11 December 2019
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes
Brethren. If you look up, you will see one of the finest mosaics in London. It took Italian craftsmen 10 man-years to create and, like so much of our Craft, it is laden with symbols, allegory and meaning. But look more closely, especially in the South-West and you will see that all is not quite as it should be. Cracks have been appearing over the last few years. Tesserae have fallen, and the Grand Superintendent of Work’s brow has furrowed, but he informs me that you are not in immediate danger!
After extensive research, chemical analysis, ultrasounds, X-Rays, thermal studies, endoscopies, not to mention all manner of expert opinion, we are now able to confidently conclude that we have no idea why. We do know the many things that are not responsible for these cracks, and contrary to scurrilous rumour, hot air from this chair has nothing whatsoever to do with it, but pinning down the exact cause has proved elusive. Take a good look Brethren because in a few weeks’ time, it will be shrouded in scaffolding, and for the first time in nearly a hundred years, men, and probably women, will begin work on restoring it to its former splendour.
We recently heard from the Grand Superintendent of Works about his role within the organisation and some of the work being done by his team to ensure that not only this building, but all of our masonic halls up and down the country are up to scratch. A huge amount of work has been put into producing the Masonic Halls Guide, available in the members’ section of the UGLE website, to provide a ‘Best Practice’ guide to help Lodges and Provinces improve their Halls and meeting places, and how they are managed.
I was recently told of a Lodge in Cambridgeshire (Stone Cross) which has transformed its own hall from a rather dingy affair to something the whole community can be proud of. Members, under the guidance of more expert Craftsmen – also members of that Lodge – have spent weekends, and time over consecutive summers to transform it into a venue that they can all look forward to using – and it has made a huge difference to the first impressions and attendance of new members.
As we actively seek out new members to join us, we should ensure that we are examining what it is that we would expect them to find – not just in the physical spaces we occupy, but in our Lodges too.
Many of us find a great deal of fulfilment in volunteering and giving of our time for the benefit of the community at large. We will shortly be sending out a survey to estimate just how great an impact we, as Freemasons have within our local communities – our last estimate was that our members contribute over 5 million hours volunteering for worthy causes.
We must be unique as an organisation in that we have premises embedded in almost every community in the Country. Just as we draw our members from all walks of life and all backgrounds, so our halls are found in village and cities, in areas rich and poor. Over the next few months, the Communications Working Party of the Board, made up of Provincial Grand Masters from each region of the country, will be looking at what we might do to raise our profile by putting these to better use – not only for ourselves, but also for those communities from which we are drawn. What does your Hall say about you, and the wider organisation, to a person seeing it for the first time and, indeed, to that potential new member, or that member of public giving blood, being screened, or just looking around?
Many of our Halls are both precious and beautiful; some, cracking a little around the edges and in need of loving care. But I’m sure, Brethren, we all feel like that at times. Let us remember that we are custodians not just of the Craft and its heritage and traditions, but also those meeting places which have, for generations, inspired our members.
I wish you and your families a very Happy Christmas period and I look forward to seeing you again in the New Year.
From the Grand Secretary & Grand Scribe E
At the September Quarterly Communications, the Pro Grand Master’s address spoke of the importance of teamwork in governing and managing Freemasonry. UGLE has traditionally been a federal amalgamation of ‘city states’, each ruled by a Provincial or District Grand Master, whose patents were granted by the Most Worshipful Grand Master. It was not uncommon, in decades past, for those chosen few to be given their patent and told to ‘get on with it’, but with very little instruction or guidance as to what the ‘it’ either was or entailed.
We like to think that we are more enlightened now, and take some time and effort to explain what we think a Provincial or District Ruler might want to consider, and what the Rulers and Board/Committee of General Purposes think their priorities should be when taking up their important office.
It will not surprise you to learn that membership and communications are very high up on that list, and as UGLE evolves to meet the challenges of our very different world, so this old system must evolve to ensure consistency of message and image across our organisation as a whole.
We have also come to realise that the ‘Bright Ideas Club’ at the centre may not have all of the answers, and initiatives rolled out with little or no consultation with our membership or their leaders are unlikely to be successful in the longer term, if at all.
Lord Northampton, as Pro Grand Master, set up a system of Regional Communication Groups which divided the Provinces into nine geographical clusters, and which provided a means for Provincial Rulers in each group to meet regularly and exchange ideas on matters of import. Under Sir David Wootton, these assumed a greater sense of purpose, with the representation of each integrated into the Improvement Delivery Group, with its remit to deliver the 2020 strategy conceived five years ago. Now, under Geoffrey Dearing, they form the backbone of our ability to consult with the Provinces and to set the agenda and direction of the organisation with strong representation on both the Membership Working Party and the Communications Working Party of the Board.
Both groups have a wide remit to shape the direction the organisation will take, and their influence will be wide ranging. They are no paper tigers, and are considering questions which will affect each and every one of us as Freemasonry evolves into a more transparent, accountable and respected organisation within the public consciousness.
The representatives on these various committees can, of course, accomplish nothing without the hard work and dedication of the teams that support them – making it vital that those team members have the ability, enthusiasm and professional capabilities and knowledge to deliver what is needed. Professional expertise is by no means short in an organisation such as ours, and Provincial leaders are well used to tapping into the potential of their membership to fulfil important roles within the Province. What perhaps is changing is the willingness to recognise that many individuals are much busier in their family and work lives than perhaps their predecessors were. As such, those who are less senior within Freemasonry and less experienced are finding themselves working on major Provincial portfolios while balancing very busy lives.
We should not shy away from using the talent that we have within our ranks. Neither should we shy away from altering the way ‘things have always been done’ to allow those individuals to flourish and to serve. It is inconceivable that the Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents of the future will be able to dedicate the time and effort to Freemasonry that perhaps some of their predecessors have managed, without detriment to their family or personal connections. Their teams around them become of paramount importance if the organisation as a whole is to grow and develop. Similarly, if we want leaders who are truly exceptional and able to carry the organisation forward, we must be willing to accommodate the many other things that will call on their time – not least their greater involvement in the running of the ‘Centre’.
We will do our bit here at UGLE to listen to those ideas coming out of the Provinces, and to ensure that others can benefit from them; to ensure that ‘best practice’ is shared, such as the membership initiatives in Bristol and the communications strategies of Buckinghamshire and Cheshire.
We will also continue to listen to you, our members, paying heed to what you think is important, and what our priorities should be for the years ahead.
Dr David Staples
Grand Secretary and Grand Scribe E
‘If we want leaders who are truly exceptional and able to carry the organisation forward, we must be willing to accommodate the many other things that will call on their time’