Neil Johnstone was installed as the new Provincial Grand Master and Grand Superintendent of East Kent on 3rd October 2018
East Kent has just under 7,000 members, meeting in 189 Lodges at 35 dedicated Masonic Centres located everywhere from Gravesend in the north of the county to Hythe on the south coast, from Paddock Wood in the west to Ramsgate in the east.
Neil, who joined Renham Lodge No. 8211 in Sittingbourne nearly 40 years ago, said: ‘I am proud to be the Head of East Kent Freemasons, whilst there is a serious side to what we do, I continue to meet many wonderful people and enjoy some very worthwhile and fun social times.
‘I am also immensely proud of seeing organisation and individuals in Kent being helped with our Cornwallis Charity. This is very heart-warming as it helps to make such a difference to so many peoples lives’ and makes it so worthwhile.’
The Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes, Grand Secretary Dr David Staples, Second Grand Principal Russell Race and Third Grand Principal Gareth Jones were all in attendance.
Neil had 33-year career in the Police Service followed by 11 years in Local Government. His police career started at Chatham, in the late 60s and early 70s. Neil progressed through various roles and ranks in Kent Police until 1992 when he was seconded to New Scotland Yard to head a national and international unit co-ordinating the many and various aspects of planning for, and responding to, major incidents and the complex investigation processes that inevitably followed.
Neil added: ‘I was very fortunate to travel throughout the UK and to many other countries around the world wearing an Interpol hat and although challenging, it was a fantastic and professionally rewarding opportunity to have had. My succeeding service with our County Council involved the planning for and co-ordination of potential large-scale incidents in Kent, but aimed at minimising the impact on the public and supporting the emergency services. So that was my working life in a nutshell.’
Pause for thought
Having helped oversee the establishment of the Metropolitan Grand Lodge, Second Grand Principal Russell Race now wants to give Craft members enough time to understand the Royal Arch
What have you taken from your professional career?
I did an economics degree at Liverpool and worked initially for British Steel, then for an administrative body looking after the fishing industry. When I was 24, I went into the City as an investment analyst. I was there for the rest of my working life, for the last 20 years in corporate finance, and retired in my early 50s.
I found my enjoyment was in building good working relationships, and ultimately friendships, with colleagues and clients – which, on the corporate side, is crucial. I had around 30 clients and if you did a good job for them, they would not seek to move somewhere else for a quarter per cent on a deal. And relationships take us into Freemasonry. It’s all about working with people, interacting with them and enjoying their company.
When did you find out about Freemasonry?
I was born in Gloucester, and the first 12 years of my life were spent there. My father joined a lodge just after the war and he went into the Chair in 1956, two years before we moved to Kent, where he became a founder of what became my mother lodge in Rochester.
Lodges had a big social calendar and as a teenager I went to many lodge events with my parents. When I came back from university at 21, and was still living in Kent, my father said to me, ‘Well, you know something about masonry and you’ve met many members of the lodge, so if you’re interested in joining, let me know.’ It was a very smart psychological move. Many fathers might have said, ‘Well, I’ve got you down to join at the next meeting, now you’re back in the area,’ but mine didn’t. I took about two years, got settled in a job, and then said, ‘I’d like to join.’ It was very much my decision, rather than feeling any obligation to join.
Did joining the Royal Arch feel like a natural progression?
I was 29 when I joined the Royal Arch, again in the local chapter in East Kent. I didn’t go into it with any preconceptions and I loved the ceremony from day one – despite being on the receiving end of all three lectures on the evening of my exaltation! In those days, the Royal Arch was considered the completion of the Third Degree, which is now an area of debate. But you could also just say it was seen as the natural progression from the Craft, which is something we rightly still emphasise.
The pressure on chapters was rather less in the 1960s and 1970s, because our numbers were higher than they are today, albeit beginning to level out. Chapters were thriving with 30 or 40 members, but it’s when you get below critical mass of 20 to 15 that you suddenly start thinking, ‘What do we do?’ It’s only at this late stage that many chapters try to re-establish links with the mother Craft lodge, which may be too late.
Why did you become involved in Metropolitan?
As a member of London lodges and chapters, I was aware that Metropolitan was being set up as a separate entity, but my move to London was a complete shot out of the blue. As East Kent Deputy Provincial Grand Master, I had met the Pro Grand Master Lord Northampton for the first time at a dinner. A little later, Rex Thorne asked me out to lunch in Long Acre, and when I arrived Lord Northampton was with him. To my surprise, he asked me to move up to London to become the first Deputy Metropolitan Grand Master.
I took some time to think about it because it was a new job and I knew the time commitment would be substantial. I asked the opinion of a few close friends who were unconnected with London, and they all said the same: ‘You can’t say no. It’s a great opportunity.’ Which indeed it was, but the workload proved to be quite heavy as well.
How did you feel leaving Metropolitan to become Second Grand Principal?
I think I made it known to people over time that Royal Arch is one of my great loves. Having completed six years as Metropolitan Deputy Grand Master and six years as Metropolitan Grand Master and Grand Superintendent, I knew it wasn’t a job I was going to do forever. I had a meeting with Peter Lowndes, who asked how I would feel about taking the position of Second Grand Principal, as George Francis was retiring. I paused slightly but, on this occasion, I didn’t ask for time to think about it, I said, ‘Yes, I’d love to do it.’ The best things in life come unexpectedly, don’t they?
For my successor as Metropolitan Grand Master, Sir Michael Snyder, the intention is to perform the role in a slightly different way, which I am sure is right. It was important in the early days of Metropolitan Grand Lodge for the rulers to be seen to be out visiting lodges and chapters on a regular basis and to be visible to all London masons. I was able to do that, but it wasn’t something that necessarily needed to be carried on at the same pitch, because London now has a firmly established base and identity.
‘We should continue to celebrate the great diversity of ritual practice within the Royal Arch’
What have you inherited from your predecessor in the Royal Arch?
I think one of the important things that George Francis brought to the job was being visible to companions all around the country, visiting widely in the Provinces and London. There is no substitute for hearing people’s views first-hand. Additionally, he was a keen promoter of making the ritual more dramatic and understandable for all participants.
What I would say is that we now need a slight pause for breath to allow the changes to sink in. We have a number of initiatives going on, following on from the ritual change a few years ago, and we have to get these embedded within each Province. Although there may be minor adjustments, I don’t envisage radical changes in the near term. We should continue to celebrate the great diversity of ritual practice within the Royal Arch.
In lodges where there is no active Royal Arch representative, or the Secretary’s not particularly keen on our order, the young mason coming through may have no awareness of the Royal Arch at all. Why should he be deprived of that experience? We need to ensure that all masons have the opportunity to join. I’m not saying you’re an incomplete mason if you’ve not come into the Royal Arch, but rather that your breadth of understanding is not as full as it might be.
Imagine when somebody’s interviewed for initiation and saying to them, ‘You are beginning an exciting four-stage journey.’ If you can get that message across on day one, it’s far easier than going to them after they’ve done their Third Degree and saying, ‘Oh, by the way, there’s another step and here’s a leaflet about it.’
Even if, on a flat Craft membership, we can increase the conversion rate to 45% or 50% across the board, rather than current rate in the high thirties, that in itself will take up our membership to more acceptable levels.
Do you see your role as ambassador or enforcer?
Gareth Jones, the Third Grand Principal, and I are certainly ambassadors. I think it’s about communicating to Superintendents and their Deputies, as well as to all companions, that we’re here to help and guide them in the right direction. I sense a strong desire for consistency across the piece, and that has to come from Supreme Grand Chapter. A Province or a private chapter can’t take effective decisions about the direction in which they are going unless they have the proper information to start with. I think it’s quite compelling if you say to a Grand Superintendent that these initiatives are available, they’ve worked in other Provinces – look at the results, maybe there are lessons for you.
I mentioned before about taking a slight pause, giving yourself the time to think. I saw a very good demonstration in Freemasons’ Hall some years ago. At various stages in the ceremony they stopped and said, ‘Right, we’re about to do this. Somebody tell me why we do it this way.’ And the members hadn’t thought about it. They were just hearing the words. That was in a Craft lodge, but the moral applies equally to the Royal Arch.
Every now and again it behoves us all to stop and think, ‘What do the words mean? Why do we do what we do, for example, in terms of choreography of the ritual?’ I would like to reverse the trend in numbers, which we are beginning to do in some areas, but I believe that will only come through companions having a better understanding, and with it greater enjoyment of our unique order.
Last Wednesday’s Regular Convocation of Supreme Grand Chapter was a special meeting as HRH The Duke of Kent celebrated his Golden Jubilee as First Grand Principal with a special investiture of Grand Ranks
Afterwards HRH The Duke of Kent was photographed with the Pro First Grand Principal, Second Grand Principal and Third Grand Principal to mark the occasion.
13 September 2017
A presentation by RW Bro Bro Sir David Wootton, Assistant Grand Master
Pro Grand Master and brethren, we all have our own view of what we see in masonry. For me, it’s five things:
- We’re all volunteers: none of us have to be masons or do what we do. The magnificent total of £3,100,000 announced at the North Wales Festival on Saturday was all the result of volunteering: voluntary time, voluntary effort, voluntary money;
- What we now call “social inclusion”: bringing together people of different origins, backgrounds, occupations, interests, locations, opinions, faiths; people who would not otherwise meet; in a common activity in which all are fundamentally equal;
- Our purposefulness: when we meet, there’s a purpose, whether it’s a masonic meeting, ritual; or charity or a community project; the best recent example I saw, the Jurassic Coast Youth Adventure organised by Dorset, 200plus children in need from all over the country taken on a week’s healthy activities by the sea. Whatever it is, we want to do it well, and we do;
- The practice of every moral and social virtue: words cited by the Bishop of Worcester, not a mason, at the Provincial Tercentenary Service on Sunday in a sermon that would inspire every mason. Our, if you like, moral code, best illustrated in the Charge to the Initiate, is a huge asset which will play increasingly well with younger generations for whom such things are in short supply;
- The social side: we do do the best parties, don’t we, getting to know each other informally, in friendship, and it works because of the other factors I’ve mentioned.
We all sense a steady move to greater openness: the Sky TV programmes; publicity in the right way for our charity and community activities: the word Freemasons on the London's Air Ambulance; wearing regalia in public: all in the right direction.
Recognising masonry’s good things but sensing that the make-up and profile of our membership – age, number – were going in the wrong direction, the Board of General Purposes – BGP – set up the Membership Focus Group – MFG – under the inspired leadership of Ray Reed to find out what was happening to today’s membership, to assess the likely affect on tomorrow’s and, if we didn’t like that – which we didn’t – to decide what to do.
Deciding what to do is called STRATEGY – YES! The MFG produced, and everyone adopted, Strategy: The Future of Freemasonry 2015-2020, which I know we’ve all read and like.
Thoughts then turned to implementing the Strategy. Ooh, the MFG said, could be difficult – better get someone else to do it, and so was born the Improvement Delivery Group – IDG (I hope you’re keeping up with the jargon, brethren) to Deliver the Improvements which should flow from the work of the MFG.
I was out of the room at the time, so they made me Chairman. Also out of the room was Provincial Grand Master for South Wales and Third Grand Principal Gareth Jones, so we made him Deputy Chairman.
Strategy is no good unless it is accepted, understood and embraced by the membership – remember we’re all volunteers. The IDG had to show it was including Craft and Royal Arch, and all areas of the country, and Head Office. So, in addition to Gareth and me:
- Michael Ward, London
- Jeff Gillyon, Yorkshire North and East Ridings
- Stephen Blank, Cheshire
- Peter Taylor, Shropshire
- Tim Henderson-Ross, Gloucestershire
- Charles Cunnington, Derbyshire
- Ian Yeldham, Suffolk
- Mark Estaugh, West Kent
- Stuart Hadler, Somerset
- Gordon Robertson, Buckinghamshire, who leaves us on retiring as PGM and is replaced by James Hilditch, Oxfordshire
- Ray Reed
...and from Head Office:
- Grand Secretary Willie
- Assistant Grand Secretary Shawn
- ..and now Chief Executive David
Brethren, in light of all they do, I would like all those I’ve named to stand and be recognised. Thank you.
To pick up the work of the MFG we formed Working Groups matching the elements of the Strategy. The Strategy talks about effective governance at all levels; a leadership development programme; the attraction and retention of members; and the sustainability of masonic halls. Thus…
Gareth Jones is leading our Governance Group looking at who and what does what, the roles and responsibilities of each office and body, what they and what they’re not, and how we ensure that people understand what their roles and responsibilities are and aren’t, and what is expected of them. From the esteemed Adelphi2 we have lots of lovely statistics which will help show how Provinces and Districts are doing in terms of membership and help them to direct their efforts where they are needed.
Leadership – Michael Ward – aims to equip office-holders for their roles. Workshop sessions for PGMs and Grand Superintendents; workshops for Deputy PGMs and Grand Superintendents; next week the first training session for secretaries. We now have a UGLE training officer, Andrew Kincaid, to devise and roll-out training roles for all different roles. This not about imposing uniformity – you will do it this way – but helping people to see what’s involved and how to do the job well.
Jeff Gillyon’s Masonic Halls Group have published the Masonic Halls Centres of Excellence Guide, now available, best electronically, and those responsible for the management of masonic halls are strongly encouraged to use it: you will find it very useful. It is now in the charge of John Pagella, Grand Superintendent of Works, who has formed a Steering Group to manage the Guidance Manual and keep it up to date. There will be an annual meeting for all Provincial Grand Superintendents of Works.
The five Provinces in Regional Communications Group 1 – North of England – on the initiative of Gordon Brewis, Provincial Grand Superintendent of Works for Durham, have recognised the need for professionally qualified Provincial Grand Superintendents of Works and arranged for them to meet so that the adoption of best practice can be recommended uniformly across them all.
The Guidance Manual is not a book to be read from cover to cover: it is a reference tool, to be consulted as circumstances lead. It is guidance, support and advice: a guide to best practice. It can’t give definitive advice on, for example, legal issues, because so much depends on individual circumstances.
We want our halls and centres to be at the centre of the local community. Maybe we should refer to them as Masonic Community Centres.
Our Membership Group, headed by Peter Taylor, has circulated for comment the Membership Pathway, the product of several years of devoted effort, and parts well piloted in ten Provinces and 110 lodges Its purpose is to help lodges attract and retain the right members in the right place: to show what we need to do to attract the members we want to join us, stay and enjoy the full masonic journey.
Again, it is not a book, you do not read it cover to cover, you look at the parts you want as and when you need to.
The Pathway will be launched at the Provincial and District Rulers’ Forum – PDRF – on 18 October and then rolled out. So no-one should worry that they will be presented with it and then left on their own. Roll-out will be organised for you: to Regions and Provinces from January to March next year, and then to lodges….and there will be a folding leaflet on the front of Freemasonry Today in December.
There is much demand from masons to know more about masonry, its origin, history and meaning. Stuart Hadler’s Education Group is creating an online store of masonic learning materials, readily accessible in a Virtual Learning Environment. It will be tested later this year, introduced to a number of pilot Provinces in the new year, and full roll-out will be in later in 2018. What the group want is more materials to include, so contributions welcome, please.
In parallel to all this continues the excellent progress of the Universities Scheme, of which I am honoured to be the President. Existing and new lodges, and chapters, here and in Districts, recruit among students at universities and equivalent across the country and outside the UK, and do so very successfully. There are still a number of universities in this country not represented in the scheme, and we are addressing that.
I would like to thank all who are involved in the scheme, all volunteers, for all they do, and in particular the Chairmen: the founding Chairman, Oliver Lodge, now moonlighting as the Grand Director of Ceremonies; Edward Lord, current Chairman who retires after eight distinguished years at the Scheme conference in this building on 4th November; and Chairman-Designate Mark Greenburgh, who takes over on that date, and I would ask them to stand and be recognised too.
Many Provinces and Districts have New and Young Masons’ Clubs, with a wide variety of imaginative names, and those that don’t will. These clubs are an excellent way of those newer to masonry getting to know more other newbies, and building essential camaraderie. The clubs are holding their conference on 14 October in Birmingham under Gareth Jones’ leadership.
All this, IDG and others, is about creating our future, which is in our hands and which we are doing. The figures already show that it is working: in many areas there is a discernible shift in the trend of the numbers, and there will be more.
I have illustrated this talk with scenes from the everyday life of an Assistant Grand Master. Here’s the last one. In his sermon at the Durham Tercentenary Service last Thursday – I’m into clergy this morning, brethren – the Dean of Durham, also not a mason, said he saw masonry as a confident, open and engaged fraternity with strong foundational values.
We can do this, brethren, we can do this.
A year to be proud of
From fundraising to the formation of new masons clubs, Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes reflects on the reasons to celebrate Freemasonry in 2017
I have received a copy of the Report of the New and Young Masons Clubs’ Conference and was delighted to learn just how well the clubs are progressing with more than 30 established across London and the Provinces. This is a fantastic achievement and I would encourage those new Freemasons in Provinces without such a club to consider setting one up. You would have our full support and I am sure you would be greatly encouraged by your Provincial hierarchy.
I have asked Gareth Jones, Provincial Grand Master for South Wales and Third Grand Principal, to act as the focal point for the movement. It really is a splendid initiative and I congratulate all those involved.
I have frequently said how proud we should be of all our charities, and not just the big four. They all do tremendous work. The astonishing sum of £14.5 million was raised through the hard work of our brethren. The Hampshire & Isle of Wight Festival total of nearly £7.75 million is the highest total ever achieved.
Across the board, the money raised per capita by all four Provinces in Festival during 2016 was extraordinary and of a similar level. Your generosity is not taken for granted and is greatly appreciated.
The Masonic Charitable Foundation has launched a scheme to give £3 million to your local charities next year in recognition of both its own formation and, of course, our Tercentenary. This not only shows your generosity but is also aimed at promoting our involvement in the community.
Cause for celebration
I know that some of you have become frustrated at not being able to get hold of a Tercentenary Jewel. Please be assured that there are now plenty available in Letchworth’s Shop. Unfortunately, initial demand far outstripped supply. In spite of your frustration, may I ask you to beware of cheap imitations. Sadly, they do exist and are being offered at a very reduced price, but they are unauthorised and unlawful copies. We are working closely with the Provinces to get them all removed.
The forthcoming Sky documentary entitled Inside The Freemasons gives us a great opportunity to capitalise on the publicity being generated, and we anticipate that other high-profile events throughout the year will keep us in the public eye and produce some really positive results.
These are exciting times; let us celebrate in style by showing our pride in and talking about our membership. I am absolutely certain that we will all enjoy a splendid year in 2017.
‘Your generosity is not taken for granted and is greatly appreciated’
The perfect complement
For Gareth Jones, the roles of South Wales PGM, Third Grand Principal and Deputy Chairman of the Improvement Delivery Group (IDG) share a number of common goals – in particular, ensuring a strong future for the Craft and Royal Arch
How has your career built up to this moment?
I retired this time last year. I had been a civil servant for nearly 37 years, working in a variety of roles – from private secretary to a cabinet minister in the Thatcher government, to head of operations for Wales during the foot and mouth crisis, to Registrar of Companies for the UK, and finally director general for national resources in the Welsh government. I say retire, but that’s a bit of a misnomer because I’m still very busy doing my masonic activities and some non-executive work.
I saw the civil service going through massive changes. Over the years there was a realisation that it needed to deliver more efficiencies as well as respond to increasing customer expectations.
We went from an environment where people were pretty risk-averse to a huge explosion of expectations that meant change was the only show in town.
There are quite a few parallels with Freemasonry in that regard because there has been an increasing realisation in the Craft and the Royal Arch that we’ve got to change if we are to survive and flourish.
How has Freemasonry changed?
Society is changing around us – people are less deferential than they used to be, they have busy lives, and families rightly expect to be involved more in what their partners do. There is also a need for better relations and good engagement with local communities. And all of this feeds into a clear agenda for us to change.
Freemasonry is like any big organisation; whether it be public sector or private sector, there will be some people who are reluctant or resistant to change and some who are prepared to lead that change and embrace it. The difference between Freemasonry and professional organisations is that while we’re here to develop, we’re also here to enjoy ourselves. The fact that we’re mostly volunteers in some ways makes it even more difficult to drive change.
One of the key challenges that faces Freemasonry now is that, over the years, we haven’t set out clearly enough who is responsible for what and therefore who is accountable for what. That’s arguably why Freemasonry found itself in the situation where it was losing so many members in an unplanned way. Nobody was actually responsible and no one could be held accountable because a clear framework of accountability hadn’t been established.
Does that framework exist now?
This is work in progress. Freemasonry is by and large populated by people who believe in traditional values and traditional ways of doing things. So you can’t change things overnight, but there’s been a realisation among the Rulers and among Provinces and Districts that we have got to establish such a framework and drive changes within that context.
In establishing the strategy for 2020, which was sent out to brethren in December last year, there is now a real framework for change. It’s a strategy within which we can deliver improvements in a realistic timescale – not that we will stop in 2020; continuous improvement has to be the order of the day from now on.
‘Continuous improvement has to be the order of the day from now on.’
When did you become a Freemason?
It was in 1984 via my rugby club in Cardiff. My brother and I had been interested in Freemasonry... not that we knew very much about it. I think I relied on the fact that the members of the lodge I knew were people I liked and respected.
For me, Freemasonry moved beyond membership of my lodge and chapter when I was asked to sit on an organising committee for a festival event in 1999. I enjoyed this greater involvement and in the same year I was appointed to my first Provincial office when we had a new Provincial Grand Master (PGM). He was getting out and about a lot more, so I spent time with him travelling around the Province. This eventually led to me being appointed as the Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies in 2004. At that point, I was also starting to get more involved with other Provinces, meeting new people and broadening my outlook on Freemasonry very considerably.
How was the progression to Provincial Grand Master?
After serving as Assistant and Deputy PGM, I was appointed to the role in 2013. I’ve had nothing but enjoyment as PGM. One never dares to think that one will get that job but, when asked, it was one that I seized very enthusiastically and I had great support from my wife and family, as well as the understanding of my lodge and chapter.
South Wales is quite a big Province. We have 163 lodges based over a wide geographical area; there are some large urban areas with many lodges and then quite a few small rural and semi-rural areas with just a handful. So it’s quite an eclectic mix.
But the thing that binds it together is that it’s a very friendly and happy environment within which we all enjoy our Freemasonry. It’s an environment that is very caring and I like to think that we do a lot to improve our relations with communities as well as help those who need support.
One of the things that I learned from my professional career in terms of managing organisations is that you can never communicate too much and you can never communicate in too many ways. There are still a lot of brethren who like to be communicated with face-to-face, but there are an increasing number who like to be communicated with electronically via a good-quality website or social media. We have tried in South Wales to embrace all possible channels of communication.
‘We need to make sure that we have the tools in place for leaders in Provinces to take good decisions.’
Did your appointment as Third Grand Principal creep up on you?
It didn’t creep up on me; it jumped out at me! I was lucky enough, in autumn last year, to be asked by the Pro First Grand Principal whether I would be prepared to take on the role of Third Grand Principal. I didn’t have to think very long about the answer. The Royal Arch has always been really important to me.
I have always believed it important for brethren to join the Royal Arch when the time is right for them, but hopefully before they attain the Chair in the Craft. Not only does it complete the pure and ancient Freemasonry story, it is a beautiful and enjoyable ceremony and a significant contributor to improving retention.
The roles of PGM and Third Grand Principal dovetail with each other very neatly. I am not, and never have been, the Grand Superintendent of my Province, although in many Provinces the PGM and Grand Superintendent are the same. Both the Grand Superintendent of South Wales and I believe that my two roles provide an ideal opportunity to encourage more Craft masons in South Wales to join the Royal Arch.
There are some issues that are specific to the Craft, such as the whole concept of recruitment at the outset, but with the Royal Arch being the completion of one’s journey in Freemasonry we have been very keen to ensure that the Royal Arch is part of everything we’re doing in the context of the Improvement Delivery Group (IDG). Grand Superintendents need to feel that they are fully a part of this whole change agenda.
Can you explain what your work with the IDG entails?
The Membership Focus Group was a creature of the Board of General Purposes. We realised last year that we needed to go beyond the realms of surveying, strategising and thinking about the future to a point of saying, ‘Right, we’ve actually got to start delivering some of these priorities.’
We recognise that one size definitely does not fit all. Different Provinces have different priorities, different structures, different sizes and different geographical make-ups, so the idea is to provide options, a toolkit of best practice.
It’s not an overnight job. The strategy is a 2020 strategy and we need to make sure that we have the tools in place for leaders in Provinces to take good decisions as to how they drive things forward.
Is the IDG setting hard or soft targets?
I think both, to be honest. There are a few hard-edged targets in the strategy – for example, reducing the number of brethren who resign shortly after they’re initiated, and turning around the decline in membership. But there are some much softer things as well that are equally important, around helping PGMs and Grand Superintendents realise that action does have to be taken to ensure the sustainability of the Craft and the Royal Arch in their Provinces.
We as members have to make some conscious decisions to make changes to improve Freemasonry for the future and to ensure that it moves with the times, meets people’s expectations better and provides enjoyment for our members and their families while still not forgetting our responsibility to help others.
By 2020, I’d like to be answering questions about how successful the IDG has been. It would be very nice to think we’ll be answering questions about why it is that our image seems to have improved so markedly, as well as our relations with community groups more generally. And from a Royal Arch perspective, it would be lovely to think I’ll be answering questions about why the Royal Arch has become so popular right across England, Wales and our Districts.
Regular Convocation of Supreme Grand Chapter
9 November 2016
An address by the ME Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes
Companions, I am very pleased to see so many of you here both from our Districts overseas and from our Provinces, including sixty companions from Cambridgeshire. Since our last meeting in April the Most Excellent First Grand Principal has been pleased to appoint Comp Willie Shackell as Grand Scribe Ezra and we wish him well. He was, of course, formally invested as Grand Secretary at the June Quarterly Communication.
This meeting, companions, always falls near to 11th November, Armistice Day, and as you are well aware this marvellous building is a peace memorial to all those who gave their lives for us during the First World War. It is worth, therefore, drawing your attention to two events taking place next year.
The first is on 18th April 2017 at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, when the newly constructed Masonic Memorial Garden in memory of all those masons who gave their lives during conflict in the service of our country will be opened. You are all invited.
The second is the unveiling of the Victoria Cross Memorial by the Grand Master on 25th April 2017. It will be placed on the pavement in front of the Tower Entrance of this building and will take the form of a number of paving stones with the names of the 63 Victoria Cross holders who were awarded the Victoria Cross in World War I and who were members of UGLE. Of these, 17 were also companions in the Royal Arch.
Companions, this seems to be an appropriate time to say a few words about Comp Denis Beckett who was one of the companions we stood in memory of earlier in the meeting. Comp Beckett was a very remarkable man and I had the good fortune to know him well. Indeed he was President of the Committee of General Purposes when I joined it in 1987. He was a Craft mason for 71 years and a Royal Arch mason for 59 years. He was initiated immediately after World War 2 in which he served with such distinction. He was awarded the DSO for his extraordinary courage during the battle of Monte Cassino. There were those who felt a VC would have been more appropriate.
Companions, we were privileged to have him as a member and particularly so that he presided over the Committee of General Purposes for 7 years.
Companions, whilst it is clearly important to remember the past, we must also look to the future. I am therefore very pleased that the successor to the Membership Focus Group, the Improvement Delivery Group, is composed of both Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents, with our Third Grand Principal, Gareth Jones, as its Deputy Chairman. It will be designing and delivering the future direction of both the Craft and Royal Arch.
Companions, you may have seen that, after my address at Quarterly Communications in June, I have been accused in the national media of suggesting that masons are all grumpy and boring – a misrepresentation, companions. At least I consider it to be a misrepresentation, but, if any of you think otherwise, I apologise. I said that if an amusing incident occurs at one of our meetings, it should not be frowned upon as had sometimes been the case in the past. It is not a capital offence to smile during meetings. Whilst I was not suggesting we should turn our meetings into a pantomime, there is no harm in us being seen to enjoy ourselves.
I believe this to be particularly so in the Royal Arch, as our Exaltation Ceremony is one of the finest and, in my experience, candidates derive great enjoyment from it. I think this is particularly so when the new format of the ritual is used which involves more of the companions and has the benefit of changing the voice that the candidate hears which I always feel refreshes his interest.
Finally, since Supreme Grand Chapter arranged the refurbishment of our magnificent organ, we have been treated to a number of superb concerts in this temple and I congratulate the Organ Committee on its achievements to date. I am very keen to draw your attention to the next concert at 5.00 pm, on 14th December, after the Quarterly Communication, to be given by the international concert artist, Jane Parker-Smith. The concerts are free, companions, and, so far, they have been wonderfully entertaining, and I am quite certain that this will be no exception.
Companions, I have no doubt that after our closing, you will enjoy listening to a team from the Royal College of Surgeons led by Professor Neil Mortensen, RCS Research Board Chairman at Oxford University, who will enlighten us on what has been achieved through your most generous support.
Thank you, companions.
14 September 2016
An address by the RW Deputy Grand Master Jonathan Spence
Brethren, I am delighted to see so many of you here today and I hope you have all had a suitably refreshing summer. I am particularly pleased to see a large number of younger masons amongst us, especially the delegations from the Provinces of Cambridgeshire and Durham, members of the Universities Scheme and especially those of the Apollo University Lodge in Oxford.
Many of you will be aware of the excellent work undertaken by the Membership Focus Group over the last two and a half years. I hope that you are all still referring to the UGLE strategy, which was a significant development resulting from the group’s work.
We have now moved to ensuring the timely implementation of the strategy and the Membership Focus Group has been superseded by the Improvement Delivery Group. This group will, rather like a well- known wood treatment product, “do exactly what it says on the tin”. Its remit is to facilitate the delivery of change throughout the Craft in order to secure a successful future for Freemasonry by meeting the needs of “modern man” while retaining our traditional standards; it is chaired by the Assistant Grand Master, the Third Grand Principal is Deputy Chairman and the membership is drawn from London and all the regional groups of Provinces.
This group will be “bedding in” for the next year, but will be reporting to Grand Lodge at the Quarterly Communication in September 2017. There is a considerable amount of work to do and we wish them all well in their endeavours.
Brethren, the Tercentenary celebrations have already begun and I am very pleased to see the variety and breadth of events that are planned to mark this significant milestone in our history. Events are being planned throughout the English Constitution.
So far well over 100 events are scheduled ranging from Cathedral Services, Race Meetings, and Classic Car Rallies; Family Fun Weekends, supporting Youth Activities, to Dinners and Balls, including “The Grand Ball” which will take place here next September and will see this Grand Temple converted into one of the largest dance floors in LondAs the premier Grand Lodge it is appropriate we also celebrate this achievement with the other Sovereign Grand Lodges around the world, which we will do with the event at the Royal Albert Hall. I very much hope there will be a full cross section of our membership, including Master Masons, from London, Provinces and Districts and elsewhere overseas attending the meeting at the Royal Albert Hall.
As you are all aware 2017 will start with the broadcast in January of the Sky observational documentary. I have been fortunate enough to have been part of the small group that has seen all the programmes and whilst, for confidential reasons, I am unable to say more about their content, I can assure you our privacy has been respected entirely for those matters that ought to remain private for our members.
Brethren, it has become very noticeable that the times in which we live are described with some use of either uncertain or uncertainty, or a variation thereof. Uncertainty is used to describe many aspects of our national life almost as a default mechanism. In many ways our predecessors who were there at the foundation of the Grand Lodge would have felt a certain affinity and seen possible parallels with their own time, although they would probably have used the word turbulent to describe the second decade of the eighteenth century.
In their case the uncertain times included significant change with a new ruling dynasty following the accession of King George I in 1714, a significant rebellion from supporters of the old dynasty defeated in 1715 and an incipient share scandal with the South Sea Bubble gently inflating until the spectacular bust. In those and, indeed , in the intervening uncertain times of the subsequent three hundred years, the principles of the Craft have withstood the test of time and are as relevant today as they were then.
We may now restate them in more modern language as integrity; honesty; fairness; kindness and tolerance, but their essence is unchanged and we should all be justly proud of them and, needless to say, act in accordance with them.
To finish, I will quote King Frederick II, or The Great, of Prussia who said his support of the Craft came from its objectives being, “ the intellectual elevation of men as members of society and making them more virtuous and more charitable”. I do not think that his view can be bettered.
Speaking at Great Queen Street on 26 April, masonic leaders explained how Freemasonry can grasp success if members can learn to share ideas and work together
William Shakespeare, John F Kennedy and even Steve Jobs all managed to find their way into the Gallery Suite at Freemasons’ Hall in a typically entertaining afternoon of speeches at the Pro Grand Master’s Annual Briefing Meeting.
Before an audience made up of Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents, speakers took their turn at the lectern to review the developments in Freemasonry in 2015 and looked forward to an exciting future for the Craft and Royal Arch.
Understandably, the Tercentenary featured heavily, but there was also much to discuss about the recommendations of the Membership Focus Group (MFG) on how best to attract, recruit and retain members at a time when membership has shown a decline. The overall message was overwhelmingly positive, with several new initiatives announced.
Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes kicked things off by reporting that a four-part television series on Freemasonry is under way. This will be broadcast to coincide with the Tercentenary celebrations and will include the Pro Grand Master’s fly-fishing technique at the Hampshire and Isle of Wight fishing day.
The Pro Grand Master then reported that commemorative paving stones containing the names of Freemasons who received a Victoria Cross (VC)
in World War I would be installed at the front of the Peace Memorial, adding that ‘there are 60 such VCs to be commemorated’. He also encouraged brethren to wear a special commemorative tie and jewel for the celebratory period, and announced that a major charitable gift of £3 million would be distributed by the Masonic Charitable Foundation in the form of 300 grants, allocated according to the outcome of votes cast both by masons and the general public.
The Pro Grand Master felt that the celebration of Grand Lodge’s 300th year is a great opportunity for publicity. ‘The Tercentenary gives us all a chance to reflect on the place of Freemasonry today and the role of our lodge and our brethren,’ he said. ‘This is an opportunity not to be missed and it is up to us to ensure that Freemasonry benefits.’
Facts and figures
Next up was Anthony Wilson, President of the Board of General Purposes (BGP), to discuss the 2015 financial accounts and recent BGP initiatives. He revealed a strong yearly surplus generated from investment income, which has supported capital expenditure and the ongoing maintenance required to deal with Regent Street disease (corrosion) at Freemasons’ Hall. Anthony emphasised the importance of the building for filming and events while also being mindful of its core purpose.
The cost of the Tercentenary celebrations were included in the 2016 forecast for the first time, but ‘there would be no call upon members for funds’, as this would be supported by events and reserves. Anthony asked brethren to spread the word about the benefits of the Masonic Insurance Mutual, and, most importantly of all, noted that Freemasonry Today costs less than £1 per member, per issue.
Second Grand Principal Russell Race discussed the ‘encouraging straws in the wind for membership of the Royal Arch’ before Sir David Wootton gave some thoughts on governance – ‘who does what with what authority’ – based on findings from the MFG.
‘If we can bottle the masonic sizzle from the best lodges and spread it around the rest, we can start to address all the issues.’ Michael Ward
Taking up the theme in more detail, Third Grand Principal Gareth Jones explained how ‘we need to build on the work that has been started, moving from securing evidence to emphasising delivery and implementation’. Gareth also talked about the importance of communication and spreading best practice from the Provinces and Districts.
Sir David then announced a proposal to take forward the work of the MFG: this would be a new body of a dozen members who would represent all ‘the talents, geographies and constituent parts of the Craft and Royal Arch’. The hope was to get this up and running by the end of 2017 to ‘develop and embed systems, ensuring that the necessary steps will be taken to continue and enhance Freemasonry’.
Looking after initiates
John Roscoe, an industrial psychologist, then presented the MFG’s findings on the negative effect of un-masonic conduct in lodges. John cited ‘the greatest cause for early dissatisfaction with initiates’ as being a perception of senior members dominating the lodge. He read out a number of testimonies in which masons recounted incidents of brethren being overzealous or overbearing.
John then asked those present to think of three ways to deal with behaviour that is not in keeping with the spirit of Freemasonry. Each table put their heads together to engage with this issue, and there was much debate as solutions were considered.
After a coffee break, PGM for Warwickshire David Macey led a commendation of ADelphi 2, showing some of the possibilities of the new membership database. ‘It’s now working well and is generally very stable. We are continuing to improve performance and security,’ he said. David gave a demonstration
of its promising new dashboard system. ‘The MFG gave us a very clear list of what PGMs and Grand Superintendents need,’ he said, showing how a simple dashboard will allow users to find a summary of every lodge in their Province, showing the 10 best and worst performing lodges, comparisons of members’ ages and contact information.
Deputy Metropolitan Grand Master Michael Ward then gave a careful analysis of the findings of an MFG survey that explored why so many initiates drop out soon after joining and what could be done to counteract this. It was vital, he said, to capitalise on work already done in the Provinces on these issues rather than try to ‘reinvent the wheel’.
Michael discussed what could be done to help lodges that were struggling to attract new members and finished by exhorting that, ‘success is within our grasp. If we can bottle the masonic sizzle from the best lodges and spread it around the rest, we can start to address all the issues. It’s in our hands.’
PGM for East Kent Geoffrey Dearing spoke about the importance of data protection and compliance before Malcolm Aish, President of the Committee of General Purposes, presented the annual report and statistics for the Royal Arch. Malcolm noted the enthusiasm for charitable contributions and also thanked brethren for completing the survey.
Chairman of the MFG and Deputy President of the BGP Ray Reed then gave highlights from the Craft annual report, showing that new initiates were rising and resignations declining, with the annual membership loss down to 1.65 per cent. Lodges reported an 83 per cent reduction in resignations, while 69 per cent reported increasing initiate figures. Ray singled out areas for improvement, including a willingness to engage with ‘local press, business, civic and religious leaders’ and the importance of attracting and mentoring quality initiates.
Emphasising the need for Provinces to share ideas, Ray concluded by thanking brethren for their ‘support, energy, creativity, hard work and, most importantly, belief in helping make things happen’.
Pro First Grand Principal Peter Lowndes explains how strong leadership combined with a responsible approach will help to build a successful future for the Royal Arch
I congratulate all the Grand Officers whom I have invested on behalf of the Most Excellent the First Grand Principal. At the same time I would remind you that with your new ranks come new obligations.
Appointments and promotions are therefore not just a reward but an encouragement for further participation in the success of the Order, whether providing support for members of your chapters or giving encouragement to those in the vital role of Royal Arch representatives in your Craft lodges. If, indeed, you are not that representative yourself.
It has been a great pleasure to invest Most Excellent Companion Gareth Jones as Third Grand Principal in succession to Most Excellent Companion David Williamson, who was himself appointed in 2010. We owe Companion Williamson an enormous debt of gratitude for his many contributions, both in our Order and in many others as well. This succession, coupled with that of Most Excellent Companion Russell Race in November last year, continues the strong leadership that the Royal Arch has enjoyed for many years and ensures an exciting future for the Order.
I believe that the Royal Arch is in its strongest position for many years. The profile of the Order was greatly enhanced by the outstanding success of the bicentenary celebrations in 2013, coupled with several key initiatives during and since that time, including the Royal Arch participation in the Freemasons’ Fund for Surgical Research.
As a reminder, there are two Royal Arch fellows in every five fellowships supported. This is thanks to the incredible generosity of our members and the skilful management of our assets.
I take great pride in the work of the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his team and want to thank the retiring Grand Scribe Ezra for his work over the past nine years. We have travelled a lot together, although we have not always returned without mishap. But be it Icelandic volcanic ash, Barbadian hurricanes or Heathrow snow, we have made it in the end, one way or another.
‘Appointments and promotions are not just a reward but an encouragement for participation in the success of the Order.’