10 DECEMBER 2008
An address by the MW The Pro Grand Master The Most Hon The Marquess of Northampton, DL
I have had the great privilege of being Pro Grand Master since March 2001 and before that I was Assistant Grand Master for five years in charge of London. I have decided that the time has come for me to step down in March and give someone else the chance to steer the Craft for the next few years.
These past eight years have continued a process of great change for English Freemasonry, helping it to come through one of the most difficult periods in its history.
As the Grand Master pointed out recently, we are entering a period of consolidation, and if we continue to build on the foundations of openness we have laid for the 21st century there is every chance that we will start to grow again. I welcome an increase in our numbers as long as we continue to maintain the highest standards and concentrate on the quality of our candidates.
I am pleased to tell you that the Grand Master has appointed RW Bro Peter Lowndes, Deputy Grand Master, to succeed me. He will be installed as Pro Grand Master at the Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge in March. He will be succeeded as Deputy Grand Master by RW Bro Jonathan Spence, Grand Director of Ceremonies, and he in turn by W Bro Oliver Lodge, Past Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies. I am pleased to say the Assistant Grand Master will be continuing in office. I shall be presiding at Grand Lodge for the last time in December.
I wish Bro Lowndes every success in his new important role and have every confidence that the Craft will be in very capable hands. For my part I shall continue to enjoy my Masonry, albeit at an easier pace and with less direct responsibility.
I look forward to helping in any way I can to ensure the future good health and happiness of English Freemasonry. It has been an honour to serve the Craft.
How the Universities' Scheme is gathering pace explained by Oliver Lodge
In pursuit of its objective, 'to establish and/or enhance the opportunities for undergraduates and other university members to join and enjoy freemasonry', the Universities Scheme Group has, over the past year or more, provided direct support to the nine Lodges that make up the Scheme.
The nature of that support has varied considerably according to the needs of the individual Lodge. In all cases, the Lodges have had notable success in their participation and pursuit of the objective, which they have embraced with great enthusiasm.
I have been not just impressed, but excited by the degree of commitment that has emerged as, in some cases, Lodges have made the decision to bring about quite significant change to their composition and nature.
The nature of the Scheme is such that, while the most important work is indisputably that which takes place in the Scheme Lodges, some elements of the administration of the Scheme are more efficiently centralised.
The Scheme Group have attempted to serve the Lodges involved by offering advice drawn on experience of university Masonry and by seeking to ensure that as many as possible in the Craft are fully aware of the Scheme’s existence and the scope for undergraduates to join the Craft, without having to wait to attain the grand old age of 21 years. Before too long we will have to declare ourselves as failures if there are Masons left in this country who have not heard this message!
Our early efforts at raising awareness have had profound effects. The marvellous advent of the internet has assisted our efforts formidably. The very simple expedient of establishing a presence in a small corner of the UGLE website, with an appropriate mail box for contact, has produced enquiries of all sorts, some anticipated, other less so.
Having deliberately raised awareness in order to support the objective – ensuring that no one is missing out through want of information – the most welcome surprise of all has been the level of interest and enthusiasm that the Scheme has attracted from all corners of the Craft.
Most striking of all is the desire among a number of Lodges to participate in the Scheme. While it has always been intended that we should expand the Scheme to a wider range of Lodges, our timeframe on this has been driven by demand.
Recognising that it is no longer feasible to provide all support from the Scheme Group itself, the Assistant Grand Master (AGM), RW Bro David Williamson, the Scheme’s Founding President, has asked Provinces where there are Lodges that want to participate in the Scheme to look at providing the necessary support from within their own ranks.
This step, with all its appearance of being purely administrative, has the fundamental impact of enabling the widening of the Scheme to meet the enthusiastic demand that is surfacing. This is the most welcome challenge faced by the Group to date – the sensation of pushing at an open door.
As well as driving the timing, this development has obliged the Group to be more explicit about the necessary criteria, indeed the essential qualifications, for any Lodge wishing to participate (see table opposite). Some of these are marvellous in their blatancy; others may not be so obvious; all are vital. Supporting the objectives of the Scheme goes, in one sense, without saying.
But an unequivocal statement from the Lodge to that effect is essential.
The agreement of the Provincial Grand Master and AGM are also necessary steps. This will ensure that the Lodge has fully understood the implications of its participation, as well as providing a degree of co-ordination and the avoidance of overcrowding – too many Lodges in one location – which could lead to the dissipation of undergraduates where what is needed is critical mass.
The question of passing on to young members the reduction in dues to Grand Lodge and the Grand Charity, now available to all Masons under 25, is important to ensure the avoidance of financial exclusion.
It is, of course, essential that Lodges joining the Scheme should fully understand the implications of doing so and commit themselves in open Lodge. They will need to consider some difficult questions about their own structure, including practicalities relating to meeting dates and time, the cost of dining and regalia and their style and dress code.
They will also need to look at the more challenging questions of how best to involve undergraduates during their probably all too-short time in the area and how they help those same members, when they graduate and move on, to join convivial Lodges in their new location.
For Lodges in the Scheme, this is the steep and rugged pathway. Those looking for soft options will have to look elsewhere; those looking to re-invigorate not just their own lodge but the Craft as a whole, should look no further.
A scheme to encourage undergraduates into Freemasonry is outlined by Oliver Lodge
It is said that young men have no interest in Freemasonry, that such formality is alien to youth and that the minimum age for initiation is ‘the full age of 21 years’. The trouble with generalisations such as these is that, generally, they are misleading.
We need to challenge the mantra; if we don’t, we are ignoring our own history and missing an important opportunity.
My hypothesis is that young men come in all shapes and sizes and that, perhaps surprisingly, large numbers are indeed interested in Freemasonry.
Those Masons lucky enough to have come across either Apollo University Lodge or Isaac Newton University Lodge will know very well that these two hugely successful Lodges attract substantial numbers of initiates every year from undergraduates at their two great universities. Both Apollo at Oxford and Isaac Newton at Cambridge have, in their own very different ways, proved to the Masonic world that young men can and do make exceptional Freemasons, producing many of the leaders of the English Craft today. And there is nothing hypothetical about that.
Likewise, age itself is not a barrier. Provincial Grand Masters have the authority to dispense with the traditional minimum age for initiation, as they have been doing for many years. This is no longer the rarity that it once was, and may well one day beg the question of the need for the continued existence of the regulation.
That may make clear why the Assistant Grand Master, David Williamson, has set up the Universities Scheme. That, and the fact that at present less than 800 of the many thousands of English Masons are under 25.
We live in a time of an aging population, but in the Craft our population is aging faster than most.
While one might be tempted to suppose that this arises because we Masons live life to the full and survive well, in reality it has rather more to do with our reluctance to make Freemasonry properly accessible to those who have not yet established their professional careers. The Universities Scheme is about to change all that.
In essence, the scheme is setting out to enable specified Lodges to appeal to undergraduates. More formally, the scheme’s objective is 'To establish and/or enhance arrangements and opportunities for undergraduates and other university members to join and enjoy freemasonry.'
To this end, the AGM has established a group of Masons, well below average age, but with vast experience of university Masonry, to promote the scheme. With the enthusiastic support of the Provinces in question, as well as the members of the scheme group, he has visited Lodges in Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Exeter, Oxford and Sheffield to invite them to participate in the scheme.
He also plans to visit Manchester in the autumn. Each of these visits has resulted in a Lodge devoted to becoming or firmly remaining open to undergraduates from that city’s university. In some cases that is a commitment amounting to a very real challenge for the Lodge in question.
It would, however, be a mistake to give the impression that Apollo and Isaac Newton are the only undergraduate Lodges in the country. At Durham, the Universities Lodge has been actively welcoming undergraduates to its fold over recent years. Likewise, St Vincent Lodge in Bristol and, to varying degrees, in other universities too. On all of this, the scheme intends to build.
Who can doubt that momentum is a wonderful thing? Apollo has been fortunate to have existed for nearly 200 years (indeed, there existed, even in the 18th century, a University Lodge in Oxford). Blessed with critical mass, established undergraduate Lodges just free-wheel, picking up initiates effortlessly as they go. Or so it seems.
In fact, while they may appear on the surface to glide like swans, they achieve it by paddling like fury under the surface.
Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that their existing undergraduate membership exerts a gravitational pull, reinforcing their daily efforts to ensure a healthy future. For those setting out on this path for the first time, the biggest hurdle is the first one. How are the first few undergraduates to be found?
A typical initiation path is that a chum will suggest that Masonry might interest the individual; he will be introduced early-on to other young members; he will meet the secretary and be given a fairly frank outline of what he can expect and what is expected of him. Very few do not proceed to initiation.
In seeking to answer that question more broadly, each participating Lodge is setting up a committee to determine its own unique approach. If that looks like successive wheel re-inventions, it is not quite so. The function of the scheme group is to provide to participating Lodges the benefit of the group’s collective experience and ideas.
But, more importantly, it is fundamental that each Lodge should resolve the question in the way that suits its own circumstances and customs. The AGM’s scheme has no intention of seeking to create clones across the country; rather the focus is that the objective should be achieved in a range of different ways, further enriching the diversity of Freemasonry and fully respecting the individuality of each Lodge.
Let me nevertheless offer a little of the thinking of the group. Recent experience has shown that a fair proportion of young initiates first made contact with Freemasonry through the internet. To some that will come as quite a surprise; others will have known or guessed that it was so.
But the conclusion must be that a website is a valuable thing. University Lodges must be prepared to be fairly public affairs; they must advertise without shame, to freshmen each year, using opportunities to promote Masonry in general. University Lodges should support undergraduate charities and ensure that such benevolence is known to the public. Another, probably unsurprising, feature of successful experience is the opportunity for undergraduates to meet the Lodge either over drinks or dinner, in order to acquire an impression of the people and, even more importantly, of Freemasonry itself.
The avoidance of un-undergraduatefriendly features is also significant. Careful consideration has to be given to costs, to dates and times, to early involvement of new joiners and many similar details of the Lodge’s administration.
In addition to all of this activity within the university Lodges, a valuable contribution to this theme is the recent pair of reductions in dues agreed by Grand Lodge, both for its own levy and for that of the Grand Charity.
All costs for undergraduates and other young men are magnified in their significance, whether they be subscriptions, dining fees or the price of regalia. With initiative and determination, ways can be found to ameliorate the burden.
It is also to be hoped that the profile of the scheme itself will result in an enhancement to the usual paternal or family-based encouragement. Where such suggestion might typically have awaited the initiate’s 30th birthday, it might now instead relate to establishing contact with the Lodge of an undergraduate’s university, ten years earlier.
Although the focus of the scheme is squarely on universities, everyone involved is very well aware of the relevance of it to young men outside university life. To them, Freemasonry should extend a similar welcome whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. Universities may represent merely the start to the process of Masonic involvement of a materially wider age-group.
There is no doubt that the scheme represents a project that will take many years to achieve its full potential. The challenge will be to continue to innovate, to continue to drive the programme in the face of occasional set-back and disappointment.
But with momentum, the scheme will deliver.
Oliver Lodge is chairman of The Universities Scheme Group