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Uniting in the Grand Design: interview with the Grand Secretary Nigel Brown

Sunday, 01 April 2007

With Grand Lodge agreeing the resolution empowering the Grand Master to appoint a Grand Chancellor to oversee Grand Lodge’s Masonic external relations, the role of the Grand Secretary has been freed up to enable him to concentrate primarily on the huge task of administering the Craft and the Royal Arch both at home and in our Districts, Lodges and Chapters overseas.

With the central administration for over 283,000 brethren in 8,357 Lodges (of which 792 are overseas) organised in 47 Provinces, 33 Districts and five Groups under Grand Inspectors to oversee, to say nothing of the organising of Grand Lodge meetings and those of the Board of General Purposes, Strategic Working Party, ad hoc and permanent committees (and their equivalents in the Royal Arch) as well as organising and co-ordinating the paperwork for each, ensuring that the Rulers and Board members are properly briefed on all topics of the day, and dealing with questions from Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Masters and their secretaries, the Grand Secretary’s role is no sinecure!

Nigel Brown, appointed Grand Secretary from 1st February, brings a wealth of professional and Masonic experience to his new office. Born in Lusaka, in what was then Northern Rhodesia, he was educated in Southern Rhodesia before entering the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, from which he was commissioned into the Grenadier Guards in which he served for ten years, retiring as a Captain.

Then followed 15 years in senior management in which he earned a high reputation for his administrative and planning skills and attention to detail, leading to his setting up a consultancy advising clients on winning competitive global tenders.

Although not the first in his family to be involved in Freemasonry, it was through his Service connections that he entered the Craft, being initiated in the Household Brigade Lodge No. 2614 in 1985. After being Master, he continued to serve the Lodge as Director of Ceremonies, Charity Steward and, currently, Secretary.

He has also been active in Prince of Wales’s Lodge No. 259 and other Lodges and Chapters. His liking for ritual and ceremonial brought him to the attention of the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his appointment in April 2005 as a Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies.

The GDC and his Deputies are key players in serving the Grand Master and the Rulers, and in maintaining the high reputation that the United Grand Lodge of England has in the Masonic world for the excellence of its ceremonial at Grand Lodge and other major Masonic gatherings.

The new Grand Secretary sees close co-operation between the centre and the Metropolitan, Provincial and District authorities as being vitally important to the good administration of the Craft and Royal Arch.

Over the last few years pressures from other areas – particularly foreign relations and dealing with the outside world – have led to there being less of a focus on Freemasonry at home and in our overseas Districts and Groups, but the Grand Secretary sees the strengthening of ties between the centre and the Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Lodges as his first and ongoing task.

“I am very much looking forward to the end of April when I shall have the good opportunity of informally meeting the Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Masters when they attend the Pro Grand Master’s business meeting.

“As a Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies I have had the privilege of visiting a number of Provinces as part of the Grand Lodge team for the installation of a new Provincial Grand Master or Grand Superintendent and have begun to get a feel for how a Province works.

“Equally, I look forward, with my senior management team, to my first meeting with the Provincial and District Grand Secretaries and Scribes E when we get together on the morning of the Annual Investiture. Later in the year I shall be accompanying the Pro Grand Master when he meets the Provinces in groups for more detailed discussions.

“I sincerely hope – if invited – that over a period I shall be able to attend the annual meetings of the Metropolitan and Provincial Grand Lodges. Communication is of vital importance and should be a two-way process from which we can all learn and benefit the Craft as a whole.

“The same thoughts apply to our Districts, Groups and Lodges overseas, though there is the additional dimension of distance involved. However, just as with groups at home, communication is the key. With the ease of today’s electronic communications I believe that ‘distance’ should not be a problem in providing a high quality of service from the centre.

“Thought is being given as to how we can increase personal contact, possibly by once again meeting Districts in groups as was done a number of years ago, and of striking a balance between visits to our own people overseas and those to foreign Grand Lodges and major international Masonic gatherings.

“Even in the short time I have been in office I have experienced the warmth of welcome received overseas, when the GDC and I joined the MW The Grand Master in Ghana for a brief Masonic meeting whilst he was representing The Queen at the 50th anniversary celebrations of Ghana’s independence.”

The Grand Secretary will continue to lead the Communications team at Grand Lodge and would like to see a more pro-active policy.

“Openness and a steady flow of good, factual information about Freemasonry are key to restoring Freemasonry to its proper place in society, and the Craft at all levels has a vital part to play in the process. The Grand Lodge team and the network of Provincial Information Officers have made significant changes to public attitudes over the last few years and we need to build on their successes.

“We need to find ways of giving individual brethren the tools and the confidence to talk about Freemasonry with their families, friends and colleagues and, above all, with potential good candidates.

“I have no doubt that negative public attitudes have had an effect on potential candidates and that in some professions joining Freemasonry has not been seen as a smart career move. These are attitudes we must change if we are to continue to attract professional men.

“Talking about Freemasonry is not always easy, as I have found from recent experience! Before becoming Grand Secretary, at social events, when the conversation inevitably turned to what people did, I would talk about my various business and personal interests.

“Now, as Grand Secretary, I am having to learn how to talk succinctly and clearly about Freemasonry! Talking about something which we all clearly enjoy is surely one of the best ways of dispelling some of the myths that have grown up around the Craft. Enjoyment is one of the keys to the future success of Freemasonry.

“We must be efficient and professional in how we organise our Masonic affairs at all levels, but if we do not make it an enjoyable experience there seems little point in doing it. I think that whoever put together the Address to the Brethren got it so right when they exhorted us ‘to unite in the Grand Design of being happy and communicating happiness’”.

John Hamill is Director of Communications at Grand Lodge