8 June 2016
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes
Brethren, those of you with keen eyesight will have noticed that I am wearing a new breast jewel. It is based on the Arms of the Grand Lodge and has been approved by the Grand Master as a permanent jewel to commemorate the Tercentenary of Grand Lodge. It will go on sale in time for the start of the 300th year on the 24th of this month, and those entitled to wear it are those Master Masons and above who at any time between then and the end of 2017 will have been members of a Lodge in this Constitution. I hope that Grand Officers – who normally wear no breast jewels other than the Royal Arch jewel – will wear it throughout that period, and will not feel obliged to stop wearing it once we reach 2018. I think it is a particularly attractive jewel and I am sure that many, if not most, members of the English Craft will want to wear it. Those of you with even keener eyesight may have noticed that I am also wearing a new tie. At a distance it looks very similar to the Craft tie introduced about 15 years ago, but it incorporates the new version of the square and compasses which has been adopted as our new logo in the run-up to the Tercentenary. While the old Craft tie may continue to be worn, it will go 'off-sale' from 24th June – so if anyone offers to sell you an 'old' tie brand-new after that date, you will know how to react.
Brethren, 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 4 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 the First World War, and also the formal reopening of the Masonic Memorial Garden at the National Arboretum.
Brethren, during May I was lucky enough to attend two splendid Festivals. The first was for the Samaritan Fund and was held at Old Trafford by the Province of Cheshire and the second was for the Grand Charity and was held in Norwich by the Province of Norfolk. Cheshire raised just over £3m and Norfolk just over £2m. Both are remarkable results and very much on par with each other bearing in mind the relative sizes of the Provinces. Our congratulations go to both.
It never ceases to amaze me how good our members are at fund raising. Every year the 4 Charity Festivals raise getting on for £10m and over and above that there are the Provincial charities as well as the individual lodge Charities. That, of course, doesn’t include the Freemasons’ Fund for Surgical Research (formerly the 250th Anniversary Fund) which provides the funding for all the marvelous work carried out by the Royal College of Surgeons about which we have been well informed today. Indeed there are several other exceptional Masonic charities, but time doesn’t permit me to mention them all today. Suffice it to say that the Central Masonic Charities gave over £4.8m to 393 non-masonic charities last year and I have little doubt that the Provinces and lodges added considerably to this figure.
Not only are our members good at fund raising, but, just as importantly, they have a huge amount of fun in the process. It is astonishing the diverse ways they find of raising money and the underlying theme is that each project should be enjoyed by all concerned, whether raising or giving the money.
I mention the enjoyment created by these events as surely that must be the aim of all of us at all of our meetings. I think we have come a long way since the time that 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 and not frowned upon. I am not for one minute suggesting we try to turn our meetings into a pantomime, but most certainly I am saying that there is no harm in being seen to enjoy ourselves.
Those of you who were at the Annual Investiture meetings may have noticed how many members from our Districts attended to receive their new ranks. It seemed to me to be rather more than usual. They were, rightly, greeted with significant applause. Naturally I didn’t know all the brethren concerned, but I do know many of their Districts and I know the pride they have in being members of UGLE; and they do us proud, brethren. I have often thought that if a lodge in this country has lost its way, it could do a lot worse than to get some members to visit some of our Districts, particularly, dare I say in West Africa and the Caribbean, where I have experienced this myself, but many other places as well, to see how much enjoyment can be derived from their meetings.
We can probably all cite instances when a more senior member of a lodge is less than sympathetic to a newer member who has, perhaps, had a few lapses during the ritual. In my view exactly the opposite reaction has the right effect and encouragement is what is required and this will almost certainly give him the confidence to improve, thereby increasing his enjoyment of our proceedings. I am in absolutely no doubt, brethren, that, if we encourage and congratulate, rather than routinely castigate our new members we will go a long way to retaining them as members and finally turn around our drop in numbers, which, incidentally, is already happening in some Provinces and Districts.
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 3 pieces of ritual that I had not come across before and all were delivered without hesitation – I should, of course add that I had no idea whether it was correct or not! Above all brethren, it seemed to me that they – yes you’ve guessed it – thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
Two last things, brethren. First, we have the television cameras running today, and one or two things have been filmed here and elsewhere in order to give a representative picture of Freemasonry and the filming of which should not be seen as precedents to be followed by individual lodges in future. Secondly, we are coming to the end of the current masonic season. Enjoy the summer break, and I look forward to seeing you again in September.