Provincial AGM 2019
Provincial Grand Master’s Address
1. Brethren, this is an important meeting for our Province, and particularly for those I have had the privilege to honour this afternoon. This is very much their day; and on their behalf I thank you all for attending in such numbers to support them.
2. I also thank our many guests – this meeting would not be the same without the support which we receive from Provincial Grand Lodges across the country, and representatives from Grand Lodge, and Metropolitan Grand Lodge. I have been wearing a chain in this Province, and therefore in other Provinces, for the past 21 years during which period I have made so many dear friends many of whom we welcome here today. I thank them all for attending; and for their hospitality and friendship which we have enjoyed over the years.
3. I also thank the Most Excellent Grand Superintendent and his team from the Royal Arch, and the Heads of Masonic Orders in the Province who are so supportive of our Craft Province. I am so pleased that the Heads of Orders take part in our annual lecture for Charity. The beneficiary charity this year was Prostate Cancer UK nominated by the MEGS – and next year it will be the turn of the PGM of the Mark to nominate his Charity.
4. I wish to pay tribute to those brethren I have honoured this afternoon. Some have been honoured for the first time; others will have been promoted for their continuing service to their Lodge, to their Area, to our Province. Our process for deciding on appointments and promotions is very robust– and so I can say that every honour this afternoon has been fully justified – not just well earned. For many of the brethren, there is much left to do. Their contribution to date has demonstrated that they have the ability to move forward for the benefit of their Lodge, Area, or Province.
5. In many respects our Province is unique having been divided into 6 geographical Areas each with a full Executive team under the direction of an Area APGM. This has given opportunities to so many brethren to get involved in management. Curiously, it has made the Province smaller! We still have the same number of brethren, and Lodges (sort of – we have added a few) but brethren involved in the Areas become much better known to those at the centre of the Province.
6. The reality is that when our Appointments Committee sits, whether for Grand or Provincial appointments, the brethren being considered will be known to those on the Committee. The days of relying solely on Forms and Returns are long gone.
7. Consequently, you can all be proud of your appointment – and I am sure are encouraged to continue to serve to the best of your ability.
8. I promoted our Area Vice Chairmen en masse to PPSGW – the office is of great importance and the rank recognises that such is the case. The Area Vice Chairmen are responsible for the health of the Lodges under their remit and rely heavily on the support which they receive from Lodge Visiting Officers – an increasingly important role within the Province.
9. Last year I established a Best Practice team under the Chairmanship of the DPGM supported by the Past DPGM and other senior brethren. As a result, we have been able to refine some practices to ensure that all Areas are working to the highest standard.
10. Many of our Lodges have embraced the Members Pathway to very good effect. In short, it works. The focus is on Recruitment, Retention, Retrieval – effectively, the future. We have to start with the premise that Lodges, by which I mean members of Lodges, will dearly want their Lodge to have a future. That raises a number of questions.
11. What do we want for the future of our Lodge? It may be to increase numbers, to increase attendance, to ensure that all meetings are enjoyable for all, that members enjoy their Freemasonry without the pressure which sometimes arises because of an obsession with the ritual, or an obsession with outdated practices, that all members are looked after when the need arises, that every member is and feels included. Hopefully brethren, all of those things.
12. Inevitably, as sure as night follows day, this requires Planning which brings us back to the Members Pathway. Indeed, to the Five-Year Plan which we introduced very successfully in this Province many years ago. The plan needs to involve all members – in its preparation. It must be dynamic – reviewed on an annual or more frequent basis, as necessary.
13. This is the Members Pathway. The first three words of Step 1 – Call a Meeting. Read on, involving all members. Some brethren seem to think that the Plan, or implementation of the Pathway, is the preserve of the senior members of the Lodge, or the senior Lodge Officers. Brethren, on what premise can it be argued that the past are best placed to plan the future.
14. No one should be excluded from the planning process – and each is equally entitled to contribute. Young men will have as good an idea as anyone how best to shape the future.
15. Interestingly, over the past 9 years, the number of our brethren under 40 has increased by 37%. We need to listen to these young men who in the main are enthusiastic and keen to bring their young friends into the Craft. The influence of young brethren, or perhaps older brethren who are young at heart, has taken us into the realms of technology which a few years ago were foreign to most of us. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp are being used increasingly as very effective tools for communication.
16. Each Area has a Group of brethren formed to support Lodges with low attendance numbers and the use of WhatsApp enables members of these groups to keep in touch with each other and spread details of proposed visits as they are decided.
17. Likewise, our brethren are turning to TeamApp in increasing numbers – our Provincial TeamApp gives access to a whole range of information instantly and on mobile devices – from the Book of Constitutions to our Provincial publications; our Provincial web site, and Solomon which enables brethren to research as they please, when they please, if they please. It’s there and available to those who want it.
18. Unquestionably we have moved into the modern age and many of our Lodges are benefitting as a result. Those which are not do not have to look very far to know why. The Province, through a number of initiatives, Grand Lodge through its Strategy for 2015-2020 including the Members Pathway, have pointed out the way. Lodges which are struggling have failed to see the light. Or at least some of their members who are exercising undue influence over the Lodge, have failed to see the light. Those brethren should look at what is happening in other Lodges, those which are experiencing growth, some for the first time for a generation, and learn the lessons which are there for all to see.
19. Many brethren who opposed the changes which we have introduced over the past 9 years have come on board having seen the benefits. Those who resolutely refuse to move from their old ways, are gradually losing their influence, as other brethren see the benefits.
20. Many of us are passionate about our Freemasonry which is perhaps a more intense form of caring. Problems arise when that passion becomes an obsession and once a brother crosses that Rubicon, he will not realise that he has himself changed. He has forgotten the basics. He still has the very best of intentions and continues to love the Craft, but his obsession with the past would have us adhere to outdated practices regardless of the impact on the brethren or indeed Freemasonry. The time of tyling, weekly rehearsals, a requirement for Lodge Officers to show proficiency in ritual before progressing, concern about double ceremonies, opposing inviting Lodge VOs to GP meetings – the list goes on.
21. It is for others to recognise the obsession, to deal with it sympathetically, and ensure that adverse influences do not prevail to the detriment of the Lodge or its members. Visiting Officers can be of great assistance in these cases. They are carefully chosen and appointed and are kept fully up to speed with all that we are doing at the Centre. Use them, include them, never exclude them.
22. If I have one sadness, it is the number of Resignations which are stubbornly remaining far higher than we would wish. We have had some success in dealing with this – the electronic attendance register, now being used by most Lodges identifies potential resignations; it provides the information, but inevitably must be followed by pro-active action by the Lodge members.
23. In many Lodges the Lodge Mentor and Lodge Membership Officer are working together to re-engage brethren who are serial non-attenders, with good effect. But it does need a concerted effort. We use the term Mentor to indicate guidance which should be given to all new Members. The reality is that the same level of mentoring should be available to those brethren who have not attended Lodge for some time. These brethren are still members, they pay their subscription, and Lodges have a duty to care for them – an occasional telephone call is not enough. Caring for our brethren should be at the forefront of all that we do.
24. Once a brother has decided to Resign, it is difficult for the Lodge to persuade him to return. We are therefore addressing this by way of a new team at the Provincial Office, acting under the direction of the ProvGSec, to provide further guidance and assistance to those brethren who have resigned.
25. The enthusiasm amongst our members generally has led to the formation of a number of special interest Lodges – the most recent Consecration being that of Vectis Services Lodge on the Island. I understand that I will soon be asked to sign a Petition for another special interest Lodge – a Country Sports Lodge which will be the tenth special interest Lodge which we have consecrated in the past ten years.
26. We have re-formed our Marketing Committee which will be proactive in promoting the Craft to the outside world in conjunction with our Freemasonry in the Community team
27. An important part of the FiTC initiative is our Charity Presentation Evenings which have been embraced very successfully by all Areas and are routinely attended by many local civic dignitaries for some of whom attending these Events is their first experience of Freemasonry. I thank the brethren involved in managing these occasions which give non-Masons a real Insight into Freemasonry and its position in the community.
28. Accordingly our Cathedral Service, being one of the Events to mark and celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the amalgamation of the Province of Hampshire and the Province of Isle of Wight, was supported by the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire, the Lord Lieutenant of the Isle of Wight, both High Sheriffs, Lords Mayor, Mayors, and other civic dignitaries across the Province, and the CEOs of many national and local charities. A great Celebration at Winchester Cathedral.
29. Our celebration of the 150th anniversary continued to its climax at Cowes Yacht Haven on the Isle of Wight where we dined in grand style prior to a “Last Night of the Proms” supported by the Royal Marine Association Band leading to a great party until midnight. I thank all those involved in this magnificent Event – and of course one of our newer Lodges Spinnaker Lodge for their involvement, holding a Lodge Meeting in Cowes on the morning of the Event and organising a party on the pontoon following their lunch time Festive Board – a great prelude to what was to follow.
30. Brethren, it is a privilege to preside over our great Province and to have the responsibility for taking the Province forward in an increasingly uncertain world. We need to change with the times, we need to adapt to ensure that we continue to be relevant in the community of which we are part, without in any way diluting the Values on which our organisation is founded. We have so many brethren across the Province, working to this end, and I thank them all for their support and commitment.
31. Before I close, may I wish all those brethren I have honoured this afternoon every happiness and success as they continue their Masonic journey.
32. I thank the ProvGSec and his team, the ProvGDC and his team of Deputies, and all those who have contributed to the success of the day, and of course the members of our Provincial Grand Stewards Lodge who do all that is asked of them and more to ensure the day runs smoothly and is a credit to our Province.
33. Thank you all for your attention and for your great support. I look forward to the company of those who will be dining with us at the Novotel this evening. For the others, I trust you will enjoy the various hostelries here in Southampton, and I wish you a safe journey home.
3rd July 2019
R W Bro Michael J Wilks
Provincial Grand Master