Provincial Grand Master’s Address the Provincial AGM – 2nd July 2014
1. Brethren I start by thanking you for attending in such numbers this afternoon and for your support. It is a delight to see this Guildhall filled to capacity. It is especially meaningful for those I have had the privilege of honouring this afternoon and I congratulate them all on their new appointments and I wish them every success and happiness in applying their new responsibilities for the benefit of the Lodges which they serve; and for the benefit of the Province.
2. I also thank the brethren from our sister Provinces across the south of England and indeed the Channel Islands for their support. Provincial visiting at the highest level is enormously beneficial for the Craft as well as being very enjoyable for those involved and it is a pleasure to be able to return the hospitality which we have so much enjoyed in other Provinces.
3. All Provinces will be making preparations for the June 2017 Tercentenary Celebration of the formation of the United Grand Lodge of England and plans are in hand for us to work together with our neighbouring Provinces in at least one Project which should capture the imagination and provide the necessary publicity for this great occasion. In this Province we have other important anniversaries which the brethren would wish to celebrate in style – in February 2017 we have the 250th anniversary of the formation of the Province of Hampshire; and June 2019 marks the 150th anniversary of the amalgamation of the Province of Hampshire and the Province of Isle of Wight. We have a small team working on several projects to celebrate these important events details of which will be provided as they unfold in the coming months. There is much for us to celebrate in the coming years and our intention is to provide an opportunity for every lodge and all members to participate whilst taking the opportunity to enhance the reputation of Freemasonry in our community.
4. It is four years since I was privileged to be installed as your Provincial Grand Master. Following my appointment we decided to focus on the decline in our membership which was mirrored across the Craft. We established policies relating to Recruitment, Retention, and Retrieval – and APGMs were assigned to each of these important areas. We began to enjoy a measure of success – but we had to acknowledge that there was no quick fix.
5. Over the past 12 months, an increasing amount of information has been available to the Province from Grand Lodge and it was apparent from this information that the smaller Provinces were markedly more successful than the larger Provinces in retaining members; and indeed in Recruitment. The reasons for this are a matter for speculation – but to some extent the reasons are irrelevant. The facts are clear.
6. We are the third largest Province in terms of number of members. We therefore decided to re-organise the Province into 6 distinct Areas, each under the direct jurisdiction of an APGM. I have appointed 6 Area Chairmen to assist the APGMs, and 29 Area Vice Chairmen on the recommendation of the Area APGMs. Each APGM has in turn appointed Area Officers, and Committees, in accordance with Provincial Guidelines. The objective is to emulate the smaller Provinces across the country. There are associated benefits – It gives an increasing number of brethren the opportunity to serve the Area, and therefore the Province. And It increases the pool of brethren with experience to serve the Province at the highest level.
7. This process of re-organising and re-structuring the Province has required great commitment from those involved, whom I thank for their work and dedication over the past months. I am particularly grateful to the Executive team – the APGMs and members of the Provincial Cabinet and our new Deputy Provincial Grand Secretary, who have been at the forefront of the changes which they have embraced with enthusiasm. The increased opportunities for all brethren at all levels within the Craft are available in all Areas of the Province and this itself has generated excitement amongst brethren who might otherwise have had to wait for their time to come. We are utilising the skills and experience of our brethren for the benefit of the Province; and are no longer hidebound by unnecessary traditions, treated as rules, which prevent progress until a period of time served.
8. There is clearly a heavy responsibility on the Area APGMs and their teams, who will be keen to ensure that they meet the benchmarks which we are able to establish for the Areas.
9. During the year we have increased the profile of our Visiting Officers who are key to the future of the Province. We have established a Visiting Officers Mess, and our Visiting Officers have their own tie so that they are recognised across the Province; and not just within the Lodge to which they are appointed.
10. We are moving towards a situation where each Visiting Officer will have just one Lodge to support. A Lodge is a collection of individuals presided over by a Master who may obtain assistance in performing his duties by referring matters to a Committee to advise – which is the extent of that Committee’s remit. To advise the Master – who then makes the decision, if it is within his authority, or if not, he refers it to the brethren to decide in Lodge. Decisions are not made by the Lodge Committee – by whatever name it has. I have made this point on previous occasions, but it is worth repeating. The future of the Lodge, any Lodge, is in the hands of its Master (for the year) and the brethren – for all time. Those Lodges which understand and follow this process will flourish in the present environment – in a world moving at an ever increasing pace. It is a matter of great regret that some Lodges do not have the opportunity to follow the process. How can that be? The Rules are very clear and they are based on all that Freemasonry stands for – care, support, respect.
11. Regrettably some Lodges are ruled by a small clique of senior brethren who impose their will on the majority in a variety of ways. Unquestionably these brethren are passionate about their Freemasonry and are highly respected by the brethren. They have worked steadfastly for the Craft over the years and earned all that they have achieved – but are unable to move on, and accept that the world is changing at an alarming rate, and Freemasonry must move with it. In consequence, often with the very best of intentions, they are stifling the development of their Lodges. All brethren are entitled to their view; and to express their view; but none have the right to impose that view on a Lodge.
12. I expect my Visiting Officers to identify and deal with these issues in a sensitive and diplomatic way. The key is to ensure that all the brethren within the Lodge, and particularly the Master, understand and apply the process.
13. All of our Lodges are being encouraged to prepare a 5 year rolling plan for the future of the Lodge. I will happily debate the merits of this with anyone – because it is such a basic concept. The only contrary argument is that Lodges have never had plans in the past. Brethren, that is not a contrary argument. But it is indicative of an attitude of mind which has no place in the modern world. And over the past twenty years, during which Lodges did not have plans, has our membership been increasing, or decreasing?
14. Lodge Five Year Plans should focus on Succession thus ensuring that brethren’s individual needs and aspirations are catered for, Retention which may involve direct enquiry of the brethren to ensure that the Lodge adapts to the needs and requirements of its members, and Recruitment – what action does the Lodge propose to attract new members? The Plan should deal with Re-engagement and Retrieval which are natural extensions of Retention, and Recruitment. The appointment of a membership officer is a basic requirement – but please not the Lodge Secretary, who has enough to do. And of great importance, a brother should be made directly responsible for the Social Media Activity of the Lodge How a Lodge manages these issues is crucial to its future.
15. No organisation can expect to develop still less thrive in the present environment, without a clear vision of where it is going; and how it will get there. The world has changed immeasurably from when I was initiated almost 40 years ago, and the pace of change is ever increasing. These changes can provide great opportunities, if we consider them and incorporate them into our plans; or we can ignore them in which event they are a threat to our future.
16. In this Province we have embraced the developments in Social Media; each Area and many of our Lodges, have Twitter and Facebook Accounts and are benefitting enormously as a result. It is a great means of communication and involvement at no expense, and gives us an opportunity to demonstrate to the world (or anyone who will listen) that we are an open, transparent, and relevant organisation.
17. The Province, through the Visiting Officers and Area Committees established for the purpose, will give Lodges every support; and I do hope that all our Lodges will take advantage of this support and the resultant benefits. Many Lodges have, and are reaping the benefits. In some Lodges, double initiations, at one time thought to be a thing of the past, are now the norm. Young men are joining the Craft on the back of the Freemasonry in the Community Initiative, Dine-A-Friend evenings, the Light Blues Clubs, White Tables, Open Days, Social Activities, all promoted by Facebook and Twitter Accounts. These young men are enjoying their Freemasonry and bringing their friends into the Craft.
18. Clearly, enjoyment is key – Lodges must live up to the expectation of men joining who expect our work in the Lodge room to be balanced by a fun and vibrant Festive Board, camaraderie, and Fellowship.
19. Annual Charity Evenings when presentations are made to local charities who attend to receive donations and talk about their charitable work have now spread from Bournemouth to all Areas of the Province, and in some cases are combined with Open Days. Each has been enormously successful and quite apart from the Charitable Donations, has produced a number of serious enquiries from prospective candidates. A number of Light Blues Clubs have been established. These Social Clubs, open to brethren who have not been appointed to Provincial Rank, comprise a complete cross section, from initiates to Past Masters. They have their own meetings separate from relevant Lodges, and also organise Events attended by ladies and non-masons. They have now been replicated in every Area; and additionally in some Centres. They provide a Social Focus for our new members, outside the Lodge environment, and give an opportunity for family involvement at an early stage and regardless of the ethos of the individual Lodge. Facebook and Twitter have played a significant part in the development of these ideas.
20. We are creating new Lodges, based on special interests. Our Scouting Lodge Pax Hill which I consecrated just 18 months ago has been a great success. I will consecrate a Rugby Lodge later this year which has 44 Founders, 20 potential Joining Members, and 3 young initiates in their early twenties. There is great interest in a Motorsports Lodge; and another Motorcyclists Lodge. And a Lodge of Brevity which will demonstrate that our Lodges can cater for the busy working man with a start time of 7pm, a finish of no later than 10pm, without losing any of the important areas of ceremonial. Some of our Lodges which prefer not to put back the start time, have introduced an additional agenda item to admit latecomers – those who for whatever reason are unable to get to the start of the meeting. These latecomers may include officers of the Lodge which can open and deal with items of business leaving the main agenda item to last. An additional benefit is that brethren not in office will gain experience from the opportunity to work as a stand in.
21. My response to those who are concerned that we are creating new Lodges at a time when some of our Lodges are having a hard time is that such Lodges need to change and embrace the various Provincial initiatives which are available to them. The future is in their own hands. And in short – you cannot prevent deaths by prohibiting births.
22. These are exciting times brethren. The world is changing at an ever increasing pace and Freemasonry must change too if it is to re-establish itself as part of the community. There is a move across the Constitution to arrest the decline in our membership; and the Tercentenary of United Grand Lodge to which I have referred, provides an ideal opportunity to reach out to the public so that we are once again recognised as a force for good in an increasingly turbulent world. UGLE now have their own YouTube Channel, which includes a video a DVD of which has been given to all Freemasons for them to show to their family and friends. The Province has produced a video which is available in DVD format and is also on YouTube. Part of the objective is to dispel the myth that we are a secret society. Part to educate the public, and our family and friends, so that they understand what we do and why – and want to be part of it. Freemasonry has changed over the years in line with the community of which it is part – the only difference now is the pace of change. This is being driven by outside forces – the community have to live with; and so do we.
23. Looking to the future, I am delighted to announce the launch of our new Provincial Member’s website. This new site has a completely fresh design with live social media feeds and is completely optimised for viewing on mobiles and tablets, and reflects the 6 new Areas in our Province.
24. In addition, it has a completely new Admin area, where Lodge Secretaries, DC’s and Treasurers will be able to find helpful advice and guidance to support them in their crucial roles within their Lodges. The web site itself will be open to the public; and includes a link to our Public Site which is unchanged.
25. Finally brethren, in September the Province will introduce Freemasonry Cares which is a communications initiative of the four central Masonic Charities to raise awareness among Freemasons and their dependants of the charitable help available to them and to make it easier to access that support if they need it. Full details of the initiative and its operation within the Province will be available prior to launch on the Provincial Information Service and the new WebSite
I would usually end by thanking all those involved in making today such a success – the Provincial Secretary and his Deputy and team at the Provincial Office; the Provincial GDC and his team of Deputies; the Provincial Grand Stewards Lodge – all working together for the benefit of the Province. It has been a great day; but I want to bring this Address to a close by thanking the brethren of the Province for the way they have embraced, supported, and become actively involved in the new initiatives which we have introduced across the Province. Brethren who are working in their Lodges, Centres, Areas, and indeed the Province to ensure the success of what we are trying to achieve. This has been a great encouragement; indeed an inspiration and I thank them all for their enthusiastic support. It has been a privilege to preside at this Meeting; and it is a great privilege to preside over our Province.
Mike Wilks, Provincial Grand Master 2nd July 2014