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Grand occasion . . . At Richard Taylor's investiture are, from left, Brian Westhead (District Grand Master of the District Grand Lodge of the North Island), Andrew McGregor (Provincial Grand Master of NZ, Grand Lodge of Ireland), Richard Taylor (District Grand Master of the District Grand Lodge of the South Island), Mark Winger (Grand Master, Grand Lodge of NZ) and Mervyn Gilkinson (District Grand Master NZ South, Grand Lodge of Scotland). PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Masonry is as relevant today as it ever was, the newly-invested Grand Master of the District Grand Lodge of the South Island says.

Geraldine man Richard Taylor, who was invested at the West End Hall in Timaru at the weekend, says he is looking forward to rebuilding the membership and demonstrating the value of Freemasonry to members and the wider community.

Mr Taylor said a feature of masonry is how members study to complete three “degrees” involving a body of knowledge designed to best support men and grow their potential as they move through three main life stages – young adulthood, mid-life and the final years.

“No matter the age of a new member, our singular purpose is ‘to make good men better’, which means Freemasonry is as relevant today as it ever was.

“Indeed it could be argued that the ongoing decline in face-to-face social connection means Freemasonry’s time has come again. Social dislocation and a growing incidence of mental health issues, notably male suicide, points to the need for men to have more access to environments where they can feel fully supported.”

In this respect, Mr Taylor said, Freemasonry provided a much-needed framework that helped men grow their potential, while teaching them strong morals and fostering caring, socially responsible behaviour.

“People typically join Freemasonry for the male camaraderie and to both receive and give support to their fellow members, whom they refer to as brothers.”

Research Mr Taylor commissioned in 2017 confirmed historical misconceptions about Freemasonry are widespread.

However, the findings also highlighted how the traditional masonic experience has a lot to offer.

Opinions Market Research director Karen Selway, whose firm conducted the research, said the focus groups revealed it was not just younger men in need of support who expressed an interest in exploring Freemasonry – older men were attracted equally to learning new skills that would help them deal with issues, help them support others and generally give back.

“As their friendships are falling away – and with this the camaraderie they used to gain from the sport they’re now too old to play – they also reported missing the opportunity to fraternise with other men.”

Mr Taylor, whose grandfather was a Freemason, was invited to become a mason in his late 30s but did not join until he was 41.

He said giving back to the community was very important and the estimated 7000 New Zealand Freemasons collectively donated millions of dollars every year to tertiary students and hospices and made other grants, notably to fund university research into gerontology, brain disease and paediatrics.

Nationally, Freemasons are the largest private provider of university scholarships and own numerous rest-homes and pensioner housing.

Freemasonry’s main aim, however, was “helping make good men”.