What do you call a gathering of Provincial Secretaries?

Starting a blog is a great way to encourage reflection.  Looking back over my Masonic activities of the last week, I am struck by how many wonderful people I know, and am close to, through Freemasonry.

As for Lodge meetings, all online of course, they included Austral Lodge No. 2534 in Mafikeng, of which I have been a member since my visit in 2012.  Despite most members only having met me once, and some not at all, they have very kindly embraced me and I feel as much part of that Lodge as most others. 

Another was with the members of The Scout Lodge M.M.M. No. 1907, of which I am proud to have been the founding Master.  This is the world’s first ever Scout Mark Lodge and it travels to different Provinces to connect local Scouting with local Mark Masonry. 

My third meeting was for a quiz with Walesby Forest Lodge No. 9674, the Scout Lodge of Nottinghamshire.  I was a founder in 1998 and absolutely love this Lodge.  I joined the quiz with Diane and Caroline on the night of our 32nd wedding anniversary.  And then we won the quiz!  Thank goodness for Caroline is all I can say.

Monday also saw an “Ask the ProvGM & GSupt” Zoom meeting in the Province of West Kent.  The ProvGM / GSupt is Mark Estaugh.  Mark had received around 50 questions in advance and by clustering them around themes was able to answer all of the issues.  His openness, clear direction and passion set him apart as an outstanding leader and members of the Province, of which I am proud to be one, cannot fail to feel his enthusiasm rub off on them.  The meeting was expertly managed by Dan Spencer, the new Assistant PGM.

On Tuesday, I delivered a talk for Mimosa Lodge No. 4396 in the District Grand Lodge of Orange Free State.  The District is one of our smallest with less than a hundred members.  Nevertheless, Rob Allam managed to assemble an audience of 50 to hear my “Have we anything to communicate?” talk, and they included many from surrounding Districts and other jurisdictions, as well as some from South Africa Lodge No. 6742 in London, an excellent Lodge ably managed by James Dow, a great servant to Freemasonry here and in South Africa. 

I have also been writing this week.  I tidied up my paper, “Why some brethren resist change and how to respond” and put it up on my website on a new page.  I added something I wrote during the Grand Secretary’s Enough is Enough campaign called, “The secret of Freemasonry.”  The first of these papers is a response to many questions I get to how to respond to resistance from influential brethren.  I am happy to expand this paper with more scenarios if people want.  The second is a robust response to our detractors.  I put it up on social media at the time of the campaign and thought some people might find it useful again.

Over the course of the week I have had a number of discussions with brethren about a planned return to Lodge & Chapter meetings.  Most seem to feel that, despite our natural inclinations to gather as brethren, we should not rush to return and that most meetings in the next two to three months are likely to end up abandoned.  Despite this, some are clearly going ahead.  I just hope that partial returns do not divide rather than unite us.

In case you are wondering about the title of this blog article, all will be revealed as I outline what I am expecting in the coming week. 

On Tuesday, I am delivering my talk, “The future of Freemasonry: evolution & change” for brethren who meet at Dore Masonic Hall.  Dore is going through an exciting change process.  The members have been invited to contribute to developing a clear and agreed vision of the future and a structured development plan.  The process is being managed by a small group under the leadership of Steve Williams, an energetic and skilled Freemason who recently retired as a local Solicitor.  Dore is very fortunate to have him. If you would like to “attend” this talk, please register at https://fofec-doremh.eventbrite.co.uk before 15.30 on Tuesday.

Then on Wednesday we have a Zoom meeting of Peak Council R.S.M. No. 184.  I was due to go into the chair of the Council this summer but will now have to wait until next year.  I enjoy the Order of Royal & Select Masters and, having only recently re-joined, was looking forward to my Installation.  I left many Orders around the time I was appointed as Prestonian Lecturer, so that I could concentrate on Craft, Mark & Royal Arch.  I have re-joined because I recognise the valuable lessons Cryptic Masonry offers.  To be honest though, I am not looking forward to learning lots of new ritual.  Oh well.

Thursday evening will be a Zoom Committee meeting of The Mark Provincial Grand Secretaries Lodge No. 1641.  This is an unattached Lodge with membership restricted to present and past Mark Provincial Grand Secretaries.  We meet twice a year in a Province selected by the Lodge Committee, normally with one being near the WM’s home.  At one of the meetings we host The Grand Secretary’s Forum, an update by the Grand Secretary followed by a Q&A session.  The Grand Secretary, R.W.Bro. Ryan Williams, is an excellent ambassador for the Lodge as well as for Mark Masonry in general.  I joined the Lodge immediately after I became the Provincial Grand Secretary of Derbyshire in 2007 and am now privileged to be its Secretary.  Keeping over 100 Provincial Secretaries is an interesting task at times, and I am grateful to the members for their fantastic support.  As to what to call us, other than M1641, answers please in the comments area!

So, that is my reflection on the last week and a look forward to the next.  How it turns out in practice, we shall see.

If you want to see dates of my talks this coming week and beyond, please go to https://prestonian2012.org.uk/upcoming-talks/.

Onwards and upwards.

From the Members’ Pathway to my garden (via South Africa and Women’s Freemasonry)

I had two great – although very different audiences – for my Masonic talks this last week. 

On Tuesday I ran an online Members’ Pathway session for West Lancashire’s Secretaries and Scribe Es, with an audience that peaked at 240.  On Thursday I did my talk “Is belief in a Supreme Being really essential?” online for Lyceum Lodge of Research No. 8682, in the District of South Africa North, with an audience of just under 100.

Along with others, I have been working on the development of the Members’ Pathway since early 2015 and sit on UGLE’s Membership Working Party sub-group.  The great thing about the Pathway is that we know it works.  Lodges that use it have planned their future development, attracted and introduced new members and are improving their retention practices, all using techniques that have been tried and tested.  The challenge is to get it in the hands of more Lodges and then help them to use it. 

This is where my talk on Tuesday came in.  West Lancs have a weekly Zoom call for Secretaries and Scribe Es and they wanted to know more about the Members’ Pathway.  So, they invited me.  As I was speaking on behalf of the sub-group, and UGLE, I needed permission to speak, which was readily given.  I updated the introductory session we ran for the regional roll-out workshops and it seemed to go down very well.  Certainly, the feedback from the Province and people who took part has been very positive.  As always, I enjoyed the Q&A session most and was pleased to engage with those who wanted to know more.  I asked the audience to appoint the best person they could to be their Lodge Membership Officer and to support him as he takes the Lodges through Step 1, “Lodge Planning”, and beyond.

Thursday was the second time I had delivered a talk to Lyceum Lodge of Research.  The first had been a live delivery of my Prestonian Lecture in the fabulous Masonic Hall in Johannesburg, back in 2012.  The Secretary then was W Bro. Jeff Spiller, who has been on many of my recent online talks and continues to promote my work. 

It was great to see so many brethren whom I had previously met, either in South Africa or on my visits to South Africa Lodge No. 6742, in London.  The questions were challenging, as might be expected of a research Lodge and for such a topic. 

It was also clear that many brethren find it difficult to disentangle the notion of a Supreme Being from that of organised religion.  Of course, as Freemasons we don’t discuss the teaching, theology or dogmas of any religion, concentrating instead on what unites us together, a shared belief in a Supreme Being.  But if Freemasons find it difficult to differentiate, how do they discuss the issue with prospective candidates and applicants?  Perhaps we need to offer more guidance in this area, so that brethren can explain the distinction with confidence and candour.

Other key events this last week included tuning in to “Freemasons without Borders” to hear MW Bro. Christine Chapman, Grand Master of the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons (HFAF), now known as “Freemasonry for Women”.  Christine gave a great talk explaining the origins and development of women’s Freemasonry.  She is a brilliant advocate for Freemasonry in general and passionately believes that if men can benefit from it than so too should women.  Christine made it clear that her Grand Lodge wishes to continue to work with ours, but no more wish us to combine than we do.  She and I are already talking about how we can work together with Scouting.

Yesterday, The Ralph Reader Lodge M.M.M. No. 1997 held a Virtual Business Meeting, to elect my good friend Bro. Jamie Ingham Clark as our Master for the next year.  I am so proud of this Lodge and look forward to see it grow over the coming years as it introduces more brethren with a background in London Scouting into Mark Masonry.

So, what do I have planned for this coming week?

If it hadn’t been for Covid-19, tomorrow I would be in the Province of Cornwall to deliver my talk, “The future of Freemasonry: evolution and change” to One and All Lodge No. 330.  Instead I will be joining Austral Lodge No. 2534, the Lodge in Mafikeng, South Africa, for our regular catch up Zoom call and then joining my West Kent brethren for a “Ask the Provincial Grand Master” Zoom call. 

Tuesday, I “go to” Mimosa Lodge No. 4396 in the District of Orange Free State to deliver my talk, “Have we anything to communicate?  The language of Freemasonry in and out of the Lodge”.  OFS is a small District but most welcoming and I am looking forward to being “with” them.  If you don’t have anything on Tuesday at 6.00 pm BST, please book to join this call.  There are some places left and I know the brethren will appreciate your support, as will I.  You can book using the following link https://hwatc-ofs.eventbrite.co.uk and will be sent the meeting details three hours before the talk is due to start.  The talk is all about how we talk about Freemasonry and encourages us to use everyday language when talking with non-Masons.

If you want to see dates of other talks beyond this coming week, please go to https://prestonian2012.org.uk/upcoming-talks/.

On Wednesday we have a Zoom meeting for The Scout Lodges M.M.M. & R.A.M. No. 1907.  I am especially looking forward to this, as our members come from far and wide.  Being the first ever Mark Lodge for those with an interest in Scouting, it travels the country to introduce local Mark Masonry to local Scouting. 

Most of the rest of the week I am on Scouting business, and some paid work as well.  Having had such success with my online Masonic talks, I am preparing some of my sessions on leadership, change and organisational development for online delivery to paying customers, all based around my book, “Introducing the Success Cycle”. 

Lastly, on Thursday, Diane and I celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary.  I shall be taking the day off from all Scouting, Freemasonry and work.  As I am still shielding, I just hope the weather will be good so that we can spend our time in the garden.

I plan to have a good week and hope you do too.

Onwards and upwards!

Further confessions …

Two weeks ago I wrote about my experiences as a virtual Masonic speaker. Like all of us, I have had to adapt to Covid-19, the lockdown and the suspension of Masonic activities. I have also learned very quickly to take my talks online.

Having done so I have found new and bigger audiences. For example, my talk, “The historic links between the Craft, Mark and Royal Arch” for the new Facebook group “Freemasons without Borders” attracted 291 attendees for the live delivery on 23rd June and (so far) 741 views on YouTube.

Early on I decided that online talks are probably better with slides. In a live setting I know I can hold an audience so I had not created visual aids for all my talks. As I often say, I am the presenter, not PowerPoint.

However, in the online setting slides can help keep the audience focused, especially when they are sitting among domestic distractions. So, I have created slide packs with images designed to stimulate and foster curiosity or amusement (and am grateful to Bro. Gerald Sclater for permission to use the following).

I have also found a new interest in some of my older talks, so I have polished and updated, for example, “Seven habits of highly successful Lodges”, “Freemasonry: does it live up to expectations?” and “The Royal Arch – what is it all about?”.

Updating these has also helped me grow. I have gone deeper into my research, gathered more data, read more books and articles and traced more primary sources.

I have also “finished” my latest talk, “What is Freemasonry’s fascination with completion?”, which examines the historic and narrative references to “completion” in the Royal Arch and gives my own interpretation of the deeper meaning of that ceremony. In truth, I suspect it won’t be “finished” until I deliver it and even then I am sure I will continue to develop it.

Whoever said that teaching is a learning experience had it absolutely right. I am polishing my ashlar to help “bring out all that is potentially contained within” and while I am far from perfect I know I am a better man.

I desperately want to get back to real Masonic meetings but in the meantime, virtual gatherings are the best we have. Going forward, I am sure online deliveries will continue to be part of my repertoire.

Confessions of an online Masonic lecturer

Ten weeks ago I thought Zoom was an ice lolly. Seventeen online talks later it’s my direct link to an audience that has so far gone over 1,000. This is my story (so far).

It all started when Josh asked me if I would deliver my talk, “The future of Freemasonry: evolution & change” (the 2018 Cornwallis Lecture), to an online meeting of Leeds Light Blues. Most of us were very new to this, thrown into a flurry of Zoom meetings in our rush to adapt and adjust to the Covid-19 driven suspension of Masonic meetings. Josh and his team were already leading the way and had the skills to make it work. Safe in their hands I tentatively felt my way into a new universe.

Now, please understand. I love engaging with a live audience. I love speaking, getting my message across, monitoring the body language as it gives away peoples’ reactions, responding to their questions, reading the room, noticing who wants to ask but is holding back, debating issues and – yes, unashamedly – seeing and feeling my efforts appreciated.

Some say I am quite good at this stuff.

How would it work online, when all I could see were postage stamp versions of my audience?

Well, it requires an adjustment. It’s no good wishing it were different. You have to embrace the opportunity you have been given, quickly learn new skills, take the feedback that you can and respond accordingly.

That first talk had an audience of 74 and raised £525 (plus gift-aid) in online donations for my charity appeal, in aid of the UGLE / MCF Community Fund. The immediate feedback was great, as was the follow-up. It very quickly led to more invitations as guests invited me to their Light Blues Clubs and Provinces.

After the second, for Cheshire Masters’ & Masons’ Forum, I realised a pattern was developing. There needed to be two hosts; a “presiding officer” (a bit like a WM) and a “tech guy” (a bit like a DofC). It was clear that access to the call and security were issues and that registrations involved a lot of work on the part of the host. So, I looked at best practice, drafted some guidance notes and opened an Eventbrite account.

The guidance notes give new hosts and me a framework to discuss and agree how their event would work. Eventbrite, which includes a scheduled email system, relieved them of the burden of responding to email registrations. Coupled with the Everyday Hero fundraising platform linked to my Prestonian Relief Chest, and social media marketing, we were ready to step up to the next level.

I also found I liked doing my own warm up. A tricky one this as it is not my event and before the formal start I have not been introduced. But, chatting with people as they come online certainly helps me to take the temperature of the audience and build some rapport. And audience rapport is essential if a speaker is to have a positive effect.

Of the seventeen talks I have done so far, two have been for overseas Districts (South America, Southern Division, and Trinidad & Tobago). On many talks there have been people sign in from various European countries, Africa, Iceland (thank you Olafur), the USA, South America, Asia, Australasia – as well as all parts of the UK. While I have travelled to four continents to deliver my Prestonian Lecture, I could not expect to have got such a wide exposure so quickly.

It is interesting to see how different organisers run their online lectures. One asked audience members to switch off their camera as well as their microphones, actually depriving the speaker of any visual connection with their audience and any source of feedback. Others distribute their meeting codes widely, opening up their events to the possibility of gatecrashers. We are all learning and I am sure we will see good practice develop for some time to come.

As I have held a number of Masonic lectureships, it has been interesting to see new organisers join the field.

I have been working with UGLE’s Learning & Development Team and my fellow Prestonian Lecturers to record and publish our work on Solomon. This involved new learning again as we struggled to make good quality sound recordings over PowerPoint slides. My own lecture, “Scouting & Freemasonry: two parallel organisations?”, was the first to go up and tomorrow (19th June) we will hold the first live Q&A to a global audience.

On Tuesday (23rd June) I will be the twelfth “Freemasons without Borders” lecturer, following in the illustrious footsteps (or is it seats?) of two Grand Masters and two Grand Secretaries, with my talk, “The historic links between the Craft, mark & Royal Arch degrees.”

Without doubt, the stars of this new platform are the Light Blues Clubs. They have the technical skills, the social marketing experience and the enthusiasm to make online talks for large audiences work. In the vast majority of cases they have had excellent support from their Provinces who have recognised that these brethren can be relied upon to do a great job and to further the cause of Masonic education. As the Head of Learning & Development for the Province of West Kent, I am looking forward to developing my team’s relationship with our Light Blues Club.

Online lectures may not replace the live experience, but they are the best we can have for now. Once our meetings resume I will certainly continue to deliver some online, especially for my new found friends in Light Blues Clubs.

Launching my new website

Welcome to my new style Prestonian 2012 website.

Back in 2011 I started a blog to record my Prestonian journey and made a few entries before turning to use social media, and especially Twitter. W Bro. Trevor Brearley kindly set up and ran a separate website focused on my Prestonian Lecture, its deliveries, the book, charities, etc.

My Prestonian WordPress (blog) site sat dormant. Until now.

In the last 8 years I have delivered my Prestonian Lecture on 122 occasions in every Province in England & Wales and in a number of Districts and jurisdictions overseas. It has raised almost £80,000 for my Prestonian charities. The lecture continues to be sought after and I am still receiving enquiries for bookings. This month (June 2020) it was the first Prestonian lecture to be published in movie format on Solomon.

Inevitably my range of other Masonic talks has expanded. I have written about Masonic history and about issues facing its future. I have been honoured with the award of a number of other Masonic lectureships.

So, I wanted to expand the scope of the website to cover my other talks and Masonic activities. The WordPress (blog) site is an ideal platform for this.

So, please forward this to your friends and contacts in Scouting and Freemasonry and encourage them to sign up.

Research for the Prestonian

My research is going pretty well so far.  I have had tremendous support from KLA Lodges, UGLE, The Scout Association, etc, and have a number of good stories to tell.

I’m hoping that my trip to Gilwell tomorrow will provide me with some good info about the benefits of The Grand Charity grant.  And then back to UGLE for a little bit more on B-P & Freemasonry, and some photographs of jewels.


2012 Prestonian Lecture charities chosen

I have chosen two charities to be supported from the proceeds of the 2012 Prestonian Lecture.  One is a Masonic charity and the other a Scouting one.  Both are worthy causes, much deserving of our support. 

The Masonic charity is the Masonic Samaritan Fund, which provides grants for medical, dental and respite care and support to Freemasons, their wives, partners, widows and dependants, who have a diagnosed need, face a long wait for treatment on the National Health Service and who can not afford to fund it themselves without incurring financial hardship.  Each year the Masonic Samaritan Fund makes grants of over £4,000,000 – more than £11,000 per day.  So far no qualifying petitioner has been refused relief due to a lack of funds.  However, the UK has an aging population.  By 2025 it is expected that almost two million people will be over the age of 90 and one million will suffer from dementia.  Coupled with cuts in public sector finances, the Masonic Samaritan Fund faces increasing calls upon its resources.  Proceeds from the Prestonian Lecture will help the Masonic Samaritan Fund to continue its good work in looking after us and our families when we need it most.   More information about the Masonic Samaritan Fund can be found at www.msfund.org.uk.  The Fund’s registered charity number in England & Wales is 1130424.

The Scouting charitable cause is the development of the UK Scout Association’s archives.  As the home of the worldwide Scout Movement, the UK has a particular responsibility to protect the many unique and irreplaceable national and international documents and artefacts that date from Scouting’s origins to the present day.  These documents range from Baden-Powell’s handwritten manuscript for “Scouting for Boys” to current plans for growing Scouting’s capacity to satisfy the 35,000 young people who are waiting to join.  £40,000 is needed to digitise the archive and to move it into a climate controlled environment, preserving it and enabling Scouting’s legacy to be shared with a wider audience and future generations.   With your support The Scout Association will also be able to complete an archive website to make heritage material available to the public in the UK and overseas.  For more information about Scouting in the UK please visit www.scout.org.uk.  I would hope that proceeds from the Prestonian Lecture could meet the full cost of this globally significant project, so that no draw need be made on The Scout Association’s own funds, which can then be applied to the growth and development of Scouting, for today and tomorrows’ young people. The Scout Association’s registered charity number in England & Wales is 306101.

You can donate safely online by going to www.virginmoneygiving.com/prestonian2012 or to www.justgiving.com/prestonian2012TSA.