12 September 2018
An address by RW Bro Stuart Hadler, Provincial Grand Master of Somerset, and RW Bro Anthony Howlett-Bolton, Provincial Grand Master of Berkshire
A programme to promote learning and development
CASH: MW Pro Grand Master and Brethren, on behalf of the Improvement Delivery Group, we would like to spend a few minutes explaining the learning and development programme that has evolved over the last three years and will be introduced in two month’s time.
AHB: So Stuart where has this learning and development intiative come from?
CASH: Three years ago, the Membership Focus Group was formed to consider what needed to be done to promote Freemasonry as a relevant, worthwhile and attractive organisation in the 21st century. It undertook a series of surveys that enabled members to express personal views, experience and expectations. Over 80,000 responses were received.
AHB: What did they discover?
CASH: The majority of responders stated that understanding our symbolism, moral and philosophical issues was essential or at least very important. Significantly, many expressed interest to learn more of our history and traditions. Royal Arch members had the greatest interest. This interest and expectation to learn was evident across all age groups, particularly amongst newer and younger members.
AHB: And what did you find out about their learning experiences?
CASH: Many reported that they had unmet learning expectations and needs, that too little time, guidance and support was offered to extend learning beyond performing the ritual and ceremonial well. The results also very stongly suggested that many members have a general lack of understanding and a relative dearth of accessible resources to refer to.
AHB: So what did the MFG conclude?
CASH: That whilst the performance of ritual is a highly valued tradition of our constitution and social and charitable aspects are of key importance, we were failing many new and current members who seek to improve themselves through greater insight, knowledge and understanding of Freemasonry. Furthermore, that only through a personal ability to communicate and share these values can Freemasonry hope to demonstrate its worth and value in the 21st century. Our Members are a vital communication channel and need help and support to fulfil this.
Now Anthony, you’ve asked the questions so far and I’m sure that many, especially those behind us, are up to speed with much of what I’ve already said. We ought now to turn to the specifics of what we have been preparing and how this will address these findings.
AHB: Absolutely right, ask me anything you like!
CASH: OK. I imagine there will be some here today who will feel that this is a bit over the top. After all, if you are really keen to learn you will find a book or search the net won’t you? Surely, it’s a personal journey?.
AHB: In some respects yes, but the starting point for most of us is to have what we have experienced explained. The opportunity to offer an explanation in the lodge or chapter can be much more effective. This can signpost relevant material and help us along our own personal masonic journey.
CASH: Tell me more.
AHB: Ritual and ceremonies are core to Masonic life. Whilst many members enjoy learning and performing ritual, often key messages and nuances are missed. The opportunity to explore and understand is rarely provided at Lodge or Chapter meetings or is considered a poor alternative to a ceremony.
Many members are curious and have a sincere wish to improve their understanding. They have expectations when they join and these should evolve over time. We have a responsibility to ensure that our members have ready access to the intellectual and practical resources to enhance their Freemasonry, fulfill their interest and help them become more rounded and committed members. 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 is one reason why some members choose to leave.
CASH: So what benefit will a learning and development approach offer the individual member?
AHB: Greater understanding will add to enjoyment and improve ceremonies. Being more knowledgeable will boost confidence to talk in a comfortable and open way about what Freemasonry means personally. When learning becomes a regular Lodge and Chapter activity, membership should be more fulfilling and meaningful. In turn, this should aid attendance, retention and engagement.
CASH: So what is Solomon?
AHB: A good question, although a wide selection of books and online resources are available, it takes effort to identify appropriate pieces to use within the lodge environment. Solomon is a central repository of informative material that will answer some of the questions and point members along the path of daily advancement in masonic knowledge.
CASH: Who can use it?
AHB: It is designed to be used by individual masons, lodges, chapters, Provinces and Districts and to fit comfortably with the needs of all levels of experience and interest. Solomon will be beneficial to everyone. It can be used on multiple platforms such as smartphones, tablets and computers and currently contains over 350 items. It will continue to grow and evolve.
CASH: So does Solomon provide definitive answers?
AHB: No, there is no definitive UGLE view. Solomon is a collection of credible views and interpretations. So, you may find different explanations of a symbol or ceremony. This variation in interpretation should stimulate discussion and debate. Such is the nature of Freemasonry.
CASH: I’m pretty busy. I need to find things quickly and easily. How will Solomon help me?
AHB: Once you have registered and enrolled in one or more modules, you will be able to explore Solomon to your hearts content. It has been designed to foster curiosity and to draw you in to seek answers. There are various ways to search so you can expect to quickly find, read or download as much as you wish. Given smart phone access, Solomon could for instance readily provide an answer to a question at a Class of Instruction.
I would add caution however and Solomon also flags this up. Material is separated into modules for each degree and the Royal Arch. We ask users not to explore prematurely beyond the degrees that they have had already conferred so as not to spoil the revelations of their personal journey; to do so would be a shame.
CASH: The benefits to the individual are clear. But how will Solomon help my Lodge or Chapter?
AHB: The material provided by Solomon complements both the Members Pathway and individual mentoring programmes. Materials include a wide range of “nuggets”, papers for presentation and demonstrations with supporting explanation. Collectively, they provide a selection of interesting and accessible material that, if suitably chosen and well delivered, will complement or replace a ceremony. They will be favourably received, encourage attendance and interest. Ideally, learning activities will become an appreciated and regular feature of lodge and chapter meetings.
CASH: You’ve referred to ‘Nuggets’. Just what are they?
AHB: A Nugget is a five to ten-minute item of interest that will easily fit into a lodge evening; possibly to set the scene for the meeting, or as a short conclusion, or even when the candidate retires. They are flexible and may be delivered by a selected member. They are also very suitable for personal study and a great source of information for lodge quizzes. Nuggets may also lead to a presentation that expands on a topic of interest.
CASH: No doubt some will feel that there is no spare time at a meeting or that this is another imposition?
AHB: We hope that the benefits of making time for learning will readily become apparent and that all Members will increasingly value the time devoted to it. A well organised lodge or chapter will have a programme that reflects the needs and interests of all its members, that they enjoy and which encourages them to attend. Learning may also extend beyond the regular meeting to Class of Instruction or special events for a masonic centre or special interest group. Rather than view this as an imposition, we should view it as an opportunity and an easy way to keep and develop interest and enjoyment.
Now Stuart you’ve been a Provincial Grand Master for longer than me, surely introducing Solomon will have implications for Provinces and Districts too?
CASH: You’re right Anthony, delivering the change agenda for Freemasonry does place additional demand on Provincial rulers and their Teams. Whilst it would be very easy to see Solomon as just another initiative conceived centrally, it is based on expressed member feedback and will, we hope, be favourably received. The reaction of those that have had access to the material already is extremely positive and I am sure that its general use, as outlined today, will lead to a more confident, enthusiastic and informed membership, well equipped to explain and communicate Freemasonry to friends, family, potential members and the public.
AHB: Would you accept that Provinces and Districts may need some help with this?
CASH: Yes absolutely. We have anticipated this and are providing resources to help them to introduce Solomon and develop local learning activities and resources. We wish to be supportive and to work with the appointed lead in each Craft and Royal Arch Province and District.
One of the key areas will be to ensure that material that needs to be presented is delivered in an understandable and engaging way. This takes skill and so we are asking Provinces to identify suitable members to be presenters, develop their skills and promote their use. A critical goal is to move away from the days of the boring lecture.
Many Provinces have provided educational activities for some time, so for them this is not a new topic. We are eager to promote and share good examples, these include specialist lodges and working with light blue clubs. We encourage a collaborative approach between the Craft and the Royal Arch.
AHB: Stuart, it may be that you haven’t convinced everyone this morning about the need?
CASH: Well, firstly, lets remember that none of this is prescriptive. We are however responding to the wishes of members and I hope that in these few minutes, we have demonstrated that Solomon has real benefits across the board. It will help to attract, retain and produce well informed and capable members and leaders for the future. Learning and development is closely intertwined with the Members Pathway and in that sense is an essential component of our membership strategy.
AHB: How and when can I access it and find out more?
CASH: There is an introductory article from Sir David Wootton in this month’s Freemasonry Today. All Craft and Royal Arch Provinces have been advised of a special event in late November. This will be an important opportunity for them to be briefed, have advance access to Solomon and to begin to plan their support. Important elements of the launch will be videoed to support the Districts. The December edition of Freemasonry Today will carry a more detailed article and provide each member with an explanatory leaflet. So, from December, everyone will be able to register and enjoy full access to Solomon.
I suggest we conclude with a little about the future?
AHB: Yes indeed. We intend that Solomon will expand in volume, range and diversity of material. We wish to promote Solomon wherever we can, to share best practice and to offer support. There will always be a need to commission and source new and credible material. There is plenty out there waiting to be shared and willing able members eager to write material for us. We will provide guidance for potential contributors later this year.
CASH: MW Pro Grand Master and Brethren, I should like to place on record that the development of Solomon is the result of a huge commitment of time, energy and determination on the part of the Project Team, the Panel of Editors and indeed the authors, provinces and publishers that have provided some first class material for us to work with.
May I leave you all with a concluding thought that there are three clear golden-threads to bring together, the Members Pathway, Mentoring and Learning & Development. Integrating them into a seamless whole will ensure that lodges and chapters are in a strong position to grow and fulfil their obligations to their Members.
Solomon is part of the solution. It will foster curiosity, develop understanding and continue to evolve over time.