Annual Convocation of Provincial Grand Chapter
16th October 2021 – Rugby Masonic Hall
Well, after the last 19 months I say again, isn’t it great to be back. By necessity, last year’s annual meeting was a very limited affair as I ended up hijacking the September meeting of the Warkickshire First Principals’ Chapter. At that meeting I was able to invest E Comp’s John Starley as Provincial 2nd Grand Principal and E Comp Nigel Hawkins as Provincial 3rd Grand Principal, but beyond that and a few matters of an administrative nature, we were very limited in what we could do.
The last time I gave an address was on the scheduled date of the Annual convocation in 2020, July 4th but lockdown forced me to do by video which was shared with all companions via YouTube. An occurrence I can’t imagine either of our Past Grand Superintendents present would have ever dreamt would happen!
Looking back on what I said in July 2020, I was clearly hopeful of an imminent restart to freemasonry activities, which in event, barely happened. Little did we think that in practice it would be another 14 months before freemasonry restarted in any significant manner. But boy, since September, has it restarted.
So many events have been delayed, postponed, or rearranged that across all masonic Orders, everyone is very busy catching up. New candidates are being initiated, brethren are being exalted, long-service certificates are being presented and centenary warrants are being delivered.
It really is a busy time, but it has certainly highlighted one thing. How much we have all been missing our freemasonry in general and our Royal Arch freemasonry in particular.
We must remain cognisant though that the hesitation of some freemasons to resume public activities is entirely understandable and is an attitude that we will all respect.
As and when companions have felt sufficiently confident to take those initial tentative steps back in to the masonic activity, how quickly they have become engaged with it again. I attended a meeting last Wednesday (admittedly in the Craft) that had over 50 in attendance many doing so for the first time since March 2020. I described it as like slipping on a pair of comfy slippers as all present quickly slipped back into the rhythm of masonry. I overheard a comment from a brother following the singing of the absent brethren’s song, that he was amazed he could remember it. It’s all in there (taps head) companions, like a muscle memory.
Across the Province, over the last 6 weeks I am delighted to report that we have seen a resurgence in interest in joining the Royal Arch and whilst on paper the numbers are down a little from March 2020, it is clear that should be temporary as many chapters are reporting brethren filling in form P’s to join a chapter.
The Province will continue to try and support all Chapters on nights of exaltation, but please be understanding if it is not possible as the diaries are exceptionally busy. The unique RA option of exalting at 14 days’ notice is marvellous but please be aware it is unlikely a member of the Provincial Executive will be able to attend to support the exaltation with that level of notice.
Despite all this good news I have to acknowledge that we do have a number of chapters where their membership numbers have sadly fallen rather low, and their profile now is getting somewhat critical. I do not intend to stand idly by and watch this happen and I am determined that the Province is always here to help. In reality of course, there is no magic wand that will suddenly deliver a number of potential exaltees but we are looking at ways that chapters who find themselves in these positions can be helped with a plan to move forward in a structured manner. A manner that shows due respect to its history and their founders, whilst recognising the uncomfortable fact that for some chapters the surrender of their charter has become almost unavoidable.
Mergers and amalgamations of Chapters can be a way forward and should be fully explored as an option, but the over-arching objective is the assurance that each and every member is given an opportunity to continue, and perhaps re-invigorate, their involvement in this wonderful and special Order. My advice to any Chapters that find themselves in this potential position is talk to the Province at as early a stage as you can, in confidence if you prefer, as unless we know the situation we can’t help.
On a broader scale, initiatives currently under way at both Grand Lodge and Supreme Grand Chapter level include the National Digital marketing Campaign and the revised Members Pathway. The latter should be familiar to you all as a brief guide was included in the latest copy of Freemasonry Today. We will be rolling out a program of training and guidance lead by E Comp Howard Smith in his role as Assistant Provincial Grand Master (APGM).
Whilst inevitably focused on The Craft the reality is the Masonic Pathway will lead to more brethren recognising the desirability of completing their masonic journey by being exalted into the Royal arch.
This is particularly so when also considering the impact the National Digital Marketing Campaign should have on the RA. With more members joining the Craft it is then up to each and every RA companion (not just the RA Reps and Ambassadors) to guide the new brother through the Pathway that leads to his exaltation, when the time is right for him.
Let us not shirk that responsibility companions by expecting it to be done by others but focus on the tremendous opportunities that these campaigns can present for us. FYI Howard Smith has received over 20 firm enquiries for joining freemasonry in Warwickshire since the launch of the campaign just 4 weeks ago. This looks very positive companions.
FYI Companions there is a plan to have a ‘Pathway for the Royal Arch’ in due course which is being worked on the newly formed Royal Arch Liaison Group with the great news that E comp Peter Taylor, a Past MEGS of Shropshire, has been asked to advise the committee. He is a passionate RA mason, and I was very pleased to hear of his involvement.
So, what have the Province been up to over the last few months. Well, the provincial team have continued to be very busy, even when no meetings were taking place.
On a practical front we have been able to provide brand new RA carpets to a number of our masonic halls that didn’t have the perspective carpet, a project that has been organised by E Comp Geoff Walker, to whom I am very grateful. This will enhance the experience of the exaltee and encourage a greater understanding of the exaltation ceremony.
We also have brand new surplices on show as modelled by the Scribe E and others. These have been organised by E Comp Nigel Hawkins and whilst they serve modestly to enhance the overall RA experience, it certainly makes them all look a little less dishevelled!
In preparing for this address I looked back on my video address last year. I announced a couple of initiatives that for obvious reasons weren’t able to be actioned during the suspension.
Firstly, I was delighted with the initial response to the TLC – Travelling Loving Cup – idea as it started its journey around the Province. Clearly is has been rather stuck of late though but was nonetheless kept safe at the home of E Comp Mike Hogarth the Scribe E of Leigh Chapter.
Leigh is a large Chapter and therefore has the resources to turn out in numbers, as indeed do a few others. So, I decided to tweak the TLC idea a little as follows.
I placed an obligation on Leigh Chapter members that once freemasonry resumed in full then within 2 months they were to have selected and visited by agreement, another Chapter outside of their usual meeting rooms to present them with the TLC. In accepting the visit, and therefore the TLC from Leigh, the receiving chapter will then enter an obligation to have handed it on, again by agreement, to another Warwickshire Chapter that meets in a different centre within 2 months. Each time it is handed on the TLC must be escorted by at least three Companions from the host chapter to ensure its safe delivery.
I would suggest the hand-over is made during the visitors’ response at the Festive board. This should ensure the TLC keeps moving around our Province and will enable some of our smaller Chapters to both receive it and to hand it on. I hope this will encourage more inter-visiting. I would also hope that a record of its journey is maintained and that photos of the handover can be taken for the Provincial website and social media channels.
In accordance with the new rules Leigh Chapter are therefore planning a visit to Nuneaton to deliver the TLC to Bedeword Chapter on 17th November, who will then have it in time for their upcoming 50 year celebratory convocation, before then themselves taking it on to another chapter, outside of Nuneaton, accompanied by three companions from Bedeword Chapter. Let’s hope no more lockdowns get in the way of the TLC’s travels.
Once again, Supreme Grand Chapter couldn’t take place in April and therefore the new companions who were to be appointed and promoted didn’t get the opportunity to be invested as such on the dais of the Grand Temple. A great disappointment, I am sure.
We did try and salve that a little by holding a Zoom call to congratulate the Companions concerned and once again E Comp Gareth Jones the 3rd Grand Principal kindly joined the Zoom call to offer his personal congratulations. So can we give a Warwickshire congratulatory round of applause to the following;
E comp John Starley on his promotion to Past Assistant Grand Sojoner.
E Comp John Harris on his appointment to Past Grand Standard Bearer.
And E Comp Mark Phillips on his appointment to Past Grand Standard Bearer.
All worthy recipients.
It was of course the right thing to do to invite all the acting officers from 2020 to serve another term of office. Many of you are here today and I thank you for your support. As I said earlier, it has got very busy and I am sure you will be able to make up for the lack of activity during the last season by an abundance of it in this.
There were of necessity some changes that took place to the acting team. E Comp David Graham, our long serving Provincial Grand Scribe E (ProvGSE) stood down after 5 years. He has been a tower of support for the province in general and for me in particular. I am so grateful for all he has done for me, the advice and guidance, his reassurance and his kindness have all been very valuable.
Companions, having stepped down as ProvGSE I was very concerned for Companion David that, with the removal of such a huge job in masonry, he would then have just too much time on his hands. So, I was delighted when he agreed to become the very first Assistant to the Provincial Grand Principals’ in Warwickshire. Congratulations are in order Companions.
As I said earlier The role of Assistant to the Provincial Grand Principals’ does exactly what it says on the tin (to coin a phrase) as the Assistant to the Provincial Grand Principals’ stands in and acts as a Provincial Grand Principal whenever required. He should be treated in exactly the same way as any of the Provincial Grand Principals’. I know David’s friendly and warm manner will be appreciated by Chapters as he visits them across the Province presiding at installations, supporting exaltations and other events.
With E Comp David moving on this left a gap in the office of ProvGSE and I am delighted that E Comp Paul Regan has stepped into the role. He has big shoes to fill but I am sure you will join with me in wishing him well. I have every confidence he will do so with style.
E Comp Gary Evans also stepped down as the Provincial Assistant Grand Scribe E after many years. In his usual quiet and unassuming way, he has helped to organise all the big events, be that the Principals’ and Past Principals’ dinner, the Church service and the tea or the annual convocation festive board plus many others. I last year awarded him with my Certificate of Merit, a just reward for all his hard work. His other uncollared role of Provincial Chief Whip will continue so he won’t be letting you off the hook just yet.
As his replacement I was pleased to appoint E Comp Simon Grove who is well known to you all and is a truly committed Warwickshire Freemason, despite actually living in Wiltshire – true commitment Companions.
E Comp Howard Smith has been our Provincial Grand Charity Steward for a comparatively short time but has made a notable impact on the role non the less. With his appointment as an APGM in the Craft along with his other commitments, it was a sensible decision for him to step down in this role and I was delighted to appoint E Comp Steven Price as Provincial Grand Charity Steward.
With the rhythm of our masonic lives resuming I am sure E Comp Steven will become a key player in the charitable work of the Province working alongside E Comp Rod Hinton, our Provincial Grand Almoner.
Talking charity, the Warwickshire Royal Arch Benevolent Fund (WRABF) has remained busy with the management committee and trustees continuing to look for suitable projects to support. As always Companions, if you are aware of a local community project that could be deserving of our support then please contact E Comp Rod with any details. Please also consider, when your meetings resume, that donations to the Benevolent Fund are the life blood of the fabulous work that they can do.
There have been a couple of changes to the management committee and board of trustees of the WRABF. E Comp Paul Wheeler, a member since 2008, stepped down as vice chairman and trustee. His service to the fund has been invaluable and I am enormously grateful to him for all he has done.
In his stead I was pleased to appoint E Comp John Hayward, a companion who needs little introduction and who’s work in the Craft proves he has charity work in his DNA. I am very excited about his taking on this role and I am sure you will see his knowledge and input bringing benefit to the fund in the future.
E Comp Ron Eamonson served as a trustee and member of the management committee to the fund I think from its inception. His time commitment, sage advice and unfailing wisdom has been incalculable over that time, and we should also be deeply grateful for all that he has done. In stepping down I was pleased to invite E comp Wade Dimitri to join the management committee. E Comp Wade is also well-known across Warwickshire and with his professional back-ground and obvious insight and knowledge will be a valuable member of the trustees and management board.
Now, looking forward companions to 2022, I should highlight a small change to the timing of the announcement of next year’s Provincial appointments and promotions. Considerations and research for Appointments & Promotions in July 2022 would normally commence in January 2021, however, no meetings were taking place between January and September, and so to allow for a little more time for Chapters to complete the Appointment and Promotion forms, and for the Provincial Team to do likewise, we will delay the announcement of next year’s appointments and promotions until April 2022 rather than making the usual announcements in January. This is another necessary alteration caused by the masonic suspension – let’s hope it will be the last.
Companions, I want to thank the Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies and his team for all their hard work today. I know he rehearsed everyone hard and the results speak for themselves.
Likewise the famous ‘amigo’ team that have helped to set up the Chapter and to Rugby masonic rooms for your hospitality.
Finally, my thanks to the Provincial Grand Scribe E who has worked tirelessly to organise this his first Provincial Annual Convocation to such good effect.
Let’s hope that next year we can resume a more usual meeting and invite a plethora of guests and all Warwickshire companions to come along and experience Warwickshire’s convivial hospitality.
Finally Companions to all of you here today I thank you. I thoroughly enjoy being the Grand Superintendent over this wonderful Province of ours and I hope that you all equally enjoy your Royal Arch Masonry. Having now become a double-header I have inevitably had to make some changes to the way I can fulfil both roles effectively, but I promise that my focus and passion for the Royal Arch will not be diminished in anyway. Indeed, the opportunities that I now have to work closely with the RW Provincial Grand Master, who I hear is a truly splendid fellow, can only bring benefit to the Royal Arch in our Province. Watch this space companions!
I value you all very greatly and may the True and Living God Most High bless you and keep you always.
Thank you for reading.