11 September 2013
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes
Brethren, one of my pleasurable duties is, along with the other Rulers, visiting our Districts and in June I was in Trinidad and Tobago and, more recently, I visited Zimbabwe. Brethren before any of you start to think that the Grand Secretary and I spend all our time swanning around the world, I, perhaps could point out that our visit to Zimbabwe for two and a half days involved 17 hours of travel in each direction. However, I feel strongly that we should make every effort to support our Districts and endeavour, when possible, to install our new District Grand Masters.
The visit to Harare in Zimbabwe was, indeed, to install our new District Grand Master. I was somewhat surprised that the last visit there from Grand Lodge was in 1989 and, as you can imagine, we were given a very warm welcome. I was even more surprised to find that two of our Lodges are in Malawi, where masonry thrives, there being 70 members and we can count Members of Parliament and High Court Judges among them.
Apart from meeting many of the local Brethren and their wives, we were driven to a school in a township seventeen miles west of Harare where, after a tour of the school, we were entertained to some vibrant and very moving African dancing and singing. Started in 1992, the number of orphaned children in the Education Support Programme is now 407. A trust fund has been set up to provide for example school fees, uniforms, books, a daily hot meal, healthcare and sports activities. All in all it was most impressive and exactly the type of Charity the District, if possible, should support. Later the same day, and back in Harare we visited the Masonic home, run to the high standard you would expect.
At the same time, it was also a good opportunity to catch up with the District Grand Masters attending from neighbouring Southern African Districts who attended the business meeting as well as the Installation.
I have mentioned already that earlier in the year I visited the District of Trinidad and Tobago. The Caribbean Districts have met every year – for the last eleven – for a regional conference and we now attend whenever we can. As they meet regularly, they know each other well, sharing issues and enjoying each other’s company. They are a great example to follow.
Looking forward – I am attending the Centenary of our District of Nigeria at the end of October. Our stated philosophy is that if a District wishes to remain loyal to us we will remain loyal to it. Nigeria is a current example of this, preferring to stay in the English Constitution, rather than joining the newly formed Grand Lodge of Nigeria. As in Harare we will be running a business meeting for District Grand Masters from throughout Africa.
On this theme, I was pleased to hear that in early December this year the first conference for the Districts in Asia and Oceania is being held. This is being attended by the Deputy Grand Master. All these meetings are a sign of the strength of our Districts and long may that continue.
On another theme, and applicable to all Lodges wherever they are in the English Constitution, is the theme of making the Craft relevant to all generations. Following the presentation at the Quarterly Communication this time last year on assuring the future of Freemasonry I challenged the Universities Scheme Committee to consider how the principles expressed in the address – particularly about shortening meetings and running them more efficiently – could be implemented across the whole Craft.
I have now had first sight of their report for consideration. A report which covers a series of evidence-based recommendations and examples of good practice from lodges around the English Constitution. This is an excellent document and I will be discussing the proposals and how to disseminate agreed recommendations through the Provinces and Districts to Lodge level. Brethren how often do we hear, only partly in jest, that any changes and progress in Masonry take an eternity. These recommendations have been put together with admirable speed and it is incumbent on the Rulers to ensure that there is no delay in passing them on.
We are, I believe, united in recognising the importance of recruiting and retaining younger Freemasons and these recommendations will give a better chance of strengthening all Lodges, however successful, whilst not alienating established brethren.
District Grand Masters, District Grand Superintendents, and other District Grand Officers, gathered for the Third Conference of the Central Masonic Charities and District Grand Lodges at Freemasons' Hall on Tuesday 24 April. Due to the increasing popularity of this annual event, the setting has now moved to Lodge Room No.1 to accomodate over fifty representatives from the Districts as well as representatives from each of the four central masonic charities.
Hugh Stubbs, President, Masonic Samaritan Fund, welcomed all members on behalf of the four Central Masonic Charities, and gave an introduction before members broke for the first of the group discussions.
Walter H Scott, District Grand Master, Jamaica & the Cayman Islands, spoke on the relationship between his District and the Central Masonic Charities, which led into the second group discussion.
Following lunch, James Bartlett provided an update on the Mentoring Scheme and, in particular, the Ambassadors for Freemasonry Scheme, and a presentation was given by Nick Cripps on the selection of Personal Mentors.
14 December 2011
An address by the MW The Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes
Mentoring has been high on the agenda for some time and I want to take this opportunity to give clarity and perspective to what we mean by mentoring.
You have heard today the President of the Board of General Purposes give notice of motion enabling a Master to appoint as an additional officer a Mentor, with a view to voting on this proposition at the March Quarterly Communication. I want to stress that this is an optional office and it is up to individual Lodges as to whether or not they use it.
You have all heard previously that the mentoring scheme is designed to eventually mentor members at all stages of their Masonic progress. Initially this is especially for candidates – the next generation – during the three degrees and then to encourage them to continue their progress into the Royal Arch. London and all Provinces now have a Metropolitan or Provincial Grand Mentor who currently is responsible for liaising with the Lodge Mentor. For the avoidance of doubt the Lodge Mentor is responsible for coordinating and selecting suitable Brethren to be the personal mentors. It is most certainly not the intention that the Lodge Mentor should carry out the task himself. The personal mentor is best described as a friend and guide.
We all have our ideas about what mentoring is and, for that matter, what mentoring is not. Indeed, some believe there is no need for mentoring and some believe they are already mentoring perfectly satisfactorily and so on. These sentiments are perfectly understandable without an explanation of what we actually mean by mentoring and what we are trying to achieve. In an ideal world, mentoring would happen naturally anyway and that everyone would be looked after as a matter of course, and that this, in turn, would take care of issues such as recruitment, retention and retrieval – the three ‘Rs’. Whatever your idea of mentoring might be, one of the aims we should all keep in mind is the promotion of an environment of belonging, understanding, involvement and enjoyment within the Lodge. The skill will be to achieve this with a “light touch”.
But first, Brethren, the word mentoring itself is translated in so many ways – rather like our Masonry! Let me be quite clear – mentoring is not just about the Lodge of Instruction – valuable though that is for advancement in Masonic ritual. Rather it is mostly about pastoral care – seeing the candidate is looked after, kept informed and that that support and care remains throughout each member’s Masonic life.
In terms of the mentoring scheme I see pastoral care – at the very least – being eighty per cent of what mentoring is all about. Put simply, the real test is how you would like to have been welcomed when you first joined and how you would like to have been supported from then onwards. I do not want, nor I am sure do any of us, to have a complicated or onerous scheme – rather one that is as natural as possible yet, at the same time, allowing consistency of advice and support.
Mentoring has essentially three stages. The first two are in many ways obvious as they cover logistics, basic ritual meaning and developing a sense of belonging and the third – how to talk about our Freemasonry to the non Mason – needs more explanation as it links in with our overall communications strategy. A strategy that supports an external facing organisation and underpins our new ambassadors’ scheme.
The first stage is for each candidate to understand the basic logistics that are involved in becoming a Freemason. It is really about a proper welcome. I am not going into that detail today – other than to say that a candidate should never feel under briefed and should be made aware of his financial and time commitment. During this stage the personal mentor answers any questions the candidate may have for him to gain a sense of belonging. In other words, there should never be any surprises.
The second stage is to understand the basics of the ritual, especially after initiation and then passing and raising. But this understanding should be about the ability to answer questions about the myths that non Masons have – so that right from the start, members can counter the questions about the so-called funny hand shakes and then the nooses and trouser leg being rolled up – all these classics. The questions on the myths need to be answered accurately and without embarrassment. I am not talking about an in depth knowledge, but more a common understanding. The Mentor can, of course, point them in the right direction for this additional and important information as they require it. It is not, however, part of the new mentoring scheme.
We all understand the need to look after candidates, but it is the third stage of giving the confidence – from the very outset – in order that you can speak to, in particular, family and friends about Freemasonry. That, Brethren, is vital to ensuring the future. A candidate – and this applies equally to the rest of us – needs to understand how to talk to the non Mason about what Freemasonry means. The aim is to have as many members as possible as ambassadors to Freemasonry.
Brethren let me say straightaway that an ambassador is not a rank or office - it is a mode of behaviour. On the fundamental understanding that we recruit only people who live up to our principles – an ambassador will not only understand the basics of ritual but also, importantly will be able and willing, with our support and guidance, to talk to family and friends about their Freemasonry as and when appropriate. We need to have confidence in them to do so appropriately. To quote the Grand Master, “Talking openly about Freemasonry, as appropriate, is core to my philosophy, central to our communications strategy and essential to the survival of Freemasonry as a respected and relevant membership organisation”.
It is with these three stages in mind that the Grand Secretary’s working party is producing brief and succinct guidelines for the Mentor to give, in turn, to the personal mentors.
So Brethren the mentoring scheme is in place and evolving. In March you will vote on whether you wish the appointment of Mentor to be an optional additional office. In essence I see mentoring as a “light touch” resulting in everyone enjoying their Freemasonry even more and feeling comfortable and confident talking to their family and friends in an informed and relaxed way.
Mentoring is progressing well in our Districts. Since the last Quarterly Communication I have travelled to Auckland, North Island New Zealand to install the new District Grand Master. It was good to see that they were in excellent spirits. We should however continue to keep in mind the hardship of our Brethren in the South Island after the earthquakes and the severe damage that was caused, whilst remembering the continuing after shocks that they are still experiencing on a regular basis.
I also travelled to Georgetown, Guyana, with a brief visit to our Brethren in Port of Spain in Trinidad ‘en route’, where we ended up singing Christmas Carols on a November evening!
In Georgetown I attended the 9th Regional Conference of the District Grand Masters in the Caribbean and Western Atlantic before installing the new District Grand Master for Guyana. I have mentioned before how uplifting it is to see the enjoyment with which our brethren in the Caribbean go about their masonry and the pride they show in being members of the English fraternity. I should add that this is not only true in the Caribbean, but can be seen in all our Districts that I have visited.
Finally I wish you all a very enjoyable Christmas and a happy New Year.
The group visited St George’s Hospital to see the work of the Think Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation supported by the District Grand Lodge of Bombay. The foundation coordinates and collects more blood than any other non-governmental organisation in Mumbai. It also runs the only structured programme for prevention of thalassaemia major, a serious genetic blood disorder where survival is dependent on lifelong blood transfusions. Vinay Shetty, vice president at the foundation, gave an address at the hospital to the English visitors, who then toured the hospital with Bombay District Grand Master Percy Driver.
Noel O’Shea, accompanied by colleagues from Summum Bonum Lodge, No. 3665, in Middlesex, presented a cheque from the lodge as a thank you for the grant he had received to fund hip replacement surgery in 2008.
Before returning to Nigeria, Eddie Obianwu also journeyed to the MSF to thank them for the assistance he received for surgery to amputate his left leg and the subsequent provision of a prosthetic limb. He was accompanied by members of his family and his District Grand Master, Chief Moses O Taiga.
Chief Olorogun is a District Grand Master to remember. He ascends the stairway of the Masonic Hall in Broad Street, Lagos, with the stern determination of a man who will not stand for any nonsense. But as he approaches, you notice sparkling eyes, you see the curl at the corner of his mouth as his face breaks into his trademark smile and his hand reaches out to greet you. His greeting is a cry of joy that, it seems, will be heard all across this noisy city. The District Grand Master is not a man you can ignore.
Appointed in 2008, Moses Taiga took charge of a district of over thirty lodges, in a country of 923,000 sq. km., more than four times the size of the British Isles, with a population in excess of 123 million. The ethnic diversity in this rich and colourful country makes a social and ethnic patchwork which is as bewildering as it is dazzling.
‘When you took over as District Grand Master,’ I asked, ‘what did you regard as your most urgent task?’
‘Strangely enough, it was how do I improve the District’s standing with Great Queen Street. Communications between the District and Grand Lodge were not as good as they should have been. Some in District Grand Lodge were ignoring a lot of correspondence, annual returns and so forth, so we had to put that right. I realised that if we didn’t cement our relationship with Grand Lodge then the District would not advance.
‘I was very pleased this April when we had the District Grand Masters’ meeting with the Pro Grand Master. I had been rather vocal on two points – the churches and our neighbours. He said to me, “you were a bit tough there!” But I think my primary objective, to improve the image of the District Grand Lodge in the eyes of Grand Lodge has been achieved, and it has been achieved by making the lodges themselves more responsive.’
‘So, you’ve been District Grand Master now for two years. Are you beginning to feel easy in the job now?’
‘No, there’s nothing easy about the job, because there are new challenges every day. We have thirty-two lodges, some of them very successful, some of them not so successful. Some lodges have an inherent weakness: in Jos for example, the plateau region, where most of the Freemasons there have moved from this area. This is a political crisis. The Berom Christians and the Hausas are fighting. All the members of our lodges in Jos had to leave Jos. This is where St. Georges Lodge, No. 3065, in Lagos has done well by being mixed: Nigerian, Indigene, Lebanese, White, they are all members. Some lodges had a policy of expats only and they died as a result.
‘Looking at the global position, our membership compared with ten years ago is up by about 10%. Much of this we have achieved by keeping a more watchful eye on the way the lodges are recruiting members. You asked me what was the most important thing when I was made District Grand Master: at this point in time we English Freemasons have to know who we are because the Scottish and Irish District Grand Lodges have decided to found, April next year, a Grand Lodge of Nigeria. They wanted us to join them but I said no. We were not tempted, because in our view, English masonry is more disciplined – we don’t have so many of what I would call commercial masons.’
‘Are you afraid of losing members to the new Grand Lodge?’ ‘It’s bound to happen. And to counter it, I can offer them an organised masonic career on English masonic principles. When I visit lodges in England, I find that Masonry is altogether different. The English lodges take more care, more care of their brethren and families, of their history, and so do we in the District here.’
‘If you look at the most successful lodges in your District, St. Georges Lodge, Nigeria Lodge, No. 3773, what is the chief element of success?’
‘Dedication. And commitment to togetherness. In the best lodges, when they gather for a meeting, they will tell you, this man is ill. We will go and look after him. That togetherness is what I want to bring.
‘Nigeria is a very complex country. It’s a country full of contradictions, a country full of conflicts, a country full of opposites, a country full of unanswered questions. The politics do not sit easily with Freemasonry, and that is the issue I want to address. During the dictatorship of General Ibrahim Babangida the military condemned Freemasonry and declared it illegal. The goverment are leaving us alone at the moment, but I want us to have a proper dialogue with them. And that is why I am trying to attract members of the National Assembly, where we currently have about ten members. That’s not enough. We want about fifty members. My ambition is that the President of the day knows who we are.’
‘Let me ask you this – the accusation is often made that Freemasonry is nothing but a social and dining club, but there is an increasing number who say no, it is not only a route to moral improvement but also a spiritual pursuit. How do you stand towards that?’
‘I say that Freemasonry can make a perfect man. We should be working towards perfection. That’s what it is about. We see some who join – I’m sorry to be direct – in order to gain power. They think that it imparts some mystical power. There are those who misinterpret the words “by virtue of the power in me vested”. There are those who say, I’ve been in the organisation two or three years, and I haven’t got any power – I’m not coming again. That’s why it’s important to show them an interest in Freemasonry on a spiritual level.
‘The other thing which I’m also trying to change is the way everybody wants to be Master of the lodge. The everyday practice of Freemasonry is not enough for some – they want promotion to Master and beyond. People should have interests in Freemasonry; an interest in what they are doing, and the enjoyment of doing it. Being a Master implies being master of yourself.’