Today’s Universities Scheme conference at Freemasons’ Hall in London saw the end of my eight year tenure as Chairman of the Scheme, and provided an opportunity to reflect on the Craft and its future. In my valedictory address, I set out some thoughts about Freemasonry and the ongoing need for change, to better reflect modern day society. In particular, I focused on the need to move away from the ‘1950s attitudes’ about relationships, gender, and sexuality, that exist in some lodges and to tackle the hidden bullying that sometimes occurs in masonic units.
“Chairing the Scheme, travelling around the country to visit you, has brought me an almost unrivalled ability to see how Freemasonry works throughout England and Wales, and our Districts overseas.
What I have found is a wonderful, vibrant, and in many ways diverse organisation that continues to attract men of talent into our membership.
However, it strikes me that as society has changed around us in very distinct ways, Freemasonry sometimes has not.
If we are to attract young people, particularly students, into this magnificent institution, and provide Freemasonry with its future life blood, we must ensure that it is relevant to them and reflective of the way they identify, and the way they see the world in which they live.
Of course, our core tenets of brotherly love, relief, and truth – or more fashionably integrity, kindness, honesty, fairness, and tolerance – remain central to our aim of helping good men learn how to treat their fellow human beings better.
But what we can, and indeed must, change is some of the ways we work, the ways we behave, and how we speak.
To an extent, we have begun to do this, often setting an example in Scheme Lodges, of doing things smarter and quicker, starting meetings later and finishing earlier to fit in with the schedules of busy members.
But culturally we have not always moved with the times.
For a start, there seems to be a common assumption in the Craft that every brother has a wife, fiancée, or girlfriend, and that they are the homemakers, whilst the men are the breadwinners.
To me, this seems like a fanciful throwback to the 1950s.
But, gentlemen, we live in 2017, not 1957.
Most women now work, many of them have eminent careers, and some of our partners are much more distinguished than ourselves.
And many of our members do not have partners at all, or if they do, it may well be that they are not women, and that is absolutely fine.
Yet because of our focus on ‘the ladies’ with our ‘ladies nights’ or the care we provide for ‘lodge widows’, those single men, or those with same gender partners, sometimes can feel isolated or that they are less worthy masons. And that puts us at risk of driving those brethren away.
For example, one Provincial Grand Master told me that he and his wife interview prospective APGM’s and their wives, as, in his view, ‘the ladies’ form an essential part of the leadership team in his area. Now, what does that say to the brother who has never married, or is divorced or widowed, or has had the same male partner for twenty years? Are they never to be permitted to progress to a leadership role in that Province?
This is one clear example of where we must change our attitudes, and our language – ‘partners and friends’ rather than ‘wives and girlfriends’ – to reflect society the way it is now, not how it was in a bygone era.
Speaking of which, I wonder if now is the time to also more publicly acknowledge that women can be freemasons?
And perhaps it is time not just to acknowledge that fact, but also to welcome it, and for Grand Lodge to now formally recognise the legitimacy and regularity of the Women’s Masonic Orders.
Those University Scheme lodges that work locally with women freemasons and share space at Freshers’ Fairs and on other occasions know the benefit this can have in terms of recruitment and retention.
This is also recognised by a number of provinces who invite women masons to join them on their stands at county shows and the like.
It was wonderful to see that we invited the Women’s Grand Masters to the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday, but it would be better still if the United Grand Lodge of England were to recognise them as Freemasons within their Orders, just as we all here are Freemasons within UGLE.
That would be a great visible statement about the way we are changing.
I also want to reflect for a moment on a darker side to our movement, and that is how we deal – or often don’t deal – with bullying.
In most lodges, and in provinces and districts, the culture is welcoming and nurturing, encouraging new members to join in and participate in whatever way they can best do so.
But there are still corners, often regrettably in ‘the East’, where the welcome is not so friendly. Where rank, status, and time served matter more than enthusiasm and desire to contribute. Where junior brethren are ‘put in their place’ or made to feel that their contributions are unwelcome. This is wrong and really must not happen.
Grand Officers, Provincial Officers, and senior lodge members must earn the respect of their brethren, by being supportive mentors, rather than relying on the size and colour of their apron or what motif it bears.
All members should be encouraged to contribute to their lodges, areas, provinces, and districts to the extent they can, whether they joined thirty minutes ago or thirty years ago.
And with that in mind, we must recognise that men who join masonry bring different talents to the Craft, and not everyone is going to make the best ritualist, and that, to be frank, includes me.
I never want to go again to a meeting where the DC or those sitting near me spend their time grumbling or criticising or worse still intervening angrily because someone misses a word or gets it in the wrong order. That is deeply unfraternal brethren and it has to stop.
So please brethren, let us not humiliate the man who struggles with his words, let us instead help and support him to pass through the Chair, even if he doesn’t conduct a single ceremony in his year, so he can go on and be the wonderful Secretary, Treasurer, Charity Steward, Almoner, Masonic Hall Rep, Dining Steward, or even Universities Scheme Chairman that he was destined to be.
And with that, it is now time for me to hand over the baton to my successor, and, indeed, much better ritualist, and to return to the back benches, from where, after this speech, I shall probably never be seen again!
Brethren, it has been an honour and privilege to be your Chairman, and to have contributed just a little to your success. I wish you all well for the future.”
Edward Lord OBE JP is a Past Junior Grand Deacon of the United Grand Lodge of England and was Chairman of its Universities Scheme, which seeks to provide students with the opportunity to explore and enjoy Freemasonry, from 2009 to 2017. Edward was initiated into Kingswood School Lodge No. 4197 in March 1992. He is a Past Master of Farringdon Without Lodge No. 1745 and Corium Lodge No. 4041, Senior Warden and Master Elect of Duke of Fife Lodge No. 2345, and Senior Warden of David Kenneth Williamson Lodge No. 9938.
Some facts about Freemasonry
Freemasonry is one of the world’s oldest and largest non-religious, non-political, fraternal and charitable organisations. The first Grand Lodge was established in England in 1717.
Freemasonry aims to teach self-knowledge through participation in a progression of ceremonies. Members are expected to be of high moral standing and are encouraged to speak openly about Freemasonry.
The United Grand Lodge of England (www.ugle.org), which also includes Wales, the Channel Islands and Isle of Man, as well as certain overseas territories, currently has over two hundred and fifty thousand members meeting in 6,800 Lodges.
There are Grand Lodges in Ireland, which covers both Northern Ireland and Eire, and Scotland which have a combined total of approximately 150,000 members.
Worldwide, there are approximately six million Freemasons.
The Masonic Charitable Foundation (www.mcf.org.uk) awards grants to registered charities that provide support in a number of areas:
- Financial hardship
- Health and disability
- Education and employability
- Social exclusion and disadvantage
- Advance medical research
In the last 35 years, grants from the national masonic charities have amounted to over £130 million. Regional and local masonic charities have contributed many millions more including purchasing new Air Ambulances and the CyberKnife at Bart’s Hospital.