Brethren, thank you for your attendance here this afternoon. As usual, this meeting is an excellent opportunity for us to consider and discuss administrative and procedural issues which would not be appropriate and for which we would not have time at our Provincial Grand Lodge meeting in June.
May I start by thanking my Deputy and Assistants, the Provincial team and all South Wales lodges for another successful and enjoyable year. We have celebrated our tercentenary in fine style; made excellent progress on our membership drive; launched our Provincial learning and development tool, PROGRESS; and of course successfully managed significant changes to both the Royal Arch and Craft Provinces.
The 2021 Committee continues to work hard on what I know will be a successful Festival and I am grateful to them, lodge Charity Stewards and all brethren for the first class progress we are making towards our testing target of £5 million. More on that at Provincial Grand Lodge in a few weeks time.
Can I remind all lodges that we have 2 events coming up in the near future. The annual church service will be held at Margam Abbey on Saturday, 19 May and I would like to see as many Grand and Provincial officers as possible there, together with a representative from every lodge in the Province. This is a lovely opportunity for us to worship together as a Province with our wives, partners, families and friends and I have to say that I am disappointed that, so far, over 100 lodges have not even had the courtesy to respond to the very clear letter they have received asking who their representative will be. We have 2 weeks left brethren, so I hope that we will hear from them before then and that W Bro Rev Edward’s church will be full on this once in a year occasion.
Secondly, our Provincial Grand Lodge meeting will be in Barry Memorial Hall on Monday, 25 June. Let’s make a real effort this year to fill the hall and celebrate together all those being honoured with appointments or promotions. I have been concerned for some years that there are some lodges which seem reluctant to support it.
On to a few procedural issues brethren, which I should be grateful if you would take back to your lodges for consideration and implementation as appropriate.
For several years now I have been asking lodges to start their installation meetings later so that working men can attend and so that I can continue to appoint younger Provincial officers without their feeling they have to take time off work or, worse, refuse appointments because of the unreasonable time commitment involved. I see no reason why installation meetings need to start before 5.30 pm, provided lodges adhere to the guidance they have received on efficient ceremonies, undertake good quality ritual and cut down on unnecessary intervals between the ceremony and festive board. Unfortunately my exhortations seem to have fallen on some stony ground so, in order to ensure that Provincial teams attending installations do not feel unduly pressured into early starts, I am instructing them to plan to arrive at Installation meetings no earlier than 5.30. If lodges insist on starting earlier than that, they should be aware that those invited to represent me at the meeting will not be arriving until then.
This is not an excuse to allow proceedings drag on at the end of the evening. Provided things are pushed along at a reasonable pace without unnecessary periods of inactivity, a 9.30 or 10 pm conclusion should be easily achievable.
I have long thought it rather odd that we ask new brethren, Fellow Crafts and Entered Apprentices, to re-enter the lodge after an installed board at the front of the relevant procession. These inexperienced brethren are then expected to perambulate in the proper way, giving the appropriate sign, with no-one to follow or emulate. I should be grateful if lodges would, in future, place Entered Apprentices or Fellow Crafts in second or third place in incoming processions. That should make for a more comfortable experience for them and add to the dignity of the processions.
Thirdly brethren, I have been encouraged by the increases in membership we have seen in the Royal Arch. It is very noticeable that Provinces across England and Wales are more successful where a good quality Royal Arch representative system is in place. We introduced a more robust Royal Arch reps system in South Wales last year, with lapel pins presented to the representatives at installations. I have to say that there are still too many lodges where that does not happen; neither is the Royal Arch rep being given the opportunity to speak for a few minutes at a couple of lodge meetings every year. Brethren, if the Royal Arch rep is not well known to the brethren, is not given the chance to speak and doesn’t have his details outlined on every summons, our brethren will not be properly encouraged to take the fourth important step in Pure and Ancient Freemasonry. This system is an absolutely crucial follow-up to our introducing a candidate to the Royal Arch before he joins the Craft and, most certainly, as he progresses through his interview before joining.
As I have made clear before, I see the Royal Arch as a necessary step for all brethren. I will continue to take committed membership of the Royal Arch into account when considering Provincial appointments and promotions in the Craft.
You will all know I hope of the great strides we are making towards the digitisation of our Yearbook. Like us, many Provinces are making progress towards producing online (and therefore more accurate and up to date) versions of Yearbooks and we are fully committed to doing so here in South Wales. An online version of the yearbook, currently trialled on our website to a limited number of Brethren, is perhaps resulting in fewer brethren wishing to receive the traditional booklet; most certainly we are seeing too many piles of unwanted Yearbooks in some of our Masonic centres. Indeed, many Brethren question why we still produce the hard copy in this digital age.
As a result, and to help in a small way to saving the environment, W Bro Roger Richmond will be contacting all Lodge secretaries this year to ascertain how many physical books are required for 2018-19. We still have to produce both online and physical versions so the cost will remain at the equivalent of £2.50 per member for the time being. Full access to the online book will be made available to all before publication of the hard copy this year. Please take the time to view or download it. I hope that nearly six thousand proof readers will result in as near perfect a hard copy as is possible!
In light of experience this year, I hope we will be able to make still further reductions in numbers of physical books next year. If we find that take up is relatively small, I also hope to be able to announce cost reductions from next year on. And if it makes sense for us to do so, we will also consider integrating the Yearbook cost into annual Provincial dues from 2019 onwards.
I hope you can see brethren that this will result in many benefits: fewer wasted paper booklets; a better and more accessible online version which is bang up to date; and eventually overall reduced cost for all members.
Finally brethren, 2 very important issues coming your way where failure to keep up with legal requirements could result in substantial, occasionally unlimited, fines, as well as significant reputational damage for the lodge, Province and the Craft. These relate to Transgender and Data Protection issues. You will be receiving guidance soon, but my clear message to you is that, if you face either of these issues in your lodge, take immediate advice from the Provincial office and our Provincial Grand Registrar. There is great scope here for us to get things badly wrong brethren so support will be provided to any lodge which finds itself grappling with these difficult subjects.
Brethren, that’s all from me today. I look forward to seeing you all at our Provincial events and lodge meetings over the next few months. Continue to enjoy your Masonry and together let us continue to take our wonderful fraternity forward for many years to come.