Freemasonry has given Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes the confidence to stand up in front of people and make himself heard. He talks to Freemasonry Today about responsibility and his hopes for the Craft
How were you introduced to Freemasonry?
The first place was in the Rising Sun pub on Ebury Bridge Road as it’s where I found out about Freemasonry. A friend there was wearing an Old Etonian tie and I asked why he was wearing it, he said he was ‘off to the lodge’. I said, ‘What happens there?’ and he said, ‘Why don’t you come to find out sometime?’ So I did and it was as simple as that.
Did you ever have any doubts?
If I’d gone into a much bigger lodge I think I might have dropped it, but the fact that the lodge was smaller meant that it pushed you out of your comfort zone. I’d never been someone who liked doing things in front of people but suddenly pride takes over – you decide that if you’re going to do it you’re going to do it well. Then I discovered I enjoyed it.
What did you learn from Freemasonry?
During my work, I did property auctioneering and I remember being terrified of the first one I did. But the fact that I was getting up in Freemasonry and talking in front of people was beneficial. I hope I was a good property auctioneer, but if I was it was down to the confidence I got from Freemasonry. And vice versa. It’s the confidence of hearing your own voice, which is something that doesn’t come naturally to most people. I believe that Freemasonry inevitably leads you to being absolutely clear about your principles; it concentrates the mind.
How did you become Pro Grand Master?
Like many things in life, becoming Pro Grand Master was about being in the right place at the right time. In 1984, I was Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies in Grand Lodge because I’d been recommended. Once you have achieved a senior position, you get pushed in whichever direction you have the most use. I became Grand Director of Ceremonies in 1995 and was delighted when Lord Northampton asked me to be Deputy Grand Master in 2004 as I felt that was way above my rank. When he then told me he was giving up and that I was taking over in 2009, I asked him if I could have 24 hours to think it over. I remember asking my wife for her thoughts and she said, ‘I don’t know why you’re talking to me because you’re going to do it anyway.’
Did your life change?
As Deputy Grand Master I could work full-time but I couldn’t as Pro Grand Master. Everybody is coming to you with everything and while you can delegate, it still all needs to come through you first. But I knew what to expect when I took the position and I think I’m the first commoner to do it, which is a good thing. Since I’ve become Pro Grand Master, the position has become so much more visible. Compared to 10 years ago, the questions I’m asked tend to be about finding answers to something, rather than somebody having a go. When you’re junior, you can clam up about Freemasonry, but I’m confident now and love talking about it to non-masons.
Has the role of Pro Grand Master changed?
Going back to the 1970s and 1980s, Freemasonry was run by the Grand Secretary, who would probably keep the Pro Grand Master, Deputy and Assistant informed. That’s now completely changed and it was Lord Farnham who started the process. He was a big man in the city and probably thought that if he was going to be head of something, he ought to take control of it. Farnham said that it must be the three rulers who dictate, through the Board of General Purposes, and that more people should be consulted about what is going on. Therefore, the three of us are involved in everything that happens in Freemasonry.
What would you change about Freemasonry?
I would love to leave behind the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s when we didn’t communicate with the outside world. That all stems from Freemasons in Germany being treated the same way as the Jews. The local papers between the wars had pictures of new Provincial Grand Masters parading the streets but with everyone in 1940 assuming Hitler would invade the UK, everything went underground and didn’t really come up again for 30 years.
What is Freemasonry’s biggest challenge?
It’s not a numbers game, but that’s always fairly high on the agenda. If we never lost anyone until they died, our numbers would be going up. The problem is losing them in the first five years of joining. If I could click my fingers and do one thing, it would be finding a way of keeping all the people we’re bringing in. We’re losing them for reasons we can control because they might join the wrong lodge – they get there and find there aren’t many kindred spirits. We now have exit interviews and are recovering members by putting them in a lodge that suits them better.