Right Worshipful Deputy Grand Master, Brethren
You have heard Right Worshipful Brother Oliver Lodge, the Grand Director of Ceremonies eloquently and accurately proclaim my Degrees and professional qualification – a piece of cake for him compared to the Duke’s full page – but I don’t need either of those Degrees to tell me what is the biggest single problem facing this Province – and, of course, many others – today. That problem is declining membership. Unfortunately even the professional qualification does not provide me with an answer. The only way in which we are going to address that problem is to increase the number of men joining, while making sure that they are the right sort of men and of course looking after them properly once they have joined.
But who’s going to do that recruitment, who’s going to increase those numbers? It is not me – although I am doing my bit by Initiating my son-in-law in September – nor is it the senior members of my team sitting up here. With all due respect it’s not even the Right Worshipful Deputy Grand Master. The fact of the matter is that it’s you Brethren and your Lodges who are going to be finding and Initiating those men. We know it can be done because some Lodges are doing it! All my team and I can do is to ensure that conditions are right for you and that you have the proper support.
In that respect my predecessor and his deputy, Right Worshipful Brother Steven Adcott and Very Worshipful Brother Ian Cranston have laid the ground work by creating an excellent website and putting in place the Area structure. No young man does anything today without consulting the web and social media and we have to be sure he finds the relevant information when he does so. I feel I know our website very well since immediately after I was called into an interview with the ProGM and DGM at the end of April I suddenly became Cheshire’s most dedicated surfer (!) – dare I say, silver surfer – so I know we have a great platform on which to build.
The Area structure provides us a two-way communication method with the Lodges. I emphasise the ‘two-way’ Brethren, because we do want to hear from the Lodges how they think we can help their recruitment efforts. But let me tell you that I do expect each Lodge to address the issue, which means first discussing recruitment internally. It never ceases to amaze me how many Lodges never discuss any issue, let alone the key one of recruitment. And by ‘discuss’ I don’t mean just the Past Masters or even less just the Grand Officers, I mean a full open discussion between the entire membership from junior to senior. There is no harm in putting aside one meeting for a closed session in order to air this issue; if it would help, a member of the Area team will attend to facilitate and inform, but only by invitation.
The Area Committees will be encouraged to engage with local communities. I appreciate this does not directly influence recruitment but helps put us in a favourable light when anyone is considering joining and can help provide a focus for favourable press attention.
But we must be clear that Freemasonry will only grow and prosper if those involved enjoy what they are doing. That applies as much to those in leadership roles as it does to the grassroots Freemasons. We may have concerns to address, problems to face including all sorts of issues at many of our Halls, but in doing so we have to treat each other with Masonic and personal respect and we are allowed to have a laugh! Whenever I have been on Grand DC duty, I usually start by pointing out that the Book of Constitutions does not prohibit a smile. I am taking a chance saying that because on the stage we have the Brother who is widely credited as being the modern day author of the Book of Constitutions, Right Worshipful Brother Dr Malcolm Aish, and I hope he will not correct me publicly if I’m wrong about that!
And talking about help, I’m delighted to say there is help available from the very centre of the organisation with Grand Lodge offering to make significant matched funds available for a suitable Tercentenary event focused upon family, the public and charity, which I choose to interpret as recruitment. I’ve asked the Steering Group and the APGMs to come up with ideas; they in turn will be consulting you so please put your thinking caps on.
I have a few personal remarks to make.
I suspect that most senior Freemasons have at one time or another imagined themselves in this chair addressing the assembled Brethren upon their installation as Provincial Grand Master; I know I have! But my fantasies always involved me sitting in King George’s Hall in Blackburn in East Lancashire, never on the Wirral!
Over the years I have of course come to know many Cheshire Masons. As neighbouring Provinces East Lancashire and Cheshire visit each other frequently. I’ve also acted as GDC at several Bi-Centenaries in Cheshire ranging from Chez Addy at Hyde to Stockport and at your last Festival Banquet which was the first occasion I came into contact with Alan Glazier who I was delighted to appoint as my Deputy earlier on. I know more people in Cheshire than I did in the first patch I was given as an APGM which was the Southern Area of East Lancashire, and I am pleased to say many from Southern Area are now personal friends and are here today. Of course maybe they just want to make sure I’ve gone!
One thing I will promise is that I will not try and turn this Province into East Lancashire. Just like Lodges, Provinces have their own characteristics and just like Lodges these should be cherished. After all our province of Cheshire is the oldest in the English constitution.
Most of you will have realised, if you did not already know, that I am of the Jewish faith. I believe that I am the first person of that faith either from Cheshire or East Lancashire to attain this position. In a sense it should not make any difference to you what religion I have, provided I have one, but those of you who are members of a minority will know that it brings a special sense of pride when one of that minority attains a particular position for the first time. The first Jewish Brother in East Lancashire ever to attain Grand Rank was in the Chair of my Mother Lodge only 90 years ago which shows we have come a long way in a fairly short time. I hope it sends a message to all minorities, if such a message needs sending, that Freemasonry is an equal opportunities hobby.
I would like to thank all those who have helped to make this occasion happen. First on that list is my late father David Blank, a Freemason and Grand Officer, who told me when I was 25 that it was now time for me to join the Craft. I would like to think he would be proud of me today although he might also think I was slightly bonkers! Next my wife Marilyn whose support for my Masonic journey has been unwavering and unstinting and without which it would all have been impossible. Enormous thanks are due to my predecessor, RWBro Steven Adcott, and his deputy VWBro Ian Cranston who put their heart and soul into this Province over the past six years together with WBro David Eshelby as ProvGSec for over three years before their retirement yesterday.
Masonry is quite extraordinary. Many people have worked long hours to make this occasion happen and most of them did not know me at all two months ago! I think we know each other very well now! I don’t have time to name them all but this occasion could not have happened without WBro Mike Leese who has officially become Provincial Grand Secretary today; together with his team especially Liz Wright, Karen and Elaine in the office for their hard work, against a short and demanding timescale; thank you to Ken Mallon and his team for their hard work in setting up the venue, providing stewarding and arranging transportation.
The Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies and his team knocked everyone into shape and then did the right thing and followed the directions of the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his team! One way or another I have worked closely with several generations of Cheshire ProvGDCs and always got on well with them; I am sure it will be the same with WBro Royston Jones. Thanks are due also to the RW DGM and GSec for interrupting their summers to be here; they know how much I owe them, and to the GDC and his team, even those brought back from retirement! The whole process looks and feels very different from this side of the fence! But I knew I was in good hands.
My new senior team here in Cheshire know that we will be meeting over the summer – well, they know now – as we have some very pressing matters to bring to a successful conclusion, namely the Festival next year and the year after the Tercentenary. Fortunately we have good people in place already heading up both events. One piece of news about the Festival Banquet, hot off the press. We have changed venues and it will now take place on the same date, 20th May 2016, but at Manchester United. Before anyone accuses me of taking the Cheshire Banquet to East Lancashire, technically Old Trafford is in West Lancashire! And this has enabled us to reduce the ticket price from £65 to £55 every penny of which will go towards the price of your food and drink.
Brethren, I have received enormous numbers of expressions of goodwill from the brethren in Cheshire and from elsewhere – including one extremely touching one from Mrs June Gandy, the widow of the late and sadly missed Stewart Gandy, with whom I worked on several occasions but had never met his wife; I will now never forget her either. You have my word that I will do my very best to be worthy of those good wishes; all I need is your help and support.
Thank you Brethren
Stephen M Blank