Provincial Grand Lodge of Hampshire and Isle of Wight
Special General Meeting – February 2016
Provincial Grand Master’s Address
- Brethren I am delighted to welcome you all to this Special Meeting of Provincial Grand Lodge which is now established as an annual event in our Provincial calendar. It is an intimate event within our Province and the occasion is very much enhanced by the attendance of our Guests – the heads of other Masonic Orders within the Province whose support I greatly value and I thank them for their continuing commitment to the Craft.
- I start by congratulating all those brethren whom I have been privileged to honour this evening – brethren especially selected by their Area APGMs on the basis mentioned in my Introduction to the Paper of Business, part of which I will repeat now –“brethren whose love of the Craft is apparent in all that they do; and who have continued to serve regardless of any personal preferment, or indeed the hope or expectation of such. It is this which makes this Meeting so special and I am pleased to pay tribute to these brethren.”
- I thank these brethren for their contribution to the Province and I wish them well in the coming years. I know that they will continue to contribute and enjoy their Freemasonry – but I make it clear that (save in respect of those serving as Visiting Officers) the honour is for what they have done in the past and is not an earnest of future performance.
- Quite different of course from those brethren promoted as Visiting Officers who have been recognised for their work in that increasingly important role and I wish them continuing success in supporting the Lodges to which they have been appointed.
- Our Area structure has been an unmitigated success and I thank all those involved in making it so – my Area APGMs, Area Chairmen and their teams, and the Committee Chairmen. We will continue to develop our structures and processes with the Areas learning from each other so that we can establish best practice across the Province.
- How are we doing? I am delighted to report that in all of our 6 Areas, Initiations are up, resignations and losses are down, and the average age of our membership is falling. All good news and a credit to all involved. We now move on to the next stage. The data indicates that growth is flat. The majority of our Lodges are smaller than they were 5 years ago – substantially smaller if one goes back 10, 20, 30 years. If a Lodge suffers just one death and one resignation (which could be for a variety of reasons unconnected with the Lodge itself) the Lodge needs to initiate two men and retain them, to stand still, effectively to be on a knife edge.
- It is important therefore that our Lodges look at growth – it is so easy for Lodges to focus on initiations and believe that they are doing well without looking at the other side of the coin. Monitoring, and taking steps to minimise resignations and exclusions is equally important and is the next stage in turning the tide – an increase of just one each year would turn that tide. Many Lodges are already ahead of this. It is unquestionably achievable by all Lodges if they take advantage of the initiatives which have been introduced and enlist the support of the Area teams.
- Lodges should not be concerned about double ceremonies which were the norm when I was initiated and indeed I was one of two initiated, passed and raised together. And I have to say it did not cause me any harm.
- The other side of the coin is to continue to stem resignations, ensure the Masonic experience for all members is such that they want to stay members, and that they leave one meeting looking forward in anticipation to the next. I cannot over-emphasise the importance of the Masonic experience – enjoyment is the name of the game. I cannot tell you how much I am enjoying my Freemasonry and Ninja visits and Ninja interludes tend to enhance that enjoyment – though not necessarily for the brother in the Chair! The ideal is for meetings to be conducted with decorum, be enjoyable for all, and include an element of fun. Masonry in the Lodge room is a serious business – but it has to be enjoyable and should be good fun for all. This Masonic experience, enjoyment and fun during our meetings, caters for those who attend Lodge on a regular basis. What of the others.
- Many of our Lodges have a 60% attendance rate which is considered good. I have to ask, by what standards? There will always be occasions when a brother cannot attend Lodge but 60% attendance may indicate that a Lodge has 40% potential resignations. Reduce that percentage to allow for committed brethren who are simply unable to attend – it is still a large number. Lodges need to re-engage with these brethren – not simply stay in contact with them. Re-engaging with such brethren is a big issue and extends well beyond staying in touch. Get such brethren back into the fold, and get the Masonic experience right, and you reduce the number of potential resignations, and increase the chances of new candidates leading to growth.
- There are a number of issues here relating to membership which are crucial to our future – recruitment, resignation, re-engagement, the Masonic experience. Which is why I have asked all our Lodges to appoint a Membership Officer – a brother specifically responsible for ensuring that all these matters are dealt with efficiently and effectively within the Lodge. I am delighted that the majority of our Lodges now have a Membership Officer and this process should be complete by the time of our AGM in July.
- Training workshops are being organised as this is effectively a new appointment within Lodges but it is nonetheless crucial to a Lodges future. I am grateful to our Provincial Membership Committee comprising the Area Membership Officers for their work in this area which will enable us to establish best practice across the Province. Aligned to this we are formalising our Light Blues Clubs so that they can focus on what I believe to be their primary objective which is retention.
- Mentoring is so important, and our new Mentoring programme has surpassed all expectations in its first 6 months and I thank our ProvGMentor and his team for their enthusiasm and commitment to the task which I have set. Our involvement in Social Media continues to gain pace with all Areas and many Lodges involved, reaping the benefits of this technology which is freely available to us all.
- You will know that Grand Lodge have approved a Strategy for the future of the Craft and a concise Guide was given to all members of the Craft in a leaflet attached to the last issue of Freemasonry Today. One of the first requirements of Lodges within the Strategy, is to appoint a Membership officer. The Grand Lodge Strategy mirrors a number of the changes which we have already introduced in this Province. Our experience is that these changes work – the downward trend in our membership has flattened considerably as a result of the changes, and all the indications are that I will soon be able to report an upward trend.
- This should be in time for our 2017 year of celebrations – the anniversary of 250 years since the formation of the Province of Hampshire; and 300 years since the formation of Grand Lodge. Details of the celebratory events which we have planned will be distributed in due course. Much of what we do, including this Special Meeting of Provincial Grand Lodge, will be themed for the anniversaries. In particular our very successful charity presentation days, often linked with an open day at a Masonic Centre, will be so themed.
- Our Festival Appeal for the RMTGB continues apace but time is now short and we have a matter of months to ensure that the total raised is worthy of our great Province. I ask all brethren to search their consciences – “can I do more?” – much better than subsequently asking, “could I have done more?” A brother taking out a gift aid pledge for a term of years now will be credited with the full amount albeit the money will be collected after the Appeal, because it will provide continuing support for the charity and its beneficiaries.
- Is there anything else that we can do? Well many of our Lodges have Funds held in Grand Lodge Relief Chests, or Lodge Charity or Benevolent Accounts. Funds in these accounts may have been donated for defined causes, but if they have not, it is far too easy for such funds to be overlooked and remain in a permanent rollover situation. Quite often a significant sum is being retained for “a rainy day”. Well brethren, you may think that rainy day has now arrived.
- Please check what money is held by your Lodge in these accounts and most importantly what is the designated purpose? If there is no designated purpose, then there is none better than the children who will benefit from our Festival Appeal.
- Later this year we will celebrate the culmination of the Festival Appeal and details of the event and how to reserve places has been announced. Demand will be strong and I urge all brethren who wish to attend to act quickly, as reservations have to be on a first come first served basis.
- I now return to the main objective of this Meeting, which is a celebration for those I have appointed and promoted. I trust that they will enjoy the rest of the evening; and all the years to come in their respective offices. I thank the Provincial Grand Stewards Lodge for organising the construction of a Lodge Room from a restaurant, shortly to be a restaurant again, which started early this morning. And of course our Provincial GDC and his Deputies, and the Provincial Secretariat who have work tirelessly to ensure the success of the occasion. Finally may I thank you all for your attendance today, for supporting this meeting, and making it special for those who have been honoured.
R.W.Bro. Michael J. Wilks, Provincial Grand Master
5th February 2016