The masonic journey, where will it take me?
It’s early evening, a young man dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and black tie is just arriving; he walks up the steps to the entrance of an imposing 1920’s building in a busy city centre; cars, trucks and people are bustling by behind him as he pushes the door and enters the building’s ornately decorated foyer. The adrenalin starts to make his heart race, hands tremble, his mouth dries… he takes hold of a deep breath and slowly releases it. Tonight he will be initiated into Freemasonry, he’s not worried because his father and brothers-in-law are members as well as many people he knows, but he does not know what will happen exactly – and it will be some time before he learns about Provincial Grand Lodge and who or what a Provincial Grand Master is, yet within 40 years he will become one.
This could be any of us arriving to be initiated, and one of the amazing things about Freemasonry in general is that any newly initiated brother may one day be a Provincial Grand Master. We can be sure that when Mr Stephen Blank was initiated into Menorah Lodge, No. 4849 in 1976 he had no idea that on the 23rd July 2015 he would be installed as both the Provincial Grand Master and Grand Superintendent for Cheshire.
“Surprised, flattered, Concerned”
Freemasons share a fraternal bond that is started at initiation and is developed as each individual progresses through the various offices and hopefully one day becomes the Worshipful Master. Knowing that our fellow brethren have also been there before us, and others will come through after us helps this bond become stronger. It is also in this early stage of masonic journeys that an individual’s enjoyment of Freemasonry is kindled, where we find our passion and dedication towards our Freemasonry, our Brothers and our Companions, using RWBro Stephen Blank as a role model we know that it is through this enjoyment, passion and dedication that you might find yourself one day as a Provincial Grand Master.
“Enjoyment, Passion, Dedication”
For anyone who has spent even a short amount of time with Stephen, it is easy to see how much he enjoys his Freemasonry, within a few more minutes you will see how passionate he is about Freemasonry and a few more minutes after that, you will be in no doubt as to his dedication to Freemasonry. RWBro Blank has served as Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies (East Lancashire), Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies (DepGDC), Assistant Provincial Grand Master (East Lancashire), Grand Steward, Grand Sword Bearer, Deputy Grand Superintendent (East Lancashire) and this headline list is only scratching the surface of his dedication to Freemasonry. One thing that most Brethren/Companions don’t know, is that, once you’re a Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies, which is sold as a 3 year appointment, you are a DepGDC for life, on call 10, 15 even 20 years after and Stephen has continued to support as often as needed by standing in as a DepGDC at Installations (of PGMs and MEGSs) and Bicentenaries.
When he was asked “What were your first thoughts on being asked to take on the roles of Provincial Grand Master and Grand Superintendent for Cheshire? Stephen replied “I was surprised, flattered and concerned: more or less in that order”. It is understandable for Stephen to be surprised, he was just settling into his new role as Deputy Grand Superintendent in East Lancashire.
If you were to ask those in East Lancashire or the Grand DC team, who have worked closely with Stephen, they will say he is a Freemason through and through, practising the masonic principles in all he does. However if you have the opportunity to speak personally with Stephen and ask him about the times he has acted as DepGDC then you will see his eyes light up and his passion and dedication will shine through.
“Effective two-way dialogue”
In the Southern Area of the Province of East Lancashire, Stephen is held in very high esteem by the brethren for his: encouraging approach, leadership style, and dedication to visiting all lodges and in actively spending time speaking with and encouraging all. During Stephen’s time in Southern Area as an Assistant Provincial Grand Master (APGM) he inspired individuals from newly initiated brethren through to Area Executives and District Teams. Stephen has said about this role “I feel being the APGM of Southern Area was one of the key stages in my Freemasonry, it helped me to gain the confidence to take on more senior roles with all their challenges and pleasures”. He went on to say “I was received so kindly, made to feel so welcome that it made me realise that actually most Masonic circles consist of kind and welcoming people”.
“Share the vision”
With one of the challenges facing all Freemasons, that of declining membership, RWBro Blank has already been openly encouraging discussion and debate on what is sadly considered by some as a taboo subject.
On being asked about how he believes delivering an increase in craft and royal arch membership is possible, RWBro Blank said “We have to find the Brethren who are able to spread the word and the Lodges that are expanding and help them to transfer their thinking across the Province. Those of us at the Centre need also to understand what can be done to amplify their efforts and then do it. My job is to articulate this vision, or mission, whatever you want to call it, and get the whole senior team – as well as other high-ranking masons in the Province – to buy into it.”
At the Craft investiture, RWBro Blank in his address stated that Cheshire had already put in place two key building blocks for achieving a better two-way dialogue. The first being the excellent, user friendly website and the second the Area structure across the Province. He emphasised the need to have good social media platforms as young professional men make very few decisions without fact finding and surfing the World Wide Web first.
On being asked as to how he sees social media developing within Freemasonry, Stephen explained “many brethren have concerns about the use of social media, for some it is an intrusion, and for others it’s uncontrolled, but for many it is a powerful and very effective tool. I feel from my experiences both in business and as an APGM that we must have several streams of effective communication. Gone are the days when everyone only uses the Royal Mail; today we have people that use many styles of communication. To communicate effectively to the wide and diverse group of current Freemasons and the wider and more diversified groups of potential Freemasons of the future, we need to be tech savvy, but that does not mean quantity over quality, nor does it mean uncontrolled”.
It is clear that we, as Freemasons, have to be open to new approaches to addressing the central challenge to declining membership, of improving the effectiveness of both attracting and retaining Freemasons. Great Queen Street will develop and update the ADelphi membership system for use by Provinces and update our branding for the Tercentenary, RWBro Blank commented on this “The most encouraging thing to me are the many signs of good strategic direction coming from Great Queen Street, some from the Membership Focus Group but also evidenced in the restructuring of the four Masonic charities.
“Exciting times ahead”
It appears that there are both exciting and challenging times ahead for both Freemasonry as a whole, and for the Provincial Grand Lodge of Cheshire, with recruitment and retention remaining high on the agenda. As the Tercentenary gets ever closer, with the potential for raising the profile of Freemasonry to new positive heights, and events and communication developing and gaining traction we can expect to see more enquiries, some white table events, and an increase in social media volume.
Written by Bro Lee Marsh, Communications Officer Area 3 in Province of East Lancashire