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Interview with Assistant Grand Secretaries Shawn Christie and Tony Rayner

Combined knowledge

Assistant Grand Secretaries Shawn Christie and Tony Rayner may be responsible for different areas of , but they share a strong desire to help members get the most from the Craft

Q: How did you become the Assistant Grand Secretaries?

Tony Rayner: I had been a police officer for thirty-two years and retired in 2011. I decided that I was going to take a gap year – youngsters do it before they go to university, so I thought I’d do the same before committing to anything else. Just at the point that I was thinking about returning to the workplace, I saw this position advertised on the Freemasonry Today website. In terms of rank, I thought it was like going from lieutenant to brigadier in one go, but I believed that I had the CV to do the paid employment, so applied.

Shawn Christie: My background is in banking, where I started and progressed my career. I had always wanted to complete an MBA, so took some time out to pursue it, expecting that I would return to banking. Given some regulatory changes and the knowledge gained from my MBA, I decided to also consider other opportunities. 

A member of one of my lodges spotted the posting for this job and drew it to my attention. I had previously volunteered for Metropolitan Grand Lodge, gaining insight into masonic administration and operational matters, and felt confident that I would be able to add value to an organisation I hold in high regard, so I applied.

Q: What do your jobs entail?

TR: I’m responsible to the Grand Secretary for the administration of Freemasonry for both United Grand Lodge and Supreme Grand Chapter throughout the Constitution. As such, I oversee the Secretariat and Registration departments. The former has a very wide-ranging remit, from the approval of lodge and chapter by-laws, banners and badges, through to the production of the Masonic Year Book and the Directory of Lodges and Chapters. The Secretariat also works with the Provinces and Districts to arrange the installation of Provincial and District Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents. Meanwhile, Registration processes all the paperwork concerning initiates, exaltees and joiners; annual and installation returns; and the production and issue of Grand Lodge and Supreme Grand Chapter Certificates. 

SC: Reporting to the Grand Secretary, my role involves being an in-house masonic adviser to Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Secretaries. I am also active with a number of key committees; on some my role is limited to taking the minutes and on others I participate. By-laws come under my remit and I am involved with the approval of designs of items such as banners and badges, which the Deputy Grand Secretary is currently responsible for. I’m very happy to be involved in the Membership Focus Group (MFG) as this was one of the areas I was hoping to contribute towards when I first applied for the job. The MFG is looking at areas that are critical to our organisation’s success. Both Tony and I also have the privilege of representing the Grand Secretary on occasion at ceremonial functions that he is unable to attend. 

Q: You’re both Assistant Grand Secretaries, so why do you have other job titles?

SC: My full job title is Assistant Grand Secretary, Director of Technical and Specialist Services. Tony is Assistant Grand Secretary, Director of Secretariat and Registration. Assistant Grand Secretary is our masonic title and rank, whereas the director titles reflect our practical day-to-day duties. 

TR: Our roles are very distinct, yet we overlap when it comes to helping Provinces and Districts. For example, a question that falls into Shawn’s area may be addressed to me simply because the Provincial Secretary knows me better and vice versa.

Q: What are you learning in your roles?

SC: I thought I had diversity of experience in my previous roles, having been involved in private banking, corporate banking and advising major law firms, but here the diversity is at an entirely different level. You’re providing advice to Provincial Grand Secretaries and Provincial Grand Masters one moment and the next you’re setting up a system to send mass emails to the Provinces. With such a range of activities, learning to balance priorities is critical. I am also gaining a wealth of technical and legal masonic knowledge from the Deputy Grand Secretary, which he has accumulated over a number of years.

TR: For me it’s about gaining knowledge as quickly as possible. I’m working ever closer with the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his team on planning. In terms of the great ceremonial occasions, we want everything to appear effortless and seamless every time. We shouldn’t be stressed doing masonic ceremony. There’s enough pressure out there without bringing it in here to something that we enjoy doing. I want it all to be painless, both for my people and for the brethren coming along to what might well be a once-in-a-lifetime event. 

Q: What does communication mean to you?

TR: At a Provincial and District level, we’re now giving the Secretaries more detailed guidance so they know exactly what we want, and why. We want to tell them what is expected right from the beginning. We can make huge demands on Provinces; for example, with the installation of a new Provincial Grand Master, the Provincial Grand Secretary will be the focal point for all enquiries. He might have a full-time job, no staff, and is trying to organise the ceremony when he gets home in the evening. We have to recognise this, to understand that not all the Provinces are the same and communicate our messages effectively. As another example, in the Districts I quickly learned that sending out multi-megabyte emails wins no friends if the country is still on dial-up internet.

SC: Society doesn’t operate in a rigid, top-down way anymore. Several years ago it may have been that a new mason would be willing to join our organisation and not question anything, but these days we all ask questions, and rightly so. More often than not there is a very good reason why things are done the way they are, but we have not always been good at communicating this. We are being more collaborative in working with Provinces and we hope they will be more collaborative in working with lodges. It’s a positive step and we’re already seeing results. Communication – both internal and external – provides an area of tremendous opportunity for Freemasonry.

Q: How are you preparing for the Deputy Grand Secretary’s retirement in 2017?

TR: There is an agreed plan in place to deal with succession and the transfer of knowledge. I was in awe when I came here and started working with Graham Redman. I know that I have to find a way of absorbing his knowledge about this area of the organisation and he is signed up to producing instructional documents for me over the next few years as responsibilities are handed over. 

SC: We’re both competing for Graham’s time, to find out what the reasons are for doing certain things. 

His knowledge of all things masonic is universally acknowledged – some might even say legendary. I will be continuing to absorb as much of this as possible over the next two years.

Q: Do you have an average day?

SC: I would deem very few of my days as ‘average’, so planning them is not always possible. There are certain meetings and dates that are set in stone but outside of this there are many tasks that present themselves without warning, such as a call from a Provincial Grand Secretary who needs a piece of information immediately. 

TR: Like Shawn, I get my fair share of crisis telephone calls, but in many respects the working day is no different to that of anyone who manages people. I juggle priorities and try to keep everyone happy. Where my working day differs is that if I want to get away from it all, I can get up and walk the corridors of this incredible building, enjoy the peace and just think.