Address to Provincial Grand Lodge Committee: May 2016
Good evening brethren and welcome to our annual PGL Committee meeting. I must start by thanking you and your brethren for the warmth of the welcome and hospitality shown to my executive team and me during our visits this year.
Today is our opportunity to discuss matters of administration, process, protocol and ceremonial – all of which would be difficult to do justice to at our annual PGL meeting in Barry in June. As I have said in previous years, and reiterate now, I want this meeting to be informative and interesting, a source of information to take back to your lodges, and a chance to give you a forum in which you can ask questions, make comments and air your views. I want all lodges to have the opportunity to engage properly in the way this Province is run.
We have already heard that our registration, financial and charitable work are all in good hands and working well on behalf of us all. And I should like to pay particular tribute to W Bro George Royle, our Prov Grand Almoner, who has worked tirelessly in the background to look after those in need while also being in the vanguard of piloting the new visiting officer’s scheme, which we in South Wales have called the Provincial Application Officer’s role. I will be very pleased to reappoint W Bro George at our next PGL meeting in June but, after over 10 years in the job, W Bro George has made it clear that 2016-17 will be his last year, so we will be looking hard for a replacement with the commitment and skills to take over from George the following year. His will be very large shoes to fill brethren.
One of our biggest challenges continues to be the 3Rs – recruitment, retention and retrieval, as the sustainability of our wonderful Craft for this and future generations is a heavy responsibility upon us all. We cannot accept – as has been done for far too long – that simply sitting back watching our numbers decline is a sensible option. We need – as we have done – to recognise we have a problem, develop a clear strategy to deal with it, and take firm actions to contribute positively to achieving our objective of seeing the eradication of the decline by 2020. All that is happening brethren in many Provinces and in many lodges, but we have more work to do.
The roles of Provincial and Lodge Membership Officers and Mentors will be absolutely key in driving forward the actions necessary to meet out aims. These roles in lodges cannot be simply ‘a job for old Tom’. They are, and will be increasingly, working roles and must be given to brethren with the right attitude, experience and skills to do them successfully. You will hear more about this from both the Provincial Membership Officer and the Provincial Grand Mentor over the coming months. UGL is working hard to provide advice and guidance on what works well in both these areas of recruitment and retention.
And brethren, there are already some positive signs. For 15 years or more we – and all Provinces – have experienced a fairly consistent loss of members of between two and two and a half percent. But in 2015, not only did initiations go up in South Wales, while resignations went down; our total numbers of members reduced by only 31, just over half of one percent. And while we certainly cannot claim to have cracked the problems yet, I’m sure you will agree these are welcome figures and positive signs.
At least in part, I am sure this success is due to our better and increased use of technology. You have heard from W Bro Neil Evans, our Provincial Membership Officer, some interesting information on internet referrals over the last few months. I can also tell you that he is building on previous success too – in 2015 we received 93 internet enquiries, of which 23 were referred to lodges in South Wales and already 11 gentlemen have been initiated or are in the process of preparing for their initiation in a variety of lodges across the Province. I must thank Bro Derryl Rees for his tremendous efforts in designing, establishing and maintaining our website which has proved to be a powerful weapon in our armoury.
And our open days have been similarly successful. Brethren, we are a long way away from the days of secrecy and hidden memberships when only the chosen few could gain access to our temples and take part in our ceremonies. We must continue our quest for the right level of openness to show the world the force for good we are in our communities and daily lives.
I have often said that we must not forget that Freemasonry needs to be enjoyable and accessible for the modern man. Our success in stemming reductions in numbers must surely be helped by ensuring our ceremonies and other occasions are fun and something that men and their families want to be a part of. And that means giving brethren the time to get to our ceremonies and not keeping them too long into the evening so that their wives and partners start to resent their membership. I still believe that too many lodges start their meetings too early for many working brethren to attend. I see no reason why a lodge meeting needs to start before 6 pm – and for an installation 5.30pm. With, in all cases, festivities complete by 10pm, or better still 9.30pm.
Please go back to your lodge committees and discuss how this can be implemented in your own lodges. You have already received some guidance this year on how installation ceremonies can be shortened without compromising the dignity of the occasions. Most are now emailing ‘risings’ information in advance; and I see no need for there to be anything but a very short break between the end of the ceremony and the start of the festive board. That will need better planning by lodge dining stewards, discussion with catering staff in advance so that timings are agreed, and DCs will need to be more disciplined in cutting down needless long sessions at the bar before dinner begins. And one small point brethren, the reading out verbatim of routine dispensations has never seemed to me to add value. UGLE has now agreed that can be dispensed with and the Provincial Grand Secretary will write out to all lodges soon to confirm.
I have already seen, and received reports this year of some improvements in ceremonial and quality of ritual. Not only is that important to keep things moving, it makes for more enjoyment for all, a better experience for the candidate and a more fulfilling experience for all brethren present. Please take back to your lodges my exhortation that brethren should try to learn the ceremony and deliver it with meaning. There is little more off-putting that a Master’s desk so full of paper notes that it is sometimes difficult for the candidate to find the Bible on which to take his obligation.
A few other important issues brethren. Our communications, both internally within the Craft and externally with the wider public, continue to be crucial to our reputation and our success. This year we, and other Provinces, have done a great deal more to improve our communications, including with the media; essential work if we are to be recognised as the excellent organisation we are and something which good men will wish to join. I must thank W Bro Roger Gale for the sterling work he has done as our Provincial Communications Officer over many years. And while W Bro Roger has agreed to continue to run the Provincial email alert system, for which we are all grateful, I have asked W Bro Paul Haley to take on the role of Provincial Communications Officer with immediate effect. W Bro Paul is already getting stuck into his work and I know he can rely on your help and cooperation in the months and years to come.
Our estate and the state of our Masonic Halls continues to be a challenge brethren. We will not attract good quality men and their families who are used to good quality surroundings if we offer them third rate food, decaying buildings and sub-standard facilities. The Provincial Grand Superintendent of Works has already written to all those with responsibility for running our halls, with a rather patchy response rate being received. Brethren, Province is not seeking to interfere or get involved directly in the running of our buildings. We are simply seeking to provide some coordination, advice and guidance so that those with the heavy burden of running our buildings can have access to professional advice and can learn from best practice elsewhere. You will hear more about this in the coming year when I hope there will be at least one meeting of those who are running our facilities to see how we can help each other to improve accommodation right across the Province.
Finally, I wanted to mention the Colonnade Club, whose new tie I am proudly wearing this evening. It continues to go from strength to strength with around 80 members and more joining every week. It has now put forward a new idea; to establish and consecrate a Colonnade RA Chapter, so bringing together new and young brethren from all corners of South Wales and encouraging members to join the Royal Arch, which is of course a positive step towards achieving retention in the Craft. I hope this initiative can be achieved in 2016-17 and to that end, I intend to ask the brethren of Lodge of Benevolence whether they would be prepared to sponsor the Colonnade Chapter and give it the strong impetus it deserves to further strengthen the network of young masons in South Wales.
Brethren, thank you for your attention this evening. I look forward to seeing you all in Barry next month. Until then, go back to your lodges, continue to enjoy your masonry, have a safe journey home and God bless you all.