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The senior fraternity

As the Universities Scheme recruits younger members, Caitlin Davies reports on how older Freemasons are staying involved in the Craft

Three years ago, Steward Philip Hadlow heard some interesting news. Plans were afoot for a new lodge in Bedfordshire, one that would be geared towards keeping elderly Freemasons involved in the Craft.

‘The Provincial Grand Master, Michael Sawyer, and the provincial team realised we were not doing enough for our more elderly brethren,’ he explains. ‘Many have mobility problems, which means it’s difficult getting to meetings. We were looking after them when they were ill, supporting their family, but there was a need for something more proactive.’

In recent years Freemasonry has been keen to recruit younger members, but that doesn’t mean elders should be forgotten. And so Bedfordshire’s youngest lodge, the Michael Sawyer Lodge of Reunion No 9848, was born. Philip became involved because he thought it a ‘fantastic idea’.

The lodge began in 2009 and meets twice a year on a Saturday lunchtime, as some people are not keen to eat late or to go out at night at all. Philip doesn’t know of any similar scheme, and there’s been interest in the project from other Provinces.

While some members were already being picked up and taken to meetings by younger members, the lodge wanted to do more. So people were identified, sent invitations and offered travel arrangements – in some cases for a fifty-mile round trip.

‘When they come out with a smile on their face and say, “Thank you so much, I’ve had a wonderful time”, that’s what it’s all about’ Philip Hadlow

The lodge doesn’t do work – meetings open with a welcome, then a lecture and the Festive Board. One of the annual meetings is held in Luton, the other in another Bedfordshire centre.

John Cathrine, Provincial Information Officer, is a founder member of the Michael Sawyer Lodge and last year’s Worshipful Master. ‘It’s such a great idea. It’s something that was missing from our Province. People get to the stage where they can’t drive to meetings and they drift away from masonry.’

Not forgotten, never sidelined

John cites a past Deputy Provincial Grand Master, Vic Lawrence, who lives at Prince Michael of Kent Court, a Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution care home. ‘He came to the previous meeting and he wanted to make a speech at the Festive Board. He said it was really great to be invited and see old friends, all of whom he said looked older than him!’

Freemasonry in Bedfordshire traces its history back to at least 1841, when the Bedfordshire Lodge of St John the Baptist was consecrated in Luton. By the time the Province celebrated its centenary, there were forty-five lodges; there are now fifty-five.

At the last meeting of the Lodge of Re there were sixty people, including twenty honoured guests. ‘It takes time to get something like this off the ground,’ says Philip, who was Chief Steward for two years, ‘but it’s getting bigger every meeting.’

Lodge members pay annual dues to cover being a member and having two guests. ‘It’s funded until the honoured guests outnumber us two to one. It means we can treat them well. You see them sitting there opposite their friends, and they’re having a whale of a time. When they come out with a smile on their face and say, “Thank you so much, I’ve had a wonderful time”, that’s what it’s all about.’

John is delighted by the letters of thanks that the lodge receives. ‘One brother is ninety-five and not able to get out much. We’ll invite him to the next meeting for a nice day out. The letters we get say the principles and ethos of the lodge are exactly in line with what we should be doing – taking care of those who could be sidelined and forgotten.’