Lodge of Union, No. 38, celebrated its bicentenary at Goodwood House. The country estate, near Chichester in Sussex, is the seat of the Duke of Richmond, many of whom have been masons over the centuries. Lodge officers wear gold on their collars to commemorate the close connection between Chichester Freemasonry and the ducal family, whose colour it is.
The event was attended by Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes, Grand Secretary Nigel Brown, Grand Director of Ceremonies Oliver Lodge and Sussex Provincial Grand Master Kenneth Thomas.
As we all know, time seems to go by at an ever-increasing rate and, with that in mind, our great celebrations in 2017 are not that far away. Just think, as the Mother Grand Lodge of the world, we will be the ﬁrst Grand Lodge to reach three hundred years – what a fantastic milestone.
On this subject I want to address a point of huge signiﬁcance. The Pro Grand Master in his last Quarterly Communication speech, which you can read in this issue’s Senior Insights, stressed that this ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to celebrate the occasion is for everyone. It is quite simply the members’ celebration. To that end we will be working tirelessly with the Provinces and Districts to make this a memorable experience for us all.
Our magazine continues to go from strength to strength and this is supported by a recent online readership survey. We were particularly impressed that forty-six per cent of our readers’ wives and partners are now enjoying the magazine. I have also just heard that Freemasonry Today has been shortlisted for an award by an external body as a membership magazine that has made the most progress for its readers. This is fantastic news.
In this issue, we ﬁnd out about brethren who are inspiring communities, challenging preconceptions and contributing to society. We ﬂy back to the Second World War to ﬁnd out how Squadron Leader, mason and secret hero Jerry Fray played a covert but hugely important role in photographing the destruction wrought by the Dambusters.
We explain why RMBI homes are now using pioneering techniques that focus on the quality of life for someone with dementia. And we go along to the ihelp ﬁnals to report on how Buckinghamshire Freemasons are giving young people the chance to show they care about the communities they live in.
I hope you enjoy the issue and that you and your families have a wonderful festive season.
With both Her Majesty The Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics, it has certainly been a memorable summer.
Since the last issue we have successfully released a new core leaflet. The title, What's It All About?, was inspired by our most frequently asked - and probably hardest to answer - question from non-masons. This is another milestone in our strategy for making people understand the relevance of Freemasonry in modern society which, in turn, will help both recruitment and retention. Do please look at the leaflet on our website. I think it is important to note that the leaflet is written in plain English for both the potential candidate as well as for all our families and friends.
It is a great 'myth buster'; showing that our values are based on integrity, kindness, honesty and fairness. Additionally, it talks about friendship, openness, giving, our purpose and how we all grow by our membership. Very different to anything we have done before, the leaflet has some outstanding black and white photography. Indeed, the initial distribution to London, the Provinces and Districts has proved so popular that we have already had to order another print run.
We have another thought-provoking issue of Freemasonry Today for you all, including a fascinating interview with the Pro Grand Master, Peter Lowndes. He talks openly about what he has got out of Freemasonry as well as the responsibility of this key leadership role and his hopes for the Craft. Dr Roman Hovorka goes on the record to discuss the creation of an artificial pancreas - the result of medical research that has been funded by the Freemasons and which could transform the way children with Type 1 diabetes manage this chronic condition. We spend a day on the lake with the Masonic Fishing Charity in Northamptonshire to see how young people are finding new ways of interacting with the world. Finally, ex-soldiers and Freemasons Michael Allen and Sandy Sanders reveal the camaraderie they have found in becoming Chelsea Pensioners.
Letters to the editor - No. 20 Winter 2012
In reading the Grand Secretary’s column and hearing about the new Core Leaflet it occurred to me that Freemasonry is not just a charitable institution – a view held by the mundane world and many brethren alike. We all know that charity is the distinguishing characteristic of a Freemason’s heart and most apply this virtue without vaunting it. It is natural that the Craft should defend itself against the many unfair accusations made against it, but in doing so in public our charitable virtues should not be overstated. The Craft is far more than a charity.
Letters to the editor - No. 21 Spring 2013
Keeping up standards
I read with great interest and agreement the correspondence from Herbert Ewings and Tom Carr in the winter 2012 edition and felt somehow that the two letters were intrinsically linked.
Her Majesty The Queen received from His Royal Highness The Grand Master, on our behalf, a message of loyal greetings and congratulations on the occasion of Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee. Sixty years is a fantastic achievement, equalling Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 1897 when His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales was Grand Master. Let us not forget that Her Majesty is the daughter of a famous Freemason and Past Grand Master, the late King George VI.
Freemasons have consistently remained devoted and loyal to her Majesty throughout her reign. A great example of this, for any one of you who has attended meetings in the Grand Temple at Freemasons’ Hall, is when up to seventeen hundred members sing the National Anthem with gusto. You cannot fail to be deeply moved.
The Grand Master, in his speech at the Annual Investiture at the end of April, explained why transparency is critical for Freemasonry and urges an active spirit of openness. You can read the full speech in this issue and see where The Grand Master picks up the theme of our two recent firsts. One was the commissioning of the first ever report by an independent third party on the future of Freemasonry, which was the catalyst for the second of our two firsts, namely the first ever media tour that I was given the privilege of conducting.
The theme is continued in two more articles where our public relations adviser explains how we have gone about changing the minds of the mass of people who have deep-rooted misconceptions about the myths that still surround us. If we want our families to be proud of us being members and if we want to show we are a relevant organisation to join, every effort must be made for these misconceptions to be got rid of.
This is followed by an article on what it was like to be on the ‘front line’ with the media – the Grand Secretary being interviewed around the country. Interestingly, I was hugely encouraged by the positive reception I received.
These examples are a true reflection of our respected magazine being the official journal of the United Grand Lodge of England. Apart from the clear benefit of reading what our leaders are thinking and the initiatives we are undertaking to ensure our long-term survival, be assured that all editorial is selected by senior and experienced Freemasons, who are renowned experts in masonic matters and news editing. The only non-masons involved deal in the commissioning of articles – after they have been selected by the editorial panel – or involved in design, printing and distribution. They too have been chosen for their recognised expertise.
I hope you enjoy this issue of Freemasonry Today. With the London Olympic Games just around the corner, we look at how Spencer Park Lodge is carrying the torch for masons who have an interest in sport and enjoy the camaraderie that Freemasonry brings. We also look back at the role that Freemasons played in the 1908 London Olympics, not just on the track but also in helping run the event behind the scenes. And for anyone not totally fixated on athletics, we find out whether Christopher Wren really was part of the Craft and how we let a hundred young people loose on Freemasons’ Hall.
I wish you and your family happy reading and an enjoyable summer.
At the suggestion of Anthony West, Chairman of the Grand Lodge 250th Anniversary Fund, Tuscan Lodge, No. 14, arranged a Fellows Presentation at The Royal College of Surgeons of England in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, in the presence of The Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Kent.
The 250th Fund was set up in 1967 to support the college in making annual grants to support research Fellows, and currently there are three Freemasons’ research Fellows each year. In connection with the bicentenary of Supreme Grand Chapter in 2013, an appeal is in progress, the funds of which will be applied for a similar purpose.
Other distinguished guests included the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes, Assistant Grand Master David Williamson, Grand Secretary Nigel Brown and the Grand Director of Ceremonies, Oliver Lodge.
The guests were welcomed by Professor Norman Williams, President of The Royal College of Surgeons, while plastic surgeon Professor Gus McGrouther expressed his gratitude to the masonic community for its support. Professor McGrouther explained that the college receives no NHS funding for research and that this all has to be paid for by voluntary contribution. The college supports 20 researchers annually chosen from 150 applications.
Three Freemasons’ Research Fellows gave talks. They were Vaibhav Sharma, on improving hearing through reducing scar tissue; Miss Ming He, on tissue engineering for transplantation; and Satoshi Hori of the Uro-Oncology, Hutchinson/MRC Research Centre, University of Cambridge. A member of Isaac Newton University Lodge No.859 also spoke on targeting growth factors in prostate cancer.
The Grand Secretary embarked on a nationwide media tour to dispel some myths and spark discussion about Freemasonry. Sophie Radice reports
Nigel Brown, Grand Secretary of the United Grand Lodge of England, has just been on a tour the length and breath of England – not forgetting an interview with BBC Wales – that would exhaust any electioneering politician or celebrity trying to promote a new book. Over just four days, Nigel gave 40 back-to-back interviews to national and local newspapers and radio stations.
The publication of a new independent report The Future Of Freemasonry was the catalyst to generate discussion about the role of Freemasonry in the twenty-first century, while at the same time debunking certain persistent myths about the organisation. Both the tour and the report are the first stages in the build up to the 300th anniversary of the Freemasons in 2017 and to promote a better understanding of what Freemasonry means.
Nigel found it exhausting but exhilarating, particularly enjoying the direct contact he had with the public in the regional radio phone-in discussions: ‘People still believe certain things about the Freemasons, and of course the deep-seated myth that it is a secret society with unique business networking opportunities came up many times. It was really good to be able to say: “Look, would I be doing a tour of England if it was a secret society?”
‘I was able to tell people that the only time the Freemasons ever went underground was during the Second World War when more than 200,000 Freemasons were sent to the gas chambers by Hitler because he saw Freemasonry as a threat. Seeing Hitler’s persecution of Freemasonry, particularly after he invaded the Channel Islands, and fearing the invasion of England, members became alarmed,’ continues Nigel. ‘Many of the people I spoke to on the tour were very surprised to hear this.’
Nigel goes on to explain that Freemasonry then played an important role post-war for troops returning home, many of whom wanted to be with other men who had been through the same experience. ‘Many lodges were formed during the immediate post-war period. Perhaps too many because there was such a strong need for camaraderie and because of what had happened during the war. As a result they naturally became inward looking.’
need for belonging
While the number of lodges has now levelled out almost to its pre-war period, the sense of brotherly support remains in the 250,000 members in England and Wales. Among its conclusions, The Future Of Freemasonry report states that ‘there is a timeless need for a sense of affiliation and belonging’. The report also emphasises the importance that Freemasons place on helping others.
‘The only requisite we have for joining the Freemasons is that they are people of integrity, honesty, fairness and kindness who believe in a supreme being,’ explains Nigel. ‘We welcome people of all races and religions with different social and economic backgrounds. This kind of openness, and the fact that Freemasonry is a non-religious and non-political organisation means that the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Israel is a Palestinian, and that is because the decency and morality of our members is of paramount importance.’
When Nigel told people he met on his tour that the Freemasons were the biggest charitable givers after The National Lottery, donating £30 million last year, he was met with incredulity. ‘These very large contributions come from Freemasons’ own efforts rather than from street collections or any other type of external fundraising. Because the Freemason does not ask for thanks or reward it means that very few people know about our charitable donations, even though they are on such a large scale. For instance, we are the main donors to The Royal College of Surgeons, funding much of their research and donate generously to the Red Cross. I know it seems a small thing but it is something that I am particularly proud of. We are the people that provide teddies for all children going into surgery, to comfort them in that difficult moment.’
Questions about Freemasonry rituals, rolled-up trouser legs and secret handshakes were well prepared for. Nigel explained that he had never come across the secret handshake but was glad to shed light on the rituals as a series of ‘one-act plays’ performed by members as they moved up the ranks of the Freemasons. ‘I was happy to tell interviewers and those ringing in to radio discussion programmes that there was nothing sinister about it. I think that rituals are very important to a sense of belonging and our members thoroughly enjoy taking part in these performances and memorising their lines. They provide a distinctive character to joining and moving through the ranks of the Freemasons – our aim isn’t to make Freemasonry bland but to make the public more aware of what we do.’
Even in recent memory, Freemasonry has had to deal with discrimination against members. ‘On some job application forms there was the question, “Are you a member of a secret society, e.g. the Freemasons?” We got that removed by the European Court of Human Rights, but we still have to work hard to make sure that our members are not wrongly judged, or feel that it is something they have to hide. As the report shows, our members really value the feeling of belonging to an organisation that contributes to society and is a part of their life that they can be proud of. Freemasonry is more relevant than ever – in a competitive and fragmented society it provides a combination of friendship and structure.’
This year started on a high note. As part of our communication strategy and as a build-up to our tercentenary in 2017, we commissioned an independent report on the future of Freemasonry. This report, specifically for the media, was produced by the respected Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford.
To launch the report I have just completed a successful regional media tour around the Provinces, talking to local radio and press, followed by national media activity. This is a classic example of our proactive approach. I plan to tell you about the report and the actual tour in the next issue, but let me give you a flavour of some of the important and encouraging findings.
The Future of Freemasonry report suggests that, contrary to much misleading commentary, Freemasonry does in fact demonstrate genuine openness and transparency. It concludes that Freemasonry is arguably more relevant today than ever before. In particular, the report highlights that Freemasonry acts as a ‘constant’ and provides members with a unique combination of friendship, belonging and structure, all of which can sometimes be absent in today’s fragmented society.
The report covers a fascinating range of topics including a section that highlights the importance Freemasonry places on the role of the family and the care of the less fortunate in society. It goes on to say that Freemasonry instils in its members a moral and ethical approach to life: it seeks to reinforce thoughtfulness for others, kindness in the community, honesty in business, courtesy in society and fairness in all things.
In this issue, you will find a fantastic collection of features and stories that clearly illustrate Freemasonry’s core values. On page 16 you can read about a Gravesend garage that is giving hope to unemployed young people by not just training them to be auto mechanics but also giving them the confidence to grow. Freemasons continue to support this and many other projects that are aimed at helping disadvantaged young people into employment or education.
Teddies For Loving Care donates teddy bears to comfort children in hospitals across the world. We talk to its founder, Freemason Ian Simpson, about how he started the project and the people whose lives it has touched. Later in the issue, we find out how Joshua Tonnar is rowing his way into Olympic contention with the support of a grant from the Freemasons. Meanwhile, a profile about the creation of the Royal Life Saving Lodge shows how the Craft brings together people from all walks of life, creating an environment where they not only discuss masonry but also share common interests, values and aspirations.
These stories all point to the sense of community, courtesy and honesty that are characteristic of the intrinsic strengths of Freemasonry today.
14 March 2012
A speech by the VW The Grand Secretary Nigel Brown and Jessica Bondy
NB: Most Worshipful Pro Grand Master and Brethren,
I am delighted to introduce Jessica Bondy to those of you who do not already know her. She is our public relations adviser and has been working closely with us on our communications strategy. Put it another way: she probably knows more of what we are all about, and what our aims are, than any other non Mason!
The core, the heartbeat, of the strategy is to dispel myths. But why bother? After all, we know that as the oldest fraternal organisation in the world, our principles have never changed and our timeless values are as relevant today as they were three hundred years ago.
We suggest, as modern Freemasons, there are two reasons in particular why we should bother – you will have others. If we take as a given that we want good press, then the first reason is that, by dispelling the myths it will help with both retention and recruitment and secondly, it will reduce – potentially eradicate – discrimination against us, especially in the public sector.
To explain the determined progress of our communications strategy I use the analogy of Mount Everest. The expedition has started. And we have before us the long haul to the top which we must reach before 2017. I say long haul, because on the one side our members are going to have to be brought up to date with our thinking, which we have started to do with the Provincial Information Officers, and on the other side we must overcome the utter rubbish that has been written about us. I'll now handover. Jessica.
JB: For a communication strategy to work, it is essential to have support at the highest level in an organisation. We have that. So working closely with the Strategic Communications Committee and the Board of General Purposes we are at the first stage of our journey with a clear objective to both increase understanding of, and support for, Freemasonry - and to build a positive reputation for the Organisation. Critical to achieving this is by highlighting your openness and relevance in society today. And rather than just talking about it we have taken action to demonstrate change.
In your assets we have for example proper open websites, the newly highly acclaimed Freemasonry Today magazine, which is increasingly read by family members, a mentoring scheme which includes helping you to talk about Freemasonry openly and sensibly, so that as many of you as possible can become ambassadors for the organisation. All of this will be further helped by a new leaflet designed simply to give people a good feel about Freemasonry.
But more importantly, and for the first time ever, we approached a non-masonic body to produce a report for the media on the future of Freemasonry, written by an independent third party, with no connection to Freemasonry. This was a bold move, but it was essential for the media to both see this as a neutral and outsider's perspective for credibility's sake, and also to act as the catalyst for them to want to talk to us. The Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford, otherwise known as SIRC, was selected competitively. They offered not only anthropological expertise, which forms much of the backdrop of the report, but also their research criteria are based on evidence and not ideology. In their words: "We needed to test Freemasonry's claims for openness and transparency".
SIRC set about compiling the views and opinions of a cross-section of Freemasons and non-Masons alike, examining the presence of, or the need for, an element in ritual in all our lives, our need to belong, the ways we express our generosity to others, and the extent to which our everyday lives involve ritual behaviours. The result is a truly insightful and timely commentary, not just on this great Organisation, but also fascinatingly on the complex interactions, perceptions and values of modern society itself.
Just to give you a flavour: among their key findings, is that contrary to much misleading commentary, Freemasonry shows genuine openness and transparency. To quote a piece from the report, "One thing that immediately became apparent was that the notion of Freemasonry as a secret society was clearly inappropriate". More importantly the report ends by saying that it is arguably more relevant today than ever before. It also shows that Freemasonry acts as a 'constant', and by that I mean that it provides members with a unique combination of friendship, belonging and structure, with many Masons saying they have made lifelong friendships. Also, although I absolutely understand that Freemasonry is not a Charity the report also highlights the importance that Freemasonry places on giving – thinking of the needs of others.
For your interest we concurrently ran a survey among non-Masons which showed what a huge opportunity we have. Over half wanted to know more about us and a quarter would consider joining.
So with the report published and in our hands, and the knowledge that people really do want to know more, we took the Grand Secretary on a highly successful media tour, quite literally the length and breadth of the country, which was another first. We felt it important for the Grand Secretary to be on the road and truly show openness by meeting people face-to-face to show we have nothing to hide. So over the past two weeks he has visited twenty locations around the country with forty interviews with local press and radio stations. The response was very positive and he was given the opportunity to communicate a number of the key messages. I will share one headline from the Yorkshire Post written by one of the only women editors: "A Secret Society? No we're Freemasons because we enjoy friendships and fun", and the editor's opener: "For centuries Freemasonry has been known as a 'secret society' but we've got them all wrong".
Nationally, we have also made waves. At best we set off to generate balanced pieces and stimulate debate, with the view that we would be very pleased indeed if they were positive. BBC online was the third most popular story last Friday and generated an unprecedented number of comments running currently at over one thousand. The interview on one of the leading radio stations, LBC, quite literally jammed the switchboard.
You can now all see the report on your Freemasonry Today website. Combining all the media and press interviews, the reach has been to a potential audience of over fifty million!! Grand Secretary.
NB: Here is a brief feedback from the front line for your interest. I was pleasantly surprised by the reception I got from the press and media in the Provinces. Yes, all the questions were based on the typical myths which all of you are aware of, but they were receptive to my answers. National newspapers are very different, being much tougher, more liable to misquote, and going for sensational headlines, but just to get coverage is a further demonstration, very publically, of our openness and acceptance of debate. It is well worth the risk and we need to do this if we are ever to move forward. Let us be very clear: the myths are deeply set in people's minds. But as we move forward we want people to base their judgement on facts – not fantasy. As all of you can imagine, it is a very real challenge to change people's deeply rooted perceptions in a few minutes, but it is a challenge we relish. I leave the last word to Jessica.
JB: These firsts, the report and the media tour, have presented a major opportunity for your organisation. We have to harness and build on the interest now, in order to achieve the impact we deserve in 2017. If we can convert people from negative to neutral at the very least, I believe we will be making huge progress. The SIRC report ends as I do, "If Freemasonry is able successfully to conclude its quiet revolution, while at the same time ensuring that its central features are retained to preserve the true 'spirit' of Freemasonry, then its future may well be assured – for the next century or two at least".
"The Future of Freemasonry" report is the first ever independent study conducted by a non-Masonic body, and was commissioned as part of the build-up to the United Grand Lodge of England's tercentenary in 2017.
Now that Freemasonry Today has settled into its stride I think it important to confirm our editorial policy. For news, we cover stories about our members in both the Craft and the Royal Arch. We are keen to see news about the end product of our giving – from our time helping others through to our charitable donations. Editorial needs to be of interest to both our members and their families, consistently supporting our communications philosophy.
A good example of this can be found on page ten of the news section, where we report on the Red Balloon Learner Centre Group in Cambridge, which has received a major grant of £25,000 from The Freemasons’ Grand Charity to fund training for staff at its centres for severely bullied children. The centres help restore a young person’s confidence as well as helping them cope academically and socially. With a survey from Red Balloon finding sixteen thousand children absent from school due to severe bullying, such stories not only point to the work of one of our four charities but are also of interest to everyone, mason and non-mason.
One of the many benefits of our new members’ website is that it can carry – among many other things – the latest, and particularly time sensitive, news. This allows us to concentrate on the thinking and direction of our most senior leaders in the magazine, with our section named Senior Insights. These are not time sensitive messages but are hugely important for us all to know about. On page twenty-two, Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes considers how best to explain the importance of the Royal Arch in the completion of pure ancient masonry. Is this best done after they have been raised? How does their mentor brief them? And how does the mentor or Royal Arch representative gain the right level of knowledge to correctly brief them in the first place?
Freemasonry Today is not a lifestyle magazine. It will, however, concentrate on stories and achievements of our members – showing how relevant Freemasonry is in today’s society. A young, up-and-coming dancer called Blaze Porter is profiled on page sixteen and you can find out how Freemason Humphrey Ball is helping Blaze fulfil his dreams. History that depicts the work of Freemasons is also very popular among our readers and we look at the life and times of Anthony Sayer on page forty-one. Chosen as the first Grand Master of Grand Lodge in 1717, little is known about his life and we ask whether historians have deliberately ignored him out of snobbery.
For information that members need to know quickly, or when action needs to be taken, these can be transmitted via Metropolitan, the Provinces and Districts through their grand secretaries, information officers and mentors.
We are constantly updating our mailing lists and if you have any problems, or know of a fellow member who is having problems receiving their copy, please do let us know.