A way ahead (March 2018)
Don’s Diary – A way ahead
The principal “product” offered by Freemasonry is membership of a fraternity, open to all good men regardless of their race or religion, providing they recognise a Supreme Being, with a unique strong moral code of ethical behaviour and who do good things for society.
Instead of forming Grand Lodges, if there has been the communications and organisational sophistication we have today, the early Craft lodges in staging-post, and city pubs could have achieved a standardisation of the code of ethical behaviour, dress and ritual by the lodges participating in committees leading to accreditation alone. Today, Grand Lodges should not be seen or established to be a franchisor of these standards with Craft lodges being the franchisees. A better analogy would be a producer cooperative where the operators or producers, that is the Craft lodges, see some benefit in having a coordinating body which can afford economic benefits and represent and advance their interests in the wider society. Something similar is done now in industry associations and in professional bodies and many offer useful organisational models. Sometimes membership of such professional bodies is mandatory for individuals and businesses. Grand Lodges should not be seen as ends in themselves but a means to an end, community standing and membership, organisations that are managed effectively and efficiently.
When the United Grand Lodge of England was formed, with the Queen Victoria’s father’s brother becoming the first Grand Master in 1813, he brought with him a community status, social connections, and a deep commitment to advancing the Brotherhood of Man. The status of Freemasonry was repositioned (in a marketing sense) from being a pub activity to one of highest status in the country. This made the “product”, the membership of the fraternity, more appealing to the broader society and especially its leaders. If a Grand Lodge today does not achieve this, one has to question its raison d'être.
Whilst it is important to have leaders who have the respect of the rank and file fraternity in Craft lodges, the selection of leaders in the Craft should give primary consideration to those that can “position” Freemasonry in the broader community and cause leading citizens to aspire to membership that others will follow. The Grand Lodge organisational arrangements should be focussed on supporting our leaders to carry out this external role.
One could be excused for thinking that the Board of General Purposes under the Constitution having both executive as well as advisory functions is dysfunctional within our organisation. Most Freemasons would expect that our two senior positions, our Grand Master and his Deputy, who have recently been elected democratically, will have a direct unfettered line of responsibility and accountability through the Grand Secretary and Craft Lodges to ordinary “rank and file” Freemasons. We would expect there to be advisory committees to provide expert advice on a range of matters. However, we would not welcome anything that looks like a grab for power and the establishment of an alternative line of management. As Freemasons we want our Grand Master to be more than just a figurehead. We would not like any organisation that is established by a committee or board and reports to it that undercuts the authority of the Grand Master and the Grand Secretary or create organisational friction. I understand that such was the case of the organisation led by our former CEO. It is hard to see how we can move ahead and let the Grandmaster do his duty if he is “helped” in this way. If the Grand Secretary in under resourced, then, providing the tasks really need to be done and cannot be undertaken in a more cost effective way, give him the resources. It is not appropriate to attempt to over-service Craft lodges, do “busy work” and suffer inefficiencies in non-line management areas, and expect ordinary Freemasons just to pay for these follies.
It is difficult sorting out an overgrown organisation that has become an end in itself, whose development has not been subject to market forces, an apparent bottomless pit of funds available much of which has come from the sale of assets bought in the past by earlier generations with other people’s hard earned money, an organisation that has seemed to have developed a life of its own. Non-cost solutions should be identified and those that should be user-pay and user do. High expectations of organisational paternalism, now common in our society, should be balanced with the knowledge of both the cost and realisation of the benefits of self-help including self-satisfaction. There may be scope for outsourcing. Volunteers in the past from the Grand Master down have provided an enormous service and it is hoped that this will continue. No other Order in Freemasonry, recognising that they do not own property, has the high overheads seen in the Craft, yet rituals are taxing, work is to high standards, and usually there is good administration. The Craft overheads were much lower years ago when there were many more Freemasons and more property, yet no computer information technology and poorer communications. Does this say something about our higher administration practices?
I am confident our new Grand Master will capably address any matters of concern with diligence and professionalism. He deserves our support.