Having already welcomed our distinguished guests from other Provinces, I now welcome you all, Brethren, to our Provincial meeting. It is a special day for those Brethren whom I have appointed or promoted in Provincial Grand Lodge. Congratulations to you all, it is your day, please enjoy it. Enjoy your new rank and remember that it is not just a reward for your past services to your Lodge and the Province but an earnest hope of what we trust you are going to contribute in the future.
A special welcome to two of our Cadogan Court residents, W.Bro Malcolm Elder, whom I appointed Past Provincial ADC today and W.Bro John Lendon, aka, the Mayor of Minehead, I thank you both for being here today.
I must thank the outgoing active Provincial Team, you have all done a great job. Your support at Provincial Fraternal Visits and Installations over the past twelve months has been much appreciated. Your company has made our Team outings very enjoyable for us and for the Lodges we have visited. A special thanks to those members standing down after several years distinguished service on the team. W.Bro Barry McCormack, a total of seven years as Provincial DC, with other jobs in between! W.Bro the Rev. Jeremy Hellier, thank you for your eight years as our Provincial Orator. W.Bro Keith Baker, who has played a large part in organising this and previous meetings over the past seven or more years. Thank you Keith.
On 26th April, at the Annual Investiture at Grand Lodge in London, the following Somerset Brethren will be honoured by the Grand Master………
First Appointments – W.Bro Clive Lambert to PAGDC and W.Bro Philip Voisey to PGStdBr.
Promotions – Assistant Provincial Grand Masters W.Brothers Richard Winter and Tony Guthrie will both be be promoted to the rank of PSGD. W.Bro Ray Beckingham and W.Bro Chris Summers to PJGD.
The following day at Supreme Grand Chapter – The First Grand Principal will appoint E Companion Charlie Barker as PGStdBr and E Companion Geoff Lester to PAGDC.
E Comp Martin Slocombe will receive a well deserved promotion to Past Assistant Grand Sojourner.
We congratulate you Brethren and Companions and, as they all are here today I think they deserve our acclamation.
Over the last ten years, our membership in the Province has fallen from 3800 to 3100, an average net loss of 70 members a year. In the last twelve months, the loss was reduced to twenty members, a sign that things are perhaps starting to go in the right direction but we can’t take that for granted.
To halt this gradual decline we have to make sure that our Lodges are welcoming and happy places. Lodge meetings should be an occasion we look forward to, with an enjoyable Festive Board and the company of friends.
I am encouraged by the success of some of our Lodges, who have been able to attract and retain new members. I recently attended two Lodge Installations, one in the north and one south of the Province. At both, I watched the new Master install his team, all progressive officers were light blues. By coincidence each Master also appointed five stewards, and all were present to be invested. At each Lodge, the work in the Temple was of a good standard, the Festive Board was enjoyable and the atmosphere very convivial. Success Brethren breeds success.
Those two Lodges didn’t achieve this happy result by accident. Five or six years ago both were struggling to attract candidates, with falling membership due to resignations and deaths. A group of senior Brethren in each Lodge realised that if they didn’t take positive action, then their Lodge was heading for the buffers.
Using the Members Pathway, they made a plan for the future that their membership could all buy into. At heart these plans are simple; involve every member and agree a realistic officer progression for the next five years. Raise the profile of the Lodge on social media and the Provincial website and engage with other organisations in your local community. Last, but by no means least, make sure that everyone enjoys the journey. These two Lodges are examples of success that all Lodges should want to follow.
No doubt, you will have read in Freemasonry Today of the new Pro Grand Master’s Strategy for Freemasonry, together with the Membership Challenge.
The Membership Challenge is to turn the gradual decline we have seen in our numbers into a positive growth of 1% a year in membership by the end of 2024.
The strategy to enable us to do that is based on the Strong Foundations of our core Masonic values of
Integrity, Friendship, Respect and Charity.
The Strategy has Three Pillars.
Firstly, Thriving Membership – Grand Lodge digital marketing campaigns, our own Provincial web site and social media activity have produced a good number of prospective candidates, some of whom are now well established in our Lodges. But that alone is not enough Brethren, it is up to us as individuals to take our share of responsibility for finding new members. If you enjoy your Masonry, don’t hide the fact, be prepared to talk about your involvement, with family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances who you think may share in that enjoyment.
The Second Pillar of the Strategy – Coherent Organisation – The Provincial Team are here to help and advise Lodges on how to plan for the future. Nearly every Lodge in the Province was represented at the Members Pathway Seminars held last year. The tools are available for you and we are here to help, but we cannot do it for you!!
The Third Pillar – Engagement in our local communities – This is absolutely essential Brethren, if members of your local community don’t know who and what you are, they are hardly likely to beat a path to your door with their application forms.
The new Pro Grand Masters strategy includes the Royal Arch, the journey from Initiation to Exaltation. 32% of our Craft Masons are subscribing members of a Royal Arch Chapter. In some Provinces that figure is 50% but, in Somerset, a further 20% of our Craft members are also Royal Arch Masons. They have remained members of their Craft Lodge but are no longer subscribing members of a Chapter. There are many reasons for their departure from the Royal Arch but, I believe, it boils down to the fact that they weren’t looked after.
To that end, as your Grand Superintendent, I am encouraging Chapters to institute the changes that have already been shown to improve retention in our Craft Lodges………….
1. The introduction of a Provincial Mentor and the appointment by each Chapter of a Mentor.
2. Sharing the ritual so that no one feels daunted by the task.
3. Improving the quality of ceremonies so the candidate has a memorable experience for all the right reasons.
4. Reviewing practices and discontinuing those ‘traditions’ that add no value to the ceremony, only extra time.
5. If a Companion does not want to progress, his preference should be respected. There are other ways for him to contribute. There should be space for all in the Royal Arch, just as there is in the Craft.
6. Above all the Royal Arch, like the Craft, has to be enjoyable for all Companions.
These changes will, I hope, encourage more Master Masons to join and stay in the Royal Arch.
Perhaps those who still proudly wear their Royal Arch Jewel, but are no longer subscribing members, will consider re-joining to help effect those changes and to make the Royal Arch stronger.
The MCF Ball is to be held on 17th June at the Lansdown Suite, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol. This is the first time that this annual event has been held outside London and it is sponsored jointly by the Provinces of Bristol and Somerset. It starts with a champagne reception, followed by the banquet, after which there will be some first class entertainment. I’m sure it is going to be an excellent evening.
This year alone, in addition to ongoing support for Freemasons and families in need in our Province, the MCF has made three major grants to charities in Somerset. £50,000 to the Royal Osteoporosis Society, £36,000 to Designability, this Charity produces special electric wheelchairs for very young children. Many of you will be familiar with our support previously for their Whizzy Bugs, and £24,000 to Springboard in Clevedon, a charity helping very young children who face serious physical challenges. Brethren, the MCF does a lot for us, please support the Ball on the 17th June. Family and friends are welcome. At the moment, just under 500 people are attending. The venue can easily accommodate another one hundred. Full details are on our Provincial website.
There are many thanks that I need to make today Brethren, to the Provincial Grand Secretary, Mike Greedy and his Team, the Provincial Grand DC Barry McCormack and his Team, W.Bro Keith Baker and his Team, the management and staff here at the Webbington Hotel, all of them involved in organising this meeting and the lunch that will follow, ensuring that we have a successful day. If I’ve missed anyone out, it is not deliberate and I do apologise to you.
Finally Brethren, I thank you all for coming today and helping to make this Provincial meeting a success, I look forward to your company in the bar and at lunch. To those of you who can’t stay, safe journey home. I hope that you all have an enjoyable Easter weekend and I look forward to being with you in your Lodges and Chapters in the coming twelve months.