2016 AGM ADDRESS

Provincial Grand Lodge of Hampshire and Isle of Wight

Annual General Meeting

Provincial Grand Master’s Address

1. First and foremost I thank you all for attending our Annual Meeting in such numbers. This day is very much for those brethren I have had the privilege of honouring and I thank them for their commitment to the Craft and to our Province and I wish them continuing happiness and success in their new roles. They will know that the honour conferred is a recognition by the Province of their ability, and their willingness to continue to serve, and I have no doubt they will do so.

2. Brethren, these are very exciting times within our Province and I am so grateful to all those brethren involved in managing and administering the Areas which we established formally just two years ago. There is a noticeable increase in enthusiasm within our Lodges; and as I said at our Special Meeting of Provincial Grand Lodge in February, in every Area Initiations are increasing. Many Lodges are now working double ceremonies which was the norm when I was initiated some 40 years ago. Lodges stopped working double ceremonies simply because of a shortage of candidates. It is time to return to double ceremonies wherever there is a supply of candidates and our Area structure is such that Lodges will be given every support to ensure that ceremonies are worked to the highest standard.
3. During the past year, I gave a dispensation for one of our University Scheme Lodges to initiate six candidates in one ceremony. A senior brother who attended the meeting commented that it was one of the best Masonic evenings that he had ever experienced. Don’t let anyone tell you that a candidate loses something of the occasion if he is one of two or more – nothing could be further from reality.

4. In February, I also reported that in every Area, Resignations were reducing due in part to our focus on this part of the membership equation. However, I believe that we could do much more to reduce Resignations even more dramatically. Most Lodges have a process for keeping in touch with non-attenders, perhaps through the Almoner, and this is part of the caring process. I would like our Lodges to be much more proactive in this area with a view to supporting non-attenders back into the Lodge. This is part of the Lodge Membership Officer’s role. Many non-attenders will have got out of the habit of attending Lodge – they may have a variety of concerns which could be allayed by face to face contact, and an offer to accompany the non-attender to the Lodge, sit with him and support him. Mentoring then takes over. The objective is to attract non-attenders back into the Lodge which will have the two-fold effect of reducing the prospect of Resignations, and increasing attendance which in turn increases the pool of brethren available to introduce new candidates.

5. Success in attracting and retaining candidates relies heavily upon the Masonic experience within individual Lodges – essentially all members should enjoy their Freemasonry, relish attending the Lodge and contributing, and leave meetings looking forward to the next meeting of the Lodge. There is no room for cliques or factions within a Lodge. All brethren should feel supported by the entire membership – and this is another matter which we have added to the Membership Officer’s role.

6. Grand Lodge have been very active in encouraging focus on membership not least because some Lodges with a dearth of potential candidates, have forgotten the basics in their efforts to obtain candidates and provide work for the Master and the Lodge. Grand Lodge have produced a “Members’ Pathway” which is a series of steps that a Lodge should follow to take a man who is interested in Freemasonry all the way through a journey to his Initiation and thereafter to becoming a committed Master Mason. This Pathway is currently being trialled in 6 Provinces and is likely to be introduced across all Provinces during the course of next year. Much of the Pathway has already been introduced in our Province but during the summer we will be introducing selected parts relating to the Interview process to make that process more professional and in keeping with modern life. I do hope that our Lodges will embrace these minor changes which I have no doubt will be beneficial

7. As part of their business approach to the future of the Craft, Grand Lodge have introduced a system which enables Provincial Grand Masters to obtain a whole raft of data to assist in the management of their Provinces. This is a very useful tool which will be refined over the coming months with input from Provinces. One area of data relates to the
progress or growth of a Province which can be compared with the average Growth of all other Provinces, which for this purpose I will call the Grand Lodge Average. The data goes back to 2011 when both this Province and the Grand Lodge Average were in minus territory. The Province was slightly more minus than the Grand Lodge Average! Over the following four years, Growth continued in minus territory, but this Province and the Grand Lodge Average were moving positively towards the base line. I am delighted to be able to say that in 2016, both the Grand Lodge Average and this Province have moved into positive Growth which is the first time this has occurred for many years. Our Province’s percentage Growth is now over 2% as against the Grand Lodge Average which is just below 1%.
8. This is a remarkable achievement and I wish to thank all those who have worked so hard over the past 6 years to manage and administer the changes which we have made, primarily the Area Assistant Provincial Grand Masters and their teams. We need to keep this momentum going which we will do with the active support of our Provincial Membership Officer and his team; and our Provincial Grand Mentor and his Deputy and team of Area Mentors, whose commitment and enthusiasm are undoubted and who are having such a marked effect right across our Province. I also thank those brethren working for us in the community, The Freemasonry in the Community team and Ambassadors, the Insight editor, our Provincial and Area Communications Officers, and our new Marketing Committee.

9. These brethren, and so many more, are contributing to our continuing success and I believe that those who have resisted change in the past will now see the error of their ways. Such brethren are often passionate to the point of obsession and want to hang on to Traditions which no longer have a place in the modern world and which they confuse with the principles and tenets of our organisation, which are unaffected by any changes which we have made and which Grand Lodge now propose. Some seek to influence in a way which is unacceptable in our organisation and which I addressed in a Briefing circulated to all Lodges in May. I ask such brethren to remember that beneath the dark blue and gold of every Masonic apron is the emblematical lamb skin with which we were all invested on initiation into the Craft and which binds us as brothers. With the passing of time, some brethren seem to forget that this is the case – it is the badge of innocence and the bond of friendship. Humility in every one of us is an essential qualification.

10. Our preparations for the Tercentenary of Grand Lodge will gather pace following the theme in the last issue of our magazine Insight which is public facing and freely available outside the Masonic community. The next issue will take this theme forward and provide an insight into our plans to maximise the opportunities arising out of this great event. Quite apart from the Family Day at Marwell, the Winchester Cathedral Service, and the 300th anniversary dinner, each of our Area charity cheque presentation events will be themed for the Tercentenary. These events have proved not only popular, but highly beneficial to our promoting Freemasonry to the wider community. The events are attended by civic dignitaries – the Lord Lieutenant, the High Sherriff, mayors and council leaders are very supportive and see the incredible work which our brethren do in supporting their local communities and the many small charities which provide such an amazing service in their Area. They also leave with a much better understanding of Freemasonry. Our new Provincial Orator and his team of Area Orators will be taking this forward by giving talks to community organisations.

11. In terms of celebration, next year is also the 250th anniversary of our Province and this will be marked at our special meeting in February.

12. Last year I appointed a Provincial Grand Superintendent of Works for a term of years with a particular brief to conduct a review our Masonic Centres chairing a committee of Area Superintendents of Works. Our Masonic Centres are entirely independent of the Province being owned variously by a Lodge or Lodges, or companies controlled by a Lodge or Lodges. There are 37 such centres which provide a vital service for the Province. I am delighted with the way our Masonic Centres and their owners have co-operated with the team and I have no doubt that in the coming years all will benefit from the process we have introduced.

13. During the past year, we have consecrated two more Lodges which will take Freemasonry into parts of the community which hitherto might have been regarded as out of reach. The Chequered Flag Lodge and the Football Lodge – names which speak for themselves. Great commitment and enthusiasm and a determination to ensure that they reach into and support their respective sports at local level. This is very much Freemasonry in action in the community. We have now Consecrated 5 special interest Lodges in as many years and we have 3 more in prospect – a Sailing Lodge, an Aviators Lodge, and a second motorcycle Lodge. These provide not only a vehicle for brethren with a special interest to join together as Masons and enjoy their passion in like company; but a vehicle which will attract men from the local community who are similarly passionate and want to be part of something special.

14. At this meeting 6 years ago I launched our Festival Appeal for the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys. The response of our brethren over that period has been magnificent and I am so grateful to our Appeals Directors W Bro Geoff Tuck, our Provincial Grand Charity Steward Barrie Hewitt, and the Area teams and Lodge Charity Stewards for the enormous amount of work in which they have been involved to make the Appeal a success – which I am sure it will be. Though at the moment, I do not know! At this time last year, I instructed Geoff to keep the total under wraps so that neither I, nor anyone else in the Province, would know the total until 22nd October when all will be revealed at the Gala Dinner in Bournemouth. This is a “must do” event when the Festival Total will be announced and we can celebrate with our family and loved ones. The closing date for tickets for the event is the 22nd September – or earlier if fully booked. Tickets for our dinner after this meeting were fully booked within 3 days – thankfully we announced first come first served. Brethren should know that the same applies to the Gala Dinner – first come first served albeit there is a closing date – but I wouldn’t rely on it!

15. Over the past 6 years we have had an annual Cabinet Lecture to raise funds for the Festival Appeal – over £180,000 has been raised. This year, the lecture was hijacked by the Heads of Other Masonic Orders in the Province (to some extent to the relief of some of our Cabinet members) and was a great success with the Heads of all Masonic Orders in the Province working together for the benefit of charity. We have decided that the lecture will now be repeated, on an annual basis, with the Heads of Other Masonic Orders taking part. This year the charity to benefit from the lecture will be Teddies for Loving Care which is supported by the Craft Province. Thereafter the Heads of Orders will agree, at the annual meeting which I have with them each November, on the charity to benefit.

16. In conclusion I thank all those who have worked so hard to make today a success – the Provincial Grand Secretary and his team at the Provincial Office, the Provincial GDC and his team of Deputies, and the members of the Provincial Grand Stewards Lodge who work behind the scenes and front of house and are involved in every aspect of the meeting and the after proceedings. And of course the many brethren who volunteer to give up their time to do whatever is required to make this day a success and a credit to the Province.

17. We are all fortunate to belong to an organisation which transcends the globe; and whose influence for good is never ending. It is a great privilege to be part of it. Over the past six years all our efforts have been directed to taking the Province forward for the benefit of all our brethren and the community which we serve and this will continue in the coming years. As the Province continues to grow, we will be able to play an increasingly important part in the community – and I have no doubt at all that our community will benefit. I wish you all every joy and happiness in your Freemasonry in the ensuing year; and all the years beyond.

6 July 2016
R W Bro Michael J Wilks
Provincial Grand Master