12 March 2014
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes
Brethren, it has been a pleasure to install Right Worshipful Brother Sir David Wootton as Assistant Grand Master. In offering him our congratulations I know that you would want me to wish him well in his important task at this exciting time for Freemasonry.
I also take this opportunity to thank RW Bro David Williamson for his thirteen years as Assistant Grand Master serving the English Constitution admirably in that role. I can think of few people who have done more for Freemasonry in general and the Craft in particular. I also know that I speak for Lord Northampton when I say that there could not have been a more loyal and supportive AGM.
It is, in fact, the unity of the English Constitution that I wish to talk about today. That unity is crucial to our survival as a relevant organisation in society for men of quality to join. In particular I want to emphasise the importance of all the component parts of our organisation working together. Enormous progress has been made in the liaison between the centre, here, and London, the Provinces and Districts.
The consistent approach from the centre is now very much a consultative one, working directly to seek views before making proposals for consensus approval. This is typically through the Grand Secretary, on behalf of the Rulers and Board of General Purposes by direct contact, online surveys or by Provincial Grand Masters championing or being members of committees looking into and ensuring the future of Freemasonry. This inclusive approach is working well. I am keen that it continues.
I will illustrate this inclusive approach with some examples to support this starting with the Board of General Purposes whose nine members include the Metropolitan Grand Master, two current and two past Provincial Grand Masters. They not only bring a wealth of experience but also an understanding of the issues directly facing the Provinces. For your information the latest issue of Freemasonry Today, which has just come out, has an article in which the President of the Board explains how the Board is fully transparent, where every member is an active contributor. He also mentions the increasing professionalism in the way the Craft is run with standards you would expect to find in successful businesses.
I mentioned that this is an exciting time for Freemasonry with several initiatives dealing with both future recruitment and retention as well as business effectiveness in running a large membership organisation. For example the newly formed Membership Focus Group which includes eight Provincial Grand Masters. Their brief is to advise the Board of General Purposes on how best Freemasonry can concentrate the minds of members, lodges, Provinces and Rulers to work in a collaborative and focused manner in stemming the decline in membership and meeting the long term needs of the Craft. Interestingly, they have already identified the high loss of members throughout the first ten years of membership. It is also already clear that the majority of recruitment is carried out by a relatively small number of members.
The Tercentenary Planning Committee is working closely with the Board of General Purposes looking at the overall plans for celebrations in 2017. Although there will be a final event in London towards the end of the year, I am determined that the Provinces and Districts run their own celebratory events throughout the year at times convenient to them. With this in mind two Provincial Grand Masters sit on the Committee with the aim of supporting and coordinating the planning with other Provincial and District Grand Masters. This way, many more members, throughout the English Constitution, will be able to participate in celebrating this milestone in our great history.
I have talked about Provincial Grand Masters being involved with helping to set the strategy as members of committees. But, brethren, wider views are also sought with online surveys which are quick and informative. For example, we have run a survey seeking opinions on communication strategies for the English Constitution. More recently, we have had a survey on potential new branding as we move towards 2017.
There are, of course, many other examples of how well we are all working together. I hold a business meeting for all Provincial Grand Masters the day before the annual Craft Investitures in April each year, and later this year I will be holding my next round of regional meetings with Provincial Grand Masters. These meetings have proved invaluable in the past, openly exchanging views and opinions.
Let us not forget the Districts who form an important part of the English Constitution. Last year, accompanied by the Grand Secretary, I attended business meetings with groups of District Grand Masters in Trinidad, Harare and Lagos whilst the Deputy Grand Master attended the inaugural Asia Oceanic Conference of District Grand Lodges in Kuala Lumpur. In addition I hold a dedicated meeting for all District Grand Masters who attend the Investitures in April to discuss issues that particularly affect them.
So, brethren, we are, as a united English Constitution, working more closely together than at any other time in our history. At a strategic level, I believe that continuing to work together will not only stem the decline in membership but start to increase it to ensure the future of Freemasonry. At an individual level, consider the fact that the more members there are, the better chance Grand Lodge has of keeping the dues down.
Changing tack, brethren, you will all be more than well aware of the appalling conditions being experienced by thousands of people as a result of the winter floods. Whilst the south west has been worst hit, Kent, Sussex and Berkshire as well as parts of Wales are not far behind, in fact there is barely a part of the south that does not have its tales of woe.
It will not surprise you to know that Freemasonry has been to the fore with providing relief funding. The Somerset Community Fund has received £750,000 in all, of which £125,000 has been from various masonic sources. The Provincial Grand Master of Somerset set a target of £50,000 and so, brethren, you can imagine how overwhelmed he is by the support the Province has received, from the Grand Charity, other Provinces (Essex alone donating £40,000) and many Lodges from all over the country, as well as those in his own Province.
The Grand Charity can and does react quickly in these situations and as well as its support of Somerset, it has donated to the Red Cross, Berkshire, Devonshire and West Wales. In all, so far, it has made donations of nearly £60,000.
We should all be immensely proud of the way in which our members respond to emergencies and how well we are able to coordinate our giving. Thank you to all those concerned.