Understanding the light touch

Thursday, 15 March 2012

With mentoring high on the agenda, Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes takes the opportunity to give clarity and perspective to what it means for Freemasons

You have all heard 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 own ideas about what mentoring is and, for that matter, what it is not. Indeed, some believe there is no need for mentoring and some believe they are already mentoring perfectly satisfactorily. These sentiments are 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, everyone would be looked after as a matter of course, and 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’.

three stages of mentoring

But first, let’s look at the word ‘mentoring’, which 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 that 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 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 to have a complicated or onerous scheme but rather one that is as natural as possible yet, at the same time, allows consistency of advice and support.

Mentoring has essentially three stages. The first two are straightforward as they cover logistics, basic ritual meaning and developing a sense of belonging. The third – how to talk about our Freemasonry to the non-mason – needs more explanation as it links in with our overall communications 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. Essentially, they should get a proper welcome. A candidate should never feel under-briefed and should be made aware of his financial and time commitments. 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.

common understanding

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. Right from the start, members can counter the questions about the so-called funny handshakes, the nooses and trouser leg being rolled up. The questions 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 them the confidence from the very outset in order that they can speak to family and friends about Freemasonry. This is vital to ensuring our future. A candidate needs to understand how to talk to the non-mason about what Freemasonry means and we aim to have as many members as possible being ambassadors for Freemasonry. 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 will also talk to others about their Freemasonry.

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 succinct mentor guidelines. I see mentoring as a ‘light touch’ resulting in everyone enjoying their Freemasonry even more and feeling comfortable in talking
to their family and friends in an informed and relaxed way.

 

Letters to the Editor - FreemasonryToday No.18 - SUMMER 2012

    

Sir,
I was delighted to read the Pro Grand Master’s article, ‘Understanding the Light Touch’. I have always considered that one’s mentor should ideally be one’s proposer or seconder and not a lodge officer. In 1998, I was part of a workshop on the future of Freemasonry at Manchester Freemasons’ Hall, addressing the thorny issue of retention, which proposed a mentor as a substitute for the candidate’s proposer when the proposer was himself too inexperienced to carry out the role.I personally never needed a mentor because my proposer (my father-in-law) took me to every practice meeting of our lodge, arranged many visits to his friends’ lodges and encouraged me throughout my progression to the chair. In other words carried out the mentor’s role in full.

I believe the one-to-one relationship is essential between candidate and mentor and it is good to see the lodge mentor’s role described as ‘co-ordinating and selecting brethren to be personal mentors’. Freemasonry proved to be a strong bond between my father-in-law and myself and I have always been appreciative of the shared interest, as well as the support he gave me.


Graham Holmes
Ben Brierley Lodge, No. 3317
Middleton, East Lancs

 

 

Sir,
A couple of years ago, I invited half a dozen or so of the most junior brethren of my lodge to a very informal meeting. They came and we had a very positive meeting, followed by another in 2011, and it will be repeated later this year. As the brethren progress, I let them drop off and add newcomers. The lodge mentor joins us and we have had enjoyable as well as constructive meetings. When I was new, grand officers were not addressed until they spoke to you and then you called them ‘Sir’. I am proud to be called Ken by an entered apprentice. I intend to continue as long as the GAOTU spares me and, of course, my wife, since she provides the refreshments.


Ken Mason
Beacon Lodge, No. 5208
Loughborough, Leics & Rutland

 

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