address - March 2019

Quarterly Communication

13 March 2019 
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes

Brethren, I have recently had the privilege of visiting a number of our Districts, and although each trip was a unique experience, I became acutely aware that they all had something striking in common – how well the local Freemasons are an integral, and highly visible, part of their local communities. This January, the Deputy Grand Master had the pleasure of installing the new District Grand Master for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean. Amongst the various Masonic activities, he took part in a large procession, in full regalia, to the local Cathedral for the Sunday service. He tells me the sense of pride from the members and their families was overwhelming. This was a group of men who are supported and encouraged by their families, and are warmly welcomed by the communities in which they reside. There was no sense of trying to hide the fact that they are Freemasons or justifying why they are members. It was simply the case that Freemasonry was not just an integral part of their lives, but also the lives of those around them.

Brethren, it could be seen as being fairly obvious that where a member has the support and backing of his family, he will fare better. What is not so obvious is the underlying need to encourage and nurture that support network. Bringing our families, and indeed our communities, into the fold, so to speak, is in my opinion vital to the future success of the Craft and it is telling that a number of Provinces now interview prospective candidates along with their partners present so that they too can ask questions and understand who we are and what we do.  

Programmes of events designed to assist and engage with those around us will go a long way towards educating the two fifths of the public who know that we exist, but have no idea what we do, and you will soon hear about some National Initiatives we are planning to accomplish just this. The Districts certainly have a winning formula in this respect. In each District I have visited, families have been heavily involved in the events surrounding our visits. When we bear in mind that the Districts are growing by 10 per cent year on year on average, we may be able to learn a few things from them.

I was thinking recently on how much time Freemasons in the UK spend on unpaid charitable, philanthropic, or civic activities. This includes those things our members do for others with an educational, sporting, charitable, religious or military bent; what they do for others in any spare time they might have when they are not in Lodge or learning ritual! 

We have looked into this and it will not surprise you to learn that early indications suggest that our members spend millions of hours collectively giving of themselves for the benefit of others.

I began to think how one might possibly put an hourly ‘value’ on the contributions that our members make to their communities and the people around them, but then the core values that all Freemasons hold in high estimation cannot be quantified. How can we ‘calculate’ our contributions? There seems to be a clear link between what we do ‘as Freemasons’ and what we do as good members of our community. 

Returning to the Deputy Grand Master’s trip to Antigua, Members, and their families, were proud, and it showed immensely. That visibility, engagement and sense of pride at both being a Freemason and a good person were palpable, and that obvious connection has been passed down through generations of Masons in our ritual – Freemasonry does indeed “rest upon the practice of every Moral and Social virtue”.

We all should be striving towards ensuring that we are visible, engaged and proud of our achievements, both as Freemasons and as people.

Brethren, we are referees, volunteer readers in school, church wardens, members of care home boards, Rotarians, poppy sellers and countless other ‘volunteer’ positions. Most of these will have nothing or very little to do with our Lodges or Province, but they all have a connection to a fundamental aspect of Freemasonry – making a positive impact in the lives of others. And Brethren, we certainly need to be more visible and more proud of these roles if we are to positively define what Freemasonry stands for to the next generation. Also, Brethren, if I were a betting man, which I am not, - well just the odd flutter - I would certainly have a bet that the Provinces that have the most family involvement are those with the best membership statistics. Let us all work on this aspect.

Published in Speeches

Quarterly Communication

12 December 2018 
A presentation by VW Bro Dr David Staples, Grand Secretary

Brethren, good morning. It is my great pleasure to be speaking to you here today.

As many of you will know, I used to work as a doctor. My clinical job was to work out why people were horizontal and try to get them vertical again. I shall try my hardest over the next 15 minutes or so not to reverse that process.

I left Derby Hospital four years ago to become Clinical Director for Medicine at Peterborough where I managed a whole host of awkward people and there, to my astonishment, I discovered that I rather enjoyed this thing called ‘management’. In fact, I found that I enjoyed it much more than medicine.

People were usually pleased to see me which made a change, and as someone who had always enjoyed solving problems I found that I was deluged with problems. It was not a great leap for me to move into another organisation with problems to solve.

I still practice medicine for half a day a week – it seemed foolish to burn all my clinical bridges in this particular role. The Board and Rulers hired me as Chief Executive with two main outcomes in mind. First, I was to bring the Corporate and Masonic sides of Freemasons’ Hall together – to meld 60 Great Queen Street into a purpose and values driven organisation which services the needs of the United Grand Lodge of England, Supreme Grand Chapter and of course you, our members.

Secondly, I was tasked with helping to formulate, coordinate and ensure the delivery of the United Grand Lodge of England’s strategies for the future as defined by the Rulers and the Board.

To my mind, the most important of these is rapidly becoming to ‘Normalise the perception of Freemasonry in the public consciousness’ – to make it as acceptable to say that one is going to a lodge meeting as it would be to say that one is going shopping, out for a meal, or to the golf course; and to make it a genuine choice for all of our members as to whether they wish to disclose their membership or not – rather than one mandated by the attitudes and prejudices of their colleagues.

Today I would like to try to give you a flavour for some of the challenges UGLE faces along that journey, and some of the things that we are doing to meet them. We are always, however, mindful of the need to respect the independence of individual lodges and Provinces, and only to mandate those things which are absolutely essential to the future of the Craft.

Things are not all rosy. In 1920, Grand Lodge issued around 30,000 Grand Lodge certificates each year. By 2015 this had dropped to 7,000 which equates to less than one new member per lodge per year. 20% of our members resign or never come back prior to receiving their Grand Lodge certificate. 60% of our membership is over 60 years of age. Membership remains one of our greatest challenges.

As an organisation, we are shrinking by 1% a year, although interestingly our districts are growing at 10% per year on average.

Attracting new members and engaging our membership so that they remain members is therefore of paramount importance, but the pool of candidates eligible to join Freemasonry is a fraction of what it was 50 years ago.

We can do little to change whether a person believes in a Supreme Being, or whether they have a criminal record, but UGLE has done a great deal to try to influence the opportunity that eligible members have to join us successfully; this has occurred most visibly through the Membership Pathway which was launched earlier this year – an initiative that seeks to ensure that potential members know what to expect, and to minimise the chances of them leaving.

What used to be ‘invitation only’ is now much more open. Lodges regularly exhibit at universities Freshers’ Fairs and all Provincial websites and the United Grand Lodge of England welcome online membership enquiries. We also seek to influence what is ‘findable’ on Google by engaging with the media. By having sensible stories which reflect what WE want about Freemasonry on the top three pages of a Google search, we are able to significantly alter our public footprint.

Before the Second World War, Freemasons would have been openly known and respected in their communities. Public parades of masons were common place. Masons were often asked to perform ceremonies around the laying of foundation stones for public buildings.

Then, Hitler murdered 200,000 Freemasons on the continent and looked as though he were poised to invade England. Suddenly, it didn’t seem quite such a good idea to be so open about our membership and we collectively retreated into a position of privacy that we have only just, with the Tercentenary celebrations last year, started to retreat from in a coordinated fashion.

The third factor which influences whether we attract new members is the environment – by which I primarily mean the court of public opinion. What do the public think of us? How likely is it that our members are happy to ‘come out’ as Freemasons? How likely or acceptable is it that an organisation or employer decides to discriminate against Freemasons? What is the political climate? What is the religious climate? – All of these issues form the environment from which our members are drawn.

The national press is obsessed with handshakes, trouser legs, nepotism, corruption and with events that may have happened 50 years ago in a then corrupt police force. Not a media interview has gone by over the last year when I have not been asked about one of these issues – yet only 4% of young people under 25 ever read the national press, and only 9% get their news from television. By far the predominant source for news in the under 30s is the internet. We need to ensure our media presence reflects this.

In centuries past, however, Freemasons and Freemasonry was enormously respected. Before the times of professional organisations and trade bodies such as the British Medical Associate, the Bar Association, The Law Society etc., if you wanted to employ the services of someone who wasn’t going to rip you off, a Freemason represented someone who openly ‘met people on the level’ and ‘treated them squarely’. It was the closest one could get at the time to a kite mark of decent and moral professional behaviour, and, for tradesmen, membership was a likely to result in both increased respect and increased business.

Unfortunately, how Freemasonry is explained to us as Entered Apprentices is not necessarily an easy and straightforward concept to grasp. We are told that Freemasonry is a ‘peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols’ . That its system of morality forms of a set of values and principles of conduct. Freemasons are the custodians of a way of behaving which takes good people and makes them better, doing so by acting out ancient myths and encouraging a study of the deeper meaning of symbols, so it is both a philosophical and philanthropic society. One can see how it might prove very difficult for us to explain what Freemasonry is to those who might be curious. And, of course, Freemasonry means many different things to different members.

If we talk about charity, we are no different to hundreds of other organisations who fight for space in a very crowded sector. If we talk about friendship or camaraderie then similarly we do not capture the unique aspects of Freemasonry which set us aside from a club or society.

We will never be able to, nor should we, reinvent ourselves to please the public, but we do need to nuance our message so that it can have the greatest effect on those who we might be able to influence, and what you will see over the next 18 months or so is a coordinated media and communications strategy that starts to deploy these messages. We started this year with ‘Enough is Enough’ and there is a great deal more to come.

We need to find something that communicates the unique nature of Freemasonry in a friendly, accessible fashion, and in a way which makes us an attractive use of our potential members’ precious time. So how do we achieve, in the minds of the public, a favourable opinion preconceived of the institution? We must define ourselves clearly and positively to the outside world. We must regain control of our own narrative, we need to promulgate the timeless principles of brotherly love and self-improvement. We need to inspire people to lead better lives and be a values driven, professional organisation.

So Communications and Membership are two of my top priorities as mandated by the Board, the Rulers and the various committees and groups that have a care for Freemasonry.

These priorities are clearly reflected in the restructuring of the United Grand Lodge of England communications apparatus, and by the creation of a new Membership Services Department, which will encompass a new department for the Districts which, in the past, have not perhaps received the attention that they deserve; the Chancellery which manages foreign masonic affairs and also all of your enquiries should you want to visit a lodge abroad as well as the membership and registration functions.

When I came to UGLE, the headquarters had been split along masonic and non-masonic lines, and it was fair to say that there was a degree of civil war existing between the two. What I found was a headquarters crying out for modernisation. I am pleased to say that following considerable effort by all the staff over the last year, UGLE has just been awarded Investors in People Accreditation – something that will help dispel our reputation as operating from a secret volcano base somewhere off the West Coast of Sumatra.

Bringing about change within UGLE is not a simple task. I have entitled my talk 'Risk Takers, Caretakers and Undertakers' which broadly explains the mindsets which govern all of us here today in some part. Some aspects of the organisation need curating – they are precious to us and to our members and should be preserved as part of our responsibility as the de facto caretakers of a three-hundred-year-old institution, other parts need to be allowed to run their course and die, for an organisation which never renews itself is unlikely to survive. We see this often in the lives of individual lodges, which come together to serve a need for their members, but as times change, or that need changes, some lodges pass away whilst others invigorate themselves and thrive. In order to thrive, we need to be prepared perhaps to take risks and to change in order to remain, or perhaps regain a relevance in the modern world. If we aren’t prepared to do this, we become undertakers and bury something enormously precious to us all.

Another key priority for us at UGLE is to modernise the processes by which the organisation is administered. This year, we will have performed 24 Installations of Provincial and District Rulers all of those, coordinated from this building. We are recognised the world over for our pre-eminent ceremonial. It is my intention to ensure that this excellence shows itself in all that we do. We have moved the Masonic Year Book and the Directory of Lodges and Chapters to living online documents, and now have a thriving members’ area on our website. For the first time, some of you will have booked your place here today online and made payment for the lunch that follows electronically – something you will no doubt have been doing in other areas of life for well over a decade.

Astonishingly this change will save over 1,800 man hours of work each year. Those of you who are Secretaries will be pleased to hear that we are aiming to ensure that Installation Returns are pre-printed, meaning that you will never again have to write out the names and numbers of all your past masters – something which has been done and remained unchanged for over 175 years.

But that is just the start. The Book of Constitutions lays out guidance on how a modern membership organisation should be run, but the problem is that its current iteration was written in the nineteenth century.

Imagine now an organisation where the Lodge Secretary could access the central database of their members’ information and keep it updated. Why should secretaries have to write clearance certificates when we already know who is paid up and who is in arrears? Why not just run a real time Masonic credit check when you want to join a new lodge? Why are forms needed in order to get a Grand Lodge certificate, when we already know all the information on those forms?

To start to modernise these internal processes is an enormous piece of work, but I know it will bring real benefits to our members and those who administer lodges and Provinces.

And these changes will alter the experiences of the everyday mason too. Can you imagine a system that sends links to articles that explains the ceremony of initiation to an initiate the day after he is brought in? Or a system that sends information about the Royal Arch to a newly made Master Mason? What about a system that flags to the Lodge Almoner when a member has missed three meetings in a row – a strongly correlated marker for poor engagement and retention. In this way we can start to influence how we engage our membership at a whole new level with that peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.

The Craft has an old, established teaching system, which uses role-playing, memory work and public speaking to enshrine its principles in the hearts of Masons. These techniques have evolved over many centuries and even more generations of Brethren, to pass on our traditions to benefit our members by making them better people, at peace with themselves and with the society in which they live.

We have recently launched ‘SOLOMON’, an online learning resource covering the three degrees and the Royal Arch which you are able to register for, access and read as you progress through your masonic journey. It has over 350 articles, graded for the correct degree which augment these established teaching methods within the Craft and make each candidate’s journey through Masonry a much more fulfilling experience.

So, Brethren, there is a huge amount going on in your organisation, and that is not counting the numerous happenings at Provincial and individual lodge level. UGLE is building an efficient and effective organisation. An organisation which provides a structure able to support and engage our members, attract new people to the Craft and Royal Arch, normalize Freemasonry in the public consciousness and stand up for our members whenever they are unfairly discriminated against or collectively attacked.

The United Grand Lodge of England is here to act as a custodian of the values and traditions of Freemasonry which inspire people to Lead Better Lives for the benefit of society, valuing Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. We should be a straightforward organisation that is supportive, self-confident, welcoming, member focused, friendly and fun because that is an organisation that good men will want to join and even better men will want to remain members of. It is the duty of all of us to make this an organisation we are proud to be a part of.

Thank you.

Published in Speeches
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