One step beyond: How first-time London Masters find a way ahead

Words by W Bro Simon Greaves


“Beyond the Master’s Chair” (BTMC), a pioneering scheme to empower first-time Past Masters to discover a future path in London Freemasonry beyond their landmark year in the Chair, has been hailed a success as it nears the end of its first year.


Two first-time Past Masters, Sandip Doshi and Lionel Correya, have developed and delivered the concept, which has now reached more than 140 Past Masters at three evening events where they heard leading Masons explain their opportunities to continue serving the Craft in the capital. These include joining the ranks of Metropolitan active officers, joining the team of escorting officers, becoming visiting officers or being members of a specialist ritual delivery team. Further work includes retention and retrieval of member units, communications, or admin and IT activities. Experienced Masons can also get specialist training for almoners, charity stewards and mentors.

Metropolitan Grand Inspector, Sanjiv Gohil, said: ”The initiative came about following my appointment as a Metropolitan Grand Inspector. I had a presentation on the membership challenge from RW Bro Michael Ward, former Deputy Metropolitan Grand Master, and realised that to prevent controllable losses we needed tailored initiatives aimed at those groups where attrition was greatest.” One significant point of membership loss is after completion of a Brother’s first mastership of a Lodge.

“While we had initiatives aimed at the newer Mason, we did not have any initiatives aimed specifically at keeping first-time PMs engaged following their first chair”, Sanjiv continues. “We also saw this as an opportunity to recognise, retain and grow talent and motivate Brethren to contribute to the development of London Freemasonry by undertaking a wide range of potential opportunities.”

The BTMC scheme recognises that, in general, for first-time Past Masters:

• there is no course for or information about what follows beyond the Chair

• no-one really sets out the next steps within the Lodge, let alone outside of it

• there is no broad exposure beyond a Lodge, except for visiting other lodges

Furthermore, any opportunities beyond Lodge offices are rarely discussed, with very few Visiting Officers actively highlighting what is available beyond those established offices.

In order to deliver the initiative, the Inspectorate team was asked to produce membership lists for their Lodges; in order to target first-time Past Masters within the last five years, to identify a talent pipeline for future active officers and those suitable for London Grand Rank, and to reach those Brethren who have expressed a wish to contribute more to Masonry.

The first promotional evening was in November 2022, the second in April 2023, and the latest in October. W Bro Sanjiv explained: “We aim to bring information and opportunities to Brethren by signposting doors of opportunity, and where possible opening them. It is, however, the individual’s responsibility to walk through the door and follow through with the commitment to contribute and make a difference, however small or large. Through a BTMC event, it is hoped that diverse and talented Brethren are enthused to devote their time and varied skillsets for the betterment of London Freemasonry. This will also help us to recruit ‘change agents’ who can help bring to life wider initiatives such as Leading Lights and the Membership Pathway in our Lodges, where needed.

“Overall, the event has been a real success given the results of Brethren going on to undertake various new roles, or develop towards it.”


The Met and me: a writer’s tale


I was recruited as a Press Officer at the first Beyond The Master’s Chair event after hearing a member of the 18-strong Metropolitan Comms team pitch its role within the London Craft. Since joining, I have written articles and taken pictures for Arena, shot video footage and written citations for long-service certificates.

This is a natural fit with my professional role as a journalist of 40 years, the last 35 on the staff of the Financial Times in London. It also dovetails nicely with other volunteer roles I hold – being one of the team leaders of wandsmen at St Paul’s Cathedral and a Guildsman at St Bride’s Church.

As a member of my old school Lodge, Old Masonians No 2700, I had been chaplain for six years after my Mastership before a Grand Officer clergyman was appointed in my place by the current Master. I then realised abruptly that I had no role or prospect of one. I have since accepted the office of  Treasurer for the second time in Torch Chapter No 7236 of the Holy Royal Arch, where numbers have sadly dwindled and failed to match pre-covid levels. But I had no active office or honours in Craft; and really did not understand the dark arts behind either scheme – a fellow Past Master told me I had been rejected for honours for which I did not even know I had been put forward – which just left me puzzled. No one told me what came next and I didn’t fancy being an inactive wallflower – that’s not why I joined Freemasonry.

My personal commitment to Freemasonry stems from being a pupil at the Royal Masonic School for Boys in Bushey, which was closed in 1977. I was sent there from my prep school as my father, an Anglican bishop in Africa, died when I was four years old. My twin sister and niece also attended the Masonic Girls’ School in Rickmansworth and my eldest sister taught and worked as a matron there. Masonry is in my family’s DNA and the education I had at Bushey enabled me to take an Honours degree in economics, then a Masters degree in politics, philosophy and economics and become a doctoral economics candidate in later life. When my father died suddenly, the first to offer help to my family with four siblings on the rectory doorstep was the Headmaster of the local grammar school – who was in my father’s Lodge.

I regard my current role in Comms as payback for all the support my family and I received from unknown Masons over many years. If I can spread the word about opportunities beyond the Chair by explaining its value to me, it can benefit you too. All of us have transferable skills, acquired through our professional and volunteering lives. Once through the Chair it is, as W Bro Sanjiv says, a question of knocking on the door, and taking a step into the dark in much the same way as we did at Initiation – you never know what’s on the other side.

Simon Greaves