In September 2020, I presided over a unique meeting, the Provincial AGM, under the rule of six, at the Botley Masonic Centre. None of us knew how long we would continue to experience the effects of the pandemic, the lockdowns, loss of loved ones and impact upon our lives. As we move forward vaccines have been widely given, restrictions eased and there is certainly a feeling of cautious positivity as we attempt to move towards a ‘new normal’.
As our diaries start to fill once more with family, working, social and masonic commitments, I share the concerns of many of you about the effects this period has had upon our beloved Craft. Virtual meetings have been used to amazing effect keeping Brethren in touch but the lack of face to face meetings have been hugely missed. Some lodges are now meeting again albeit cautiously and that is to be commended. I have said before that no Brother should feel under any pressure to attend physical meetings unless he is comfortable to do so. However, at some stage we all will need to take a ‘leap of faith’ and learn to live with Covid in our daily lives. We know we will have to re-enagage and support some members back into our fold. Some members have lost confidence, lost touch and questioned their memberships – not just of this but all organisations. Your Provincial Cabinet, Area Executives and Visiting Officers will be working hard to support our Lodges and all members as we return to meetings.
The Province has much to do in terms of celebrating those many missed special meetings, not to mention forthcoming official visits, anniversaries and Installations. Our Craft lodges have an abundance of ceremonial work to undertake, including the initiation of over three hundred candidates. At this AGM today we launched the 2027 Festival for the Masonic Charitable Foundation with the attendance and great assistance of R W Bro Richard Hone, President of the MCF and W Bro Les Hutchinson, Chief Executive. A booklet will be sent to every Brother in due course. It outlines the vital work of our charity and importantly where your donations are given. In our Province an average of £550,000 per annum are received by Brethren and their families, who require assistance.
Grand Lodge produced their first ever annual report with our new strategy. The report was well received by the press and social media culminating in many favourable articles and interviews on Freemasonry and it’s work. By nature I am a traditionalist and recognise that the best ambassadors are our lodge members, sharing their interest with their families and friends. I am very proud to be a Freemason and there is no better time than now to introduce new members to our Craft. However, we must look after these potential members as well as our existing ones. The refreshed Members Pathway has been simplified to give effective guidance. This is being introduced to all lodges over the next few months.
Our work in our local communities has also gathered great interest especially those involved in supporting the work of the NHS and Social care. They have been some amazing contributions made by members of this Province. Some individuals have been recognised with national honours for their work, others with the Grand Lodge Certificates of Appreciation. Examples like the fundraising of over £26000 for local charities in the South East Area, led by W Bro Graham Lant and his team, including the Lady freemasons. Raising over £12000 for local NHS charities in the South Western Area last year was fantastic. These are only two of countless stories……
My special thanks and appreciation go to the Provincial Cabinet, Area Executives, Provincial Secretariat (the PGSec issued 24 bulletins with guidelines in the year), the Provincial Treasury and Almoners for keeping our wheels of administration and governance turning. The Provincial Grand Superintendent of Works, his team, the trustees and members of the Masonic Centres for constantly keeping our meeting places safe. My thanks to the Provincial Grand Communications Officer and his team – keeping our social media presence strong. My fellow Heads of the Companion and Progressive Orders for their strong support and friendship.
I thank W Bro David Foot and W Bro Jonathan Stainton-Ellis who retired as APGMs yesterday, and welcome W Bro Ian Preece and Adrian Cleightonhills in their place. I thank W Bros John Donoghue, George Mars and Kevin Head, who retire as Provincial Mentor, Orator and Charity Steward respectively today. Their contribution over many years has been outstanding. I welcome W Bro Mike Hibberd, James Adamson and John Pearson who took up those posts.
I congratulate all those who are appointed and promoted today, may you each enjoy your new ranks. I am sorry that I am only able to invest the active and first appointments due to the current restrictions. Next year will be better!
Brethren, I was installed yesterday in the splendour of the Grand Temple, Freemasons Hall, London, by the M W Bro Grand Master, Peter Lowndes and his team. It was a remarkable occasion. And of course, I shared the day with W Bro Steve Allum, R A Grand Superintendent who was also installed. I was delighted to install my Deputy, now V W Bro Dave Perkis, an instant promotion. David has supported me as acting Deputy, since May 2020. I look forward to continue to work together as we lead the Province. I was also pleased to pay tribute to W Bro David Foot and Jonathan Stainton Ellis – thank you again for your hard work as APGMS. W Bro Steve Allum and I were supported by many from our Province yesterday, and there were many who could not attend. It would of course been our preference to be Installed within the Province but those plans had to be changed due to the restrictions.
My sincere thanks to all those who have made today possible.
My Provincial Grand Secretary and his team, My Provincial Grand DC and his team. The Provincial Grand Stewards Lodge for all their assistance, not forgetting the Events and Dining Team led by David Hannan.
What a week they have had – all the arrangements for London yesterday and here today. And for some of us, we are back in London tomorrow for the first Grand Lodge Quarterly Communication since March 2020. But, I can’t be late home from London tomorrow evening, as I shall be delighted to witness my Father, being exalted into a local R A Chapter.
Brethren, I made the promise in my obligation yesterday that I will do very best our Province and our wonderful fraternity.
Brethren, I look forward to our face to face meetings going forward, let us enjoy being Freemasons and share that enjoyment with our families and friends.
Very best wishes
Yours sincerely and fraternally
R W Bro Jonathan C Whitaker
Provincial Grand Master
29th July 2021