Myths and legends

Director of Special Projects John Hamill puts paid to some intriguing rumours that began circulating about Freemasonry after World War II

Over the past thirty years a great deal has been done by Grand Lodge, Provinces and Districts to dispel some of the myths that grew up about Freemasonry after World War II, when our organisation lost the habit of communicating with the non-masonic world. It is necessary work as there is little doubt that the repetition of those myths in the media and other areas has deterred candidates from joining the Craft. But members themselves have also been guilty of propounding stories that have little, if any, basis in reality, two examples being public access to membership registers and the role of the black tie.

In the 1980s and 1990s, when politicians and public bodies were beginning to demand public registers of Freemasons, many brethren asked: ‘Why do they need them? Grand Lodge already has to send lists of members to the police.’ Not so, but there was a kernel of distorted truth at the centre of this one.

In the 1790s, in the wake of the French Revolution, the government began to pass legislation to control radical political clubs, trade combinations and societies. This culminated in the Unlawful Societies Act of 1799, which made illegal any association or society that required its members to take an oath or obligation. Had it gone through in its original form, Freemasonry would have become illegal.

Fighting fiction

Timely intervention by Lord Moira and the Duke of Atholl, explaining Freemasonry’s apolitical nature and that the only ‘secrets’ were the traditional signs, tokens and words used as a test of membership, led to clauses in the Act exempting Freemasonry, with one major proviso. Once a year, every lodge had to send to its local clerk of the peace a return of all the members of the lodge with their names, ages, addresses and occupations. Those returns were available only to the magistrates. The provision continued in force until 1966, when the Criminal Law Amendment Act removed a huge raft of what was considered obsolete legislation, including the Unlawful Societies Act.

When the Craft tie was introduced as an alternative to a black tie there was an outcry among members. When questioned as to why they thought we wore black ties, the usual response was because the Craft was in mourning, for a multiplicity of personalities – from Hiram Abiff to Queen Victoria. The most prevalent claim, however, was that they were adopted in memory of those who lost their lives during World War I. Not true! The central memorial to those brethren is Freemasons’ Hall itself in London. 

Fortunately, Freemasons have never been averse to being photographed and there is a wealth of evidence to show how they dressed for meetings. From late Victorian times up to the 1930s, lodge dress was white tie and tails. Towards the end of World War I, with cloth becoming scarce, brethren began to wear dinner jackets with black bow ties. It was not until World War II that long black ties began to appear, for two reasons. In the face of clothing rationing, Grand Lodge relaxed the dress code, and in areas that were subject to the attentions of the Luftwaffe, meetings began to take place in daylight so that the brethren could get home before the air raids started.

Normal professional day wear at that time was a short black jacket, white shirt and club or regimental tie. On leaving their workplace to go to lodge, brethren simply changed their tie for a long black tie, instead of the usual bow – and so began the habit of wearing morning dress for masonic meetings. 

We learnt a valuable lesson about communication after the war. Nature abhors a vacuum and in the absence of fact, it appears that a half-heard story could fill that space when it came to Freemasonry.

‘Freemasons have never been averse to being photographed and there is a wealth of evidence to show how they dressed for meetings.’

Published in Features

Masters at work

What connects Freemasonry and martial arts? Caitlin Davies discovers how the masonic values of humility and respect have found a home in the Shotokan Karate Lodge

Sitting round a table in the corner of an Enfield pub, a group of smartly dressed Freemasons are enjoying coffee and a chat. Conversation ranges from the state of the weather to the date of the next lodge meeting. When mention is made of sweeping low blocks and rising punches, it becomes apparent that some of these masons are also black belt karate masters.

Founded more than ten years ago, the Shotokan Karate Lodge, No. 9752, is the only martial arts lodge in the world. Brothers wear a white karate suit and white belt during initiation, with the belt signifying the beginning of two journeys: Freemasonry and Shotokan karate. 

Shotokan, translated as ‘hall of shoto’ (kan meaning ‘hall’ and shoto, ‘pine waves’), was introduced to Japan by Gichin Funakoshi in 1922. Lodge members believe that this martial art and the Craft are a perfect match, as both teach brotherly love, humility and respect for others, as well as tolerance and understanding. 

Some of the men here this afternoon are senior in the lodge, while others are senior in karate. Michael Randall, the lodge’s Worshipful Master, is both. He studied under Dr Vernon Bell, who brought karate to Britain in 1956, and at ninth Dan, he is Europe’s top non-Japanese Shotokan karate sensei, or master.  

Michael first discovered karate when he was a young carpenter apprentice. ‘An older colleague had been in the army and he’d heard about karate abroad. He asked me if I fancied doing it. I thought, wow, that looks really good.’ Michael went to the Japanese embassy to ask about karate clubs, and joined the only one in London. 

A Freemason for thirty years, Michael was to meet others in the karate world who were masons. He realised that members who shared an interest often formed their own lodges, so the idea for Shotokan Karate Lodge was born. ‘Both teach the same moral lessons in life,’ he says. ‘To work hard, to train and to be a better person.’

The path to discovery

Michael picks up a copy of the lodge’s crest. In the middle is the Shotokan tiger, overlaid with the masonic square and compasses. He points to the white belt at the bottom, ‘This equals the start of the journey. It means, you come with nothing. You are innocent, a beginner.’

For Michael, karate has been a way to learn about himself, something that lodge Secretary Anthony Kirby agrees with. Anthony, also a Shotokan master, believes that karate ‘is about self-discovery’. He joined a class held at Winchmore Hill School of Karate when he was fourteen. ‘I would see Michael reading from this little blue book and I thought it was very religious. I didn’t realise then that he was a Freemason learning the ritual.’ 

Anthony was invited to become a mason when he was twenty-nine and joined Michael’s mother lodge, Sackville Lodge, No. 7063. ‘I knew nothing about it, I was one of the biggest cynics, and…’ he smiles, ‘I’d been brought up a Catholic and my parents were very uneasy. But then we found there are plenty of Catholics who are masons and that it’s nothing to do with religion.’ 

When Michael suggested forming the Shotokan lodge, Anthony became one of the founders. It started with around forty-five members, the same number it has today. ‘Some we have lost, some we have gained. We’ve had a lot of applications recently so it’s a very exciting phase,’ explains Anthony, who is proud of his lodge’s global appeal, attracting brothers from Greece, Brazil, Bermuda, Lebanon, Barbados and the US. 

As members are spread across the world, the lodge meets four times a year at Freemasons’ Hall, London. But brothers bump into each other in the world of karate all the time and frequently meet socially too. 

‘Karate changes your perception about life,’ says Michael Dinsdale, Treasurer both of the English Karate Federation and Shotokan Karate Lodge. ‘You become calmer, you react differently to situations in life, it brings you a greater humility and teaches you to understand other people’s issues.’ 

A new stance

Back in 1966, when Michael Dinsdale took up karate, he was eighteen and remembers being more inspired by James Bond than finding an inner balance. He vividly remembers one day, when he was working in a meat market, being on the London Underground: ‘I was sitting there watching the houses go by and I thought, that’s my life and I’m not doing anything with it. Then someone invited me to karate.’

Denis Dixon, a Junior Warden, discovered karate fifteen years ago when he arrived in the UK from Canada and took his two sons to a lesson. ‘I needed them to learn an art that had some discipline to it. They were new to England, had had some physical tussles, and I didn’t want them to be bullied. It gave them confidence to stand up and diffuse situations.’

Until then, Denis’s knowledge of karate came from Bruce Lee movies, but one day his boys’ instructor asked if he’d like to join in. He now runs a karate club in Colchester. Denis became a mason in 2005, after being encouraged by an old school friend and one of the lodge’s original members: ‘The principles are similar –  how you carry yourself with family, with colleagues and the people you train with.’

As for how Freemasonry has changed, Anthony says things have moved on significantly. ‘It’s more relaxed and open now. When I became a mason there was still an element of being approached. 

Just this morning a man who wants to join phoned me and we’re going to meet for coffee.’

Sacha Orzo-Manzonetta is one of the lodge’s newest members. As Anthony notes, ‘It’s the start of his journey,’ although Sacha actually began Shotokan karate when he was six in his native Italy. ‘The principles of Freemasonry and karate are similar – brotherhood, honesty, believing in yourself and others, and giving,’ Sacha says.

And with that, the group gets ready to go to Winchmore Hill. It’s where it all started for Anthony and is one of the oldest karate clubs in the south of England, offering classes for juniors and adults. The members change into white karate suits to begin practising preparatory positions as well as blocking and striking techniques. The physical mastery is impressive but so is the sense of camaraderie and shared values.

‘Karate changes your perception about life. You become calmer, it brings you a greater humility and teaches you to understand other people’s issues.’ Michael Dinsdale

Letters to the editor - No. 25 Spring 2014

Universal brotherhood

Sir,

I read with interest and fascination the recent article in Issue 24, the paper on Shotokan Karate Lodge, No. 9752. The connection and synergy between the martial arts and Freemasonry may not at first appear that obvious, but this paper clearly draws the parallels between the two. In fact, I would argue that the connection between martial arts and Freemasonry translates and has parallels in the philosophy and practice of most martial arts practised today.

Having trained in the Korean martial art of Taekwondo (to Black Belt), it is clear to me that many of the tenets described in this paper – brotherly love, humility, respect for others, tolerance and understanding – are similar to the tenets of Taekwondo, which include courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and having an indomitable spirit. Well done fellow martial artists and brothers.

Robert Ashford (Professor), University of Birmingham Lodge, No. 5628, Edgbaston, Warwickshire

Dr Shamima Rahman is pioneering a new means of diagnosis that is opening up astonishing prospects in understanding a devastating hereditary condition. Andrew Gimson finds out how the Masonic Samaritan Fund became involved

Aged just thirty-nine, Jason Brincle fell ill in March 2010. ‘He’d been perfectly healthy up to that point. He lived with his partner, and apparently had an epileptic fit in the middle of the night. It initially looked like a stroke. His speech and mobility were affected: the usual signs for a stroke,’ recalls his father Geoff. ‘A month after that, some tests gave us the devastating news that he had MELAS syndrome, which is one of the most severe variants of mitochondrial disease. You can imagine how difficult it is when you’re told there is no treatment and no cure.’

The mitochondrion is the part of a cell that converts food into energy. Its failure is like a power cut, with devastating effects for organs that need large supplies of energy, such as the brain, eyes, ears, kidneys, liver, heart and other muscles. The disease is hereditary.

Jason recovered enough to return to work as a manager with a charity in October of that year, but had a second attack in November. ‘The final blow was in early 2011: a particularly bad attack that took his sight. Obviously I was visiting every day,’ says Geoff. ‘He was in Salford Royal Hospital, about ten miles away. His sight came back to a degree, but was replaced by hallucinations and nightmares to the point where he had to be sectioned at one time.’

In April, Jason died. ‘As a parent, you feel guilty: could I have done more? This mitochondrial disease, we’d never heard of it. It’s horrendous. It’s so cruel. It affects about one in six thousand five hundred people. When we knew Jason had MELAS, it was obvious his mother had died from it twelve years before. On her death certificate it said “stroke”. She suffered for eight years – she couldn’t walk, talk, eat or hear.’

A life ebbing away

Like most people with first-hand experience of the disease, Geoff is a strong supporter of research: ‘When nature goes wrong, science has to correct it.’

Rachel Kean, who is twenty-four, has been diagnosed with MELAS, but has few symptoms. She inherited the disease from her mother, who has no symptoms. But her mother’s sister suffered and died from the condition, with ‘truly brutal’ effects including heart and kidney failure, severe hearing impairment and ‘very many miscarriages’.  She too is an ardent supporter of research and says that UK charity the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign ‘are incredibly supportive of patients – truly wonderful’. 

Val Wintle, who is fifty-three, began noticing the symptoms of mitochondrial disease when she was thirty-two and was diagnosed at the age of thirty-six. It affects her mobility and her eyesight, and she feels constantly tired: ‘I would say I haven’t got a life. I can’t travel – I’d get too tired. I don’t really feel that I’m part of this world. I had plans and hopes and aspirations. My husband took early retirement to look after me. I wouldn’t be able to cope on my own. I’ve just seen my life ebb away from me, if you see what I mean. Slowly it gets worse and worse and worse.’

John McCrohan is Grants Director of the Masonic Samaritan Fund (MSF), which has given £30,000 to the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign to help fund research by Dr Shamima Rahman of University College London (UCL). For the past twenty-two years, the MSF has helped individuals with the cost of their medical treatment, but three years ago it decided to also support research into the conditions from which they suffer. 

‘We have seen families struggling with the effects of muscular dystrophy and related neuromuscular conditions [such as mitochondrial disease], so we wanted to see if there was any good research out there. When Dr Rahman’s application came through, the research committee was very keen. Dr Rahman is herself a very talented researcher and is supported by a network at University College Hospital,’ says McCrohan.

‘We have seen families struggling with... muscular dystrophy and related neuromuscular conditions [such as mitochondrial disease], so we wanted to see if there was any good research out there.’ John McCrohan

‘Next generation’ technology

Dr Rahman is grateful for the support and hopes it will be possible to form a long-term relationship with the MSF. ‘This is an orphan group of disorders,’ she says. ‘It’s very difficult to get funding for rare diseases. These are devastating diseases, almost invariably life-threatening, very difficult to diagnose, and very, very difficult to treat.’

About one in five thousand babies is affected by mitochondrial disease. But the condition presents itself in many different ways, and has most often gone undiagnosed. ‘Next generation’ gene sequencing technology is changing that. It can identify the many different nuclear gene defects that underlie mitochondrial disease in childhood. But it is a very complex technology, requiring advanced computing, so Dr Rahman and her team have outsourced the actual sequence alignment to computer experts at UCL with whom they have a very close relationship. 

In Dr Rahman’s experience, a different gene is responsible for mitochondrial disease in each family that she sees. It is likely that more than a thousand different genes cause the disease, so finding the exact causative gene in any family is akin to searching for a needle in a haystack. The ‘next generation’ sequencing, which sequences all twenty thousand genes simultaneously in an individual, typically shows an average of twenty thousand changes in each person, and the real challenge is to determine which two of these changes are causing the disease in that person.

Having once been able to diagnose five per cent of cases of mitochondrial disease in babies and young children, Dr Rahman and her team can now detect fifty per cent. Because generating energy is so important, at least seven per cent of genetic function is devoted to supporting our mitochondrial function. She does not expect to be able to trace the myriad forms of mitochondrial disease back to only a few underlying causes, predicting that eventually more than a thousand genes will be linked to mitochondrial disease. 

Timing is everything

After reading medicine at Oxford, Dr Rahman soon discovered the subject that has dominated her work: ‘My interest in mitochondrial disorders was kindled just over twenty years ago when I first joined the metabolic team at Great Ormond Street Hospital. The challenges both then and now are to provide accurate and prompt diagnoses, and to develop effective treatments.’

The past few years have witnessed great advances in genetic diagnosis for mitochondrial diseases, with the discovery of more than one hundred disease genes. ‘But it is likely that several hundred more genes will be linked to mitochondrial disease in the future,’ says Dr Rahman. ‘Our long-term goal is to translate this genetic knowledge into curative treatments for children with these challenging diseases.’

In one astonishing recent case, the detection by Dr Rahman and her colleagues of the rare mitochondrial disorder from which a fifteen-year-old girl was suffering enabled the patient to be treated with the B vitamins biotin and thiamine, with an immediate and dramatic improvement in symptoms. This early treatment was essential to avert permanent brain damage or death. 

 ‘The challenges [of mitochondrial disorders] are to provide accurate and prompt diagnoses, and to develop effective treatments.’ Dr Shamima Rahman

The patient is currently doing well at school.

The more one learns about mitochondrial disease, the more worthwhile Dr Rahman’s research appears, and the more deserving of long-term support.

About the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign

The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign has pioneered the search for treatments and cures for fifty years, and is dedicated to improving the lives of children and adults affected by muscle-wasting conditions. Statutory income accounts for just five per cent of the charity’s funds, so its work relies on voluntary donations from individuals, groups and grant-making bodies. To find out more, visit www.muscular-dystrophy.org 

Published in Masonic Samaritan Fund

Lodge generosity launches lifeboat: An inshore lifeboat is now patrolling off Littlehampton in West Sussex, made possible by the fundraising activities of Mandalay Lodge, No. 9383, which meets in Bromley in West Kent

In just 18 months, the lodge raised £9,500 for the Arancia boat and trailer. Called Mandalay in honour of the lodge, the boat was officially named by Rene Jeffs in memory of her late husband, Eric, who was a member of the lodge.

The fundraising was led by Jeff Baylie, who commented: ‘This has been a wonderful effort. The outboard boat, which has a brass plaque proudly bearing our name, can have a two- or three-man crew.’ Lifeboat manager Rory Smith said: ‘The inshore rescue boat is the workhorse of the lifeguard fleet. Thanks to your generous donations, the boat will help the RNLI continue in its mission to save lives at sea.’ 

Aircraft control

As he approaches retirement from the position of Assistant Grand Master, David Williamson reflects on a career as an airline pilot, becoming President of the Universities Scheme and why Freemasonry is not about a ‘blinding light’

When did you become interested in flying?

I’ve had a fascination with aeroplanes since I was a boy. I won a flying scholarship when I was seventeen and my first passenger was my wife –my girlfriend at the time. It was one of my biggest disappointments; there I was thinking she’d be impressed, but she hated every minute of it! 

I joined British Overseas Airways Corporation in 1968, and eventually became assistant flight training manager on the 737 at Heathrow. Later, I worked as assistant flight training manager on the 747-400 fleet until I retired in 1998.

How did you come to Freemasonry?

It was the early 1970s and I was approaching thirty. I knew that my father was a Freemason, but I had little idea what it was about. After my mother died I would go and spend time with him and it was then that he spoke to me about Freemasonry. He was Junior Warden and his lodge wanted him to become Master the next year. He asked me what I thought, so I asked him what was involved and whether he thought it was something that would interest me. He said it might. 

What attracted you to join?

I did a lot of reading. There was no internet then but I found out that notable people such as Mozart had been Freemasons. It struck me that there was something special about Freemasonry. On the night I was going to be initiated I was excited because I felt there was going to be some kind of revelation. And it wasn’t like that at all. The night was amazing, the atmosphere incredible and I can’t remember if the ritual was good or bad. I read the Book of Constitutions I had been given later that night. In retrospect, I was a little disappointed, but it taught me a valuable lesson: Freemasonry is a journey – not a blinding light but a series of learning events. 

How did you become Assistant Grand Master?

I became the Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies, both in the Craft and the Royal Arch in Middlesex, before becoming Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies in 1998. In March 2001, Lord Northampton took over from Lord Farnham as Pro Grand Master. The chatter within Grand Lodge was about who the next Assistant Grand Master was going to be. I certainly didn’t think it would be me as I had been appointed to take over as Pro Provincial Grand Master of Middlesex, so it came as a bolt out of the blue. But I took on the role in March 2001. 

‘Freemasonry has an appeal for young people... It has a set of values, it has structure and it combines many aspects of life that you don’t always get elsewhere.’

What was your first duty?

London Freemasonry was not like it is now – it didn’t have a Metropolitan Grand Master and the Assistant Grand Master would carry out most of the ceremonial functions. But around the same time as I was appointed, there was a push for London to be self-governing, as it is now. Lord Northampton asked me to chair the committee to make this happen. It was a very exciting time.  

What kicked off the Universities Scheme?

Around nine years ago I visited Apollo University Lodge in Oxford. I had been extremely impressed; the members were very young and the ritual was excellent. I spoke about it to Lord Northampton, saying it was fantastic and that we should have lodges like this all around the country. He said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’ From that was born the Universities Scheme. I formed a committee with Oliver Lodge, now the Grand Director of Ceremonies, as Chairman and we used Apollo University Lodge and Isaac Newton University Lodge, Cambridge, as a pattern. We now have fifty-nine lodges. 

What do you feel appeals to young people?

Freemasonry has an appeal for young people, which we’ve perhaps overlooked. It has a set of values, it has structure and it combines many aspects of life that you don’t always get elsewhere. The motivation for me is that these are bright people who are going to make their way in society with a knowledge of Freemasonry. Even if they were to leave, hopefully they will have a positive view of Freemasonry that they can take out into the world, although of course we hope they will stay. While the goal of the scheme is to ‘attract undergraduates and other university members to join and enjoy Freemasonry’, we also want to keep them; retention is our biggest challenge.

What about recruiting masons from elsewhere?

The principles of recruitment and retention in the scheme don’t just apply to universities. It’s about approaching membership in a different way. You’ve got to think about how things are different now from fifty years ago. The scheme is a good way of saying 

‘if it works here, why can’t it work there?’ It certainly does not address the membership issue but it points to how things could be done elsewhere. 

Is Freemasonry changing?

Rulers used to come from the nobility, with Provincial Grand Masters often local landowners, whom you might see once or twice a year. That has all changed. I am the first Assistant Grand Master for several years without a title and Peter Lowndes is the first ever Pro Grand Master not to have one. We have learned to communicate at a different level. You can stand on a stage or you can stand on the floor and we appreciate that we need to put ourselves about. We’ve got to sell our message at a personal level and lead by example. That’s a big change.

‘We have learned to communicate at a different level... We’ve got to sell our message at a personal level and lead by example.’

Published in UGLE
Friday, 06 December 2013 00:00

Higher learners

The first degrees

Through the Universities Scheme, Freemasonry is reaching a young, community-minded generation. Sophie Radice finds out what attracted five university recruits to Leicester’s Wyggeston Lodge

University is a place that encourages self-expression and personal discovery. Surely not a time when you would consider joining Freemasonry, with all its traditions and structures? Dr Andy Green of Wyggeston Lodge, No. 3448, disagrees: ‘Freemasonry is a sociable and supportive fraternity. This works very well with those just starting out on their adult lives and looking to meet a range of people with a solid moral code – it’s also a lot of fun.’

The first university lodge, Apollo University Lodge, No. 357, was founded at Oxford almost two hundred years ago, with Isaac Newton University Lodge, No. 859, following some years later at Cambridge. Since then, many thousands of young men have been introduced to Freemasonry through these two lodges, and they provided the inspiration for the Universities Scheme. Set up in 2005, the scheme establishes opportunities for undergraduates and other university members to learn about Freemasonry and to bring fresh minds and ideas into the organisation. There are now more than fifty lodges pursuing a similar course. Their membership consists of undergraduates, postgraduates, senior members of the university and alumni, ranging in age from eighteen upwards.

Wyggeston Lodge in Leicester joined the Universities Scheme in 2011 to try to revive membership numbers – in the 1950s the lodge had one hundred and twenty members and in 2010 it had dwindled to thirty-two. In the past few years, however, the lodge has initiated twelve students. Last summer, four students from the University of Leicester were part of a special meeting of the lodge, when it carried out its first ever quadruple initiation ceremony. This saw Valentin-George Tartacuta, Yusif Nelson, Peter Clarke and Peter Shandley joining the Craft.

‘It’s very exciting to see the lodge filling up with the younger generation, all of whom seem to have great ideas about the future of the lodge and what might make Freemasonry more attractive to their age group,’ says Andy, Universities Scheme Subcommitee Chairman at Wyggeston. ‘We have already made good use of social networking sites – we have a strong Facebook and Twitter presence, as well as a website with film clips of our new members talking about why they joined, and a blog. I realised that it was essential to be able to contact and attract young members through these forums. It has made the lodge communications more dynamic, because we have all had to up our game in a way.’

Provincial Assistant Grand Master Peter Kinder, who is also the Provincial Universities Scheme Liaison Officer, says: ‘We are very lucky in this area with potential next-generation Freemasons because we have three very good universities – Loughborough (with the Lodge of Science & Art), De Montfort (with Castle of Leicester Lodge) and Leicester itself. When we first went to the University of Leicester freshers’ fair three years ago, we were really surprised at the interest. So many people wanted to talk to us and asked us to explain what we were doing there. We spoke about the history of Freemasonry and if they seemed interested, we suggested that they came and had a tour of the lodge.’

Peter recalls how, at the end of the freshers’ day, the floor was filled with flyers. ‘But you couldn’t see any of the Freemasonry ones chucked away. I suppose we were a little bit more unusual than the pizza and taxi firms. We gave out seven hundred leaflets that first year and one thousand this year. We seem to be going from strength to strength.’

Learning the ropes

Peter Clarke is in his third year studying history and knew very little about the Freemasons when he came across the stand at the freshers’ fair. ‘It took me a year to think about it and by the time my second freshers’ came up, I had done a bit of research and found out about the history of the Freemasons. I thought it would be something a bit different to join and take me out of my normal social circles. I like the feeling of being part of something bigger and, as a history student, I was fascinated by tracing back the roots of Freemasonry.’

‘It’s very exciting to see the lodge filling up with the younger generation, all of whom seem to have great ideas about the future of the lodge.’ Dr Andy Green Business and finance student Jeff Zhu also came across Freemasonry for the first time at a freshers’ fair. ‘It was my second year at university; I had just split up with my girlfriend and was feeling a bit down, so I went to the freshers’ day. I come from China and I have to say that I liked the historical look of the Freemasons’ stall, but I had never heard of them before.

Many Chinese students just stick together but I really wanted the chance to branch out. I also like the values of integrity, kindness, honesty and fairness. It fits in with the way I want to live my life.’ Peter Shandley, who reads law and has just finished a year studying in Germany, was taken aback when he made his first visit to Wyggeston Lodge, which holds its meeting in Leicester’s Freemasons’ Hall – a Georgian building with stunning interiors. ‘From the outside it doesn’t look like much, but when I came inside and saw the main hall I was really interested in the heritage. ­e hall was built in 1910, when this area was really booming from the textile trade, and is one of the most impressive in the country. I feel really privileged to have been initiated into this lodge because it is such a distinguished one. I have so enjoyed my experience here that I have brought someone else into the lodge. He was initiated in December.’

‘I like the feeling of being part of something bigger and, as a history student, I was fascinated by tracing back the roots of Freemasonry.’ Peter Clarke

While initially surprised by the decision to join, friends of university lodge members have been receptive to hearing about the general ethos of Freemasonry. Andrew Slater, who is in his third year reading medical biochemistry, says that he was attracted by the international aspect of Freemasonry and the fact that ‘pretty much anywhere you end up in the world you could find a Freemasons’ lodge and be welcomed there’. He also goes to other lodges in the UK and enjoys being part of the events that they hold. ‘It’s a good feeling to know you have people who will welcome you everywhere.’

Recruitment

For Andrew, joining a brotherhood that brings him together with new people is important. ‘Andy Green is so great at promoting the values of decency, charity and brotherhood that it is hard not to be enthused by him. ­there is also the feeling that as well as having a great deal to teach us, the Freemasons here are very receptive to what we have to say about the way forward to keep membership alive. I have also become friends with students from different departments that I would never have met if I hadn’t become a Freemason.’

Alex Pohl is twenty-two and has enjoyed acting in the ceremonies. ‘I’m often nervous and things never go exactly to plan but it really helps with a sense of belonging and fraternity.

I am really committed to the Freemasons – it is a lifetime thing – and I joined because I knew about the huge amount Freemasons do for charity. I also really like the modesty behind the charitable giving. It’s not something that the Freemasons make a big deal of but so much of what we are about is the desire to help others as much as we can. I really respect that, and I am excited about being a part of a new generation of Freemasons.’

‘As well as having a great deal to teach us, the Freemasons here are very receptive to what we have to say about the way forward to keep membership alive.’ Andrew Slater

Published in Universities Scheme

Devon show a success: The Kingsbridge Show in Devon was a focal point for the provincial recruitment display sponsored by Lord Roborough Lodge, No. 5789, and Duncombe Lodge, No. 1486

It was at this show last year that John Pritchard first met Larry Lewis, a former US marine who had moved to the area with his family. Larry was initiated into Duncombe Lodge this year and helped to man the stand. There was a warm welcome from show chairman John Woodley and show president Pat Brooks, who thanked Devon masons for all they do for local charities and for attending the event again. 

Help for bereaved children: Winston’s Wish, a leading childhood bereavement charity, has received a grant of £25,000 from The Freemasons’ Grand Charity

The grant will assist the national suicide programme, which provides specialist support for children and families affected by a suicide, through one-to-one counselling, support groups, telephone and email contacts, and residential weekends.

Catherine Ind, Winston’s Wish acting chief executive, said: ‘This generous grant will help us reach children who desperately need our support this year.’

Published in The Grand Charity

Regency celebrations honour Ruspini: The Royal Masonic School for Girls held a Regency day in honour of Chevalier Ruspini, the founder of the school and the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB)

The organisations date back to 1788, when Ruspini established a small orphanage school in London, supporting just 15 girls. Today, his legacy continues with a flourishing independent school and a national masonic charity, which last year supported more than 12,000 children and young people.

The 225th anniversary celebrations saw staff and pupils dress up in Regency-style clothing, enjoy an 18th-century lunch menu and take part in period activities. RMTGB staff joined in the festivities.

To find out more about the work of the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys visit their website

Published in RMTGB

Middlesex support for food bank: There has been a growth in food banks being set up around the country to aid those in most need during the economic downturn

Conscious of this trend, members of Spelthorne Lodge, No. 4516, and Staines Lodge, No. 2536, in Middlesex met representatives of Manna – the local food bank – and presented them with a cheque for £1,000. Manna thanked both lodges for their generosity and explained how they provided food parcels to those in need living in the borough of Spelthorne.  

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