There was a time, not so long ago, when Freemasonry was run discreetly, like a private gentleman’s club and the Grand Secretary seemed a distant, even aloof, figure gazing down from privileged heights. But no longer: Freemasonry is now run as a modern business and the Grand Secretary is a hands-on chief executive but accountable, not to shareholders, but to a large and diverse membership. It is a job needing skill, business acumen and diplomacy.
It seemed right, at a time when important changes are taking place amongst our rulers, that I should speak with Nigel Brown, Grand Secretary, about the changes in the administration of Grand Lodge since he was appointed and the plans for the future which he is tasked with implementing.
The first thing, he explained, was to understand that Grand Lodge was the centre of a large and dynamic international network of Freemasons.
As an example he mentioned the trip he recently made to Singapore to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the District of the Eastern Archipelago - which covers masonic lodges of the English Jurisdiction in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. This was an important milestone and celebrated not only the District’s longstanding success but 150 years of contribution to the local communities.
Many District Grand Masters from other areas were present and so he took the opportunity to chair business meetings to ascertain how well they are supported by Grand Lodge and how easily can they communicate their needs and concerns.
‘The Districts have long supported us and we need to demonstrate that we are constantly supporting them,’ he explained.
‘The Districts are a good example of the dynamic network of Freemasonry founded upon a shared moral understanding which, far from being anachronistic, is actually the way forward in the twenty-first century.’
‘In England and Wales we are increasingly dealing with a diverse population and Freemasonry could not be better placed to support and promote an understanding of that diversity since, in the end, what we are looking for are men of quality.’
‘And how would you define quality?’
‘People who understand the need for mutual respect of each other, who seek to become better men themselves and who understand that the community is better served by an active participation without expecting any reward. Therefore the need to select candidates of quality is essential.’
‘In Singapore, almost seven thousand miles away, I was heartened to find myself in the company of just such men of quality who selflessly give to their local community as we do here in England and Wales.’
The Administration of Freemasonry
The precise role of a Grand Secretary is to represent the Rulers - the Grand Master, Pro-Grand Master and his Deputy and Assistant - and the executives, the Board of General Purposes. He is rather like an honest broker to both these groups, advising them on all situations which arise. His task is also to implement whatever action they decide as a result of that advice.
‘So that takes care of missives from the top down,’ I commented on hearing this explanation, ‘what about concerns from the bottom up?’
‘We needed to reorganise the staff in Grand Lodge to create clear communication lines in order that Provincial, District and individual concerns can quickly be addressed by the right people and in a timely manner.’
‘At the beginning of my appointment one of the first objectives I was given was to make sure that Grand Lodge was run as a business. Of importance was the need to focus on an ease and efficiency of communication.’
‘Lord Northampton has been an enormous influence and working with him has been a very constructive experience. He was the right man in the right place and right time, the catalyst driving all these major initiatives vital for us to be a member of the twenty-first century.’
‘You have been Grand Secretary now for two years. How well have these objective been met?’
‘We are well on the way to achieving them. In fulfilling this remit the first organisational changes were made after my first six months in office and on behalf of the Board. I now have a clear understanding of what still remains to be put in place.’
The two main changes which were made were firstly to address the problem that Grand Lodge operated like a series of independent entities and that sometimes Provinces and Districts were not receiving the attention they deserved. Grand Lodge needed to understand fully what it was required to provide to Provinces and Districts and so a close analysis was made of the relationships.
At the same time Nigel Brown travelled around the Provinces and Districts with the Pro Grand Master, Lord Northampton, to be introduced to the Provincial Grand Masters and hear directly their concerns and requirements.
As Grand Scribe E he also performed the same task for the Royal Arch. ‘One of the great decisions to allow me the time to concentrate on Provinces and Districts was the appointment of the Grand Chancellor. We have regular meetings and discuss any matters which might impact on the Districts. There can be issues between Districts under our jurisdiction and a sovereign Grand Lodge in the same country but, to date, all such issues have been resolved.’
Initiatives for the twenty-first century
One important recent success has been the Library and Museum Trust which has been transformed under the direction of Diane Clements. It has achieved official recognition by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council for its displays, comprehensive holdings and research.
Freemasonry has also been capitalising on the extraordinary nature and architecture of Freemasons’ Hall itself which is now listed among the ‘Unique venues of London’.
Shows, concerts, lectures and presentations have all been held here and, as most will now know, it is also used as a film and television location - most notably in recent years as the headquarters of the Intelligence agency featured in the Television series ‘Spooks’.
A major initiative about to bear fruit is the new United Grand Lodge of England website which is designed to be extremely easy to access and explore and will be regularly updated. It should provide everything anyone needs to know about Freemasonry and is designed particularly for the under-forty-five age-group both for members interested in Freemasonry and those thinking of joining. It will make it clear that Freemasonry is founded on Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth and explain what that means in a twenty-first century context. In this way it will underpin English and Welsh Freemasonry’s desire for more open communication.
‘But what then should we keep to ourselves?’
‘The only things we wish to keep private are the modes of recognition which might be required when entering a lodge of which you are not a member. Of course, there should be an element of mystery about the rituals but it is not exactly secret since ritual books are freely available. Of course, reading the ritual is one thing, being part of it is another. What really counts is the felt experience of the ceremonies.’
‘One word we do not like is ‘secret’ for there are no secrets in Freemasonry. Nevertheless, at its heart is that great mystery of what it truly means to be human in an uncertain world and our ceremonies are a personal journey of discovery deep into this often uncharted region. Here, the recently introduced Orator and Mentoring programmes are important for they are focused upon the help, advice and support of those who choose to make the masonic journey.’
‘To have respect for others, give to the community and to journey towards insight and wisdom is to fully adopt those fundamental and ancient masonic principles of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth which have served Freemasonry since time immemorial and which will serve Freemasonry just as well into the future.’
NIGEL BROWN: GRAND SECRETARY
Born in Northern Rhodesia in 1948. Educated in South Africa and Southern Rhodesia, he entered the British Army and after graduating from Sandhurst joined the Grenadier Guards with whom he served in Northern Ireland, British Honduras, Kenya and Cyprus. He was an instructor at the School of Infantry and commander of the Queen’s Company. After leaving the army he first entered financial publishing then later ran a company advising clients on winning global tenders.