Provincial Grand Master’s Address

PGM_2012Martin Peters, Provincial Grand Master, the leader of the Freemasons in Berkshire, addressed over 400 members and visitors at the meeting of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Berkshire at Sindlesham on Tuesday 23rd September:

“I am delighted to welcome so many of you to this annual meeting of Provincial Grand Lodge. I have already welcomed our Honoured Guests and I should like to take this opportunity to thank them again for the wonderful hospitality we have received when we have visited their Provinces over the past year.

Of course today is primarily an occasion to recognise some of the Brethren of Berkshire for their ongoing contributions to the Province and to their lodges; contributions which have resulted in a very successful year for the Province – a year containing many memorable highlights and breaking many records and I want to look back for just a minute to remind ourselves of some of the successes we have enjoyed.

I was personally most touched by the record turnout for the General Meeting of the Freemasons’ Grand Charity last November, when this room was filled by the 374 attendees, including many local Civic Dignitaries, Berkshire Brethren and their Ladies, who heard presentations from recipients of Grand Charity grants which brought tears to many an eye. Other memorable occasions, especially for those attending Grand Lodge for the first time, were the record number of Ruling Masters who dined with the Provincial Executive and Grand Officers after the March Quarterly Communication and the record number of acting Provincial Grand Officers who dined with us after the June Quarterly Communication. That attendance typified the outstanding support I have received from the acting Provincial Officers this year, especially on our four official team visits when almost all the Provincial Officers have been present. While all four visits were enjoyable and successful, the visit to Old Windsor Lodge in January was particularly memorable, not just because it was a record attendance for a team visit but also because the Old Windsor Lodge had hired the beautiful and impressive Windsor Guildhall for the evening to accommodate our large numbers. This was the same venue which had been used last November when the Etonian Lodge of St John received its Bi-Centenary Warrant – the first lodge in Berkshire to pass this milestone – and I know that the Most Worshipful Pro Grand Master much enjoyed being with us for that occasion. The Centenary meeting of the Berkshire Masters Lodge was another special occasion enjoyed by many and for several Master Masons the visit by the Light Blues Club to Freemasons’ Hall on 29th May proved to be particularly memorable. Many of us will remember the kick-off meeting for a new military lodge held in May and I am delighted that progress made since then should result in the Consecration of the Combined Services Lodge on Armistice Day, Tuesday 11th November. We will all be able to recall many more highlights.

But perhaps the most pleasing aspect of the past year has been the way the Brethren of Berkshire have responded to the challenge of arresting the long term decline in our numbers. Great efforts have been made at both the Lodge and at the Provincial level to stimulate recruitment and these efforts are reflected in results which speak for themselves. For example, Grand Lodge data show that since January we have increased the number of members by 24 and memberships by 39 – the latter is particularly important because it is memberships which pay for our Provincial Centres and our Lodges. It is also memberships which keep our lodges viable and vibrant and in this respect I want to say a particular thank you to the members of the “Introduction to Freemasonry” team for the time and effort they have contributed to this very successful initiative and also to the members of the Provincial Support Team which has made such a significant contribution to a number of lodges experiencing difficulties. One lodge which has been helped by the Provincial Support Team will have its first initiate for four years next month and several more lodges have seen their numbers grow as a result of their involvement.

You will all be aware that Growth is one of the three pillars of our strategic plan – the other two being Enjoyment and Community. Enjoyment and Community initiatives are progressing well, and in the context of the latter I want to thank you for the magnificent £350,000 raised after only 3 years of my 5 year appeal for £500,000 for the Berkshire Masonic Charity. It is good to be ahead of target.

But returning Berkshire to growth has been one of our main priorities and whilst the overall picture encourages us to believe we have made progress, we must continue to focus on recruitment and reducing resignations.

Recruitment is vital because we have been suffering an almost continuous decline in both Members and Memberships of between one and three per cent a year for decades, but that rate of loss has now been significantly reduced as a result of the actions we have taken. It is particularly pleasing to see the growth since January which I mentioned earlier and although the figures on pages 15 and 16 of the order paper are based on Grand Lodge Returns which are up to 18 month old, they show that 34 of our lodges grew compared to their previous return – that’s the second highest number in over 20 years. If I take more up to date figures from Adelphi, 42 lodges have grown in the past 12 months against 38 which have declined. That is quite a turnaround from the position where most were declining and it’s a good start, Brethren, but there is no room for complacency. So I am issuing a challenge to every lodge today to put an action plan in place to ensure that each lodge grows by a net two by September 2016 – what I am going to call the “Two in Two Challenge”. If we succeed in doing that, and I recognise the significance of the challenge, we will once again exceed 3000 members and gain six more acting Provincial Grand Rank appointments which will improve the opportunity for me to recognise the contributions being made in the Province. There are, of course, a host of other benefits to be gained by realising this tough objective. More members gives more opportunity to share the workload and fill offices; more members will boost morale and will help defray lodge fixed costs; more members will provide the new blood essential to rejuvenate our lodges and keep them healthy; and finally more members will allow us to increase our contribution to the Community, thereby promoting the values of Freemasonry and enabling us to attract increasing numbers of quality candidates. Brethren, it is stimulating to be part of a successful organisation and a return to long-term growth will boost our confidence in the future of this wonderful organisation of ours. So I ask you to commit to the “Two in Two Challenge”.

We will be putting new initiatives in place to help you and I ask every member to dig out their quality friends. To those of you who say “all my friends are too old” let me quote from an email I received recently from a 71 year old Initiate following my letter of welcome which I send to all new Initiates. “Thank you very much for your kind and warm welcome to Berkshire Freemasonry. As I’ve been approaching my 70’s – what I call the Autumn of my life – with a resignation of winding down, hey presto over the somewhat misty horizon appears a clear sunny vista of new beginnings. I had heard a lot of misconceived impressionistic views and associated diatribe from ignorant colleagues and so-called informed sources, but as an educated man I undertook my own research and I was blown away by the forthrightness and openness of Masonic information and activities. What I’ve found is an ancient Order of free men of fraternal and honourable design, which fits in well with my underlying demeanour of goodwill and justice towards all people.” Brethren, he is not alone in being pleased that he joined our organisation around this age.

Moving on to resignations, we must all recognise that if Berkshire Freemasonry is to prosper we must further reduce the number of resignations. Several new initiatives have been put in place to provide our members with a more enjoyable experience and increase the numbers attending meetings and while these have had a positive impact, we clearly need to do more to find solutions to problems which are causing resignations. I am sure this is an issue which is felt generally throughout the Craft but the best way to reduce resignations is to ensure that Freemasonry is an enjoyable and rewarding experience. The friendship and support our organisation has to offer, together with inspiring mentoring, can be major influences here. Mentoring is in very good heart in Berkshire thanks to the efforts of our retiring Provincial Grand Mentor, about whom I will be saying more in a moment. The new Provincial Grand Mentor proposes to shift our focus from issues of implementation and justification, to one that looks more closely at how mentoring can be improved within the Province using a team approach to achieve maximum impact and return on investment, especially with regard to resignations. Lodge Mentors and focused teams within lodges have a pivotal role to play in ensuring the well-being and future development of lodges. This has already been recognised by Grand Lodge and I quote an extract from the Most Worshipful The Grand Master’s Address at the Annual Investiture on 30th of April 2014: “It is already clear that the Mentoring Scheme is going to play a vital role as we move forward.”

Much of our enjoyment of Freemasonry derives from its ancient traditions and whilst continuing to honour these, we must always be reviewing and improving what we are delivering to ensure Freemasonry achieves its full promise – not only to Masons and their extended family but also to the community. At my installation as Worshipful Master of Berkshire Masters’ Lodge last October I highlighted the fact that we live in a fast changing world and I posed the question “Is Freemasonry keeping up with these changes?” Pleasing as it is to know that our average age is now dropping as a result of the rising number of younger members – 1 in 16 our members are now under 40 compared to 1 in 64 only eight years ago – I believe we need to give more thought to getting the balance right between the responsibilities that new members have to their lodges and the responsibilities that the lodges have to their new members. I believe we can, and should, do more to accommodate the increasing family and time pressures in today’s world and to develop the involvement of new members outside the formalities of attending meetings and progressing towards the Chair. The Most Worshipful Pro Grand Master said at Quarterly Communications two weeks ago that he was concerned that we are, surprisingly, not always seen internally as a caring organisation with junior members sometimes feeling marginalised and unsupported. Let us make sure that doesn’t happen in Berkshire.

Brethren, I started by saying that today is primarily an occasion to recognise some of the Brethren of Berkshire for their ongoing contributions to their Lodges and to the Province and I congratulate all those who have received a first appointment or promotion today. I am sure you will all have a marvellous year ahead in your new ranks, especially the team of acting officers and I should like to take this opportunity to thank last year’s Provincial team for their outstanding support throughout the year. I hope the year has been as memorable for them as their contribution has made it for me.

I would like to make special mention of three Provincial Officers who have retired at this meeting. W Bro John Gilbert has been an outstanding Provincial Grand Almoner for the past seven years, establishing an excellent reputation with the central Masonic Charities and orchestrating relief in many deserving and sometimes very sad situations for a large number of Berkshire Brethren and their families. W Bro David Lewendon has held the office of Provincial Grand Mentor ever since it was first introduced and during that time he has built the mentoring scheme almost from scratch to make Berkshire one of the most advanced Provinces in developing and applying the concepts of mentoring. W Bro Alan Spearman has served this Province with diligence for the past four years as Provincial Assistant Grand Secretary, putting in countless hours in the Provincial Office on a voluntary basis and making a material contribution to the administrative functioning of the Province. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to these three Brethren and on your behalf I thank them for their outstanding contributions. I should also like to welcome to the team their replacements, W Bros David Jarvis, Anthony Howlett-Bolton and Ian Clark.

Before closing it would be appropriate to thank W Bro David Keys, our Provincial Grand Secretary and W Bro Julian Pacey, our Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies for their contributions to the success of today’s meeting and also to thank the other members of my Executive for their unstinting commitment to support me and the Province over the past year.

Brethren, a Visiting Grand Officer recently attended a lodge committee meeting and posed the question: “What do you want the Lodge to look like in the future?” and got the response “What it was like 20 years ago”. That is where we are trying to get to in membership terms whilst also embracing modern life and all it delivers, but we will only get there with the support, enthusiasm and creative thinking required from each and every one of us. Overall, we can be well pleased with the progress made over the past year and I am sure the year ahead will be no less challenging or exciting.

Brethren, I thank you all again for your attendance today.”

RW Bro Martin Peters, Provincial Grand Master