Address of the Provincial Grand Master at the Provincial AGM 2017

The Address given by The Provincial Grand Master at The Provincial Grand Lodge of Cheshire Freemasons’ Annual Meeting on Tuesday 3th October 2017 at The Floral Pavilion, New Brighton

RWBro Stephen Martin Blank Provincial Grand Master
RWBro Stephen Martin Blank Provincial Grand Master

Good morning, Brethren, and welcome once again to New Brighton. 

The year that has just gone has been mainly occupied with celebrations of UGLE’s 300th anniversary, the Tercentenary. The Province of Cheshire has fully embraced the opportunity of having a really good time at our four Provincial events, namely the service at my synagogue in Hale Barns, our main event at the wonderful Chester Cathedral attended by 600 Brethren in full regalia and their partners and the Right Worshipful Deputy Grand Master. The Provincial procession contained very nearly every acting officer and honestly the whole occasion took my breath away. We had a huge stand at the Royal Cheshire County Show manned both days by enthusiastic volunteers. We enticed people in by asking them to vote for the MCF Community Grant winner or a chance to see my video. Guess which one worked better – but keep it to yourself! Finally, only last month we had the CFC charitable giving evening at the Hammond School in the presence of the Lord Lieutenant, the Lord Mayor of Chester and the Bishop of Chester. They were spellbound as a succession of Charities told us what they did and what Cheshire Freemasons had done for them and then blown away by the announcement of the MCF Community Grant winners by John McCrohan, a few hours ahead of the embargo lifting. 

A total of £517,000 was given in 2017 and the evening was a spectacular success, even finishing more or less on time, just after 9pm. Full details of the donations may be found in the CFC Trustees report included in the ‘Reports and Accounts’ booklet sent to ALL Brethren prior to the meeting. I must single out for special thanks our ProvGChStwd Colin Ross PAGDC who has not stopped during this year and who was central to the organisation of the Giving Evening. To ease Colin’s workload, we have brought in Harry Wright to help him out, as you will see from the Booklet. Thanks also to APGM WBro David Dyson PSGD, Warden for Welfare and Charity who keeps the Province lined up with its increasingly professional Welfare function and independent Charity. 

I don’t have to go into too much detail about these events because, thanks to the wonders of modern technology you have been able to watch videos on the screen behind me and screens outside. It is slightly disconcerting to have the screen behind me and no monitors in front as I have no idea what images are actually being projected behind me; they could be giving me bunny ears for all I know. Thanks to Bro Karl Beattie for arranging the A/V aids that we are seeing in use this morning and also for producing and editing – and in some cases shooting – my short video clips that anyone can see on our website. 

Still to come of course is the special meeting of Grand Lodge at the Royal Albert Hall on 31st of October at which the Most Worshipful The Grand Master his Royal Highness the Duke of Kent will preside, followed by a banquet at Battersea Evolution. The Grand Masters of 148 sovereign Grand Lodges will attend – an all-time record gathering. Naturally tickets for both events were rationed according to the size of the Province; we were originally offered 71 tickets for the Royal Albert Hall and 23 for Battersea Evolution, the latter being a fairly expensive do. Response in some Provinces was somewhat lukewarm but not in Cheshire. We asked for and received more tickets and I am delighted to say that there will be 95 Cheshire Brethren at the Royal Albert Hall and 50 at the banquet. Those of you unable to attend can watch the proceedings on your laptop or other device as they will be live streamed or available for later download. Freemasonry in the 21st Century, Brethren! 

Organisation of the Provincial events and of our forthcoming visit to London has been under the supervision of my Deputy, Very Worshipful Brother Alan Glazier and their success is in no small measure down to him. But I’m sure he would be the first to acknowledge that any major event in the Province, including this one of course, cannot happen without significant involvement on the part of Worshipful Brother Mike Leese, PAGDC ProvGSec and his fantastic team in the office, namely Liz Wright, Karen Salisbury, Jo Whalley and Anne Morgan. Many of the team could be found at the events, well outside office hours, and you can be sure that the amount of work leading up to them also required significant time above and beyond that which they are contracted for. Indeed, congratulations and my heartfelt thanks on behalf of the Province are due to all at Provincial, Area, Hall and Lodge or Chapter level for all their hard work in 2017 on the many Tercentenary activities, events and associated charitable activities. 

My first two years in this Province have thus been taken up with major events, as it were outside of our control – my Investiture, the Festival and the Tercentenary. My team and I are now delighted to look forward to a few years where whatever happens is solely down to our choice. Certainly, the Office team are rather hoping things will quieten down! Sorry, no promises! 

So, we have got to turn our attention to the most important problem facing us, namely getting our membership back on an upward curve. Communications are central to our efforts so we have been thinking about improvements to how our Area Committees work. First, we are going to make Provincial input topic based, concentrating on no more than three important topics each year. One of those topics will be Regular Giving which the DPGM spoke about earlier. Second, from 

December we will restructure the Areas so that each APGM is responsible for more or less the same number of Lodges. Details and a new map will shortly be sent out. The changes will also affect the RA and its Chapters. 

Some things have been going well; we are one of very few Provinces to see an increase in Initiations for three successive years and our Initiation rate, that is the percentage of new Initiates to total members, also increased from 2015 to 2016. Our level of positive media exposure throughout the last year went up by over 200% putting us in the top 10 of Provinces on this measure. Controllable losses – resignations, cessations and exclusions – have declined for four successive years. However, resignations – and our resignation rate – are still way too high, in particular resignations taking place within four years of a Brother’s Initiation Ceremony. 

We tend to work in Freemasonry from our own experience or ad-hoc comments. APGM WBro Adrian Davies PSGD has led a team trying to fix that; they have surveyed the whole Province, rating enjoyment of the Ritual; the Festive Board; Social Side including Events; Visiting other Lodges; Atmosphere and Character of their Lodge. The team has received responses from nearly a quarter of our members. They were mainly pretty positive, I’m pleased to say. But there are some calls to action; just picking a few they include: Square Tables in lieu of “Legs”; Involve the Ladies; Hold more White Table events; Encourage inter Lodge visitation; Share the Ritual. 

As part of the Membership subgroup of the IDG I’ve been working on a document called the Members’ Pathway, which aims to provide guidance for lodges and the Lodge members to help them find new members and retain them. [30 visits to London in last 12 months] 

I have already trailed some of the ideas that I expect you will see in the Pathway when, as I hope, it is formally adopted on 18 October. The first thing that Lodges need to do – Step 1 on the Pathway – is a bit of honest self-examination; to actually consider and hopefully plan for the future. I feel very strongly that the future is now in the hands of the Lodges. There is not much more that UGLE and the Province can do or indeed should do. The one exception in Cheshire being Education and Training where APGM Gary Horstman PSGD assisted by WBro Steve Parker ProvAGDC (for another few minutes!) are making plans and you, Brethren, will see those plans begin to bear fruit next year. 

The image of Freemasonry is not perfect but has been dramatically improved by the Sky documentary and our own efforts with the press here in Cheshire, which will of course continue. The civic and religious authorities in Cheshire know us for the force for good that we are. The City of Chester has for the first time invited me as the leader of Freemasons in Cheshire to take part in the Remembrance Day Parade and wear my Chain of Office. This is the first time we have been recognised as a leading organisation in the City; when we have taken part in the past we have joined the general public with their tributes. Thanks to APGM WBro George Mann PSGD for his efforts in this regard. 

All that is needed now is for the Lodges, to put it bluntly, to get off their backsides and go and find the members we know are out there. Fortunately thanks to the web many of those members are looking for us – but you can be sure that they will only be directed to Lodges that have viable plans for their future. 

If they want an example, they have only to look to our Master Masons’ Forum. I think everyone agrees that a Brother who visits Great Queen Street cannot help to be impressed and reinvigorated. So, we suggested to the MMF Chairman WBro Mike Coles PAGStdB and his Warden APGM WBro Paul Massie PSGD that they might arrange a trip to GQS for the MMF. After discussion with the MMF members, this has turned into a day trip on Saturday 18 August 2018 for Brethren and partners, including a 2nd degree ceremony worked by the MMF in Lodge Room no 10 and attended by all the other New and Young Masons Clubs and a talk for all, Masons and non-Masons, by a Prestonian Lecturer. Be bold, Brethren! 

Brethren, I am grateful for the unstinting help and support of countless people across the Province, far too many to mention. I have already thanked my DPGM and APGM’s by re-appointing them! And Mike Leese, Mike Jarvis and Colin Lewis and his fabulous team. The other team I could not have done without during the year or today are the DC’s team, very ably led by WBro Royston Jones AGDC. 

Thank you, Brethren, for your attendance and your kind attention. 

Stephen M Blank
Provincial Grand Master