An accountant by profession, Anthony Wilson explains why he brought modern business practice to Freemasonry when he became President of the Board of General Purposes ten years ago
How did you come into Freemasonry?
I’d been married to my wife for about a year and was spending a weekend down at my father-in-law’s.
I noticed after lunch that he was walking around the garden with his brother. I knew he was a Freemason but I didn’t know that his brother was. They were deep in conversation and later he sidled up to me and asked if I’d ever thought of becoming a Freemason. I said I hadn’t, I knew about it but not in detail, so he told me what was necessary and proposed me for the Tuscan Lodge, No. 14. I was about twenty-six when I joined.
What drew you to the Craft?
Initially, what attracted me was the intrigue of finding out what Freemasonry was about, but once I’d been through the ceremonies my whole view of it changed. It was relaxed but there was also a formality – it wasn’t an easy ride. Don’t just expect to get things out of it; put things into it and you’ll get enjoyment. I realised that there was a lot of knowledge, that it was telling you a story linked to your values and that it gelled with what I stood for in life. The other aspect I was grateful for was that it brought me into contact with a large number of people I wouldn’t otherwise have met.
How did you become President of the Board of General Purposes?
One thing I’ve learned from Freemasonry is that although you don’t expect things to come along, somehow people notice you. I was asked to sit on a committee to look at the future of London, which brought me into contact with the Rulers and the Grand Secretary. From that I was asked to become a member of the old Board of General Purposes.
When the old Board was restructured I came off it but was subsequently asked if I would become President of the Committee of General Purposes, which is the equivalent to the Board of General Purposes for the Royal Arch. Having been President of that for about three years, I was asked if I would like to become President of the Board, which I had already rejoined on becoming President of the Committee. This is my tenth anniversary in the position.
What does the Board do?
We’re responsible for the governance of the Craft; the relationship between individual lodges and the Grand Lodge; the relations between Grand Lodge and the Provincial Grand Masters; the relations with recognised foreign Grand Lodges; the finances of the Craft and its assets – of which Freemasons’ Hall is one. We set the membership dues to run the services at the centre of the Craft and we manage the PR with the outside world. Very largely, we do everything apart from the ceremonial side. What I do as President would not be possible without the Deputy President, the Grand Treasurer, the Grand Secretary and the whole team at Freemasons’ Hall. It’s very much a collegiate affair – we’re a team and I’m very fortunate with the support and counsel I get.
What drew you to the business of Freemasonry?
My background is in chartered accountancy and I’ve always been interested in business and how you can improve it. Working on the Board was a way of helping the running of Freemasonry that wasn’t purely ceremonial but rather administrative. When I was in the profession, one of the first audits I did was for the Grand Lodge 250th Anniversary Fund, which is a charity that sponsors research fellowships with the Royal College of Surgeons. I didn’t think that some twenty years later I’d be approached to become a trustee for that – it’s funny the way the world moves.
How did the old Board function?
Pre-1999, the Board of General Purposes met eight times a year. It consisted of nearly fifty people and all its business was done through a number of committees in the morning which reported to the full Board in the afternoon – it wasn’t an environment in which discussion ever took place. It had the hangover from thirty to forty years ago when Freemasonry wasn’t so much run by the Rulers, who were more titular and ceremonial, but by the then Grand Secretary and the President of the Board. They would basically decide what they wanted and the Board was there to serve that way of doing business.
How is the Board different now?
It’s much more transparent. Gavin Purser spent a lot of time working on a new structure when he was President to create a Board of about twelve people who meet six times a year. It really is a better way of conducting business. We have proper discussions and I don’t think over my ten years that we’ve had to vote on anything because consensus has come from discussion. It’s a much better forum where each member is now an active contributor. We also sit in a boardroom where everyone can hear each other; the old boardroom had a wonderful dais at the top and the rest of the tables were set in a horseshoe shape, so if you were in the south of the room you couldn’t hear what someone was saying in the north – you could just about hear the podium. The Rulers have also become more involved, which is a great advancement, and I work with them closely.
How have things changed during your presidency?
Change is slow because you’ve got to take the members with you. One of the things I’m very proud of is advancing professionalism in the way in which the Craft is run. The organisation that supports the Grand Secretary has been streamlined; it’s more efficient than ten years ago because we’ve brought in standards you’d expect to find in business. There’s also much greater willingness to accept the culture of change in this building. The staff see the benefits and I would like to think the whole working environment has improved.
Is the Board structured differently?
We’ve increased our focus on the outside world. In the old days, dealing with the foreign Grand Lodges was handled by the Grand Secretary who also dealt with internal affairs and our members. Together with the Rulers, we saw the need for someone who would just focus on external relations and so created the role of Grand Chancellor.
Is managing Freemasons’ Hall a challenge?
By far the largest asset we have is Freemasons’ Hall and a lot has happened here over the past ten years – we had to strip out asbestos, which was a nightmare because it was everywhere. When the Hall was built, asbestos was what you used for safety and it took three or four years to strip it out while still allowing the building to be used for purpose. The new maintenance challenge is what’s called Regent Street Disease, which is named after buildings in that street that were built around a steel frame – a very popular method in the 1920s. Unfortunately, the steel and what surrounded it weren’t always fully airtight so the steel was capable of rusting. Freemasons’ Hall is one of the first all-steel-frame buildings so has the disease, but we’re tackling it – we’re very proud of this building.
What is modern Freemasonry?
When I took the role on, what worried me was Freemasonry no longer being relevant to the society we lived in. If you look over the years of our membership, numbers peak and trough. Membership has always been high when we filled a much-needed role in society but that changes because society changes. So that’s something we’re looking at more and more, to find that relevance. One of the things I feel very strongly about is that Freemasonry has to fit in with your family life – we’ve got to keep an eye on that, to make sure that members don’t focus too much on their Freemasonry to the detriment of their family.
What’s being planned for 2017?
The tercentenary will increasingly take up our focus and we have a working party looking at key elements. We believe very strongly that this will be a time for our members to celebrate – as the premier Grand Lodge of the world we will involve the foreign Grand Lodges, but we won’t lose sight of the fact that it’s a celebration by our members, of our members.
At the April meeting of the Essex First Principals Chapter No.3256, over 200 members and guests went on to see a demonstation of the 'Ceremony of the Veils' given by the Essex Provincial Stewards Chapter No 8665. The chapter was particularly honoured by the presence of many distinguished Royal Arch masons which included: ME Comp George Pipon Francis, 2nd Grand Principal, ME Comp David Kenneth Williamson, 3rd Grand Principal and our own ME Comp John Michael Webb, Grand Superintendant.
This Ceremony had been authorised by the Committee of General Purposes of Supreme Grand Chapter solely for demonstrations at a Provincial or District level held under the authority of the respective Grand Superintendent.
The basis of the current Royal Arch ceremonies worked in England was established and agreed by Supreme Grand Chapter in 1834. There is some evidence that before the 1834 changes the ceremony of Passing the Veils was practised as a preliminary to the Exaltation ceremony. This was particularly true in Lodges under the former Antients Grand Lodge which worked the Royal Arch within the Lodge, but there is little evidence of it being worked in Chapters under the original Excellent Grand and Royal Chapter.
Today in England the ceremony is solely authorised for use in Chapters in Bristol but it is still very much part of the Royal Arch system in Ireland, the United States of America and in Scotland - where it is known as the Excellent Master Degree. For those wishing to see the Bristol ceremony, the Province and its Chapters are always delighted to receive visitors.
This demonstration is not the ceremony as practised in Bristol, Ireland, Scotland or the USA but necessarily includes material which appears in the ceremonies worked in those countries. It has been compiled from manuscripts in the Library and Museum of Freemasonry and published sources such as Carlile and Claret.
Following the demonstation the 1st Principal, E. Comp Edward A Hilburn, PGStB, presented a cheque on behalf of the Chapter to E Comp Keith Huddlestone, PGStB, PAPrGP, the Essex Provincial Stewards Chapter 'Demonstation Team' represntative, who announced that the very generous donation of £500 would be going to the The Royal Arch Masons 2013 Bicentenary Appeal for 'The Royal College of Surgeons of England'.
Wednesday 9 November 2011
Report of the Committee of General Purposes
Minutes of the Regular Convocation of 28 April 2011 were confirmed
Committee of General Purposes
Meetings in 2012: The dates upon which the Committee of General Purposes will meet
in 2012 are 27 March, 25 September and 4 December.
Petitions for new Chapters
The Committee had received the following petitions for new Chapters:
For a new Chapter to be attached to Quantock Lodge, No. 4446, to be called Quantock Chapter, No. 4446, and to meet at the Masonic Hall, Watchet (Somerset) and for a new Chapter to be attached to Daylight Lodge of Hutton, No. 9806, to be called Daylight Chapter of Hutton, No. 9806, and to meet at the Masonic Hall, Hutton (Essex).
The petitions were granted.
Charter of Confirmation
The Committee had received a petition for a Charter of Confirmation, the original having been mislaid, from Winton Chapter, No. 3048 (London). The petition was granted.
The Committee had received applications from the following Chapters, seeking for Charters authorising the members to wear the Centenary Jewel: Burslem Chapter, No. 98 (Staffordshire) from 7 June 2012; Vesey Chapter, No. 794 (Warwickshire) 13 June 2012; Evening Star Chapter, No. 1719 (London) 30 April 2012; Exmoor Chapter, No. 2390 (Somerset) 13 June 2012; Italia Chapter, No. 2687 (London) 9 January 2012; Aldersbrook Chapter, No. 2841 (London) 9 July 2012 and Benoni Chapter, No. 3157 (South Africa, North) 9 November 2011.
The Committee recommendation that the Charters be granted was approved.
The Committee had received applications from the following Chapters for Charters authorising the members to wear the Bi-Centenary Bar on the ribbon of the Centenary Jewel:
School of Plato Chapter, No. 150 (Madras), from 10 December 2011 and Chapter of St John, No. 327 7 September 2008 (Cumberland and Westmorland) (retrospective).
The Committee recommendation that the Charters be granted was approved
The Committee had received reports on 15 Chapters: St John’s Chapter, No. 673 (West Lancashire), Chapter of Otago, No. 942 (South Island, New Zealand), Mayo Chapter, No. 1413 (Middlesex), Army and Navy Chapter, No. 2738 (London), Taplow Chapter, No. 3111 (Buckinghamshire), Billingsgate Chapter, No. 3443 (London), Sentinel Chapter, No. 4059 (Cheshire), Woodside Chapter, No. 4062 (Cheshire),
Littleton Park Chapter, No. 5305 (Middlesex), Merseyside Chapter, No. 5751 (Cheshire),
Pinner Hill Chapter, No. 6578 (Middlesex), Square Conduct Chapter, No. 6816 (London),
St Peter’s Chapter, No. 7334 (Warwickshire), Jubilee Chapter, No. 8803 (East Lancashire) and Fideles Amici Chapter, No. 8848 (London).
Over recent years, the Chapters had found themselves no longer viable and had surrendered their Charters. The Committee recommendation that the Chapters be erased from
the register of Grand Chapter and the Charters cancelled was approved.
Supreme Grand Chapter
Wednesday 10 November 2010
The Minutes of the Regular Convocation of 29 April 2010 were confirmed.
Meetings in 2011: The dates when the Committee of General Purposes will meet in 2011 are 22 March, 27 September and 6 December.
PETITIONS FOR NEW CHAPTERS
The Committee had received the following petitions for new chapters: For a new chapter to be attached to Royal Albert Edward Lodge, No. 906, to be called Calderley Chapter of Union, No. 906, Burnham-on- Sea (Somerset); and for a new chapter to be attached to St Anthony Lodge, No. 4684, to be called St Anthony Chapter, No. 4684, Montserrat (Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean). The petitions were granted.
CHARTERS OF CONFIRMATION
The Committee had received petitions for Charters of Confirmation from the following chapters, the original Charters having been stolen and destroyed by fire respectively: Stephens Chapter, No. 3089 (Buckinghamshire) and Elopura Chapter, No. 7545 (Eastern Archipelago). The petitions were granted.
Members of the following chapters have been authorised to wear the Centenary Jewel:
Venables Chapter, No. 611, Shropshire, from 8 July 2011; Goderich Chapter, No. 1211, Yorkshire, West Riding, 6 January 2011; Ferrum Chapter, No. 1848, Yorkshire, North and East Ridings, 22 February 2011; London Irish Rifles’ Chapter, No. 2312, London, 20 January 2011; Barry Chapter, No. 2357, South Wales, 23 May 2011; Kinta Chapter, No. 3212, Eastern Archipelago, 21 March 2011 and Corona Chapter, No. 7446, London, 20 May 2011.
The Committee had received a Memorial from Star of Hackney Chapter, No. 7272 (London) that it be detached from Star of Hackney Lodge and attached to Somersetshire Lodge, No. 2925 (London) and be known as Somersetshire Chapter, No. 2925. The Memorial was granted.
The Committee had received reports that the following chapters had resolved to surrender their Charters: Bold Chapter, No. 7583, in order to amalgamate with St Paul’s Chapter, No. 5459 (West Lancashire) and Pele Tower Chapter, No. 4435, in order to amalgamate with Perseverance Chapter, No. 1643 (Durham). A recommendation that the chapters be removed from the register in order to effect the respective amalgamations was approved.
The Committee had received reports on ten chapters: Creaton Chapter, No. 1791 (London), Cyclist Chapter, No. 2246 (Surrey), United Temperance Chapter, No. 3107 (Cheshire), West Lewisham Chapter, No. 4298 (West Kent), East Croydon Chapter, No. 4667 (Surrey), Trinity Chapter, No. 5179 (London), Walton Priory Chapter, No. 5992 (West Lancashire), Finchley and Hendon Chapter, No. 6089 (Middlesex), Fleur de Lys Chapter, No. 6479 (London) and Forest View Chapter, No. 6588 (Essex). These chapters had surrendered their Charters and a recommendation that they be erased from the register of Grand Chapter was approved.
ROYAL COLLEGE OF SURGEONS
After Grand Chapter was closed there was a presentation by the Royal College of Surgeons of England on the work of its research fellows.
GRAND CHAPTER CONVOCATIONS
Future Convocations will be held on 28 April 2011, 9 November 2011 and 26 April 2012.