Seen to enjoy ourselves
Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes reflects on how far Freemasonry has come since he was initiated 44 years ago
As many of you know, 2017 will see a large number of special events to celebrate the Tercentenary. There are 106 events planned so far, of which four have actually taken place. Not the least of these events relate to the 62 paving stones that will be laid outside the front of this building to commemorate the 62 Victoria Crosses awarded to masons in World War I, and also the formal reopening of the Masonic Memorial Garden at the National Arboretum.
During May I was lucky enough to attend two splendid Festivals. The first was for the Samaritan Fund, held by the Province of Cheshire at Old Trafford, and the second was for the Grand Charity, held by the Province of Norfolk in Norwich. Cheshire raised just over £3 million and Norfolk just over £2 million – remarkable results very much on a par with each other, bearing in mind the relative sizes of the Provinces. Congratulations to both.
It never ceases to amaze me how good our members are at fundraising. Every year, the four Charity Festivals raise close to £10 million. Over and above that, there are the Provincial charities and the individual lodge charities. These, of course, don’t include the Freemasons’ Fund for Surgical Research, which provides funding for the marvellous work of the Royal College of Surgeons.
Indeed, there are several other exceptional masonic charities, but space doesn’t permit me to mention them all. Suffice to say that the central masonic charities gave more than £4.8 million to 393 non-masonic charities last year and I have little doubt that the Provinces and lodges added considerably to this figure.
Finding the fun
Not only are our members good at fundraising but, just as importantly, they have a huge amount of fun in the process. I mention the enjoyment created by these events, as surely that must be the aim at all of our meetings. We have come a long way since I was initiated 44 years ago: I enjoyed my early meetings, but possibly despite some of the more elderly members rather than because of them. In those days it was nearly a capital offence to smile in lodge, but now more often than not some amusing incident occurs and it is allowed to be seen as such. There is no harm in being seen to enjoy ourselves.
‘I mention the enjoyment created by these events, as surely that must be the aim at all of our meetings.’
We can probably all cite instances when a more senior member is less than sympathetic to a newer member who has had a few lapses during the ritual. In my view, encouragement is what is required. This will almost certainly give him the confidence to improve, thereby increasing his enjoyment of our proceedings. If we encourage and congratulate – rather than routinely castigate – our new members, we will go a long way to retaining them.
Brethren, I should probably warn you that I have developed a liking for visiting lodges and chapters unannounced. Whether the lodge or chapter has enjoyed it I don’t know, but they have been kind enough to say that they have. A chapter that I went to in West Wales recently performed an excellent installation ceremony and I heard at least three pieces of ritual I had not come across before and all were delivered without hesitation. Above all, brethren, it seemed to me that they – you’ve guessed it – thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - NO. 36 WINTER 2017
Seen to enjoy ourselves
My eye was caught by the article by the Pro Grand Master entitled ‘Seen to enjoy ourselves’ (Freemasonry Today, autumn 2016). Can I straight away say that the sentiments contained express totally my experience in my own lodge.
I joined my school lodge, Old Patesian, No. 7828, from my mother lodge when it was suffering from a lack of members, not having initiated anyone for 10 years. The members, bar one, were members elsewhere and the ritual was an amalgam of areas. In the two meetings before I took the Chair, we had 11 at one and seven at another. The lodge was dying.
I called a meeting of all members and told them that they were not enjoying themselves enough and had no focus. I asked if we could open the membership up to non-old boys from the school and asked friends to support me by joining and to encourage the search for new initiates. I asked everyone to consider that the new ethos of the lodge was to take what we do seriously but to not take ourselves too seriously.
I was privileged to spend two years as Chair and now, as Director of Ceremonies, guide the lodge and its new Masters as they initiate, pass and raise. We now fill the dining room for our Christmas party and raise a good level of funds for the likes of the Military Wives Choir.
All this has been built upon the enjoyment factor, the insistence that we are partially in the entertainment business, understanding that we are not all great ritualists but so long as members are genuinely trying and going to a lodge of instruction then that is good enough.
Experience has shown me that the ‘tut-tut’ older members do nothing but harm to the enthusiasm of new members. In fact, by giving the younger members a responsibility for ensuring that the older members are brought to lodge and taken home they have integrated and begun to understand each other.
Please thank the Pro Grand Master for his article; it was heartening to read that he sees what I think many need to see.
Robert Ward, Old Patesian Lodge, No. 7828, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire