The Pro Grand Master Speaks to the Editor About Freemasonry
Lord Northampton has been a much admired ruler and charismatic leader of English Freemasonry for fourteen years, first as Assistant Grand Master from 1995 and since 2001 as Pro Grand Master. He has worked tirelessly and travelled extensively throughout the Provinces and our Districts and lodges overseas as well as to other Grand Lodges on behalf of the Craft. He has been a great ambassador for English Freemasonry all over the world. It was then, with a sense of loss and sadness that we learned of his decision to retire next March. ‘The Craft is now going through a time of consolidation,’ he explains, ‘and I will have been in high office for fourteen years. It is time to give someone else a chance.’Lord Northampton has helped usher in a new way of defending and advancing Freemasonry with the introduction of changes to its corporate structure and augmenting the experience of its ritual and the understanding of its profound philosophical side which arise from the deepest meaning of those central masonic principles, Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth.
Vision and Management
Under his guidance the management of the Craft was revised: Lord Northampton explains: ‘You cannot have a vision without a strategy. This is pointless. The vision needs to be grounded.’
In the past the Rulers came up with ideas, the Board of General Purposes devised the strategy and the Grand Secretary implemented it; this did not always work. Now those at the top of Freemasonry meet on a regular basis to consider the vision, the strategy and implementation together. The strategy is then proposed to the Board and, if agreed, passed to the Grand Secretary for implementation. Thus vision, strategy and implementation operate on a more integrated and consensual basis.
The daily management of Freemasonry too received his attention; the aim has been to introduce corporate business practices into a smaller, more accountable, Board of General Purposes bringing efficiency of practice and transparency of decision making. At the same time he started business meetings each December with Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents to discuss the direction he thought the Craft and Royal Arch should be taking.
All Provincial Grand Masters have direct access to the Rulers in the case of any problems.
The role of the Grand Secretary has also changed. In the past he was an often remote and powerful figure and this attitude, coupled with the undue secrecy Freemasonry pursued, had a negative effect on both members and the public. Today the Grand Secretary concentrates on our brethren in England and Wales; our relations with other Grand Lodges is the concern of the recently appointed Grand Chancellor.
There is, of course, a healthy overlap since the Grand Secretary is still responsible for Grand Lodge’s Districts and lodges overseas.
Lastly, Lord Northampton has encouraged more integration between the Centre and the Provinces through better communication. He believes strongly in the sovereignty of each lodge and encourages them to introduce changes that will enhance the enjoyment their members get out of freemasonry. ‘We place too much importance on the form our meetings take and not enough on their content’.
Research into Freemasonry
Academic research too has received Lord Northampton’s attention. He helped found, and personally helped to fund, the academic centre at Sheffield University which offers Doctoral and Masters degrees in masonic research. He also was instrumental in the formation of the Canonbury Masonic Research Centre which holds lectures and organises annual international conferences and the Cornerstone Society which aims to increase knowledge of the Craft amongst Master Masons. He encourages too the growth of organisations of younger masons which involve their friends, girlfriends and wives. He is concerned that the important support of Freemason’s families should receive recognition. He has been very lucky to have the support of his wife Pamela who understands the transformative nature of the Craft and has been a great source of strength and advice. ‘I could not possibly have carried out my role as Pro Grand Master without her love and support’. It is important that younger masons and especially their partners ask questions about the Craft so that they can understand the symbolic nature of its teachings. The Mentoring and Orator programmes which have recently been introduced will aid this.
The Wisdom of Freemasonry
Lord Northampton was first initiated into Ceres Lodge No.6977, Northampton, in 1976. His enthusiasm has never diminished and as anyone who has heard him speak will know, he is eloquent and inspiring on Freemasonry and is a strong advocate of its importance to our often troubled modern society.
‘I don’t think that any other Order could do what Freemasonry does,’ he explained. ‘A moral system which can transform a shy and insecure man into a confident and compassionate, kind and trusting person; and all this within everyday life. Freemasonry teaches social conscience and brings leadership qualities; it breaks down the barriers raised by religion and politics.’
In an important move the Royal Arch has been brought into closer communication with the Craft. It is no longer considered as the completion of the Third Degree but as a completion of all the Craft degrees, the apex of the masonic journey.
‘Why,’ I asked Lord Northampton, ‘in the twenty-first century, should anyone become a Freemason?’
‘The idea of “becoming a Freemason” is something of a misnomer. I think that you are born a Freemason. There is something within you which leads you to want to develop in an integrated way, to seek self-development to become a better person. And part of this search involves considering the major questions about life and death. You should join Freemasonry if you are looking for moral and spiritual values in a world which is predominantly focussed upon material concerns.’
Values of the Heart
Why are spiritual values so important within Freemasonry?
Lord Northampton is clear: ‘Our basic precepts of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth, by their very nature, invoke spiritual values. Brotherly Love or compassion is a value of the heart: if the mind deals with reason, the heart is concerned with the spiritual values of compassion and clarity. And nothing could be more archetypal than truth but it is difficult to explain: we can view it as that which integrates, as the oneness of all reality, but there are many different ways of looking into reality and we get many different perceptions of truth. The ritual and symbols reveal signposts on your personal journey of experience.’
‘Absolute truth is outside time and place; it is a constant from which all things flow. This has to be the highest state of integrity possible. We can best explain this symbolically and one very good symbol is that of Jacob’s ladder which is depicted on the First Degree Tracing Board. This ladder reaches from earth to heaven; as you climb higher on the ladder you can see further. You can see how you are connected with, and contribute to, the whole, you can see that integrity, truth and freedom are all connected.’
‘Just before we take our obligation in the first degree we are told that “Masonry is free, and requires a perfect freedom of inclination.” That is, we must try and put aside any preconditions. This is not easy as we are so dominated by our culture from birth; we are encouraged to think from the mind not from the heart but the Craft needs more humanity, more heart.’
‘We are all on the level and we need to be able to talk to anybody. I have always enjoyed conversations with less experienced brethren. Everyone has something interesting to say. I will always seek out the young masons and encourage them to question what we do and why. The Orator scheme’s importance is very much found in the discussions which take place after the Oration is delivered.’
‘I think Freemasonry is the most wonderful male life-changing experience and we could make so much more of it. And that is the challenge faced by each one of us from the moment that we freely begin our personal journey by stepping into the lodge for the first time.’