The Most Excellent Grand Superintendent’s address given to the Holy Royal Arch Annual Convocation
On 22nd February 2018 at Sandbach School.
Companions, welcome to my third Annual Convocation as your Grand Superintendent and our second in this venue. Most Companions were very happy with our new venue and, we did, of course, learn some lessons which we have tried to address this year.
You are all members of the Craft, so you may have noticed that last year was the Tercentenary of Grand Lodge. This meant that I was busier than usual on Craft matters but my Deputy Grand Superintendent, Second Provincial Grand Principal and Third Provincial Grand Principal made sure that the Royal Arch was still very active.
Following the visit by the Metropolitan Grand Chapter Team who performed Talking Heads at our Provincial Grand Stewards Lodge in February 2016, our own Demonstration Teams have taken it on and performed “Talking Heads” 13 times in Lodges across the Province, generating Candidates, not just here in Cheshire but also for the Provinces of North Wales and West Lancashire – I await my usual commission!
Metropolitan Grand Chapter came back and performed “RA in Camera” at Saxon Crosses Chapter No: 6227 in November last year. We returned the compliment when our Demonstration Team performed the John Tunnah Manuscript under the banner of Clerkenwell First Principals Chapter No: 9628 in Lodge Room No: 10 at Great Queen Street. They had also performed it for the Province of Derbyshire in June 2017 in the presence of the Past Second Grand Principal, George Pipon Francis. Our Demonstration Team will take on “RA in Camera” as well and perform it around the Province; I will see it next month at Industry Chapter No: 361.
We keep a close eye on our membership numbers in the Craft and in the RA. RA membership is just a shade under 50% of Craft membership which is good, and resignations are on a five-year downward trend. It’s also a fact that members of the RA are less likely to leave the Craft. But Exaltation numbers are not high enough to maintain 80+ Chapters and they are not increasing. That’s why initiatives such as Talking Heads are important to encourage Master Masons or Past Masters of longer standing to join the RA. Presentations such as RA in Camera and John Tunnah Manuscript, help to retain their interest once they have joined. The RA leadership team is well aware that we need more activity from the Lodges’ Royal Arch Representatives. I hope all of our RA Representatives are here today because this is your job.
But the RA leadership team did not want to stop there. When Cheshire Freemasons meet a Brother from another Province, the first thing we usually tell them – after a polite pause of about 10 microseconds – is that Cheshire is the oldest Province in the English Constitution, as indeed we are, celebrating our own Tercentenary in 2025.
The Provincial Grand Chapter of Cheshire is not as old nor is it ‘the oldest’. Our Sesquicentenary – for Ken Mallon’s benefit that means 150th – is on 26 October 2019. As I said, we are not happy with the number of exaltations, so we have set ourselves a target of Exalting 150 new Royal Arch Masons between 1st January 2018 and the Sesquicentenary. All Lodges have been advised of this and I hope Royal Arch Representatives are taking note. We will then make a suitable fuss of those 150 at the 150th and the Lodges that have contributed. You can follow progress on our MIS website. We have made an encouraging start with 18 Exaltations to date, only another 132 to go!
I made it clear from the word go that I would run the Craft and RA Province as one, so far as possible. Of course, in Cheshire, many senior positions automatically cover both such as mine, Secretary / Scribe E, Registrar, Treasurer, DC, Almoner, Charity Steward. We aligned the geographical areas covering RA and Craft and appointed a fifth Assistant to the Provincial Grand Principals to enable that to happen. The Province’s Steering Group, which meets monthly, includes both Deputies and when we discuss succession we look at the whole pool of talent across Craft and RA. We don’t see them as separate silos and a prime example, was, I hope, created last November when I appointed an Assistant to the Provincial Grand Principals, EComp Simon Palfreyman, as Assistant Provincial Grand Master to succeed David Dyson when he became Deputy Provincial Grand Master.
EComp Simon Palfreyman had served 3 years as an Assistant to the Provincial Grand Principals for Area 3 in November when he became Assistant Provincial Grand Master for Area 4. We thank him for his sterling service to the Royal Arch as an Assistant to the Provincial Grand Principals. We’ve now moved him as far East as we can. EComp Ken Mallon, Assistant to the Provincial Grand Principals for Area 2, steps down today after 5 years. He has worked very hard for the Royal Arch, always with great good humour, and also for the Craft with his involvement in arranging the Craft Annual Meeting.
That means we have two new Assistants to the Provincial Grand Principals this year; EComp Nick Simpson has actually been in post for Area 3 since Simon Palfreyman stepped down, but will be formally invested today. Nick has done and continues to do great work on behalf of Sale Masonic Hall – and indeed Altrincham Masonic Hall – and the Deputy Grand Superintendent informs me that the 150 for 150th idea was Nick’s originally. I will also invest EComp Richard Dobbing as the Assistant to the Provincial Grand Principals for Area 2, replacing, if it is possible to replace, Ken Mallon. Richard will be familiar to Companions as a member of the Province of Cheshire RA Demonstration Team although they may not recognise him without his Tunnah costume!
Another change that was not originally planned for this meeting is the retirement of the Provincial Grand Charity Steward, EComp Colin Ross and the appointment in his place of EComp Harry Wright. Harry has been shadowing Colin in that role for a few months and the plan was for him to take over in October at the Craft Annual Meeting. However, as many of you know, Colin is having treatment again for cancer and we all agreed that it would be better to remove all external pressure from him, so Harry will take over effective today. The work Colin has done during his 3.5 years in post has been quite exceptional; he has transformed the role. We all owe him a debt of gratitude together with best wishes and hopes for a complete recovery.
Today we are honoured to welcome as our guest Most Excellent Comp Gareth Jones OBE, Third Grand Principal. As well as being Third Grand Principal, Gareth is Provincial Grand Master of South Wales. Our paths cross most months in London where he is a very vocal Deputy Chair of the IDG. We have had occasional exchanges of views about Provincial membership statistics but, Freemasonry not being a democracy, his view prevailed! My main input to the IDG has been my contribution to the Members’ Pathway which is being rolled out as we speak. In fact, later this afternoon I’m going to London, ready to spend Friday at Great Queen Street as part of the team introducing the Members’ Pathway to Metropolitan Grand Lodge and 8 Southern Provinces. Gareth has made many contributions to the Members’ Pathway but in particular has ensured that the Royal Arch is front and centre. We will of course hear from him later.
Congratulations to all those who received Grand Rank last April: EComps Adrian Davies, Paul Massie, and Barry Jobber were appointed Past Grand Standard Bearers; EComp Gary Horstman Past Assistant to the Provincial Grand Principals, Festival Banquet Chairman and current Assistant Provincial Grand Master was promoted to Past Assistant Grand Sojourner. In November we received Celebratory Grand Ranks to recognise the occasion of the Most Excellent First Grand Principal’s 50 years in that post. EComp Mike Leese, Provincial Grand Scribe Ezra, was appointed Past Grand Standard Bearer and EComp Barry Travers was promoted to Past Assistant Grand Sojourner. The regular Grand Ranks for the April Investiture will be announced in a couple of weeks.
Events such as this do not just happen and in 2017 we had many such events. My grateful thanks not only to EComp Mike Leese Provincial Grand Scribe Ezra who heads the Secretarial team and EComp Royston Jones Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies who heads the DCs’ team but also to Liz, Karen, Jo and Anne in the Office and the Deputy DCs, Paul Sandiford, Stuart Jones and Tom Smith.
Thank you for your attention, Companions, I hope that, like me, you’re looking forward to another active year in the RA!
Excellent Companion Stephen Martin Blank