Crucially, and blessedly, Millennials are becoming masons
Those under thirty constitute at present only two per cent of British masons. This may seem negligible – apart from when you note they are also precisely the one age group in masonry whose numbers are growing.
Membership for people under thirty is currently on the uptick by 7.65 per cent. Contrast this with a decrease in all other age groups – just over ten per cent for people in their 40s, by seven per cent for people in their 50s, and just under ten per cent for people in their 60s.
This is a significant reprieve from a death-knell for us all. In the United Kingdom, a postwar peak pushed our numbers to over half-a-million masons.
In recent years, we are not quite half that – 228,000 in 2011, 214,000 in 2013.
And this is not the case for English Freemasonry alone. Trends have been broadly parallel across the Atlantic, where 1959 saw a height of American masonic membership at four million, buoyed by a generation of stalwart joiners home from war, then hitting a trough at half that shortly after 2000.
If we would know what the future of Freemasonry holds, we might do worse than look to Millennial masonry. What do masons in their twenties and early thirties say about what they want from their masonic experience? What in masonry do they tell us they would like to change?
I've spoken to a sample set of masons in their late twenties and early thirties, putting these two questions to them. Amongst them, they run the gamut from a Fellowcraft, newly in his first office as Inner Guard, through to two current Masters, and three past Masters, one of whom is now a lodge Secretary. They are joining masonry in some numbers – what do they, in turn, wish masonry to look like?
John works in IT and is in his young thirties. An active London Past Master, he has earned three silver matchboxes for word-perfect ceremonies, from the Emulation Lodge of Improvement, and was just invested as a Metropolitan Grand Steward. He replies with four ways in which he would like masonry to change:
1. Later starting times. A 4pm starting time is just too early for most salaried workers. Leave days are precious, and I don't like booking days off or half-days off for masonry unless it's strictly necessary.
2. Preserve the ritual. It's at the core of what we do. It's a little hard to do this while starting later, but it is possible. I don't go to meetings to listen to minutes or Charity Steward's reports (sorry, Bro Charity Steward – try email next time).
3. Cheaper meals. This is a controversial one, as many affluent young gentlemen are looking for some really fine dining. I, alas, have found myself skipping such meals as I find it difficult to justify with our darling little financial constraint crawling around.
4. Taking it seriously. It's fine to have a laugh, but if your lodge or unit does not essentially take what they're doing seriously, I'd rather be somewhere else.
Niall, 27, works as an investment manager, and is secretary of a London lodge, where he is also a Past Master. He says, 'One thing that keeps popping up is the dress code and meeting times. I find that interesting at least.'
Richard, 33, is a senior manager at a professional services firm. He joined Freemasonry in September, is now a Fellowcraft, and has just taken his first office as Inner Guard. He thoughtfully observes:
'I think one of the challenges with Millennials is that they may see masonry like they see Young Farmers or Conservative Future. It is for a certain type of wealthy, privately educated nerd. There are plenty of geeks out there that would enjoy Freemasonry, but have a worldview opposite or at least different to Young Farmers or Conservative Future. Then there are the festive boards – socialising with people outside of your age group is often challenging for younger people. That's not to mention the expense of dining.
'For me, I think Freemasonry offers a journey of personal discovery, something I can't find in politics or religion alone. I told my two closest friends and their responses were: 1) isn't it a bit weird all that dressing up? And 2) I guess it will be good for your career as masonry is about men getting up the greasy pole. I then had to explain brotherhood, charity, etc.
Danny, in his thirties, is a Leicestershire mason, works as a consultant, and is heavily involved with the Universities' Scheme. He calls for more of Project Streamline (late starts, cut out the unnecessary bits etc.) whilst maintaining the tenets of the Craft.
'Expanding the Universities' Scheme and light blue clubs across the country. Stronger mentorship schemes to look after and retain members. Greater openness and awareness of the public, including in the Tercentenary celebrations. Modernisation in terms of the use of electronic communication to keep lodge members up-to-date at lodge, Provincial and UGLE level. Wider awareness of what's going on outside your own lodge. And an advance in the use of social media.'
Richie, in his thirties, is a local government officer. He is a recent past master of a university scheme lodge, Honor and Generosity Lodge No.165. He wants to see more of the Universities' Scheme, multiple ceremonies, multiple candidates and get them quickly on the ladder.
Tim, 34, is a consultant in Oxford, where he finished a doctorate five years ago. He is currently master of the Apollo University Lodge No.357.
'The key with Freemasonry for younger people is to think of it as a charitable and social personal development course. To consider the three relationships it tries to encourage us to think about our relationship with our Creator, between each other, and with ourselves.'
To sum up, the masons interviewed were not in it for dining. They each, without prompting, emphasised ritual, personal and moral development, and charity.
They asked for a masonry which is adapted to working practices, as in the case of John and Niall; and one which responds to desires for individual charitable entrepreneurship.
The young masons which whom we've spoken display many of the most striking characteristics of Millennials – roughly those born from 1982 onwards.
This generation is so named – first, by historians William Strauss and Neil Howe in the United States – to note a demographic bump from roughly 1980 to 1990, as Baby Boomers born after the Second World War themselves produced children. And the name captures the fact that they would reach maturity from the year 2000 onward, in this brave millennium.
If they are joining masonry, it is not as yet another thread within a fabric of the establishment, and it is not – in striking difference to the hardy serial 'joiners' who returned from the Somme and Normandy to seek communal experiences at home after their demobilisation – because they very much like joining things.
In fact, it likely is rather the opposite. According to the British Social Attitudes survey, the Millennial generation is less likely than those that which before to consider themselves part of a particular religious denomination, less likely to join a political party or a trade union, and less likely to have an especially high view of the forces. Though interest in current affairs is quite strong (at two-thirds, when asked by the Hansard Society in a 2013 study of political engagement), party politics leaves Millennials cold (with one-third confessing any interest there whatsoever).
They are fiercely individualistic. Polling by YouGov shows them more likely than their elders to consider confronting social problems a responsibility of individuals, instead of the government. British Millennials especially, compared with their European neighbours of the same generation, are relaxed about social issues – same sex marriage, for one, or consumption of alcohol, tobacco, or cannabis, according to a Eurobarometer study.
They also are much more likely to have set up their own business than counterparts in any other European country. Part of this is to do with Britain – a country with high university attendance, which correlates with social liberalism, with a flexible and competitive labour market, tending towards competitiveness and individualism, and whose citizens (according to the Economist) 'chart their lives on social media with more zeal than most'.
'Detached from institutions and networked with friends,' is how the Pew Research Center describes Millennials in a study from March 2014. The millennial generation's world is digital, with 41% admitting they would rather communicate electronically than in person or by telephone. This generation's affinity with the digital world, as digital natives, seeps into what they seek from organisations – flexibility, varied and interesting experiences, regular feedback, an opportunity to keep learning.
Uncomfortable with rigid organisational structures, their paradigmatic employer is Google or Apple, or still better, the tech start-up. They value mentors from older generations, but there are hints of possible generational conflict afoot – 38% say that in the workplace, older senior management do not relate to them, 34% say their personal drive intimidates older generations, and half found their managers did not always understand they ways they used technology.
A Price Waterhouse Cooper report on Millennials at work says the global economic crisis was their formative coming-of-age experience, making them scrappy, deeply afraid of unemployment (72 per cent feeling they had made some sort of trade-off to get into work), but with personal learning and development still the most important thing they seek from employers – flexible working hours comes second, with cash bonuses in a surprising third place.
They do not especially like to join institutions, but they are joining this one. Why? Doubtless, the deeply personal engagement with moral development encouraged by the Craft – that the ritual is there, supremely evocative, but how you interpret and engage with it is utterly up to you – appeals to Millennials with a disillusion towards authoritative institutions. As does the exclusion from the masonic space of religion and politics, both discredited discourses for Millennials.
As Richard noted above, they are hardly joining Freemasonry because, having already joined Young Conservatives and Young Farmers, they wish for more of the same – going perhaps back marvelously full-circle to the organisation's Enlightenment-era origins, motivated by tolerance, free-thinking, and scepticism.
Masonry's countercultural nature in 2016 may even appeal. Conspiratorial theories hold less traction amongst Millennials, equally alongside all other received viewpoints.
Future of Freemasonry
Millennial masonry so far has thrown up its own institutions. The Connaught Club, founded in 2007 for those London-area Freemasons under 35, is one – for members of lodges which span the mix of ages, it is a novel affiliation which is cross-lodge and generational. The Universities' Scheme is another, set up in 2005, with a remit to 'establish and enhance arrangements and opportunities for undergraduates and other university members to enjoy Freemasonry.'
Masonry in universities has its own flavour – multiple-candidate ceremonies, and in many cases more than one degree worked in an evening, are the norm, as is a speedy progression into office – in both cases, in order to see new masons through as much of their masonic journey as possible within the context of a short university time.
Though our numbers are gratefully stabilising, the contraction of membership from the postwar boom will mean there is a slight excess of units, with many of the twentieth-century lodges and chapters being permitted to return warrants and charters, to permit a slightly smaller number of healthy units rather than a much larger number of units with smatterings of seven or eight members. Interestingly, says Mike Baker, the UGLE Director of Communications in an interview for this paper, compared with the state of the Craft at the consecration of the current Freemasons' Hall in Great Queen Street, the numbers now and then 'are not dramatically different, but the number of lodges is incredibly numerous now'.
Another trend is the repurposing of other dying units – especially the 19th century lodges that are our Victorian family silver, holders of Hallstone Jewels and slightly longer pasts. Often, this is into class lodges uniting people around particular shared interests. I owe a personal confession that in the past year I have contributed to precisely such mischief, in refounding a dying Hallstone lodge as a London book group lodge called Tivoli Libris Lodge No.2150, whose festive boards are all open to guests (including non-members and women) and which discuss a different book each occasion over pudding and port. The openness, we have found, demystifies us a bit, shows masonry off as something endearingly erudite, quirky, and welcoming, and we have had initiates from out of the guests of every meeting so far.
In a similar vein, June saw the consecration of a football lodge in Hampshire and Isle of White – which already had consecrated a cycling lodge, and a rugby lodge with the sturdy name Rugby Bastion. West Kent is making moves to form a cycling lodge as well.
Another convenient point of reference might be the Future of Freemasonry report, which UGLE commissioned in 2012. The document was largely a stock-taking exercise with the tercentenary of the UGLE – and modern masonry – beginning to lumber into view next year, in 2017. On page 29, the report – by the independent Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford – concludes 'even at the cutting edge of twenty-first century communication technologies, our need for symbolic exchanges that reinforce social bonds remain as evident as ever.'
It goes on to observe, similarly to the Millennials above, 'perhaps surprisingly, it was the younger masons who put the greatest emphasis on the rituals, seeing them as a distinct pull of Freemasonry from the beginning', all 'as the more formal rituals of British life decay'. This appeals strongly to younger members, in the way it combines enjoyable, entertaining aspects with more serious ones involving the 'transmission of moral codes' by reflection on the dramaturgical experiences and antique phrases.
There is an excellent quote there, from a mason holding a senior office in a university lodge, who says: 'The ritual is a strange, seductive thing. As an outsider you would wonder at this. As an intelligent man you would say, "This is extraordinary." And yet I see these [undergraduates] come into masonry and they love it.
'And they compete with each other in a sort of serious game. They throw in stray words in the ritual to catch each other out.'
What does this mean for their masonry? Cheery things, I think. The Craft is acquiring, quickly and in some numbers, a generation who show no signs of caring especially for rank, whose predilection to see masonry as a dining club (though admittedly, the best dining club) is weak, guided by a sense of moral seriousness and dissatisfaction with the answers, for the grand questions, on offer either from organised religion or political parties – questions to which their strong disposition is to answer themselves, educated, and charitably entrepreneurial.
More speculatively, others have raised the question whether Millennial masonry may produce a different and closer working relationship between UGLE and the two women's grand lodges.
For a more national perspective, I went to greater Manchester recently and shared much of this with a Provincial conference which included both younger and older masons, as well as the Provincial Grand Master. One older mason went so far as to suggest that if younger masons were less drawn by dining, perhaps masonic centres should consider converting some of their dining rooms to gyms, with free access to masons. Retaining young members who joined through the Universities' Scheme appeared as a key challenge, too – relations with London 'receiver' lodges are well established for the older university-linked lodges in the South East, but less so for, say, Northern graduates moving to the capital.
In any case, and in nearly all respects, the inclination of Millennials will be to nudge us back to where we began – a less top-heavy institution, a haven of tolerance in a partisan and angry world. And a Craft whose charitable efforts share a bit more in common with the entrepreneurial start-up culture of the tech sector, and show a bit less of what Mike Baker calls 'masonic porn', what one Millennial quoted above called 'grip'n grin' – old men, holding a very large cheque.
Pádraig Belton is a journalist, and secretary of London's book group lodge, Tivoli Libris Lodge No. 2150. Its book dinners are very much open to everyone, and it raises pennies for inner London, British, and overseas literacy charities.
Fresh intake for Universities Scheme
Five years ago, Lincoln’s Saint Hugh Lodge, No. 1386, was admitted to the Universities Scheme. The undergraduates have brought vitality to the lodge and introduced many new young people to Freemasonry. PGM Graham Ives, Deputy PGM John Hockin and the Provincial team visited the lodge to witness the raising of five candidates in November. This was followed by the raising of five brethren and five initiations in subsequent months.
Over in Stoke-on-Trent, Universities Lodge of Staffordshire, No. 9907, has been consecrated at Shelton Masonic Hall, becoming the 65th lodge in the Universities Scheme. The Consecrating Officer was Past Assistant Grand Master David Williamson, President of the Universities Scheme.
The number three is by tradition important in Freemasonry, and so it proved recently when The Iron Bridge Lodge No.9897 went one better than last year's Double ceremony - and began 2016 in style by conducting a Triple Initiation at their Telford Meeting Point House base. A packed house witnessed this rare event - for which a Dispensation had to be sought - and with the help of both Deacons and an Assistant the ceremony was carried out to a high standard.
The Iron Bridge Lodge is scarcely a year old, but as a Universities Scheme lodge is committed to promoting Freemasonry among young men and in a modern way.
Brother Josh Greenroyd studied Law at the University of Kent, and was called to the Bar in 2011. He works for Shropshire Council and hopes to continue his education with an MBA at the new Shrewsbury University. Josh found that Freemasonry was 'just a Google away' and joined Freemasonry in the hope of meeting kindred spirits of a similar age.
Brother Ryan Preece is a Dorset lad - now working as an Account Manager at Schneider. His grandfather W Bro Reg Bugler is a member of Dorset Masters Lodge 3366, and was present at Ryan's Initiation - a proud moment indeed!
Brother J Watt, from the Wirral, shared a flat with another recent 9897 Initiate and has two student friends who have become Masons through the Universities Scheme in Liverpool. "I was interested in joining because it allows you to widen your friendship group whilst providing the opportunity to do something good for those in need [and] get to know new people if I moved to a new area of the U.K."
The Iron Bridge Lodge 9897 has certainly been in the news since its Consecration in January last year - but don't expect it to stop there! A recent photo shoot ensured that this attractive corner of Shropshire will soon be seen by a wider audience - the readers of the "Freemasonry Today" magazine!
The Universities Lodge of Staffordshire No. 9907, was Consecrated on 5th September 2015 at Shelton Masonic Hall in Stoke-on -Trent, Staffordshire, becoming the 65th Lodge in the Universities Scheme
The Consecrating Officer was RW Bro David Kenneth Williamson PAGM, President of the Universities Scheme and recently returned from Consecrating the Universitas Lodge No.9917 in South Africa, who was ably assisted by a team from Grand Lodge. The Installing Master was RW Bro Alexander I. Stewart TD, Provincial Grand Master of Staffordshire, who Installed as the primus Worshipful Master W. Bro David Firth, PPrGSuptWks (Cheshire).
The event was attended by approximately 130 Freemasons, including the Organising Secretary W.Bro Peter Hughes, thirty Founders, and representatives from many other Provinces. The Consecrating Officer was able to confirm the new Lodge as a member of the Universities Scheme and of the Association of Medical, University and Legal Lodges (AMULL). The Lodge will serve the Universities of Keele and Staffordshire primarily and has already received application forms from fourteen students, all eager to join following attendance at the Fresher’s Fair in mid-September. The first meeting of the lodge, in October 2015, will be a triple Initiation.
The event was made the more memorable by the fact that mid-ceremony the Organist announced that the organ was on fire! The crisis was dealt with by a serving Fire Officer who was present amongst the brethren, while the Consecrating Officer smoothly continued the ceremony with barely a pause, an organ” transplant” being effected!
RW Bro. Williamson ends his tenure as President of the Universities Scheme in November 2015 after a decade in the role, handing over to Assistant Grand Master RW Bro Sir David Hugh Wootton. He will not, however, be ‘resting on his laurels’ as he will become President of AMULL.
Iron Bridge Lodge No. 9897 was founded earlier in 2015 as Shropshire’s first Universities Scheme member, and the first to be consecrated as such. In September more than 50 masons, including Shropshire’s Deputy Provincial Grand Master Roger Pemberton, a representative of the scheme and a brother from Canada, gathered to witness a double initiation of two young men – the first to claim 9897 as their mother lodge.
True to the modern principles of this new assembly, the start time was 7 pm and the work (which was of a fine standard) was shared among many members. An excellent buffet followed before the brethren gathered again for a reduced toast list. The meeting ended in good spirits at 9.40, and while some brethren headed for home, others repaired to a local source of refreshment.
Although the length of the meeting was short, there was no sense of rush: the ceremony was delivered in full and with feeling. Andy Delamere, the Worshipful Master, toasted Her Majesty The Queen who only a few hours before had become the longest-reigning monarch of this country. A generous cheque was presented to Teddies for Loving Care, and the lodge was able to report that its donations to Shropshire’s 2019 Grand Charity Festival were advancing well.
The two initiates were very much the focus of the evening. Brother Perring discovered that the Provincial Webmaster was a third cousin whom he had never met, while Brother Greatrex won a prize in his first masonic raffle… One later tweeted that two days later he was still ‘waiting to come down’.
VW Bro Roger Pemberton, DepPrGM later said '[The] evening’s meeting was one I shall always remember for several reasons but principally for a ceremony which came as close as possible to the very heart of what I believe is at the core of Freemasonry. The brethren who delivered parts of the ceremony, the Deacons, the Chaplain, the WM, all spoke with a genuine understanding of the work and feeling for the heart of the ritual and what it is we are “all about”.'
New university recruits in Bucks
The Universities Scheme is well underway in Buckinghamshire with Marlow Lodge, No. 2752, joining Grenville Lodge, No. 1787, in the recruitment of graduates and students. At its first meeting under the scheme, Marlow Lodge initiated graduate Jed Russell (23), and students Mohammad Malik (19) and Nathan Kapoor (24) from Buckinghamshire New University, which is based at High Wycombe.
Varsity scheme is 10
Universities Scheme President David Williamson, Chairman Edward Lord, and past and present members of the committee came together in January with Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes and many other senior Freemasons to celebrate the scheme’s first decade of existence and hard work.
With the initiative having grown from two lodges to 62 since its inception, and currently expanding into the Royal Arch, it has achieved much, with some lodges now being specifically consecrated as Universities Scheme lodges. Its fifth National Conference will be held in Leicester in November.
Three Leicestershire lodges were part of a unique joint meeting to celebrate recent UNIVERSITIES' SCHEME successes
Since joining the Universities’ Scheme, over 50 university staff, student and alumni have joined the lodges in just four years.
The Lodge of Science and Art No. 8429 joined in December 2010 and is the scheme lodge for Loughborough University. Wyggeston Lodge No. 3448 is the scheme lodge for the University of Leicester and joined in April 2011, with Castle of Leicester Lodge No. 7767 for De Montfort University joining in October 2012.
Members of the lodges and visitors from across the country gathered in the decorative Holmes Lodge Room at Freemasons' Hall to witness each lodge conducting one of the three ceremonies consisting of candidates from all the lodges.
The acting Master of the Lodge of Science and Art, W Bro Peter Legg, started the day's proceedings with a triple Raising ceremony. Then acting Master of Wyggeston Lodge, W Bro Andy Green, who is also part of the UGLE Universities’ Scheme Committee, conducted a triple Passing ceremony. Castle of Leicester Lodge then conducted a triple Initiation with acting Master, W Bro Paul Wallace taking the Chair.
The lodges were pleased to welcome the Deputy Chairman of the Universities' Scheme, W Bro Daniel Johnson, who said it was 'a marvellous day' and that the Province were seen as huge supporters of the scheme.
The members of the three lodges enjoyed a special celebration Festive Board after the meeting and raised £300 for the Alderman Newton’s Educational Foundation, a local charity that offers financial support to individuals and schools to help people access education or training opportunities in Leicestershire.
The entire meeting went extremely well and clearly demonstrated the very good heart of the three Universities’ Scheme Lodges within the Province of Leicestershire and Rutland.
VW Bro Peter Kinder, Assistant Provincial Grand Master, who has overseen the development of the scheme within the Province said: 'We are delighted with the amazing response we have had to this new scheme. Freemasonry has recently proved to be very popular amongst younger men, particularly students and this resurgence of renewed interest into our historic fraternity, which is 300 years old in 2017, has led to lodges, such as the three University Lodges, having to hold extra meetings to cope with demand. The Masonic code of moral behaviour, charitable giving, especially to non-masonic charities, and honesty, really appeals to many young men, even in this modern day and age.'
W Bro Daniel Hayward, UGLE Regional Co-ordinator for the scheme who also took part in the ceremonies, said of the meeting: 'It has been a wonderful day celebrating the success of the scheme with so many friends. We look forward to welcoming many more young men who are looking to better themselves as people and assist a wide variety of charities by becoming members of our fraternal society.'
Historic Charterhouse hosts festival
The 14th annual festival of the Association of Medical, University and Legal Lodges was held at London’s Charterhouse, founded in 1371, and hosted by medical and Universities Scheme lodge Æsculapius, No. 2410.
The coffee reception was held in the Great Hall, which has been the Charterhouse Brothers’ dining room for the past 400 years, and the ecumenical service took place in the chapel (pictured right), conducted by the Preacher of Charterhouse, the Rev Robin Isherwood. Back in the Great Hall, the audience was given an insight into the work of David Battie, one of the experts from the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow. The 2015 festival will be held in Chester, hosted by the local university lodge.
Top marks for Universities Scheme
It was a special occasion when six students at the University of Buckingham joined Grenville Lodge, No. 1787, which meets on the campus, at the same time. Among the guests at the initiation were Past Assistant Grand Master and President of the Universities Scheme David Williamson and Buckinghamshire PGM Gordon Robertson. Lodge Secretary Andrew Hough said, ‘I am pleased that increasing numbers of people are recognising the advantages of joining Freemasonry, which stresses friendship, decency and charity. It’s also great fun.’
Not to be outdone, Castle of Leicester Lodge, No. 7767, has also undertaken a sextuple initiation ceremony. It was a fitting day for Master Bryan Weston in his final meeting, having initiated 13 brethren in 2014. The lodge has seen a steady influx of candidates since joining the Universities Scheme in January 2013. Indeed, the ceremony came just days after the lodge conducted a quintuple passing in the Leicestershire and Rutland Lodge of Installed Masters, No. 7896.