Brethren all, this is now the second time I have had the honour to address you as PGM. The arrangements for today have been somewhat different to the arrangements so many of us were involved in last July. I must say, it’s just as well that I was appointed in July 2019, for if my predecessor had decided to continue for another year, the Pro Grand Master would have been unable to install me today and you might have been landed with David Ashbolt as PGM for yet another 12 months!
Looking back over the period, September 2019 – March this year, there have been many happy and memorable events – the recollection of which has, for many of us, brightened some of the dark days of lockdown and Masonic suspension.
The Province has consecrated three new Mark Lodges – Locomotion, Spirit of Rugby and Khalsa. I was honoured to be asked to be part of the Grand Lodge team which travelled to Bucharest last October to consecrate the new Inspectorate for Romania and I am delighted to acknowledge and welcome the new Inspector, VW Bro. Cristian Mihutoiu on this Zoom meeting today. On that trip were several other London Mark Brethren, forming the back-bone of the Grand Master’s Lodge of Instruction Team which carried out the Advancement Ceremony in one of the new Romanian Lodges.
We have celebrated the 150th Anniversary of the Macdonald Lodge and I have had the great pleasure of leading full team delegations to 11 other Lodges. The Chains, accompanied by the usual numerous retinue, have also made 56 Official Visits. The Provincial Grand Secretary and I had the great honour of handing over the keys for an MBF –sponsored ambulance to St. John’s Wimbledon branch and my Deputy and I attended at the Richard House Children’s Hospice in Beckton, to present a Lifelites trunk of specialist technical toys and equipment. In February, a large group of us were guests on a visit to two Sikh Gurdwaras in North London and on the social front the End of Year Party at the Imperial Hotel and our January Burns’ Weekend in Bournemouth were the usual roaring successes.
You, the members of this Province, have introduced 105 Master Masons as Candidates for Advancement into the Magic of the Mark Degree and I welcome many of them to this virtual meeting today. At next year’s Annual Meeting you will receive a special invitation to join the newly advanced brethren’s procession into Grand Temple, along with those new members we intend to Advance between now and next July.
Brethren, you also Elevated an incredible 130 Candidates into the Royal Ark Mariner – many of whom as part of that programme to help establish the R A M Degree in Romania. There has been one successful attempt at the Silver Pin for an excellent Advancement Ceremony and three successes for the new Olive Branch Pin for an excellent Elevation Ceremony. If I was in a position to invite Worshipful Brothers Steve Roberts, Nick Dodd, Graham Tarran and Jeffrey Reese to the dais, I could present these pins now – but like so many other ceremonies, this will have to wait for another day.
Brethren, we have clocked up all these great successes and many more, between September 2019 & 17 March this year – a period of approximately six months. What an achievement! and what a testimony to the affection which you all nurture for the Mark and RAM Degrees in general and this wonderful Province of London in particular. I thank you and applaud you all most sincerely. Just think what we might have gone on to achieve, had we not had the interruption which was imposed upon us on 17 March.
That break in our Masonic activities has certainly been no holiday for many of us. The work involved in learning new technical skills, setting up and holding Lodge meetings and social gatherings by Zoom, contributing to WhatsApp and Facebook messages, joining in and following T@3 posts, Freemasons Without Borders presentations plus all the charitable work carried out in your communities and for vulnerable Lodge Members – all these have created a tremendous sense of involvement and belonging; and generated so much fraternal camaraderie during a period when we have been unable to gather together to enjoy the physical company of those friends and brothers in our Lodges and Festive Boards – which is the very essence of Freemasonry.
Inevitably, there have been those who have passed to the Grand Lodge above. Their names are recorded on page 29 of your booklet. Some of them were giants in our Order, who contributed so much to it, and whose absence we feel sorely, and we will continue to miss them for a long time to come. Perhaps after this VBM is ended, you will find a quiet moment to reflect on those we have lost and remember, with pride and happiness, what these Brethren have done for you personally and for this Province.
Standing down today after many years of dedicated and excellent service to our Province of London is W.Bro. Clifford Sturt. Cliff you have served this Province well, not only during your four years as APGM but during your time as Prov. AGDC, SD, MO and Provincial Senior Warden – a commendable record of service and one which stands as an example to us all. It’s all the more commendable when we take into consideration your years of service to the Craft and Chapter at senior levels in London, Scarlet Cord, KT and especially the Order of the Secret Monitor, where you are, currently, the much loved and respected Deputy Provincial Grand Supreme Ruler for London.
Ordinarily at this juncture, Cliff, I would invest you with your Past APGM collaret, but just like Howard’s Chain, that little ceremony will have to be postponed until a later date. However, this is not really goodbye, because you have readily accepted a new role I have created within the Province – that of Retention Officer. You have quickly established your team and set up a process which should prove successful in meeting the challenges which lie ahead of us, and in thanking you for taking on that role, I would also add that I am looking forward to continuing working with you and seeing the Province reap the rewards which I and my Executive are confident will be achieved through your efforts. Thank you!
In the time available for today’s meeting, it is not possible for me to include everything which I would like to say. I am greatly indebted to W. Bro. Mahir Kilic and Bro. Ameet Watts for their assistance in the technical aspects of setting up this virtual meeting; to the members of my Executive and to the many others who have helped – not just in making today’s event possible, but those who contribute so much throughout the year to the well-being and effective running of this wonderful Province of London. You know who you are! Thank you.
We have been honoured this evening by the presence of the Deputy Grand Master and I now have much pleasure in inviting R. W. Bro. John Prizeman to un-mute himself and to address this Meeting.
Thank you R. W. Dep. Grand Master, as an organisation, we are indeed fortunate to have Rulers who are both popular and well respected: and can I ask that you convey the very best wishes of this Province to our Pro Grand Master.
Brethren, with the re-opening of MMH, our Order, and those others who meet at 86 St. James’s Street, have begun taking the first tentative steps towards a return to some kind of normality. As we begin to emerge from our painful, temporary suspension into a changed world, I am confident that gradually, we will return to our Lodges with renewed enthusiasm for our Mark and RAM degrees.
However, it is important to stress that while the removal of suspension permits Lodges to meet it is not a direction for them to do so. Nor, at an individual level, does it amount to an expectation for any member to attend if they are uncomfortable in doing so, irrespective of the Office which they hold.
And so, I would urge any brother who is contemplating resignation, purely on the grounds of anxiety over travelling into central London – please take a further few weeks to reconsider. Nobody is being compelled to attend any meetings now or at any time in the very near future. I am sure your colleagues would understand and readily accept a further period of your absence, rather than see you leave them.
Brethren, on a positive note, it gives me great pleasure to mention your generosity. The Just Giving Page, the link for which is well publicised on our website, Facebook etc., is currently recording the magnificent sum of £7,230 once Gift Aid tax is added. This is a fantastic achievement, Brethren, as the page has only been open for two weeks. My very grateful thanks go to W Bro Attilio Grandani for researching and setting this up. My Executive has agreed that the final figure will be distributed amongst our Provincial Benevolent Fund, WLMCs programme of feeding the needy in the Ealing area, SilverLine – the Esther Rantzen charity for the elderly, SHELTER, assisting the homeless in London and ‘Suited and Booted’, a London based charity which gives disadvantaged men the means to get back into gainful employment.
On a further and final positive note, I’m pleased to announce that on the social front, our 30th Anniversary Dinner has not been cancelled but the date has been moved to Monday 8th November, 2021.
And for those of you who support the Annual Burns’ weekend at Bournemouth, the format will be different. As the Highcliffe Marriot Hotel cannot guarantee our usual dates for January 2021, we are replacing Scotland’s Robert Burns with England’s St. George! So there will be a St. George’s weekend from 16th – 18th April, 2021. Watch out for formal notifications in due course.
Brethren all, thank you so much for your attendance and the attention you have given to today’s extraordinary session. When the history of the Province is written, to cover this strange episode in all our lives, I hope that the author will be able to capture that sense of loyalty which resides in you all and which has inspired you to support this virtual meeting in such a large and commendable number.
May the Great Overseer of the Universe Bless and Protect us all.