Celebrating 300 years

The happy means

We hear a great deal about diversity and inclusivity these days but, as Director of Special Projects John Hamill explains, they are in the foundations of Freemasonry

 There are many theories about the origins of Freemasonry. The one that I favour suggests that it was formed and developed by a group of men who, knowing what divided people, were looking for a means of bringing men of diverse backgrounds together. They wanted to discover what they had in common and find out how to build on that commonality for the good of the community.

The period in which Freemasonry was developing – the late 1500s and 1600s – was one of great religious and political turmoil. Those differences split families, eventually leading to civil war; the execution of the king; a republic under Cromwell; the restoration of the monarchy; and the beginnings of our present system of constitutional monarchy. 

Religion continued to impact people’s lives long after the turmoil. Under the Test Acts, those who were not members of the established church could not take public office or public employment, or enter the universities or Parliament. Roman Catholics and Jews could not even move more than 10 miles from home without a licence from the magistrate.

Once Grand Lodge was formed in 1717 and began keeping central records, evidence emerges of the diverse nature of lodge membership. In 1723, 1725 and 1728, Grand Lodge asked its lodges to submit returns of members, which were copied into the Grand Lodge’s first Minute Book. When the Premier and Antients Grand Lodges began to keep central registers, the horizon expands still further.

In recent years, work has been done relating such membership lists to the poll and rate books, as well as the Huguenot and Jewish archives. It has shown that the London lodges were diverse and inclusive, with significant representation from the Huguenot, Jewish and non-conformist populations in London.  

Having worked at times on a daily basis with the 18th- and 19th-century membership registers during my 28 years at the Library and Museum, I can state unequivocally that the membership of English Freemasonry has always been a microcosm of the society in which it exists. There is a myth that Premier Grand Lodge was mainly an aristocratic and upper-class organisation; while its Grand Masters were noblemen or Royal Princes, its registers show that lodge members were a cross section of the community in which the lodge met.

Nor was race a bar. In 1784 a group led by Prince Hall and describing themselves as ‘free blacks’ from Boston, Massachusetts, applied to Premier Grand Lodge for a warrant, which was granted under the name of African Lodge, No. 459. 

Although the Slave Trade Act of 1807 had abolished the trade in slaves, it was not until the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 that owning a slave was made illegal in the colonies. In 1840 the English lodges in Barbados petitioned Grand Lodge for a change in its Book of Constitutions. The rules required each candidate to declare that he was ‘free born’. The lodges in Barbados stated that they had a number of educated blacks who would be good Freemasons but had not been born free. Without argument, Grand Lodge simply removed the word ‘born’ from the declaration to enable them to join.

When lodges began to proliferate in India in the 19th century, as well as in Africa and Asia in the early 20th century, they were not expatriate lodges. Rather, they welcomed the local populations and, particularly in India, were the one place that Europeans, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Parsees could meet together and build bridges between their communities.

By being diverse and inclusive, Freemasonry indeed became, in Dr James Anderson’s memorable phrase of 1723, ‘the happy means of conciliating friendship amongst those who must otherwise have stood at a perpetual distance’.

‘There is a myth that Premier Grand Lodge was an upper-class organisation; while its Grand Masters were noblemen, lodge members were a cross section of the community in which they met.’

Published in Features

The silver shortlist

To mark the 25th anniversary of the Masonic Samaritan Fund (MSF), the trustees are making available £1 million in support of medical and care research projects

 The MSF is planning to award grants of up to £100,000 in 10 regions across England and Wales. Its Silver Jubilee Research Fund originally received 62 grant applications, seeking nearly £9 million in support. However, with only £1 million available through the fund, the charity will need to make some difficult decisions.

Since 2011, the MSF has supported research projects that aim to improve the prevention, detection, diagnosis, treatment and care available for illnesses and disabilities that affect masonic families and the wider community. Nearly £2 million has been awarded to large and small research organisations such as Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Carers UK and the A-T Society

Several research projects funded by the MSF have achieved significant success in their field. A £181,000 grant awarded to Alzheimer’s Research UK has helped to develop a new blood test that, it is hoped, will predict whether someone with early memory problems will develop Alzheimer’s within a year. Two grants totalling £75,000 awarded to RAFT (the Restoration of Appearance and Function Trust) have helped to develop a working prototype of a bionic arm fit for human trials, in a bid to compensate for the loss of a limb. A grant of £34,000, presented to Prostate Cancer UK, has helped Dr Hayley Whitaker and her team to identify that the presence of a specific protein can distinguish prostate cancers that are aggressive from those that may never seriously harm the patient. 

For further details about the Silver Jubilee Research Fund and the research studies shortlisted for a grant in your Province, please visit www.msfund.org.uk/research

Consulting for consolidation

The 2015 MSF members’ meeting was hosted at Freemasons’ Hall in March and marked the start of the formal process of consultation with the charity’s members regarding the proposal to consolidate the four central masonic charities. 

The proposed consolidation seeks to ensure that the full range of support currently provided by the central masonic charities will continue to be available to all eligible applicants and will be delivered in the most cost-effective manner.

Throughout the transition process and beyond, health and care grants will be accessible for eligible beneficiaries seeking treatment, care and support without undue delay or expense. 

Full details of the information provided by the MSF president and CEO are available at www.msfund.org.uk/news.php  

The consultation will conclude at the next members’ meeting on 29 October 2015. For further information on the consolidation of the charities, see www.masoniccharities.org.uk/review 

Published in Masonic Samaritan Fund

Apprenticeship recognition

An RMBI care home in Ecclesholme has received an award for its ongoing work to support students in the local community

Each year for the past five years, the RMBI’s Ecclesholme care home in Manchester has enrolled two students from Salford City College onto its 12-month apprenticeship scheme. During this time the students, who are also completing their National Vocational Qualifications in care, work alongside RMBI staff to gain experience in the sector. They are encouraged to take part in the in-house training, which is mandatory for all RMBI staff, and tutors from the college visit the home to carry out assessments. 

The care home was selected for an award by Salford City College in recognition of its continued support and commitment to the apprenticeship programme. Speaking about the scheme, Beverley Niland, Ecclesholme Home Manager, said: ‘We are delighted to have been selected as the winner of this award. We have found the programme very successful and in most cases the students take up permanent employment with us after completion of their course.’

Staff from Ecclesholme received the award at the Apprenticeship Awards Evening hosted by Mark Jenkins of Channel 4’s The Hotel.

In addition to the scheme with Salford City College, the care home also works closely with two local schools to provide work experience for a couple of students on a weekly basis. The students support the home’s activities coordinator, helping to plan and implement engaging and stimulating activities for residents.

Published in RMBI
Friday, 05 June 2015 01:00

Almoner support for seniors

Reach out

With 2.9 million older people feeling they have no one to turn to for help and support, Aileen Scoular meets Dame Esther Rantzen DBE and Provincial Grand Almoner Ernie Greenhalgh to find out how Freemasons are making a difference in West Lancashire

 No one wants to feel alone. But for the 11 million people in the UK aged 65 and over, loneliness and isolation are all too familiar. A survey by Age UK has revealed that one in four older people feel that they have no one to go to for help and support. 

Contact the Elderly, another UK charity that aims to lessen the effects of isolation, echoes these views: other than visits from a carer, around 70 per cent of the elderly people who use its service receive visits just once a week or less.

Yet loneliness and isolation can be avoided. 

A chat on the phone, a cup of tea or a shared joke with a neighbour takes just minutes, but the positive effects of human interaction last long after the conversation ends. The reassuring news is that there are organisations out there making that happen, one of which is the Freemasons.

In West Lancashire, Provincial Grand Almoner Ernie Greenhalgh has spent his first two years in the job making positive changes that will allow his lodge almoners and care officers to spend more time on active care and less time on paperwork. And Ernie has found an equally compassionate ally in Dame Esther Rantzen DBE – founder of ChildLine in 1986 and, more recently, The Silver Line, a telephone helpline for older people. 

Invited by the Province of West Lancashire, Dame Esther visited Ecclesholme, a Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (RMBI) care home in Manchester, at the end of last year to gain a better understanding of the needs of elderly RMBI residents. Both she and Ernie believe that effective pastoral care can transform people’s lives.

‘A core value among Freemasons has always been to help those less fortunate than yourself. We try to instil that in every single member,’ says Ernie. ‘The role of the almoner is a vital part of lodge life – not just to manage financial needs, but to deal with loneliness and isolation as well.’

Facing reality

Isolation is a topic that also comes up in conversation with Dame Esther, and The Silver Line, which launched at the end of 2013, includes a befriending service to help combat loneliness.  

‘The idea came to me when I was standing at a conference about the elderly, discussing an article I’d written about living alone for the first time, aged 71,’ she explains. ‘I got the most extraordinary flashback to the same situation 30 years before, when I had been talking about another problem with a stigma attached – namely, child abuse. Because no one wants to admit to loneliness, do they? Many older people are very proud and they don’t want to be a burden.’

Just 18 months on, The Silver Line is taking up to 1,000 calls a day. The befriending service has a waiting list of 1,000 people, and the charity is training its volunteers (known as Silver Line Friends) at a rate of 100 a week. There’s no doubt in Dame Esther’s mind that her helpline is fulfilling an intrinsic need for many elderly people.

‘Most of our callers tell us they have no one else they can talk to,’ she says sadly. ‘One Christmas, I spoke to a caller and he said it was the first time in years that he had talked to someone on Christmas Day. Many elderly people can go for a couple of weeks without having a proper conversation. It can happen to anyone – there are a lot of intelligent, interesting people who find themselves isolated.’

Isolating the problem

Loneliness is normally caused by loss of some kind – a partner, a job, or someone’s sight, hearing or mobility, for example. Becoming a carer to a loved one can also bring on intense feelings of isolation. It’s a familiar topic for Ernie’s care team in the Province of West Lancashire, where the widows of the brethren are key beneficiaries, particularly in times of sickness and financial hardship. The support is there when it’s needed, and Ernie has a loyal group of almoners with a compassionate ear.

Almoner Danny Parks, 76, and Regional Care Officer George Seddon, 73, have experienced personal loss themselves and can empathise with the feelings of despair that follow. ‘An almoner needs to be caring, considerate, diplomatic and sympathetic – all of that comes into it,’ says Danny. ‘I get a lot of satisfaction out of helping people. I lost my wife and there’s nothing worse than the loneliness. It’s a dreadful thing and some people can cope with it, and some can’t.’ 

Danny has great faith in face-to-face contact and he diligently visits the 15 widows in his care on a fortnightly basis. ‘You have to get out of the house and meet people – that’s when you find out what help they really need,’ he explains. ‘Their problems might only be small, but they’re still problems.’

George agrees: ‘There are many people in need but they’re too proud to ask. My mum was 99 when she died so I’ve been able to draw on my own experience. You need to be understanding and able to find solutions where you can. It’s all about gaining people’s confidence and developing trust.’

Almoner Alan Whitehouse, 70, believes talking is crucial: ‘Some of the people we visit have seen no one for weeks. They have probably outlived their friends and peers, which is very sad.’ Alan uses his homemade jams and chutneys as a ‘door-opener’ and makes sure he’s always available on the other end of the phone. All three men praise the changes that Ernie has made to the structure of the West Lancashire Provincial care team. 

Getting out and about

For Ernie, it’s vital that the members and widows of the Province are aware of the support available. ‘It’s not always easy to identify exactly who needs help – particularly when elderly people are reluctant to ask for it,’ he explains. ‘So I’m trying to enable the almoners to spend more time delivering pastoral care, and less time doing admin.’

Believing that there is still much work to be done when it comes to helping older people, some of Ernie’s team are also becoming Silver Line Friends. George was the first to sign up and is currently being trained by the charity. ‘It’s a good transfer of skills and experience, and the training they offer is excellent,’ he says.

Dame Esther hopes that other Freemasons will consider volunteering, too. ‘Being a Silver Line Friend only takes an hour a week,’ she says. ‘You can do it from your own home and we provide all the training. If you enjoy having conversations with other people, do visit our website to apply.’

Thanks to Ernie, George, Alan and Danny, and all the other almoners across West Lancashire Province, the older community is in safe hands. According to George, ‘The role of the almoner is the most rewarding job in Freemasonry.’

The Silver Line is a free, confidential service: 0800 4 70 80 90, www.thesilverline.org.uk 

Published in Features

Easy as pie

From classic steak and kidney to apple and blackberry, a pie is a symbol of British comfort food at its best. As the nation celebrated British Pie Week in March, RMBI care homes embraced the occasion

RMBI residents across the UK took part in a variety of activities to mark British Pie Week, with tasting, baking and recipe-sharing sessions among the events. The RMBI places great importance on providing its residents with food that they grew up with and enjoy – as well as new dishes they have come to love – and its balanced, nutritious menus include classic pie dishes. 

Recipes and Reminiscences, the RMBI cookbook, contains 50 favourite recipes from residents and staff. Many in the book were national staples in their era, including Woolton Pie, named after one of Churchill’s Cabinet. 

A classic wartime dish, it encouraged people to use whatever vegetables were available to them during the rationing period to create family meals. 

Debra Keeling, RMBI Deputy Director of Care Operations, said: ‘We strive to deliver a high quality of life for our residents, and providing enjoyable food and drink is essential to this. Our residents are encouraged to put their menu ideas forward to ensure we cater to their individual tastes. British Pie Week is a great way of bringing residents together through their mutual love of food.’

Published in RMBI

Skye pushes the limits with a smile

Skye, the granddaughter of a Freemason, is 14 years old. She has Turner syndrome, a condition that affects growth and development, as well as mild autism and global development delay, which makes reading and writing difficult

 Skye’s parents introduced her to judo when she was seven years old as a positive channel for the frustration she experiences as a result of her condition. She has since become highly skilled in the sport, excelling in both mainstream competitions and those for people with disabilities.

One of Skye’s ambitions is to compete in the Special Olympics. To qualify, she must compete internationally, but her family were struggling to meet the cost of travelling overseas. Through its TalentAid scheme, the RMTGB has contributed to Skye’s competition, accommodation and travel costs. In 2012, she was selected for the GB Special Needs International squad and has since achieved two gold and two silver medals in international competitions.

For Skye, judo isn’t just about competing. She struggles to interact with other children, so the sport gives her the chance to socialise as well. Funding from the RMTGB scheme enables her to go on trips that are not only essential for the development of her talent, but also for her confidence and happiness.

Published in RMTGB

In appreciation…

The RMTGB has received the following letter from Graham, a Freemason from Surrey. The Trust has provided support for him and his family since January 2014:

‘I was made redundant in 2012, and then while looking for a new job I suffered a heart attack. It has been a long road back to health and it has been difficult to secure another job. To make matters worse, in January of this year my wife was also made redundant. We expected our misfortune to have a detrimental effect on the well-being of our daughters, but the immeasurable support of the RMTGB means both children have had access to everything that they would have if my wife and I were working.

‘We are so grateful for the RMTGB’s help. The Trust doesn’t just offer financial assistance; they are there to empathise, and to discuss possible solutions to problems. Without the RMTGB, our daughters’ story may have been rather different.’

Published in RMTGB

Properly prepared

When it comes to retaining members, results from the latest Membership Focus Group survey point to a need for the recruitment process to better communicate what Freemasonry is really about

More than 8,000 members are now signed up to assist the Membership Focus Group (MFG) by completing its surveys, the latest of which looks at the challenges faced in retaining members. Gathering detailed input from 30 Provinces and one District, the survey concludes that there is a strong link between the way in which someone comes into Freemasonry and the enjoyment they get from it. Retention is considerably improved when the initial recruitment process is of a high standard. Conversely, if a lodge rushes the introduction process, the consequences can be disastrous. 

Going forward, the MFG recommends developing candidate interview procedures that ensure transparency about what Freemasonry is, its vision, mission and beliefs. Candidates should also be provided with an overview of all the costs involved, ensuring that they are aware of the need to support lodge social and charity activities. In addition, the lodge should only select members who maintain and raise quality standards.

The value of support

It was not surprising to learn that the single most important influencer in retaining new members and meeting their expectations is the quality of mentoring in lodges. The support of the Provincial or Metropolitan mentor and the provision of training for both lodge and personal mentors were found to be vital. An initiate’s guide was also seen as an essential resource for new members. 

Members need to feel welcome, with their personal and business time pressures understood. Lodge mentors and almoners also need to be proactive in noting attendance, following up on why members are not attending and looking out for early warning signs of a potential resignation.

Whether it’s attracting new recruits or mentoring and retaining them, membership is not a numbers game. An increase in the organisation’s membership will only be achieved by improving members’ overall experience of Freemasonry – helping them to embrace the way in which it adds value to their lives.  

When a candidate is presented for initiation the ceremony includes the words: ‘…a poor candidate in a state of darkness who has been well and worthily recommended, regularly proposed and approved in open lodge and now comes, of his own free will and accord, properly prepared’. The question that has to be satisfied is to what extent is he properly prepared? 

Retention – Key findings

· The support and involvement of a spouse/partner is crucial for all new prospective candidates

· The questions asked at the interview, and the manner in which it is conducted, are of vital importance and should conform to a standard

· There is a need to be open and honest about full membership costs at the interview stage

· A personal mentor has an essential role to play and should be actively involved from the period leading up to the candidate’s initiation

The next MFG survey to be published in Freemasonry Today will look at how the United Grand Lodge of England attracts new members and their experiences in joining the organisation. By including more comments boxes in the survey it is hoped that members will have a greater opportunity to have their say on what worked for them, as well as what didn’t. 

If you wish to have your say and are willing to help, then please register at www.ugle.org.uk/mfg 

Published in Membership Focus Group

Pride in membership

When it comes to new candidates, first impressions count. Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes urges lodges to embrace the mentoring scheme

 The last issue of Freemasonry Today covered the results of a Membership Focus Group (MFG) survey seeking members’ views on many aspects of Freemasonry including friendship, masonic ceremony and charity work. 

With 5,265 members taking part in the survey, I will let you read the full results, but I wanted to highlight the following four areas that scored highly. Having respect for others came first, closely followed by being with people who respect others, then meeting people with integrity, followed by the ethical and moral ethos of Freemasonry. I have said often in the past that it is no surprise that Freemasonry is such a remarkable fundraiser for charity, because of our code of conduct. 

I suggest, brethren, that these responses simply endorse that view.

This and future surveys support the MFG’s aim of ensuring that any decision about Freemasonry draws upon the views, talents and ideas of members at all levels – not least at lodge level. I take this opportunity to stress the continued importance of the Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Mentors’ role.

I know that the majority of lodges have now appointed a mentoring coordinator but I still remain concerned that, in many cases, no personal mentors have been selected. Here there is a skill in matching the right personal mentor – that is to say, with the best personality characteristics and appropriate knowledge – with each candidate. This relationship will be ever-changing as the candidate develops his understanding.

There can be no doubt that the early days of a candidate’s membership are the most impressionable. It is therefore important that the right personal mentor is assigned as early as possible after the interview stage and, at any rate, from initiation onwards. Pastoral care will always be a vital part of this relationship and it is at this early stage that the candidate should be told that it is perfectly acceptable to talk about Freemasonry and, indeed, be encouraged to do so, particularly as he becomes more experienced. In addition, they should demonstrate pride in their membership to their family, friends and acquaintances.

The Metropolitan, Provincial and District Mentors have played a significant role in the running of the mentoring scheme, and I look to the lodges to support them in their important task of helping develop and retain membership at lodge level.

‘Candidates should be told that it is perfectly acceptable to talk about Freemasonry.’

Published in Membership Focus Group

Middlesex 2020 Festival launch

In March, the Province of Middlesex launched the 2020 Festival Appeal for the RMTGB. Alastair Mason, Pro Provincial Grand Master for Middlesex, said, ‘What better cause can there be than to make a difference to a young life that might otherwise have been deprived of opportunities?’ The Province raised more than £4 million in its 2009 Festival for the RMBI. All donations are being received via the Relief Chest.

To support the appeal, visit www.the2020festival.co.uk 

Published in RMTGB
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