It is now my great pleasure to address you for the fifth time as your Provincial Grand Master; incredible how time flies brethren !
First and foremost, my congratulations go to all I have been fortunate enough to appoint or promote in Provincial Grand Lodge today. Your new ranks are not given lightly; rather they are a reward for previous services and, perhaps more importantly, an earnest to future exertions. The Craft continues to face challenges to its reputation and to its future; and I hope you will all feel that your new status will encourage you to play a significant role in meeting those challenges for the good of all our brethren.
We have had a momentous year brethren. The tercentenary celebrations came to an end with a remarkable celebration at the Royal Albert Hall; and, of course, we as a Province also played our part in countless local celebrations to mark that important milestone. The Province has worked hard to do its bit to make the 300th year a special one, while responding to some of the broader issues we face. I am hugely indebted to our Provincial Membership Officer and Provincial Grand Mentor, W Bro Neil Evans, who – together with his hard working team – managed to increase our numbers of initiates to well over 400 in the year. For the first time as far as I know, we organized 2 dinners for new initiates and their wives and partners to welcome them into the Province and the Craft. The first of those occasions was a huge success with the ladies in particular seeming to enjoy learning a bit more about what their partners were getting themselves into; and meeting a broad range of senior and new brethren in convivial and enjoyable surroundings. The second dinner will be held next month and I, for one, am looking forward to it hugely. We will assess how these occasions have gone, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the initiative continued for future years.
While initiations have blossomed and bloomed, I continue to be concerned about the number of resignations and exclusions we experience. Brethren I urge you to: think carefully about the candidates we are bringing in; manage their expectations regarding the Craft and the lodge they are proposing to join; look after them with great attention both before and after they have been initiated; make their experiences in lodge enjoyable by learning and delivering good quality ritual and by sharing that delivery with those who can provide that rich experience for them. By all means, get our new brethren to deliver short sections of the ritual too, but only if they are able to learn and deliver it confidently. Throwing them in the deep end can be off-putting for some and allowing them to read the ritual only teaches them that it’s OK to read it rather than learn and deliver it meaningfully. And, crucially, continue to mentor and care for them throughout their journey through masonry. If they don’t attend, get in touch and ask them why, or whether anyone can help. Too often I visit lodges and when I ask about a brother who has not attended, I’m told that he hasn’t been seen for some time, but that no-one really knows why. We sometimes describe ourselves as a caring organization; but frankly I occasionally wonder whether our practices mirror the rhetoric.
In order to help lodges through this process of bringing in and keeping good quality men, the Membership Pathway has been designed and produced. The Pathway, masterminded by R W Bro Peter Taylor who is with us today, provides an easy to use guide for all stages of that process; from considering what candidates a lodge wants to have, identifying suitable men, right through to how we should look after them before, through and beyond the 4 stages of their journey through Pure Ancient Freemasonry. In South Wales, our area membership officers are now in place and training will take place for that team during the recess. Over the next masonic year, the area team will deliver training and coaching in local work groups so that all lodges in the Province will have the opportunity to learn about, and implement, the Membership Pathway. The aim is to further improve our ability to attract good quality men and keep them in the fraternity by reducing the level of resignations and exclusions, especially the number that resign after only a very short period of their membership.
Turning to our 2021 Festival, V W Bro Sir Paul Williams and his committee continue to work extremely hard on behalf of us all to get us to that very challenging target of £5 million for the RMBI. 2018 marks the mid point since the launch of the Festival in 2015, so it is worth taking a few moments to assess how we are getting on and considering what we need to do in the second half to strive for that goal. As you know, every brother who commits to giving at least £500 qualifies for a Festival jewel and so far nearly 3500 have been presented. Paying contributions into the Festival relief chest attracts a special interest rate of 2.25% which is credited to the lodge and to the final Festival figure. So far, that interest rate has earned us £112,000 so I urge all Charity Stewards to ensure that lodge relief chests are transferred to the Festival Chest as soon as possible. The longer you leave it, the lower the interest accrued will be.
I can tell you today brethren that at this mid point, nearly £3 million has been transferred to the RMBI, so while we may be doing well, there is still some way to go. We have the hard yards ahead of us. 71 lodges have achieved a bronze award (£500 per member); 10 have achieved a silver award (£800 per member); and 21 Gold awards have been made including those today (the magnificent sum of £1000 per member). Let these be an encouragement to us all to do more and better in this wonderful cause.
Brethren, I continue to urge all members to take that fourth important step in Freemasonry to the Royal Arch. We know that it aids retention in the Craft, but more importantly, it is a beautiful, colourful, meaningful and enjoyable degree which completes your understanding of our story and provides another forum for meeting new and different friends. After the sad death of our much loved Grand Superintendent last autumn, I had the great pleasure of installing W Bro Gerald Rowbottom as the new Grand Superintendent in and over South Wales in March this year. It will not have escaped the notice of many that Gerald and I have set about integrating the Craft and Royal Arch by creating joint roles in the Executive team. And in 2 weeks time we will be holding our first joint Executive meeting to discuss together the issues facing the Province of South Wales. For future years it will be our intention to hold joint discussions on promotions and appointments. We both see a seamless and invisible divide between the Craft and Royal Arch and I encourage all of you to do the same. I would like to see South Wales performing at the level of the best, with well in excess of 50% of Craft members joining the Royal Arch as a matter of course.
I want to express my grateful thanks once again to my Deputy, Assistants and all Provincial officers for the magnificent way they have supported and advised me this year. I assure all new appointees that you have a lot to live up to, though I’m confident you will do so. After 12 years in the role, W Bro George Royle is standing down as our Provincial Almoner. George has served 3 Provincial Grand Masters in the most efficient and effective way; he has overseen enormous changes in the way that the Province deals with petitioners and those in need. We all owe George an enormous debt of gratitude and I know you will wish to join me in thanking him for all his work over many years. Likewise, please also thank W Bro John Theophilus Jenkins Davies who is standing down as our excellent Charity Steward. John leaves a legacy of a Province in good shape to contribute for many years to come to those less fortunate than ourselves.
Finally brethren, I want on your behalf to offer particular thanks to our new Provincial Grand Secretary and his team. W Bro Phil Aubrey has had to step into some big shoes and in the last 2 weeks run Provincial Grand Chapter and Lodge meetings. I am most grateful to W Bro Phil for the huge amount of work he has put in to make today such a success. I also thank our Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies, whom I have known for some years now, and his team for the excellent ceremonial as always today; and to the Barry boys who have come up trumps as always in providing a venue and set up that we have all enjoyed.
Brethren, once again I thank all our guests and all of you for attending. May you all have speedy and safe journeys home, until we meet again, may the Great Architect bless and keep you all.