Assistant Grand Master and Chairman of the Improvement Delivery Group Sir David Wootton explains how a new online service will allow members to access the learning resources necessary to enjoy Freemasonry to the full
A survey conducted three years ago by the Membership Focus Group found that 68 per cent of respondents thought that understanding the moral and philosophical issues underpinning Freemasonry and its symbolism was either very important or essential. These values and principles define us as Freemasons and our relevance as an organisation. Explaining them to our members is a strategic imperative of the Rulers.
Ritual and ceremonies are a core activity of lodge and chapter life. While many members attend Lodge of Instruction and enjoy learning and performing ritual, often key messages and nuances are simply missed. With the emphasis on performance, devoting time to gaining the underpinning knowledge about ritual and ceremony has all too often become peripheral or optional. The opportunity to explore and understand is often not provided at lodge or chapter meetings or is considered second best to a ceremony.
There are, however, growing instances of well-delivered presentations about masonry and an evident enthusiasm for more. So, it is important that we ensure that our members have ready access to the intellectual and practical resources necessary to enjoy their Freemasonry to the full.
UNDERSTANDING THE WAY
The history of Freemasonry and the evolution of our ceremonies is fascinating. Our ceremonies originated during a period of relative instability and intolerance, and our forebears saw a need to create a society founded on moral and social values.
Back in the 18th century (the Age of Enlightenment), Freemasons were stimulated by the desire to explore and explain the world through the application of moral, religious and intellectual principles. Over time, this intellectual aspect has dropped away.
But as we seek to demonstrate Freemasonry’s relevance in the 21st century, it is timely to remind ourselves of those moral and social lessons contained within our ritual and their fundamental value to our lives today.
There is a genuine concern that a concentration on the performance of ritual, without appreciating what we are doing and why, overlooks the important messages that lie within, and that this is one reason why some members choose to leave. Although a wide selection of books and online resources are available, it takes effort to identify appropriate pieces to use within the lodge environment. Additionally, there is a need to have someone with excellent presentation skills who can really engage members and stimulate lively discussions that will assist them along their individual masonic journeys.
This provides three key challenges. The first is to identify suitable material that is appropriate to any given situation. This might be a short nugget or a quick talk; at other times it may be a longer presentation with questions and answers. Or perhaps a demonstration of a ceremony with a detailed explanation of the underlying symbolism. A further development would be the provision of material in audiovisual formats.
The second is how to deliver the material. We need to identify, recruit and support people with the enthusiasm and ability to communicate the essence of the material, delivering it in an attractive, understandable and engaging way. This will also require investment in suitable equipment and resources.
The third and perhaps the biggest challenge is how to build and sustain the demand for and interest in learning to become a regular part of masonic activity. This is a challenge for Provinces as well as for those in lodges and chapters, such as Mentors and Directors of Ceremonies who have a responsibility for doing this anyway.
Learning and development is an important element of Freemasonry. On behalf of the Improvement Delivery Group, an online repository of masonic learning called ‘Solomon’ has been created. It will provide informative and accessible material to inform and point members along the path of a daily advancement in masonic knowledge. It is designed to be used by individual masons, lodges, chapters and Provinces, evolving over time.
Solomon will also offer examples of good practice – submitted by Provinces – to help develop and deliver learning activities and opportunities. It will facilitate the obtaining of knowledge at a local level and in forms that will fit comfortably with the needs of both the younger and the more experienced mason. Solomon will complement the Membership Pathway as well as individual Provincial mentoring programmes.
I look forward to the launch of our Learning and Development programme and the introduction of Solomon. It is due to be launched in November and will be explained in detail in the next edition of Freemasonry Today.