Brethren, thank you for your attendance here this afternoon and may I reiterate my grateful thanks to all our distinguished guests for their continued support and friendship and for coming in such large numbers to help us celebrate our annual meeting. Some have travelled long distances and we very much appreciate their presence here today.
May I also take this opportunity of thanking my Deputy, Assistants and all my Provincial Officers of last year for their sterling work in representing me and supporting the Executive members with sound administration, solid finances and attendances at installations and many domestic and special occasions. The lodges’ warm welcome and unstinting hospitality has been constant throughout the year and I have been greatly heartened by what I have seen and the reports I have received.
I have often said that today’s meeting should be one of celebration, especially for those receiving appointments and promotions. You all take on an extra responsibility to contribute more to the success and sustainability of your lodges, the Province and the Craft more widely; and I urge each and every one of you to study our 7 point plan in detail, keep abreast of developments emanating from the Improvement Delivery Group and ensure that you are encouraging your brethren to take positive action to take our wonderful organization forward to an even more successful future.
Now is an exciting time to be a Freemason. We are in the middle of celebrating our tercentenary year and, in South Wales, we have enjoyed 2 magnificent occasions so far. Our procession through the streets of Llandaff in full regalia was a first for this Province in living memory and the subsequent Cathedral service was, I’m sure you will agree, an uplifting and memorable occasion. My thanks go to W Bro Rev Alistair Swinford, W Bro Peter Jones and all those who helped make it such a special day.
And only 2 days ago, we were honoured to host a visit from the MW Past Pro Grand Master and Lady Northampton to attend our Gala dinner in the magnificent surroundings of Cardiff City Hall. Over 400 brethren and their wives and partners enjoyed a truly great occasion. Thanks to all who attended and I am sure they would all wish to join me in expressing our deep appreciation to W Bro Dr Akram Baig, his committee and all the Stewards who worked so hard to ensure we experienced a party that will live long in our memories.
It is also an exciting time because I doubt there has ever been a period of change on the scale we are currently going through. And that situation is not going to alter for the foreseeable future brethren. As I said in an article for Freemasonry Today quite recently, change is now the order of the day. We can no longer expect periods of stability and calm; continuous improvement has to be the way in which we go about our Freemasonry from now on.
If we are successfully to reverse the decline of the last 20 years – and there is now plenty of evidence that we are starting to do just that – we must eradicate the curse of the ‘IT’LL DO’ culture. We need new members and we need to attract and retain good quality men of all ages, but particularly young candidates and they simply will not put up with some things we have allowed to become part of our ‘IT’LL DO’ ways. Sub-standard accommodation and facilities won’t do brethren; third rate food that you wouldn’t dream of entertaining in a restaurant won’t do; unprepared and poorly delivered ritual which causes everyone present to switch off, let alone try to understand its meaning won’t do. Failing to prepare a candidate properly and not looking after him with care once he joins won’t do either brethren. And sitting back while a lodge fades into a terminal state of decline without trying to use all the resources at our disposal won’t do either.
But, as I say, there are real encouraging signs that brethren in this Province are recognizing these issues. Our reduction in membership last year was down to under half of one percent, compared with recent historical trends of nearer two and a half percent. We have already surpassed our target of initiating 300 new members in our tercentenary year as a result of open days, good quality internet presence, improved engagement with our communities and, of course, the recent Sky TV series which resulted in 65 new expressions of interest coming to us over a period of just 4 weeks.
I have also been delighted with the efforts of our Provincial Membership Officer – and now Mentor – , W Bro Neil Evans, and his team who are working tirelessly to ensure firm action is being taken in all areas to address the challenges we face. Watch out for details of a Provincial Mentoring conference on 23 September this year when W Bro Neil will be bringing together all Lodge Mentors for an important session on their responsibilities, particularly in light of the new Membership Pathway which will be formally launched in October and which will set out guidance and advice on how potential members should be encouraged, interviewed, looked after and taken successfully through their 4 basic steps in Freemasonry and on to Lodge officers, the Chair and beyond.
One of the key points in our 7 point plan is Charity. What a great delight it has been for me today brethren to present additional 2021 Festival Gold awards to lodges. This brings the total of lodges in South Wales to 14 who have achieved the milestone of £1000 per member. In addition, we also have 7 lodges who have achieved the silver award or £800 per member and 55 bronze achievers or £500 per member. These significant achievements are helping us towards our target of £5 million for the RMBI and I have been pleased to see so many brethren – nearly 50% of the Province – now proudly wearing their Festival jewels. But there is no room for complacency brethren. Can I appeal to all those who do not yet qualify for a Festival jewel to approach your Charity Steward and make a pledge of £500 or more and help to make the time for elderly Masons and their dependents something to enjoy in the twilight of their lives.
May I also thank the Most Excellent Grand Superintendent for his most generous donation of £10,000. He will forgive me I know for hoping that this will continue to be an annual event for the next 4 years!
While I am on the subject of charity, I want to let you know about a splendid occasion which took place at the Albert Edward Prince of Wales Court on Saturday last week. The MW Past Pro Grand Master was gracious enough to open a new dementia unit at the Home, paid for by the generous contribution of £300,000 made by the South Wales Masonic Benevolent Fund. This is precisely the sort of good work our money can do brethren, so if your members need any encouragement to contribute to the Festival, take them to visit the Home in Porthcawl to see how residents can benefit from the amounts that we give.
You would not expect me to pass up an opportunity of mentioning the Royal Arch. It is the culmination of Pure and Ancient Freemasonry, it contributes greatly to retention in the Craft and it is the most enjoyable, beautiful and meaningful ceremonial when done well. The Most Excellent Grand Superintendent and I have agreed that we should do even more to encourage Craft masons to join the Royal Arch when the time is right for them. We will therefore be reviewing and refreshing the Royal Arch representatives in lodges across the Province and, under the leadership of the Deputy Grand Superintendent E Comp Colin Weatherall, ensuring they have training, guidance and advice on how they should engage better with brethren in their Craft lodges. Each Royal Arch representative will be presented with a lapel pin on nights of installation, one of which I am wearing today, so that he can be easily recognizable and he will be asked to speak at least once, but hopefully twice a year in open lodge on various aspects of the Royal Arch including developments in Chapters which might be suitable homes for brethren of that lodge.
Brethren, we have much to do if we are to continue to eradicate that ‘IT’LL DO’ culture that I spoke about earlier. But , as you have heard, we are making great strides; we are bringing in new and younger members; we are working hard to improve standards and retain members’ interest and commitment; we are more than satisfying our obligations to charitable causes; and we are doing all this in the spirit of enjoyment, friendship and brotherly affection. My thanks to the Provincial Grand Secretary and the Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies and their teams; and to the Barry boys under W Bro Kevin Hearn for making today such a success.
Thank you once again for coming in such large numbers today. I look forward to seeing you all on many occasions in the years ahead. May I wish you a safe return home and a restful and relaxing break until we meet again.
God bless you all.