Provincial SGM 2020
Provincial Grand Master’s Address
1. Brethren, it is my great pleasure to welcome you all to this Special Meeting of our Provincial Grand Lodge which was introduced 9 years ago to provide a mechanism for me to honour brethren for their continuing dedicated service regardless of any hope or expectation of personal preferment.
2. The honours conferred on these brethren this evening are a formal recognition of the contribution which they have made over the years. The honours are not an earnest of future performance – they have done their bit. That said, I know that they will continue to support as they always have.
3. This meeting also enables me to promote and honour brethren for their service as Visiting Officers. For reasons which will be obvious to you, I exclude these brethren from what I have just said. Visiting Officers within this Province have a huge role to play and those honoured this evening have demonstrated that they have what it takes to make a success of the role. I expect that work to continue and I thank these brethren for what I know they will do and achieve in the future.
4. I also thank you all for attending this meeting in such numbers. Your support for the meeting and of course the brethren being honoured, is very much appreciated.
5. Brethren, I was installed as your Provincial Grand Master ten years ago. It was clear to me that the Province which I inherited in 2010 was quite different to the Province which I joined in 1975. I decided to review the progress of our organisation which revealed that there was a marked change in 1990.
6. In that year, our membership stood at 17,040. By 2010 it had reduced to 11309, a reduction of 33% over 20 years. I looked at the national figures which were entirely consistent with the Province – in 1990 Grand Lodge recorded a total of 300,000 members and by 2010 this had reduced to 200,000, or by 33%.
7. An organisation which had stood the test of time for 300 years was dying on its feet. It was clear that urgent action was necessary to arrest the decline – but the first step was to understand why this was occurring.
8. This was a relatively straightforward process. In the early 1990s the World Wide Web was introduced, and society began to change at an alarming pace in line with the freedom which the Internet provided. Emails, mobile phones, text messaging, social media followed, all increasing the speed of change throughout Society, and our organisation was left behind. We failed to keep pace. We had become an irrelevance. Men were not inspired to join us. And those who did join were leaving in large numbers.
9. It was very clear that we needed to be pro-active in making changes to ensure that once again we were in line with the community, of which we are part. Any such changes would not impact on the fundamentals of our organisation – Integrity, Friendship, Respect, Charity and Caring. We needed to find ways to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the changes in the outside world, and to ensure that our meetings were enjoyable for all.
10. Our organisation is cautious. There is no doubt that the organisation changed dramatically over the 300 years of its existence, but the changes were gradual in line with the changes and developments in society. Pro-active change would, inevitably, be resisted by a large section of our membership. That said, without being dramatic, the future of the Province was at stake, and I was not prepared to see its demise on my watch.
11. We therefore introduced a number of changes. In view of the size of our Province, we re-structured the Province into 6 distinct Areas each headed by an APGM and with an Area Executive enabling the Province to reach out directly to brethren and Lodges. Changes were to focus on the four Rs – Recruitment, Retention, Retrieval, and Re-engagement.
12. Now is not the time or place to go into the detail of the changes which we introduced. The reality is that many Lodges listened to what we had to say. And the more who listened and benefitted from the changes, the more obvious it was that the changes were working without any adverse impact on our organisation’s values. Other Lodges followed. Many brethren who objected to the changes, came on board.
13. Those Lodges which have embraced the changes are thriving and experiencing growth, with young men queueing to join and loving their Freemasonry. It is a joy to see – to attend such Lodges and in many cases to see the transformation which has taken place.
14. In every Area we now have teams of enthusiastic brethren attending Lodges which need support and encouraging those Lodges to embrace the changes simply by demonstrating the fun and enjoyment which is part of their Freemasonry.
15. Hopefully those Lodges will follow the lead of the Lodges which are recruiting young men, embracing double ceremonies, and dealing with the challenge of a surfeit of new members by forming relationships with other Lodges which need support.
16. Introducing this meeting in the Province was one of the first changes which I made as Provincial Grand Master and so let me return to the main purpose of this meeting. It is a celebration for those brethren who have been honoured, and on their behalf, I thank you all for your attendance and for joining in the celebration. I also thank those involved organising and managing this meeting – The Provincial Grand Secretary and his team at the Provincial Office, the Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies and his team of Deputies, and the Provincial Grand Stewards Lodge who have been working throughout the day and who will continue until the job is done.
17. Brethren, it is a real privilege to lead our wonderful Province, and before I close I must pay tribute to all those brethren across the Province who have played their part in its transformation – my Deputy Provincial Grand Master and his predecessor, my Assistant Provincial Grand Masters and their predecessors, Grand Offices, Provincial Officers, Area Officers, and Lodge Officers, through to those men who are now being initiated into our Lodges and are playing their part by introducing their friends to the Craft and joining the Area Teams visiting Lodges which need support.
18. Brethren, I mentioned at the outset that, for the first time this meeting includes amongst our guests, brethren from other Provinces – a Provincial Grand Master and four Past Provincial Grand Masters. These are senior brethren who provided considerable support and encouragement for me during my early years as PGM. They “set the scene” and provided the necessary guidance to make a success of the appointment. One of these brethren is in the same position as me – he is in his 10th year as PGM. One retired as long ago as 2012.
19. What we all have in common is very supportive wives which is vital in making a success of the role, and their wives are with them today and will later be enjoying a dinner hosted by Kay and the Provincial Cabinet. I therefore want to pay tribute to Kay who has been so supportive of me. This last year we celebrated our golden wedding. I have been a Freemason for 44 of those 50 years and Kay has been with me throughout my Masonic journey – from the very early years when her main involvement was ensuring that I looked the part and knew my lines.
20. Neither of us knew very much about the Craft – but as my involvement increased, so did Kay’s. Together we grew into the roles which the Province required, and over the past 22 years during which I have been wearing a chain in the Province she has accepted and dealt with the various challenges which my position within the Craft presents for a wife. I cannot thank her too highly for her support.
21. Brethren in December this year I wrote to the Grand Secretary proposing a timetable for my retirement as your Provincial Grand Master and the announcement and Installation of my successor. I wanted the transition to be seamless in the best interests of the Province. I am pleased to say that the Rulers could not have been more supportive and agreed the proposed time table and my other recommendations, one of which was to keep everything under wraps until this Special Meeting. I now formally announce that I will retire as your Provincial Grand Master on the 21st May next and I am delighted that my DPGM will succeed me and will be Installed as my successor here at the Novotel the following day. Please join with me in congratulating Jon on his appointment.
7th February 2020
R W Bro Michael J Wilks
Provincial Grand Master