I am happy to report that we have been continuing to make great progress in many areas since my last column. For example, our noted success with the Ministry of Justice who will now no longer discriminate against Freemasons. Can I just emphasise the fact that we are all extremely happy, when appropriate, to declare our membership to anyone.
However, to quote the Pro Grand Master: ‘provided that those requiring the disclosure are even minded, make the same requirements of all other organisations and do not single us out’. As I have said before – we will stand no nonsense and we will deal with any other discrimination in the government, local authorities, other parts of the public sector and anywhere else.
On behalf of the Board of General Purposes I have appointed a new public relations agency who will help us to drive forward our new and dynamic strategic communication plans towards 2017 and beyond.
As you would expect, this plan contains our open approach towards the press, media and the community as a whole. What you might not have expected is that, though this is mission critical, the education of our members is considered that much more important to our communications success.
We need each of you to be an ambassador for freemasonry, with the ability to talk to anyone about the masonic world, backed up by knowledge. You will know that one of the working tools, the chisel, points out the importance of education. I am very excited about our plans and I feel invigorated about the future.
You will have heard that I accompanied the Pro Grand Master on his visit to the South Island, New Zealand, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the District. A street march – a first for me – and a cathedral service, both in full regalia, were two truly memorable occasions.
2009 has gone in a flash. I am sure you have found the same! My team at Grand Lodge and I look forward to 2010 and to continuing to work tirelessly on your behalf and for the good of freemasonry in general. I know you would want me to thank them for all their work. Finally, I send you and your families all my fraternal best wishes.
9 September 2009
A speech by the VW Grand Secretary Nigel Brown
Most Worshipful Pro Grand Master and Brethren. ‘Building Bridges – Freemasons’ Hall in the 21st Century’. You may think that this talk is about operative masonry and with some justification as we have recently successfully completed the building of four fire bridges at the east end of this fine Grand Temple. Built to the satisfaction of English Heritage and do have a look when you ever have a moment, at the way the bridges are appropriately adorned with squares and compasses. But the talk is not about that. Nor is it about the opening up of all the sealed entrances to the Connaught Rooms.
If you would allow some poetic licence, the building of bridges between us and what is from this day forth to be known as the Grand Connaught Rooms. As the President just announced the lease is being granted by the Board of General Purposes with definite benefits to the United Grand Lodge of England. The new people – the Principal Hayley Group - have, since the beginning of July, been completely refurbishing the Building to bring it back to its former glory – working literally day and night – at their expense – gutting the building, and for example, installing new kitchens, so the food will be cooked on site served by people who know what they are doing as well as new wiring, lifts and loos. They are spending over five million on the work. It is all exhilarating and inspiring. They have worked tirelessly to have the Grand Hall – now once again one of the most impressive banqueting rooms in London - ready for today’s lunch. All the rest of the major refurbishment works are to be completed by the end of September. So they ask for patience until that time. By the way, do look at the uncovered Masonic black and white marbled floor. The proof of the pudding will, quite literally, be in the eating. However if their rapidly growing order book is anything to go by, people are intending to return in droves. It is clear from our discussions that they are taking the trouble to understand our needs – and see us Masons as valued customers – unlike their predecessors.
However it is the speculative side of building bridges that this talk is all about. Building bridges from here, at Freemasons’ Hall, with both the non Masonic and Masonic community. First then, building bridges with non Masons. Having now seen all the Provincial Information Officers in a series of regional meetings – the one consistent request is for another Freemasonry in the community event. In fact, we all know that Freemasons should always be actively working in their communities. A great example is when Provinces have a stand at county shows – not only being manned by Freemasons of all ages but especially when wives and partners are part of the team. Grand Lodge has done its bit since the last Freemasonry in the community in 2002 – predominantly by allowing Freemasons’ Hall to be used more extensively than before – as a conscious implementation of strategy - and having a policy of open communications in all our dealings. That strategy has meant that we have moved to a position of respect within the local community. We liaise successfully with all the local residents’ associations as well as with Camden and Westminster Councils. Examples of building bridges are holding open days for locals – in fact on the 19 September it is ‘open house’ for all major buildings in London and on previous form we expect some two and a half thousand visitors on the day. Then we host the ‘In and around Covent Garden’ Annual General Meeting and on the 11th September Camden has invited us to participate in the opening of the new Piazza outside here in Great Queen Street. The opening ceremony will take place at the Tower Entrance. They also see us as the iconic building for the area. However that is all very well – what we actually want is for all members, wherever they are, to see the building as important to and representative of the whole English Constitution. The fact is that it is owned by all members, not just those from London. This wonderful building completed in 1933 as a peace memorial to all those Masons who died in the First World War is still, in the 21st century, one of the finest art deco buildings and is rated as a Grade II* building internally and externally. The actual shrine is a focal point and is situated at the West end of the Vestibule area showing the names of those who died, linked to Lodges throughout the Constitution. Brethren, let us also see this shrine as a continuing memorial to those Freemasons who have died, in the loyal service to their country, in all the wars since the First World War. In that context, it is heart warming to see the high level of support from Freemasons to families of those who have been killed or to very seriously injured soldiers themselves in Afghanistan, in the most ferocious fighting since the Second World War.
Our highly successful events go from strength to strength with thousands of people coming through our doors each year. This is in addition to all those who come on our regular tours of the Building and visit our centre of excellence, the Library and Museum. We are therefore talking about people who would otherwise never come in or know anything about Freemasonry. Freemasons’ Hall has been appointed a Unique Venue of London. The rigorous membership criteria means we are considered to be representative of London and an important building alongside, for example St Pauls or the Natural History Museum. Indeed, for the last three years we have been nominated by the events industry as one of the top locations for availability, accessibility and services offered to film makers. Freemasons’ Hall is our 21st Century brand name and we are highly respected within the events industry.
For film makers, this is a designers’ paradise. Both for television series and Hollywood blockbusters. Then there are the award ceremonies and the list is long. We highlight the Gala Dinner for the London Philharmonic Orchestra – the Grand Master being their patron. A pre dinner recital in the Grand Temple was breathtaking and the Artistic Director remarked that the acoustics in here were ‘perfect’. By letting them have the Hall free for the evening we are shown as sponsors for the whole year on their promotional material. As an aside, they raised seventy three thousand pounds for their own charity that evening. This charity allows under privileged children from all over the Country the opportunity to come and listen to live orchestras. We are very careful about whom we let hire the venue and indeed are keen never to interrupt Masonic activities. However I will mention amusingly that Tesco’s recently came to display the items that are going to appear in their shops at Christmas. Although rather surreal at this time of the year, the marvellous thing was that we had five hundred journalists in over two days – none of whom thought they were allowed in and all of whom were wowed by the fantastic building. Clearly the revenue stream is important – we have raised a great deal of money to maintain the fabric of the building – and another real benefit is the soft PR for the Craft as a whole.
Then we have built bridges with the four Masonic Charities all of whom, as you know, have moved into the building and it is a great delight to see how they are now working together and with us, again to the benefit of the Craft. We are also delighted that over this very summer the Metropolitan Grand Lodge has also moved into the building and into the space previously occupied by the Grand Charity.
Secondly, as part of building bridges with our membership it is important that we stay very close to Metropolitan, the Provinces and Districts. These relationships are very important to us and they grow stronger each day. Apart from the reality of geographical spread in England, Wales and abroad, everyone here considers you all of equal importance. It is also important that all our members throughout this geographical spread appreciate the vital role that this iconic building, the Mother Lodge of the World and the Headquarters of the English Constitution, plays to Freemasonry in general and to them specifically. Indeed, Brethren from our Districts and from all over the world view a visit to this building as a highlight to their stay in London. First and foremost, this is a working building, from where a vast membership organisation is run on 21st century business lines. Apart from the running of the business of Freemasons’ Hall we link to Metropolitan Grand Lodge, to 47 Provinces in England and Wales, to 33 District Grand Lodges around the world, to 5 groups under Grand Inspectors as well as to lodges abroad not under Districts or Grand Inspectors. That is well over 8,300 Lodges and now couple this with the Royal Arch which is also run from here, gives us a total of over 11,600 Lodges and Chapters. Or, to put it another way, over a quarter of a million members.
As you can imagine there is a huge volume of correspondence and of course, in this day and age, an increasing amount of electronic mail. Hundreds a day, many requiring considered advice and guidance on a vast range of technical Masonic issues. Some say ‘why don’t you have standard responses?’ Well, Freemasons can be ingenious – they think of ninety ways to ask the same question – all with a twist!
Then there are, just by way of a snapshot, the Board of General Purposes and Committee of General Purposes meetings covering for example strategic and investment decisions; conferences; the Rulers’ Forum with representatives from all the Provinces; the provision to all the Provinces - and increasingly to the Districts – of a standardised and integrated system for maintaining membership data called Provincial ADelphi; the writing, production and distribution of Freemasonry Today; initiatives such as mentoring, orator schemes and new websites, monitoring national and all local newspapers and dealing with the press and giving advice on media issues. Brethren, on that subject, our relations with the media have improved dramatically through the efforts of the Provincial Information Officers and from here. We will take no nonsense from any detractor. Interestingly, this considered approach has earned Freemasonry considerable respect and us – many new friends. That snapshot, that flavour of a few of the things we do, is for the good of all members. Things like today’s Quarterly Communication, or Supreme Grand Chapter and Investitures do not just happen. They all have to be organised and staffed. Just think what it is like for a Lodge Secretary to run one meeting and then compare, no, we need say no more – you have got the picture! Don’t forget we also work closely with Provinces and Districts with their activities including the installation of Provincial or District Grand Masters, bi-centenaries, centenaries and business meetings throughout the Constitution.
The Centre here is in many ways a clearing house, giving advice and guidance when asked for. Having said that, we do initiate change and our great strength is adaptability. Whether from 1717 or 1813 it has been our ability to adapt to the society in which we are living without changing the basic principles and tenets.
At the same time we will continue to keep the building up-to-date and in good order. This means that the building remains a prestige venue and commercially viable.
So, Brethren, with the leadership of our Rulers and the direction of the Board we will together continue to build and strengthen those bridges as we move happily forward from a strong base towards our three hundredth anniversary in 2017 and beyond. We commend to every single member, wherever you are, the true value of Freemasons’ Hall and all it stands for in the 21st Century.
There is exciting news about the Connaught Rooms in Great Queen Street. We own the freehold and a new lease is being granted. The new people have worked extremely hard throughout July and August, at their own expense, to return the building to its former glory. Importantly, among many other key improvements, they will have state-of-the-art kitchens and new staff who will understand how to serve a meal! This great news will, I am sure, be joyously received by anyone who dines there from Metropolitan, the Provinces and from the Districts. On a personal note I could not be more thrilled.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank those readers who write constructive letters to the Editor. Clearly the Editor can only choose a few representative letters on any subject and could not possibly enter into a private correspondence. Hence we simply acknowledge receipt of a letter. Please note that if you have a Masonic question or a complaint, not to do with the magazine, the protocol is to go through your Metropolitan or Provincial Grand Secretary, who will either deal with the matter or, if appropriate, then seek guidance from us. Please do not short circuit the system or berate us for not entering into correspondence in these circumstances.
In early July I accompanied the Pro Grand Master to Jamaica for the Installation of the new District Grand Master and Grand Superintendent for Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.
Concurrently we attended the regional meeting of Districts Grand Masters. I attended last year in Bermuda and the intention is to continue to attend on a regular basis. At the end of July I was in Dublin for the Tripartite Conference and it was another good opportunity to talk with my fellow Grand Secretaries from Ireland and Scotland, particularly about our Districts where we have mutual interests.
Although August is out of the Masonic ceremonial season Grand Lodge continued to work at full pace. I can assure you that the workload here does not diminish!
In the Grand Secretary’s talk to Grand Lodge at the September Quarterly Communication entitled, ‘Building Bridges – Freemasons’ Hall in the 21st Century’ I emphasised the true value of Freemasons’ Hall, Great Queen Street, and all it stands for. The Editor has kindly reproduced the talk in this issue.
In early June the Grand Charity held a special event to commemorate, albeit belatedly, HRH the Duke of Kent’s forty years as our Grand Master. The Grand Master chose ten non-masonic charities in which he has a close personal interest.
These included the Canterbury Cathedral Appeal as well as medical and military charities. This proved to be a wonderful opportunity for His Royal Highness to explain our huge contribution to non-masonic charities to the non-masons present, many of whom had the misconception that all our money was given to self serving causes.
This beneficial public relations exercise has been a great success for the Craft as a whole. Speaking about charitable matters reminds me how little members know about our own four Charities, namely: the Grand Charity, the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution, the Masonic Samaritan Fund and the Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys. In conjunction with Grand Lodge the Charities have several plans to inform members about their activities which included a conference for the Metropolitan and Provincial Grand Almoners last year and for Grand Stewards in July this year. We acknowledge all of you for giving and continuing to give so generously.
Our external events go from strength to strength and they are proving an enormous success as a soft public relations campaign. As an example, in mid June we hosted the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s Gala 2009, in the presence of our Grand Master as their Patron. Performances, conducted by Vladimir Jurowski, of Rossini, String Sonata No.3 and Shostakovich, Two Scarlatti Pieces, Op.17 (Pastorale and Capriccio) in the Grand Temple were quite magnificent followed by the Gala dinner.
We are all very excited about the launch of the new United Grand Lodge of England website. This is a dynamic site which will be constantly evolving. The new website is specifically designed for you all to use as a recruiting tool. The target audience is people who are interested in becoming Freemasons or just have become Freemasons.
Remember the Metropolitan and Provincial websites will have relevant details for the established mason.
Coincidently the site will also help you as an aid when talking about Freemasonry to family, friends and acquaintances or to dispel myths among our detractors. Be assured that this site has been very well researched and is the result of feedback from all relevant focus groups. I am aware that every single member will have a differing view on this site, but had we designed it by ‘committee’, it certainly would not have been a success. I am delighted that, whatever your view, it further underpins our policy of open communications.
As I mentioned in a previous column, the role of the Provincial Information Officer is, of course, very important in communicating information to members, but it is an especially important role when dealing with the press and media.
I have now completed my regional meetings with all Provincial Information Officers. This has been a highly successful exercise and I thank all those who took time to attend. I am in the process of writing a proposed five year public relations plan and our discussions at these meetings have been enormously helpful in collecting my thoughts for this project. The role is a key advisory one to the top executive. We will continue to give support from the Centre on all press and media matters, especially when dealing with misinformed and wholly inappropriate press coverage.
As the Pro Grand Master said in his June Quarterly Communication speech, we are taking on any government body or organisation that requires disclosure to the question, ‘are you a Freemason’.
Although we are happy to let people know we are Freemasons the question is entirely discriminatory. Backed by the ruling of the European Court, we will take legal proceedings against any group who refuses to remove this from their forms or literature.
All this makes me feel more than ever confident that the direction we are taking will ensure a bright future for Freemasonry. I wish you all happiness and an enjoyable Summer.
It has been a particularly busy few weeks – not least with the installation of a new Pro Grand Master, Peter Lowndes, and Deputy Grand Master, Jonathan Spence. On your behalf, I know you would want me to wish them both well in their important tasks. The Grand Master said that Lord Northampton retires leaving the Craft more confident than ever. We are privileged to have a distinguished team taking ‘over the reins’ to lead us forward.
An Adjutant, Alex Maclean Bather, has been appointed. Alex is responsible to the Grand Secretary for the day to day running of all the projects and initiatives that we have been tasked with. As you can imagine there are several hundred. By way of example, I highlight the new UGLE website, the Mentoring Scheme and the detailed preparation for the greatest masonic event ever in our history since the in 1717 – our Tercentenary in 2017. We have just run a very successful conference for Provincial Grand Mentors, chaired by Lord Northampton. Mentoring is vitally important and at the heart of our future. It was tremendous that all Provinces were represented and everyone was exhilarated by the day. You will hear all the details of the Scheme, via the mentoring coordinators. The key point is that everyone will be mentored throughout their masonic journey.
I am to speak with all our Provincial Information Officers in a series of regional meetings as I want to highlight the importance of the role of Information Officer. The role will increase in importance as we progress our policy of open communication and of our increasingly positive dealings with the media. I am also, in the short term, running the Communications Department. We are determined to clarify the aims of our communication policies to align them with our philosophy of open communication and the needs of the twenty-first century. Interestingly our Events are a wonderful success and we have recently been accepted as a member of the prestigious Unique Venues of London and are now in partnership with other iconic buildings such as St Paul’s Cathedral, Somerset House, Royal Courts of Justice and the Natural History Museum. To give you a flavour, we have recently had Hollywood stars such as Matt Damon in the ‘Green Zone’, Oscar nominated actor Robert Downey in ‘Sherlock’ as well as John Cusack in ‘Shanghai’. The Hall appears in many TV shows such as ‘Spooks’, ‘Whitechapel’, ‘Hustle’ and the forthcoming productions such as ‘Miss Marple’ and ‘Primeval’. The most stunning set build here has been for ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day’ which is released in March on DVD. Alongside the filming the building also hosts corporate conferences, dinners and award ceremonies, such the ‘World’s 50 Best Restaurants’. The two clear aims are to generate an income stream and to have as many non-masons as possible visit our magnificent building to help eradicate the nonsense about conspiracy theories and negative attitudes. Be assured, the daily routine of the building is not interrupted by external events.
It is a great pleasure to let you know that we are sponsoring two students at the City & Guilds of London Art School. One is on the stone carving course and one on the conservation of stone course. It reminds us all of our history in stone masonry when we were operative masons. The editor has agreed to write an article in a future issue to follow their work. The Masonry Department at the School played a major part in the restoration of the stone work at Windsor Castle after the fire in 1992.
Finally, I want to mention an issue that I feel very strongly about. In society it is increasingly more acceptable to put other people down for self aggrandisement. This is particularly prevalent in the media. There is no room for this in Freemasonry. We therefore do not accept or tolerate any member who is rude, arrogant, disrupts the harmony of their Lodge or Chapter or, in some cases, is willing to bring Freemasonry into disrepute to achieve their own selfish ends. None of us want these people as members which underpins the serious responsibility on all of us to bring only men of quality into our ranks. Happily there are only a tiny minority of cases but even one, is one too many.
Proceedings were opened with an address from the M W Pro Grand Master, Lord Northampton, who spoke about the role of mentoring in both nurturing and tutoring Masons. The opening address was followed by presentations from Toby Jones, who iintroduced of the 3R Library to delegates, and then an interactive session from Nick Cripps on mentoring skills and techniques, during which small groups of delegates considered aspects of effective mentoring. A working lunch, led in to the afternoon plenary session on “the way forward”, considering questions such as the role of Provincial Mentors, central support, indicators of success, the introduction of the Holy Royal Arch and other topics, all under the watchful eye of the Grand Secretary, Nigel Brown. The day concluded with a thoughtful presentation from Hugh Stubbs on the national Masonic charities, their activities and introduction of this important part of Masonry to mentees. After the close, delegates described the conference as a great success: new relationships had been made with fellow Mentoring Coordinators and interesting ideas shared.
It would be very easy to sit in my office everyday and deal with the heavy workload that continually flows in. However, I remain keen to get out and about, within reason, whenever I can. I believe it essential to hear first hand how people in both the Provinces and Districts feel about the issues facing them.
So, since last writing, I have attended Installations of Provincial Grand Masters or Grand Superintendents in Durham, Cumberland and Westmoreland and Guernsey and Alderney and the Installation of the Grand Inspector of Malta. I attended Northumberland's Annual meeting. I accompanied the Pro Grand Master when he attended the Fifth Regional Conference of District Grand Masters and their executive teams in Bermuda. The Conference was a great success with the District Grand Masters of Bermuda,· Bahamas and Turks, Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Guyana, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands and Trinidad and Tobago.
I have just returned from Singapore where I accompanied the Assistant Grand Master when we attended the 150th Anniversary celebrations of the District of Eastern Archipelago. I ran a very worthwhile business meeting which was attended by the District Grand Masters of North and South Island of New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Bombay, Hong Kong and Eastern Archipelago.
We are making good progress with the design and building of the new UGLE website as well as working hard on many of our other initiatives such as the Mentor and Orator Schemes.
2008 has been a marvellous year for Freemasonry. I wish you and your families a wonderful Christmas and a very happy 2009.
Nigel Brown, Grand Secretary
You will know the expression, ‘the only thing certain is change’ and at the September Quarterly Communication the Pro Grand Master announced important ‘changes’. He has decided, having been installed in March 2001, that it is time to hand over. The current Deputy Grand Master, Peter Lowndes, will be the next Pro Grand Master and the current Grand Director of Ceremonies, Jonathan Spence, will be the new Deputy Grand Master. They will be installed in March 2009. The Assistant Grand Master, David Williamson, will continue in his role. We are most fortunate to have an outstanding team to lead us towards the three hundredth anniversary of the United Grand Lodge of England in 2017. Oliver Lodge will be the next Grand Director of Ceremonies.
The Pro Grand Master, Lord Northampton, has been the right person, in the right place, at the right time. History will relate his personal contribution to English Masonry and the resulting respect with which we are now increasingly held throughout the world. His personal commitment, energy and drive have been the catalyst to originate several key initiatives, not least the desire for open communications, both internal and external.
In early July His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent opened the new Charities’ area. As Grand President of the four masonic charities, it proved a wonderful opportunity for all members of the charities, based at Freemasons’ Hall, to meet the Grand Master.
It has been a very busy period for the Grand Lodge team. Since the beginning of May we have installed six Provincial Grand Masters, one District Grand Master and nine Grand Superintendents. As Grand Secretary I have attended a number of these, including travelling to Cape Town for the Installation of the new District Grand Master of South Africa, Western Division. I concurrently ran a business meeting at which all the District Grand Masters of Southern Africa attended.
I have been in my post for eighteen months and it is clear that I need an adjutant to assist me with my vast quantity of masonic correspondence and with the several projects I have responsibility for. The successful applicant must be a past Master, well versed in running a Lodge and Chapter, most probably with experience of a wider masonic nature.
This is not a masonic post and humility and loyalty will be absolute necessities. The adjutant will work directly with, and report to, the Grand Secretary. Would anyone genuinely interested and meeting the criteria please write to me in confidence at Great Queen Street by mid October.
Since the last issue of the magazine it has been a very busy period, including the preparations for and running of the Craft and Royal Arch Investitures. The day before the Craft Investitures the Pro Grand Master holds his annual business meeting with the Metropolitan and Provincial Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents and any from the Districts who are here for the Investitures. The next morning the Grand Secretary holds a meeting for all Grand Secretaries and Scribes E.
I take every opportunity to attend annual meetings and Installations. One of the main purposes is to meet as many people as possible, to find out how you are and to get to discuss any issues. This will continue to be my policy. The Rulers’ Forum held in June and December each year is another way for our leaders to get ideas from ‘grass root’ masons. This June’s meeting, chaired by the Pro Grand Master, was again successful.
I take this opportunity to mention two points that concern me: humility and recruitment. Interestingly, the Grand Master talked about the importance of humility in his Investiture speech. Rank, whether Grand, Metropolitan or Provincial, should never be actively sought and, if attained, never accompanied by arrogance, but rather by a renewed sense of duty and fraternal affection. Talking about the importance of humility leads me onto the second point, about recruitment.
As Grand Secretary I am privileged to meet many tremendous people who have a common bond in our love and enjoyment of masonry. They understand the true meaning of charity. I also get to deal with a very small minority who have neither humility nor fraternal affection.
This prompts me to ask two questions. Is the selection process always thorough enough? Do secretaries always follow out Rule 158 for a joining member? Candidate selection is a very real responsibility that falls on us all. It is a responsibility that is to be taken seriously now and forever. A proposer and seconder and the selection committee have all to be happy that the candidate is of the highest possible standard in both private and public life – a future ambassador for all Freemasons.
Never let the numbers game cloud your good sense. So I ask you to select candidates convinced that they will be an ambassador for all we truly believe in. I found a piece of unattributable masonic writing the other day which combines rather well humility, fraternal affection and being an ambassador for Freemasonry: I would not give much for your masonry unless it can be seen. Lamps do not talk, but they shine. A lighthouse sounds no drum, it beats no gong, and yet far over the water its friendly spark is seen by the mariner. So let your actions shine out your masonry. Let the main sermon of your life be illustrated by your conduct, and it shall not fail to be illustrious.
At the June Quarterly Communication the Pro Grand Master reminded us that on 19 July 2008, Freemasons Hall in Great Queen Street will be seventy five years old. Looking back to 1933, it was inspiring to hear the Pro Grand Master say that Freemasonry was in a stronger position today than it has been for many years.
This achievement is primarily due to the leadership of the Rulers and the work of the members of the Board of General Purposes and the Committee of General Purposes. In acknowledging their contribution, it is timely for me to remind you that they give their time free.
I have had the chance to view the new exhibition in the Library and Museum called 'Women and Freemasonry: The Centenary'. This is the first comprehensive display on the development of Freemasonry for women. In July, the Library and Museum is opening its summer exhibition: 'Square Meals: 300 Years of Masonic Dining' – an equally fascinating subject!
The Grand Secretary, Robert Morrow, talks to Julian Rees
When you enter the office of the Grand Secretary of the United Grand Lodge of England, you feel the palpable weight of the history of Freemasonry over nearly three hundred years, and the way in which Grand Secretaries have influenced affairs in that time.
Yet Robert Morrow, in the first few words we exchanged, proved himself to be the most approachable of Grand Secretaries. ‘Where does that easy contact with people stem from?’ I asked.
‘My background was in senior management in banking, a sphere where you learn to see the good in everyone, and to reciprocate their goodwill.’ But then he added an interesting insight into his own thinking. ‘My training at Oxford University, reading latin, greek and ancient history, and therefore my exposure to ancient texts, gave me perhaps an insight into the way the human mind works. Particularly when you read Aristotle, whose Ethics describes the different kinds of person, which gives you the beginnings of an understanding of the human mind.’
Not long after leaving Oxford he went into banking, but not before he had started on his masonic journey. ‘I never knew a time when I wasn’t going to be a Freemason. On the evening of my twenty-first birthday I went across the road and asked my father’s best friend if he would propose me into Freemasonry.’
Robert comes from an impressive masonic pedigree; there are Freemasons on his father’s side going back at least six generations.
‘What was it that you found in Freemasonry?’ I asked.
‘Two things I think. First, it was a whole new cycle of things that one could get involved in and learn about. It wasn’t long before I discovered Quatuor Coronati and started learning. It was a rich seam to mine, and it is a seam I am still mining. I do not believe you can ever get to the end of the journey, and that is what is so wonderful about it. The second thing I think was the social aspect. There I was, twenty-one years old, and the way the lodge took me to its heart and looked after me was the beginning of a very special relationship. I didn’t know what to expect. I spent the first days wondering what was going on.
‘I often say to initiates, if we have done our job properly tonight, you should by now be thoroughly confused, but please don’t worry. The next time you watch a first degree being conferred on a candidate, take part in his ceremony, and think back to when it was being conferred on you. That is something I still do, even after all these years.’ Did he feel that society might be too bound up in materialistic pursuits, and that Freemasonry might be an effective antidote? ‘The answer to that has to be a simple yes. The ‘me-now’ generation is the most avaricious grasper of satisfaction over a feeling that some things are better enjoyed by waiting for them. Freemasonry can be an antidote to this but only, surely, for those who are so inclined.’
‘How would you describe the function of the Grand Secretary?’ ‘Well, he is effectively the Chief Executive of the United Grand Lodge of England. Like any big organisation there has to be somebody who has got day-to-day hands-on responsibility for running it.
As in running any organisation, it would not be possible without the assistance of others, and I am extra lucky to have a team of dedicated people who are absolutely top-flight.’ What about his relationship with the other Rulers? ‘When I give talks to lodges from time to time, I often start with an overview of the hierarchy – what the Rulers do, what the Board of General Purposes does, the Grand Master’s Council and so on, and I say that I am the servant of many masters. A Grand Secretary ought to have in his makeup some view of the future, where he thinks Freemasonry ought to go and how to get it there’.
He explained that the vision of Freemasonry, the richness of what Freemasonry can be in the future, is ‘very much the province of the Pro Grand Master, and without his will in driving forward change in Freemasonry, it would be enormously difficult to have confidence that Freemasonry as we know it is going to survive for another three hundred years. Society has changed more in thirty years than in three hundred, more in three years than in thirty. We have to accept that if society is changing at that rate, Freemasonry must change with it, must adapt, otherwise it will become a dinosaur, and we all know what happened to the dinosaurs. But I don’t want to see Freemasonry changing at a very high speed or changing its essential nature. I don’t want to see it changing its reliance on its past. Change for its own sake is inefficient and ultimately doomed to failure.’
‘Tell me about the relationship of Grand Lodge with foreign jurisdictions,’ I asked. ‘I regard our relationship with other recognised Grand Lodges to be a very important part of my job,’ he said.
‘This area is my own specific responsibility. I think I have been able to build on what my predecessor, Jim Daniel, did. There is a very large masonic family out there, and it is nice to know that we are respected by other Grand Lodges. But we do not have any power outside our own jurisdiction. We are the biggest, and we have acquired a certain “mossy” sense of seniority.’ Is the United Grand Lodge of England in some way a sort of reference point? ‘Without question. I get a huge number of enquiries and requests from other Grand Lodges, ranging from points of protocol to advice on disciplinary issues. But we are not the world’s masonic policemen, nor a masonic mediator. If we can help, it’s important that we do so, but only if we’re asked to do so.’
What did he think about the different roles of national masonic publications?
‘When we started MQ, it was as a vehicle for disseminating Grand Lodge and Grand Chapter news. At the beginning, it had perhaps too much lifestyle content. We have changed that in line with feedback we had. Freemasonry Today too has changed since its launch, and you now have what I consider a very successful magazine. You can cover aspects of Freemasonry that MQ can’t, and I find it fascinating. You have some superb writers, you pick on topics of unusual interest, and you do write on esoteric and symbolic aspects in a way that focuses on specialised masonic interests. Your contributors tend to be more independent of the hierarchy, and that is immensely valuable.’
I asked him to tell me about the present health of Freemasonry. ‘I think we can begin to be quietly confident of the future. It is early days, but we are beginning to see signs of improvement. After the second world war there was a gigantic increase in membership, and of new lodges. With hindsight I suppose we can say it wasn’t the best answer, since membership was never going to be sustainable at that level. I believe that as men came back from the war, they had formed a special bond and they found in Freemasonry a way of continuing that.
‘Kipling said “All ritual is fortifying. Ritual’s a necessity for mankind. The more things are upset, the more they fly to it”. Thank God we haven’t had a major war for sixty years, but that means that continuing source of bonding has fallen away. And the simple fact is that we have too many lodges. We must accept the fact that lodges have to close, there is going to have to be amalgamation and so forth, and we are beginning to see some encouraging trends. It is still very early days, and in some parts of the country numbers are still going down, but in other parts there are encouraging signs of an increase in membership.
‘The policy of engaging in the community again is beginning to pay dividends. The “Freemasonry in the Community Week” was a huge success. The local press gave us good coverage, but I think the national press focuses too much on bad news, not good.’
Why was Grand Lodge’s public relations machine unable to break through that? ‘I think “was” is the operative word. We learned from the experience, and we contemplated doing it again after, say, five years. The Pro Grand Master commented that if we did it again we should call it “The Freemason in the Community”. I think this would give a nice fillip to the idea and would give people a slightly newer direction in which to take the initiative.’
This then is a man who evidently has big ideas for the future, ideas which he tantalisingly doesn’t want to talk about just yet. ‘There are some very interesting and exciting initiatives, which I hope it will be possible to progress,’ he says. ‘We have to keep Freemasonry relevant to what’s going on, without betraying that huge historic debt to the past. I haven’t stopped thinking of things to do.’
Clearly not, and with such an energetic Chief Executive mapping out the future, we can only surmise that Freemasonry can look forward to a very interesting future.