You will understand, I’m sure, that in these unprecedented times, your Executive considered carefully what form this Annual Meeting should take, especially given the very understandable caution that still exists in many minds.
However, we took the view that we should attempt to revert to normality as soon and as much as possible. So we return to the Great Hall, the traditional home of our meetings, with the portrait of Sir Oliver Lodge, yes, an ancestor of the Past Grand Director of Ceremonies, looking down on us.
I don’t intend to reflect for too long on the enormous challenges of the past 19 months – other than to say that the effects on our personal lives, and our Masonic lives will, I suspect, be longer lasting than we realise. At our Cathedral Memorial Service in September, we remembered the many friends that we have lost over the last months. The Grand Chaplain, Simon Thorn, paid fitting tribute to them all and they will be very sadly missed.
What has shone through is the tremendous way that you came together in mutual support, increasingly using previous unknown technology and how our Communications Team, led initially by Jonathan Swift and carried on now by Brody Swain, has produced a constant stream of such valuable material and information. I must include Andy Philpott and his team in my thanks, as Editor of the 65 weekly editions of Square News, then with the return of Worcestershire Source. The content has ranged far and wide and has been of immense value to the Province during the last 19 months.
At the centre of the storm was and is our amazing Provincial Grand Secretary, but more about him later.
As far as the future is concerned, it lies largely in our own hands. We now have available to us the UGLE National Digital Marketing Campaign; the task for us all is to sustain the interest and curiosity of every membership enquiry that we receive and do our utmost to turn those enquiries into satisfied long term members. We have some 125 candidates for initiation waiting patiently in the wings. We should move quickly to welcome them as new members and as our future.
We have a vastly experienced Mentor in Chris Overall, and our Almoner, Charles Gwynn, and they are both always ready to advise and help, alongside our Membership Officer, Nick Thomas, of course.
We will soon have the re-launched Members’ Pathway, to assist and support; and particularly the new Grand Lodge website. As important for us here today, our own brand new Provincial website which will go live in a few weeks’ time. I am very grateful to Chris Phillips in particular and the others in the Communications team for their creativity and hard work. Please do use this site regularly and if you have constructive feedback, please let us know.
We seem to have skipped several generations in finding an excellent Membership Officer in Nick Thomas and our PCO, Brody Swain. Nick has already displayed his talents at New Members and other events.
Brody more recently has led a highly successful series of “An Audience With……..” zoom interviews, so successful that he has been pirated by Michelle Worvell in London and is now hosting interviews for UGLE with the great, the good, even just the very interesting, including very successfully amongst the former with the Pro Grand Master on Tuesday. If you saw it you will agree that it was a very refreshing new approach to our connection with the High Rulers and Brody’s skill as an interviewer was obvious.
The Comms team has expanded greatly over the past year and I’m looking to apply the same principle to the other key functions of the Province soon.
I’m very pleased with our working relationship with the other degrees and orders in the Province, and we must not under estimate the importance of this. As far as the Royal Arch is concerned, the Grand Superintendent and I have agreed that, in order to encourage brethren to take the important fourth step in Pure Ancient Freemasonry, Royal Arch representatives will, in future, be appointed annually by the Provincial Grand Master in consultation with the Grand Superintendent. We think that this will improve communication flow and, ultimately, recruitment.
One unexpected benefit of the suspension of regular meetings was the opportunity to carry out improvements at all of our meeting places.
In this respect I have to thank Howard Wilson for confronting the challenges that faced him and the Board at Kings Heath. He could hardly have had a more difficult year but he succeeded and we were able to enjoy the return there with an excellent Royal Arch Convocation last month. Similarly, important changes and improvements have been made at all our Centres, most of which I have seen and can vouch for the excellent work everywhere.
However, the most significant development in recent times was the acquisition of the new James S Webb Freemasonry Centre at Stourbridge, thanks to the great generosity of Mrs Connie Webb; the new centre bearing as it does the name of her late husband.
The rare opportunity to dedicate the centre on September 21st was an enormous privilege, made the more enjoyable by the excellent work of the Provincial Team and the real feeling of celebration that prevailed.
Congratulations must go to Ken Hingley and his team for leading the project and I was pleased to confirm the promotion of W Bro Ken to the rank of PPJGW just now. Also thanks to Alan Payne and the rest of the Management Committee for a great achievement.
John Crowther leads the Lodge development programme ably supported by Paul Wong, David Emery and Mark Lodge. An update of the existing comprehensive survey took place in January to ascertain the well being or otherwise of each lodge, to prioritise best practice and to encourage twinning and event sharing. Above all, to emphasise the need for a future plan, something that sadly, some lodges still feel to be unnecessary.
In recent times, I have become increasingly aware not only of the value, potential and actual, of our MasonicMuseums, provincially and in London, but also of the challenges faced by the whole of the Museum Sector. It has highlighted the hugely successful efforts over the past 10 years of Colin Young as Chairman of the Worcester Museum Committee. I would like to give grateful thanks to Colin for sustaining our collection and our heritage so well and so enthusiastically.
He is succeeded as Chairman by Philip Serrell, who has a hard act to follow, but I am sure will soon make his own mark, ably supported by Ashley Carmichael, his newly appointed Deputy.
Our Curator, Bob James and his team have worked hard to maintain access to our Museum during three lockdowns and I am very grateful for their efforts.
During the suspension of our meetings, there is one aspect of Freemasonry that very certainly gathered momentum. The joint MCF/UGLE initiative to support charities directly related to the pandemic had many significant effects and the multi million pound contributions made to such a wide range of charities chosen by the Provinces has actively raised public awareness of Freemasonry as a “Force for Good” in a way in which, under more normal circumstances, wouldn’t have happened.
Perhaps in a similar way, the very sad loss of W Bro HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, after many years of membership of Navy Lodge, gave an opportunity for the MCF to make a grant of £300,000 to the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, specifically aimed at helping disadvantaged young people.
This naturally brings me to the subject of our 2022 Festival and what together we can do to achieve the best result possible.
We have extended the period of our appeal to the spring of 2023 and all that I can ask is that until then you make this your one and only charity aim. Our target was always a challenging one, but that was no bad thing, so please think and act generously and specifically if your regular giving needs a rethink or if it needs to be renewed, please do that.
Direct Debits set up now and continuing to May 2025 will all be credited to the Festival Appeal, so please do consider taking advantage of this offer.
Speaking directly to Lodge Charity Stewards, if you do have funds sitting in an account, please act now.
I have to thank Patrick Firminger, who together with his committee, has had to respond to the effects of the reduction of income but who continues to encourage me that, at the end of our appeal, Worcestershire will justifiably be pleased with what it has achieved.
There is much fundraising effort being applied across the Province, one example being those two finely tuned athletes, David Bedford and Ian Redfern of Vernon Lodge, who last month again took to their bikes and this time cycled the 110 miles across Devon from Ilfracombe to Plymouth in just two days – and that road is not level Brethren – in support of our Appeal – thank you both.
My congratulations to the Provincial Officers of 2021, whether reappointed from 2020, newly appointed this year, or indeed promoted to higher rank. Many of you have waited a long time for this moment and I’m sure you will make the very best of your year in office.
In the same way, the various non-collared officers deserve the thanks of all of us for their continuing hard work.
The new wardens, Stephen Middleditch and Mark Gunton, are well established now and it has been a great pleasure to have worked with them already this season. It would be very remiss of me not to ask you to join me in congratulating Stephen Middleditch on his impending wedding next Saturday. I know we all wish him and Debbie very much happiness in their future together.
The M W Grand Master honoured several brethren with appointment to, or promotion in, Grand Rank in 2020 and 2021. Our congratulations to them and especially to Michael Dykes on his re-appointment as Junior Grand Deacon and to Frank Spencer as AGDC. It was great to see them working at the Quarterly Communication in July.
I now turn to others who deserve special thanks – but where to start?
It’s obvious really – on behalf of all of us to Richard Goddard PPGM, who I had the great pleasure of presenting with a 50 year certificate at his home last week and to thank him for his enormous contribution to Worcestershire. He reminisced and reflected on his 50 years and it was a great pity that he wasn’t well enough to be at Fort Royal Lodge to share the celebration with the Brethren. However, we did meet at Rainbow Hill that evening and we certainly raised a glass to him at 9 o’clock.
I must thank too the Deputy and Assistant PGMs, who have shared much of the burden of the past two years, with great good humour and patience, and I am very grateful to them all.
To Iain Sharratt and his team in the Secretariat, I can’t say thank you enough. It has been the most demanding of times in a host of ways and Iain has been stoical throughout, even when I know things were far from easy. He has worked far more hours than he should have done, but it is true to say that without his commitment and energy, the Province would be much less well placed. He has been greatly supported by his new Assistant Secretary, Chris John, and I also wish to thank Phil Goalby, Provincial Grand Registrar and Ian Fothergill, who has dealt manfully with the host of constitutional enquiries.
To Pete Broughton – our long serving DC – he and his team have always been ready to perform when called on, even in new and different circumstances. Classic examples of this were the Dedication Ceremony at Stourbridge and this year’s Cathedral Service at Worcester and we should be very grateful for the excellent work that they do for our Province.
This year, our Provincial Grand Treasurer, and that of the Royal Arch, Alan Robertson, is retiring. I can only echo what John Phenix said at his Annual Convocation recently. Thank you, Alan for being such a very efficient and successful Treasurer. You have maintained the stability of our finances in a way for which every member of the Province must be very grateful.
Alan has accepted an invitation to become a Trustee of our Charity Organisation so we shall certainly continue to benefit from his vast experience there.
Alan is succeeded by Howard Painter, congratulations, Howard, you too have a hard act to follow and we wish you well. Howards’s important responsibilities at Ellard Hanson Court have been transferred to Paul Taylor, and we also wish him well in his new role.
I also wish to thank the Stewards and all those who have helped with transporting and setting up here today. It is no small task, especially in post pandemic circumstances.
Thanks also to Jeff Whitely for his sound system, the University authorities for their co-operation and of course to our Provincial Grand Organist David Lane – how much less would this day have been without his stirring music to enjoy.
Brethren, for some of us Freemasonry has returned with a considerable rush, for others, quite understandably, there is more caution. Together, we need to be encouraging and positive, and if we are, then I am sure that Freemasonry generally, and in Worcestershire in particular, has a bright future.
Thank you for coming here today, thank you for your support and my very best wishes to you and your loved ones. In the parting words of the Pro Grand Master at the July Quarterly Communication:-
Now go forth and multiply………………….