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Address of the Provincial Grand Master at the Middlesex Mark Annual General Meeting 26 October 2013


Introduction
One characteristic of the Mark Degree is the ability to combine serious Freemasonry with an element of fun. To that effect I have decided to introduce a formal sweepstake rather than the informal one, usually undertaken by my colleague Provincial Grand Masters, as to the length of my Address this afternoon. I hope that you have all made your decision and paid your £1.00. Regrettably there is no previous form to guide you. The winner, who will receive 35% of that collected, and the runner up who will receive 15% will be announced at Lunch. However, the biggest winner will be the Middlesex Mark non-Masonic Charities who will receive the balance of 50% in addition to the Charity Collection to be made at the end of the meeting. Incidentally I started the official stop-watch, when I started speaking.

Welcome
An Address is not the most natural form of communication. In essence there is ‘what I wanted to say’, as opposed to ‘what I actually said’, and probably very different from ‘what I should have said’. Fortunately it will only be the latter that will appear in the minutes printed with the agenda for next year’s meeting.
I must of course start by welcoming you all here today and in such wonderful numbers.
Advancees are the lifeblood of the Order, and I take this opportunity in welcoming Brethren Advanced during the course of the previous year. By definition this will be your very first Provincial Meeting, and I sincerely hope the first of many. I am now going to embarrass you by asking you to stand, so that we can all congratulate you on becoming a Mark Mason and just as important a Middlesex Mark Mason.
D A Brown 1316; J F Kasprzyk 1316; R A Lee 499; N S Reay 861; A Salamat 931; J T Stroud 199; R Weblin 1316 (advanced 23 Oct 2013)
Having embarrassed you the least I can do is to invite you to join me and the other distinguished visitors, here to day, for pre-lunch drinks. It will, I suspect, be some years before you achieve that opportunity again!
I have already welcomed our distinguished visitors and it is such a pleasure to see you here today. We greatly value your friendship. The camaraderie that exists between Provincial Officers at every level, whether at Provincial Grand Master, Deputy; Provincial Secretary or even Provincial Director of Ceremonies is something that cannot be over emphasized and where many friendships have been forged over the years. Having said that whether the term camaraderie is entirely appropriate when discussing the relationship between Middlesex and Surrey especially when it comes to cricket I am not entirely sure.
The importance of the support received and I hope given to the other Orders in Freemasonry in Middlesex cannot be over emphasized. The Mark is part of the spectrum of the Orders of Freemasonry. In order for all the Orders to flourish it is important that we all work together. I am delighted that so many Heads of Orders are present here today. Long may that cooperation and understanding continue.
My last, but most important welcome, is to those whom I have had the pleasure of appointing and investing today. Brethren it really is your day and we all take pleasure in sharing in your celebration.

Appointments and Promotions
Brethren you are all too well aware that we are all volunteers, and that includes me now that I have re-gained my amateur status. Management consultants will tell you that the highest accolade one can receive is the approbation and respect of one’s peers. This is why the award of Provincial and indeed Grand Rank is so important. It is the only tangible way that we can recognize the work, effort and commitment being undertaken by Brethren in the Province. My own belief is that providing a Brother continues to work for his Lodge and the Province his efforts should be recognized by appointment to and promotion in Provincial Grand Rank every five years, regardless of whether he is a Grand Officer. When it comes to Grand Rank the principle remains the same, but as my colleague Provincial Grand Masters, know all too well, that is not a matter entirely in my hands! This means that providing a Brother keeps working, and just as important – lives long enough – he should reasonably expect to eventually arrive at the exalted heights of Past Provincial Grand Senior Warden. My senior executive and I have trawled through the Provincial records and identified Brethren who may have previously slipped through the net, and why some of them have received a double and in certain instances a triple promotion. We may still, not have got it quite right, but hopefully we have not got it wrong.
That, Brethren. is the reason for, the larger than usual number of Brethren promoted in Past Rank today. Last year some 26 Brethren received promotion. This year the figure is 63. In addition 1 Brother has been appointed and 3 Brethren have been promoted or rather demoted to the rank of Past Provincial Grand Steward; those of you that know me will be aware of the high regard with which I hold the rank of Steward and the high hopes we have for any Brother appointed to that rank, whether at Provincial or Grand Lodge level. It also reflects the prominent role that I expect the members of Prince Michael of Kent Lodge to play again in the future in the activities of the Province. It is also one of the reason why I have asked Brian Berry, one of the two immediate Past Provincial Grand Masters, to take on the arduous task of Secretary of the Lodge. In addition it illustrates the fact that there is life after Assistant Provincial Grand Master. I take this opportunity in thanking Rex Tester for his work as Secretary of the Lodge, and his ready agreement to take on the equally demanding role as Director of Ceremonies of PMK, the first step in the members of the Lodge again taking a more active part in both demonstrating the Mark ritual and assisting Lodges within the Province in carrying out the Ritual where in certain instances Lodges cannot fulfill all the Offices to an appropriate standard.
To all the Brethren I have the privilege and pleasure of investing on their appointment and promotion I offer my sincere congratulations. This is your day and we are all delighted to be part of it and to be able to share it with you. Enjoy your new Rank and continue the good work that earned it – here is looking forward to the next one.

Likewise we take pleasure in sharing the good fortune of those appointed to and promoted in Grand Rank in June of this year:

Name, Rank, Lodge No.
Evan Glyn Hughes, GMO, Middlesex St Davids 1063
Peter Fidelis Fuchter, GSO, Hillingdon Heath 1196
Vincent John Driver, DepGInspW, Cranford Park 1054
Steven Matthew Vanhinsbergh, GJD, Exedra Lodge 1138
John David Billett, GStwd, Staines Lodge 858
Michael Arthur Falkner, PGJO, Staines Lodge 858
Gerald Ledger Pickering JP, PGJO, Gauntlet Lodge 1469
Geoffrey William Hawkins, PGSD, All Hallows Lodge 986
Michael Anthony Spicer, PGSD, Christopher Wren 861
Alan Victor Holton, PGJD, Ealing Lodge 1013
Andrew Howard Barrett, PAGDC, Christopher Wren 861
Terrence Timothy Finucane, PAGDC, Star Lodge 499
Herment Harshadray Vyas, PAGDC, Air Unity 1205
Robert Anthonty Carew-Hunt, PGStB, Exedra 1138
John Brackley, GSW
Trevor Hicks, PGJO, Gloucester & Hereford
Martin Sale, PGJO
Richard Wileman, GJD, Surrey
James Greenwall, London

Change
The appointment of a new Provincial Grand Master means that change is inevitable and so I would like to take this opportunity in thanking on behalf of myself and the Province all the outgoing team: Peter Halls-Dickerson, David Sparks, Keith Waters and Brian Berry; the Province owes you all a considerable debt.
By the same token we welcome the new team of Alan Holton, Jack Flint, John Edwards, Steve Vanhinsbergh, Eddy Garty and Paul Lane who I am sure will serve the Province equally well; and not forgetting Peter Warner, Terwyn Williams and the irrepressible Doug Black who have all been promoted today but will in effect be continuing with their Middlesex day jobs.
Serving and helping the Province is what it is all about. I am delighted with the way that Paul Lane has already started his duties as Assistant Provincial Grand Secretary. He is monitoring Lodge Summonses both in terms of content and quality. Whereas I recall being telephoned by my namesake when I was a secretary of a Craft Lodge in the Province to be berated over some minor error, I am pleased to report that the more astute Mark Secretaries are already contacting Paul Lane in advance of printing their respective summons to seek his advice and assistance to ensure that the information it contains is correct. The Province is there to help and assist not to chastise and criticize.

Innovations
The year has seen a number of innovations:
The Provincial Website has been completely re-vamped. By and large there are two types of website: the first provides a public relations, advertising and recruitment function; whilst, the second, provides more of an administrative function. We have plumped for the latter, and hope it will make the life, especially of Lodge Secretaries, that much easier. It also provides all members with a wealth of information about every aspect of the Province and the opportunity to download forms and the suchlike. Visiting Officers will, for example, be able to up-load their report forms, which have been greatly simplified and made more user-friendly. The web address is easy enough to remember www.midllesexmark.org.uk have a look yourself – not now; wait until you get home.
In future every Lodge in the Province will only receive one visit in every year, whether from one of the Senior Executive or one of a team of Visiting Officers. Each Visiting Officer will make three visits a year and serve on the Visiting Officer Panel for a period of three years; although he will be eligible to be re-appointed after a suitable break. Nine visits over three years is not over onerous and means that the workload can not only be shared but involve a greater number of people. Andrew Barrett has produced an individual pack and CD for all the Visiting Officer and if the VOs make contact with Jack Flint after the meeting they can collect their pack and start work!
Insofar as the Deputy and Assistant Provincial Grand Masters are concerned the roles are no sinecure, they are not Visiting Officers who happen to wear Chains. Far from it; each of them has a detailed portfolio of responsibilities that they undertake as part of their brief. It has been said that I am something of a hard task-master, the fact that the two Assistant Provincial Grand Masters: Jack Flint and John Edwards, have both been in hospital in the last month, with heart problems involving angiograms is, I assure you pure coincidence!
The Dove and Keystone Magazine has been rebranded as Middlesex Mark Matters – pun intended – and after the recent first issue which appeared as hard copy, future issues will be made available on-line. We are acutely aware that some of our members are not in the first flush of youth and may not be all computer savvy, hence a hard copy of the magazine will still be made available to those who have trouble going on-line.
As part of my wish to involve as many people as possible in the running of the Province the General Purposes Committee has beeen revived. It would appear that prior to its recent meeting last month it had not met for at least ten years. Earlier you elected four members to serve on the Committee – again no sinecure – each of the elected members has agreed to take on a particular aspect of Provincial work – Michael Crombie – The Past Masters and Service Lodges; Michael Flint – The Ritual work within the Province; Greer Kirkwood – Royal Ark Mariner; and Martin Hickman-Ashby – Lodge Finances. Indeed in that capacity and in the spirit of trying to assist Lodges he is currently preparing Guidance Notes for Lodge Treasurers.

Continuation
It is not all change Brethren. A number of excellent initiatives are being continued: not least the Travelling Keystone, which we were pleased to receive into Provincial Grand Lodge earlier today. It will, however, make fewer excursions in the future thereby making it more of a special event for the Lodges receiving it during the year. Also continuing will be the very successful Reception and Lunch for those who received active Provincial Grand Rank an this year together with those being appointed to or promoted in Grand Rank next June together with their wives and partners. I will be confirming both the date and venue in the very near future.

Future Projects
I have already alluded to the work being carried out on Lodge summonses by Paul Lane and the Guidance Notes for Lodge Treasurers being drafted by Martin-Hickman-Ashby.
The Royal Ark Mariner or RAM as it affectionately known has been missing from today’s proceedings. It deserves to be treated with the respect it deserves and not as an add-on to the Mark. The Provincial Royal Ark Mariner Meeting will, this year take place and coincide with the meeting of Middlesex Installed Commanders Lodge on Monday 2 December 2013 at Twickenham and I look forward to seeing many of you there on what I am sure will be a splendid occasion.
Lodges of Instruction are vitally important if we are to continue to raise the overall standard of ritual in our Lodges and I have instigated a review as to how we might best achieve that goal.
Talking of reviews I am also undertaking a review of the role of North East Middlesex Masters Lodge. I have yet to be convinced that a Province the size of Middlesex can sustain two Installed Masters Lodges. It is a worry that whilst Middlesex Installed Masters has a healthy membership of 138 and a membership attendance in the last two years in excess of 65, NEMIMM has a membership of 54, of whom 21 are also members of MIMM and an average membership attendance of 23. Rest assured Brethren no decision will be made until all the facts have been ascertained and a full consultation has taken place.

The Big C
Until comparatively recently it was not thought appropriate to talk about the big C - cancer in polite company. I know that I surprised some of my colleague Provincial Grand Masters when at my Installation I referred to the Masonic equivalent of the big C; the closure of Mark Lodges. I am sure that many thought that the grim reaper had been appointed as Provincial Grand Master. Nothing further could be from the truth. What I said then and which is worth repeating is that the Craft in Middlesex has fallen in number from 14,000 memberships in 1980 to 6,809 in 2012; the Royal Arch from 3,793 to 2,578. Although the Mark has remained surprising stable over the same period it too has fallen since 1992 from 1,353 to 1,090 memberships today. The number of actual members is 958. We currently have 48 Mark Lodges in the Province, soon to become 47. We either have too few members or too many Lodges. That is a statement of fact not intent.
It is my belief that we have too many lodges and we need to reduce the number of lodges down to at least 40 and possibly even 35; ideally whilst at the same time retaining 80% of the current membership within those closed lodges and with strategic and targeted recruitment make up the balance of 20%.
What has changed since my appointment is a willingness to talk about the big C and for Lodges and their members not to feel under pressure to keep a Lodge going at any cost. The decision to close a Lodge is entirely one for the members. If the members decide they wish to hand in their Warrant then the Province will do all it can to assist in the process: help the members find new Lodges, ensure that those who were due to get Provincial Rank do so; as was exemplified today with the former members of Diligence and Haste Hill; and if former members were due to be recommended for Grand Rank that recommendation will still be honoured. What has been removed is the stigma that Closure is the equivalent to Failure. Far from it; the members of a Lodge are to be congratulated and respected for taking the very brave and difficult decision that the Lodge has reached the end of its natural life. In the same way that the Province will do all it can to assist a Lodge to close with dignity it will equally strive to assist the members of a Lodge if they are determined to continue. There is a whole raft of strategies that can be adopted, the first step is to feel free to talk about it.
Of the two Lodges that closed this year Diligence and Haste Hill one lives on, or at least its Warrant and number. Last month I formally handed over the Warrant of Diligence Lodge No. 987, at an emergency meeting of the Lodge held under dispensation from the Grand Master, to the Province of Hertfordshire, where subject to the pleasure of the Grand Master it will become and work as Lapis Lapsus Lodge No. 987. So even within the world of Freemasonry we have the equivalent of ‘organ donation’ where a Lodge can die but can give life to another.
I am pleased to say that notwithstanding my comments about the big C the overall membership of the Province continue to give a considerable degree of satisfaction, not complacency, but satisfaction that at a time of recession we still continue to recruit and perhaps more important retain talented Freemasons who enjoy this wonderful Order of ours. The report of the Provincial Grand Secretary and Provincial Grand Registrar contain all the detailed information. Although we have made a net loss this year which is not good but at the same time not catastrophic. It is something that we are monitoring very closely but it is, sadly, a reflection of the times we live in. It reinforces the importance of both recruitment and retention, to make sure that all the offices in a lodge are properly filled so as to ensure that candidates and members receive what can best be described as a Quality Experience. Numbers in themselves are not everything, quality rather than quantity is the key to our future success.

Charity
Whilst the Festival has drained the charitable resources of the Province, Charity must continue to be an underlying tenet. I wish to keep things simple for the next five years. I have previously suggested that Lodges may consider donating one of its collections in every one year donated to the Middlesex Mark Benevolent Fund; with just three points of focus: St. Luke’s Hospice in Harrow, North Middlesex, Harlington Hospice in West Middlesex and the Shooting Star House Children’s Hospice in Hampton in South Middlesex. I have been genuinely overwhelmed by your continued generosity. One donation stands out in particular. An individual donation of £5,000; when I wrote to thank the individual concerned part of his response went as follows:
It happens that, 25 years ago, quite out of character, I bought an NS&I bond and forgot about it. Until May when NS&I told me the bond had ”matured” and, should I wish to keep it would carry 0.05% interest. I cashed it and was paid a remarkable amount of money – and, at that, tax free – far more than I can usefully use. I have, therefore, dispersed it to several charities (3 Masonic) whose activities appeal to me. Hence one part to the Middlesex Mark benevolent Fund as hospices provide a service not well done by the NHS.
There is nothing that I can add but to say on behalf of the whole Province and indeed the three hospices – thank you. Needless to say the proceeds of both the sweepstake and the collection will also go to the three hospices.

Thank You
No meeting such as this can take place without a considerable amount of work behind the scenes. My particular thanks to the Secretariat and all the back-room boys, including the outgoing and incoming Provincial Secretaries: John Edwards and Steve Vanhinsbergh and particularly the members of Prince Michael of Kent Lodge. Special thanks to the Ceremonial team not least to Eddy Garty, the new Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies, who did not receive any handover from his predecessor and has had to re-write or rather write all the various ceremonial procedures for us to today. He and his team have done a first class job and under the very critical eye of the Grand Director of Ceremonies.
I have already alluded to the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes, especially at a venue such as this that requires all the equipment and paraphernalia to be brought in. Although the venue and the date for next year’s meeting have yet to be confirmed, but I can assure you that it will not be a Saturday, Friday or Monday, I can with considerable pleasure announce that the members of the Duke of Connaught Lodge of Mark Masters No. 199 have accepted my invitation to be the Banner Lodge in 2014 to assist and work with the members of Prince Michal of Kent Lodge to help ensure that the Provincial meeting will be another resounding success.
In conclusion; I know those are the words you have all been waiting for. It is Ronald Reagan who said: “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.”
Brethren I have never aspired to be a leader, let alone a great leader. What I do aspire to and make no apology for it is to get you, the Brethren to do the greatest things for the benefit of this wonderful Order of ours in general and Middlesex in particular.
In the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux: "Notice everything, Correct a little, Cherish the brethren".
Brethren, thank you.


 
The Provincial Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons of Middlesex
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