Presented at Provincial Grand Lodge on 27th June 2016
Brethren, the main purpose of our meeting today is to celebrate the end of our masonic year by honouring those whose contributions now – and in the future – have merited appointments or promotions in Provincial Grand Lodge. To all of you so honoured today, my warm congratulations; and as we always say on these occasions, your new rank is meant not only to recognise past achievements, but also to act as an earnest to efforts to come in leading your lodges to a successful future. Brethren, we have much work to do to ensure the future of our Craft and I hope that your preferments today will encourage you to take leading roles in driving forward Grand Lodge’s and this Province’s plans.
I also congratulate all those who received new or higher Grand ranks this year, both in the Craft and in the Royal Arch. You all have an especial role to play in the leadership of this Province and I trust I can continue to look to you to provide that enthusiasm and commitment which are so crucial to success. It matters not how inspirational a strategy is, if those charged with delivering it do not have the positive attitude and behaviour necessary to see it through.
Let me start by saying what an enjoyable and successful year we have had since we last met. My hard working executive team and I have very much appreciated the welcome and hospitality we have received throughout the Province and, on a personal note, I was extremely grateful to the 150 or so brethren who made the trip to London this year for the annual investiture ceremonies.
We have had the pleasure of consecrating 2 new lodges, both of which have set off on a flying start to their futures within South Wales. And we have taken the unusual step of dedicating a brand new masonic hall in Builth Wells at a time when most of our premises across England and Wales are facing uncertain and challenging futures. These expressions of newness are, I believe, a clear signal that the brethren of South Wales are not willing to sit back and watch the years of declining membership carry on without strong action. And, when coupled with the significant reduction in declining memberships we have seen this year, show that the Craft is in good spirits and ready to face the continuing challenges it faces.
Let me be absolutely clear brethren, this is not a numbers game. I have said consistently that our task is to address quality issues: quality of ceremonial and understanding of our beautiful ritual; quality of behaviour; quality of premises and facilities; quality of processes for bringing in – and looking after – new members; and quality of our engagement with friends, families and communities. If we get these quality issues right, membership numbers will look after themselves. Which is why I urge you all to engage positively with the Provincial Membership Officer and Provincial Grand Mentor to see how you can address these quality issues in the years ahead.
Today I have reappointed W Bro Phillip Edwards as Provincial Grand Orator. Ably assisted by his brother, W Bro Richard Edwards, he has continued to deliver excellent talks to lodges when invited; and I am quite sure those presentations will continue next year. I have long thought that lodges should plan – at least once a year – to have a meeting where the brethren are exposed to masonic learning, rather than simply going through a constant process of bringing in and bringing on candidates. In fact, I would go one step further in the coming year – a step which might help those lodges with already packed calendars. I want to encourage every lodge to hold one Lodge of Instruction every year. By that, I don’t mean a practice or rehearsal for an upcoming ceremony, but an organised opportunity for brethren to learn something of the history and meaning of our ceremonies. The recent MFG surveys have shown that brethren believe that learning more adds to their enjoyment and so helps retention, so I shall be asking Grand Officers to take this forward in all our lodges. I hope to be able to report good progress next year.
Turning to our 2021 Festival, I was delighted to be able to present 3 gold awards today. So far, over 50 lodges have achieved at least a bronze award, equivalent to at least £500 per subscribing member. And our total pledged is now in excess of £2 million. But brethren there is much work to do. While I have been pleased to see many Festival jewels worn during my visits around the Province, there are still 60% of our brethren who do not qualify. I encourage all our hard working Charity Stewards to ensure their lodges and members contribute their fair share to the Festival. It is after all in favour of the Royal Masonic benevolent Institution, a charity so close to our hearts in South Wales and we surely want to make 2021 a year to celebrate and remember. For those who need extra encouragement, please tell them this: the Province of South Wales receives just under £1 million every year from our central masonic charities. That means that if you are giving less than around £175 per annum to the central charities, usually by way of a regular covenant, it means you are relying on brethren from elsewhere in England and Wales to provide help for our needy brethren and their dependants. With 5 years of the Festival remaining, a regular covenant of half of that figure would qualify you for a Festival jewel, so there can really be no excuse for the vast majority of brethren to qualify to wear their jewel with pride.
Looking ahead to next year, we will have our tercentenary to celebrate. We already have 2 big events planned in South Wales and I have asked W Bro Kevin Hearn to co-ordinate all activities across the Province and to take the lead in ensuring we contribute to national activities too. 2017 is a wonderful opportunity to reach out to our communities with pride, show what we as Freemasons do for the good of society, dispel some more of the myths about our Craft and attract more good men into our ranks. I hope all lodges – or all masonic centres – will plan to hold at least one event to celebrate our 300 years, perhaps linked to a showing of the Royal Albert Hall celebrations.
It would be remiss of me if I were not to say a word or two about the Royal Arch brethren. Only around 38% of our members have completed their knowledge of pure and ancient masonry by joining a Royal Arch Chapter, a step that has been shown to improve members’ knowledge of masonry, enhance their enjoyment and contribute positively to retaining good quality members in the Craft. We only have to look over our border to Monmouthshire to see that a 50% membership rate is perfectly achievable and I want to challenge every lodge’s Royal Arch liaison officer to approach those who have not yet joined and see whether we can improve quickly on our 38% membership rate. Perhaps one of the presentations or the Lodge of Instruction I mentioned earlier could be used to give brethren a flavour of what the Royal Arch has to offer ? I have also been delighted this year to help lay the foundations for a new Royal Arch Chapter for the excellent Colonnade Club, South Wales’ club for new and young masons, which continues to go from strength to strength. I hope next year to be able to report its consecration.
Brethren, as always, my grateful thanks go to all those distinguished guests who have travelled long distances to support us. To the Provincial Grand Secretary, his team and the Barry boys who have – as usual – ensured the smooth set up and preparation for today. To the Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies and his team for the first class ceremonial we have all been able to witness. To the Provincial Grand Stewards who have rejuvenated the Stewards’ Lodge this year and, for the first time, undertaken the carousel duties in such an exemplary manner.
And, finally, to you all brethren, for your attendance here today. Have a safe journey home and enjoy the Summer break. God bless you all.