PGM Address 2010
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Provincial Grand Master's Address
at Annual Meeting
of Provincial Grand Lodge of Northumberland
Newcastle Racecourse, High Gosforth Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
Thursday 25th November 2010


I am sure that all of us remember - no matter how long ago it may have been – assembly on our first day at secondary school.  A time when the comfort and relative seniority previously enjoyed at primary school was left far behind and the glories of an endless education burst upon our view.  Attending our annual meeting might well be regarded as the Masonic equivalent to that auspicious day - the new boys in their pristine uniform analogous to the new appointments in their new regalia; the older boys analogous to those receiving promotion and recalcitrant sixth formers analogous to the Grand Officers with the whole assembly presided over by a much loved and greatly respected headmaster anologous to  .............well, perhaps that is taking the analogy too far.

I hope that those who are attending Provincial Grand Lodge for the first time do not feel overawed by the experience and have found the proceedings thus far interesting and relevant. I extend my warmest congratulations to those who have been appointed to and promoted in Provincial Grand rank this afternoon. The ranks with which you have been invested have been earned and will I hope provide you with the necessary stimulus to continue to work hard for the benefit of your Lodges in particular and Freemasonry in general. The year ahead will make additional calls upon your time which I am sure you will meet with diligence and responsibility but not, I hasten to add, to the detriment of your own Lodge without which, of course, you would not be receiving your preferment today.  The year will doubtless pass very quickly, as your immediate predecessors will confirm, and I hope that you take every opportunity to display your new status, to develop your Masonic knowledge, to make new friendships, but above all to enjoy it.

I place on record my thanks to the Provincial Officers who today retire from active office and those of Past rank who have attended the official visits during the past year.  They have enthusiastically supported me, the Deputy ProvGM and especially the Assistant ProvGMs in great numbers which I know has been very much appreciated by us and I am sure by the members of those Lodges which have been subject to Provincial visits. Appointment to the rank of Provincial Warden is always given much consideration and I am happy to report that both Stephen Read PProvSGW and Greg Smith PProvJGW have more than met with expectations.  I congratulate and thank both of them for the exemplary manner in which they have discharged their onerous duties. 

Although family commitments prevent him from being with us today I wish to pay particular tribute to our Past Provincial Grand Chaplain V W Bro. Timothy Duff Past DProvGM who has stood down from office at his request.   He has served the Province in the capacity of Chaplain with great dignity and distinction.  We can and will remember with approbation and admiration his orations and eulogies the last of which was so ably delivered at the Centenary meeting of St. Aidan Lodge last Tuesday.  I wish him a long and happy retirement. I hesitate – admittedly not for too long – to introduce or recommend change and by so doing to interfere in the operation of our Lodges but there are certain aspects of procedure which cause me concern and I believe that you should be made aware of them. 

At the Annual Meeting of every Lodge the Master appoints and invests his Officers for the ensuing year. He should thereat be in a position to set out his programme for the year ahead so that all officers and brethren know what to expect and more importantly know precisely what is to be expected of them.  All too often this does not happen.  There is an increasing tendency for Lodges to operate on an ad hoc basis whereby at the conclusion of one meeting there is a hurried discussion among the Master, the Director of Ceremonies and the Secretary as to what is to happen at the next regular meeting and an announcement is then made at the Festive Board.  This really is totally unacceptable and impractical -   Lodge Officers, particularly those on the ladder for the first time, are entitled to know in ample time what ritual has to be learned and by when.  I can think of no bigger disincentive to a new and inexperienced Officer to continue in office than for a Lodge to adopt this modus operandi.  These observations are, regrettably, just as relevant to those Lodges where all, or the majority of, Officers are Past Masters; indeed these Lodges are probably more culpable than others in this regard.  Do you recognize the symptoms?  Do they apply to your Lodge?  If so, please ensure that your Lodge Committee meets regularly, well in advance of its Annual Meeting, and properly plans for the benefit of all its brethren not only the year ahead but also the future direction of the Lodge - for example repeated rotation of Past Masters as Officers of the Lodge may keep it going but with what aim in view?  It is important for you to be aware that a request for a dispensation to allow a Master to remain in the Chair for a third consecutive term is unlikely to be met sympathetically unless there is provided with the application clear and unequivocal evidence of the Lodge’s plans for at least the next three years.

The Festive Board provides an important conclusion to a Lodge evening where traditionally brethren dine together with their Worshipful Master. More recently, perhaps, but not necessarily, as a consequence of the declining number of members who regularly attend their Lodges, there has been an increasing tendency for brethren to attend the Festive Board but not to dine thereat, preferring instead to sit apart and partake of liquid refreshment.  A variety of reasons are often volunteered by brethren for this – they do not like to dine too late; they have already eaten before attending Lodge; the catering is not of an adequate standard.  The conduct of the Festive Board must of course be a matter for the Master of each Lodge but I feel very strongly that unless a brother is dining at a Festive Board (whether this comprises a full meal or a buffet) he should not attend it.  I cannot recall any occasion at a Festive Board following either a meeting of UGLE or a Provincial Meeting where brethren attend but do not dine.  I do not like the practice of the liquid alternative and should like to see it discontinued.

The proposition of formal toasts is in some Lodges an integral part of the Festive Board but other than on the night of the Annual Meeting (or the occasion of a Provincial visit) replies thereto, particularly to the Toast to the Visitors are, in my view, neither essential nor desirable.  It seems to me that an invitation to a visitor to respond to the toast, invariably extended with little or no notice to the incumbent other than the touch of the DC’s hand on the shoulder, is calculated to be not so much an honour but rather revenge and almost inevitably prompts a response comprising an inappropriate critique of the performance of the Lodge Officers or the narrative of a well-travelled tale or, perish the thought, both.  I have no doubt that if all Lodges adopted a non-speaking policy the Festive Board would once again prove attractive to speech-weary brethren and to newer brethren who would not be discouraged from visiting and dining secure in the knowledge that they were not going to have to “sing for their supper”.  Please give this your serious consideration.

The university scheme is now well established.  Earlier this year Hotspur Lodge, which provides the point of contact for students at Newcastle University, welcomed a visit from the AGM R W Bro. David Williamson who congratulated the Lodge on its initiative and also on the standard of its ritual.  Duke of Connaught Lodge provides the point of contact for students at Northumbria University and last March I had the pleasure of attending the initiation of its first student candidate.   I wish both of these Lodges continued success in the important task they have to fulfil and commend them to you.

I have been very much encouraged by the progress which has been made in the development of our website.  It provides easily accessible and up to date information of all Masonic meetings and activities in the Province.  Following its re-launch in 2008 there has been a huge increase in its use.  Two years ago there were on average 2926 daily hits and 21944 hits per week.  Today the comparative figures are 6229 daily hits and 46714 hits per week.  I wish to record my thanks to John Chan for the huge amount of time and effort which he has given in this regard.  Whilst there are now 16 approved Lodge websites linked to the Provincial website I am a little disappointed that more Lodges which have not yet decided to commit to setting up their own websites.  Whether we like it or not we are moving towards a paperless society with communication more and more being by e-mail and the internet.  To those brethren who maintain that converting to this modern method of communication is too expensive consider the advantages of summonses and communications being available at the touch of a button and the savings on increasingly costly postage and printing.

I also draw to your attention the web presence which some of the other Orders already have - to assist those who are looking for a daily advancement in Masonic knowledge - and am delighted to acknowledge the presence of the Heads of Orders. They are busy people with much responsibility and I appreciate their demonstration of support for the Craft and I thank them for their attendance. 

If Masonry is to prove and remain attractive to the modern man and student it has to offer more than just regular meetings and their rubrics for our conduct through life.  People, not just prospective members, need to be informed about us and what we represent.  Our efforts in this regard were concentrated on our taking for the first time stands at the Northumberland County Show last August and the Fine Food Fare at these premises earlier this month.  Both stands (including “chip” the mannequin dressed in full Master Mason’s regalia) had a large presence (and presences do not come much larger than Dave Watson, John Devine et al) and attracted sufficient interest and enquiries to warrant our repeating the exercise next year when we will be able to refine the presentations.  We also need to have a lighter side to our activities.  Our Social Committee organizes frequent events for our gourmet or terpsichorean members while for those who prefer outdoor pursuits our Golf Society, which celebrates its centenary next year, and our Bowling Association provide ready opportunities for brethren to demonstrate their sporting prowess in an atmosphere in which fraternal affection blends happily – well in most cases happily - with keen competition.  I recommend them to you; the details are on the website.  Why not give them a try?

Last April the M W Grand Master HRH the Duke of Kent presided over the Annual Investiture at Great Queen Street and invested those of our own brethren who were honoured with an appointment to or a promotion in Grand rank. I know that once I have identified them you will wish to congratulate the following brethren on their respective preferment:  
Promoted to the rank of PJGD
Bro Giles Egner; and
Appointed to the rank of PAGDC
Bros David Bibby, Nigel Clothier, Brian Denton, John McNeil.

Although our numbers have declined and seem likely to continue to do so over the next few years, due principally to nature taking her inevitable course, I take heart that there are clear signs of progress with many apparently barren Lodges attracting good candidates and the Support Team providing temporary assistance to others to ensure their survival.  I consider that the Province is generally in good order and that whilst there is no room for complacency we can and will work together to ensure its continued prosperity.

On your behalf brethren I wish to record a number of formal thanks:
To the management of the Gosforth Park Racecourse Company, and to Emily in particular, for all their help with the arrangements for our meeting, the pre-prandial drinks and the Festive Board;
To the members of the host Lodges for acting as Stewards and for their willing co-operation with the logistics involved with today’s meeting and in attending upon our guests and our members upon their arrival;
To the Director of Ceremonies his Deputies and Assistants for ensuring that the correct collar ended up on the appropriate recipient and for the expert control of all the ceremonial, carried out as usual with customary quiet efficiency;
To the Provincial Secretary and his Assistants at Provincial Office for the considerable time and effort expended in making all the arrangements for this meeting and, of course, for all their hard work throughout the year;

Finally, brethren, I thank you for your attendance today, for your kind attention to this address and for your continued support whenever and wherever we meet – it is always appreciated but I assure you never taken for granted.

May the Great Architect of the Universe guide you in all your endeavours and keep you safe.

Link to UGLE website