How the Universities' Scheme is gathering pace explained by Oliver Lodge
In pursuit of its objective, 'to establish and/or enhance the opportunities for undergraduates and other university members to join and enjoy freemasonry', the Universities Scheme Group has, over the past year or more, provided direct support to the nine Lodges that make up the Scheme.
The nature of that support has varied considerably according to the needs of the individual Lodge. In all cases, the Lodges have had notable success in their participation and pursuit of the objective, which they have embraced with great enthusiasm.
I have been not just impressed, but excited by the degree of commitment that has emerged as, in some cases, Lodges have made the decision to bring about quite significant change to their composition and nature.
The nature of the Scheme is such that, while the most important work is indisputably that which takes place in the Scheme Lodges, some elements of the administration of the Scheme are more efficiently centralised.
The Scheme Group have attempted to serve the Lodges involved by offering advice drawn on experience of university Masonry and by seeking to ensure that as many as possible in the Craft are fully aware of the Scheme’s existence and the scope for undergraduates to join the Craft, without having to wait to attain the grand old age of 21 years. Before too long we will have to declare ourselves as failures if there are Masons left in this country who have not heard this message!
Our early efforts at raising awareness have had profound effects. The marvellous advent of the internet has assisted our efforts formidably. The very simple expedient of establishing a presence in a small corner of the UGLE website, with an appropriate mail box for contact, has produced enquiries of all sorts, some anticipated, other less so.
Having deliberately raised awareness in order to support the objective – ensuring that no one is missing out through want of information – the most welcome surprise of all has been the level of interest and enthusiasm that the Scheme has attracted from all corners of the Craft.
Most striking of all is the desire among a number of Lodges to participate in the Scheme. While it has always been intended that we should expand the Scheme to a wider range of Lodges, our timeframe on this has been driven by demand.
Recognising that it is no longer feasible to provide all support from the Scheme Group itself, the Assistant Grand Master (AGM), RW Bro David Williamson, the Scheme’s Founding President, has asked Provinces where there are Lodges that want to participate in the Scheme to look at providing the necessary support from within their own ranks.
This step, with all its appearance of being purely administrative, has the fundamental impact of enabling the widening of the Scheme to meet the enthusiastic demand that is surfacing. This is the most welcome challenge faced by the Group to date – the sensation of pushing at an open door.
As well as driving the timing, this development has obliged the Group to be more explicit about the necessary criteria, indeed the essential qualifications, for any Lodge wishing to participate (see table opposite). Some of these are marvellous in their blatancy; others may not be so obvious; all are vital. Supporting the objectives of the Scheme goes, in one sense, without saying.
But an unequivocal statement from the Lodge to that effect is essential.
The agreement of the Provincial Grand Master and AGM are also necessary steps. This will ensure that the Lodge has fully understood the implications of its participation, as well as providing a degree of co-ordination and the avoidance of overcrowding – too many Lodges in one location – which could lead to the dissipation of undergraduates where what is needed is critical mass.
The question of passing on to young members the reduction in dues to Grand Lodge and the Grand Charity, now available to all Masons under 25, is important to ensure the avoidance of financial exclusion.
It is, of course, essential that Lodges joining the Scheme should fully understand the implications of doing so and commit themselves in open Lodge. They will need to consider some difficult questions about their own structure, including practicalities relating to meeting dates and time, the cost of dining and regalia and their style and dress code.
They will also need to look at the more challenging questions of how best to involve undergraduates during their probably all too-short time in the area and how they help those same members, when they graduate and move on, to join convivial Lodges in their new location.
For Lodges in the Scheme, this is the steep and rugged pathway. Those looking for soft options will have to look elsewhere; those looking to re-invigorate not just their own lodge but the Craft as a whole, should look no further.