Brethren all, I now have the opportunity to address you for the first time, face to face, since my Installation in July 2019. I will begin by thanking you all for your attendance today at this unusual point in London’s diary of events. Normally July is the occasion to report on the previous year’s activities and to reflect on our successes; and yet here we are at a September Annual Meeting, driven by circumstances beyond our control, already well into our 2022 programme of events. Rest assured that next year we will revert to our usual date – 14th July.
I don’t want this Address to be overly focussed on the difficulties of the past 18 months, but feel that it is important to reflect proudly on all the great things achieved during lockdown and suspension; especially the charitable works undertaken by many of you – so many good deeds carried out, often quietly and modestly, which have demonstrated the generosity of spirit which characterises Freemasons and which has turned what might have been a catastrophe for our Institution, into a triumph of community involvement and support for those less fortunate than ourselves.
At this early stage in my “brief” Address, I bring you all the best wishes of the MW Pro Grand Master, who had intended to honour us with his presence today but – perhaps scared off by the presence of the massed pipes and drums – he has decided to take a day off from his own extremely busy agenda of meetings and Installations of new PGMs!
I have already welcomed the Province’s Official Guests. I would reiterate that welcome and this time include all visitors to this our Annual Meeting, in this magnificent building – the very heart of English Masonry.
As a starting point for what I wanted to say today, I of course read over the Address I gave at our Virtual Annual Meeting in July 2020 – that memorable Zoom session when out of the 762 registered attendees, over 400 Tom Quinns were logged on! At that time there was a quiet optimism that the country would be emerging soon from lockdown and that Freemasonry would be starting up again in the autumn. How wrong we were. Nevertheless for a further year, Mark Masonry continued on an electronic basis and you, the Brethren of London, kept up the momentum of virtual business and social gatherings. On the social front there were many initiatives, like quizzes, Tea-at-Three, our 3-day VE Celebrations and, of course who could forget our Virtual Burns Supper with 350 brethren and families on line and the fantastic performance of our heavily disguised Deputy Grand Master!
On the business front you kept the Secretariat busy by applying for over 400 Provincial Dispensations and Letters of Permission to enable important items of business and elections of Masters and Treasurers to take place by Zoom – the new Patron Saint of Masonry. All that hard work in a virtual environment has brought us to a good place for the start of our 2021/22 session and already underway are the 65 Official Visits by the Chains and 30 Full Team Visits, where I will be heading up Delegations. That’s 95 of our 105 Lodges due an Official Visitor during the current season.
That leads me neatly to say to all those who I have had the pleasure of appointing and investing today, well done and congratulations! Your appointment is genuinely intended as a reward for past services to your lodges and the Province; and also as an exhortation to further service – and one of the ways you can demonstrate this is by attending those Official Visits not only in support of the Chain heading up the delegation but by contributing to the atmosphere and enjoyment of the Lodge meetings themselves.
Suspension and lockdown may have been a period of reduced travel and reduced masonic ceremonial, but it was no holiday for the Secretariat team who continued to support the business of your Lodges in many different ways. W. Bro. Robert Anderson and team – thank you so much for all your hard work for today’s arrangements and throughout the year. The innovations you have been making regarding the efficient administration of the Province are proving a very positive experience and you are indeed building on the great work of your predecessors, on which point I am delighted to have had the opportunity to promote your immediate predecessor to PPGSW this afternoon. W. Bro. Alan White, I know that you have faced your own challenges on the health front these past 2 years but we are so happy that you are on the road to recovery and are able to be with us today.
To my Executive team and the Chains in particular, please accept my most sincere thanks for your significant input to so many aspects of Provincial life and work.
Thanks for your attendance at our innumerable Zoom sessions. For your creativity and support of our Lodge Membership Co-ordinator project, our impressive PowerPoint Awareness presentation, and hosting and attending countless individual Lodge virtual sessions. Thank you also for your friendship. As a reward I have been delighted to re-appoint you all today and I look forward to continuing to work with you over the coming year.
At last year’s Virtual Annual Meeting I was obliged to acknowledge by Zoom the past services of our retiring APGM, W. Bro. Cliff Sturt. However now that we are gathered together in the flesh, I have the opportunity to do it properly. Bro. ProvGDC, would you please present W. Bro. Clifford Sturt so that I may invest him with his Past APGM’s collarette.
Continuing the theme of service to the Province, it would be appropriate at this point again to acknowledge the attendance today of our Nonagenarians and also those brethren who have received 40 Year Certificates. On behalf of everyone, please accept my thanks for your many years of service and, circumstances permitting, I hope that my successor, in due time, will be able to attend your Lodges to present your 50 year citation and certificate.
At the other end of the membership scale we have today welcomed over 20 newly Advanced Brethren into our Provincial Meeting. This number is inevitably reduced this year due to a number of factors but Brethren, once again, welcome to you all. Everyone present wishes you an exciting and rewarding career in the Mark Degree.
Wear your special lapel pin at your Craft and Chapter meetings too and help spread the gospel of this special, friendly degree in Freemasonry.
Through my involvement with the Grand Master’s Lodges of Instruction, you will be aware of my fondness for the ritual in both our Mark and Royal Ark Mariner ceremonies. That love of the ceremonial aspect of our degrees is happily shared by a number of you and this Province has, for many years, recognised this through the award of a Silver Pin for an excellent Advancement Ceremony and, starting this year, an Olive Branch Pin for those who achieve excellence in the Elevation Ceremony. I am therefore delighted this afternoon to be able to present Silver Pins to:- Meharban Juttla (The Macdonald); Henry Hobson (Onslow); Steve Roberts (Hibernia); Paul Burgess (Mapesbury); Greg Brennan (Clemency); and Olive Branch Pins to Nick Dodds (Bon Accord TI); Chris Stewart (Onslow); Graham Tarran (Guild of Freemen); Jeffrey Reese (Euclid)
Bro. ProvGDC, would you please assemble these brethren.
For many years, music has been an intrinsic part of the ceremonial at this meeting and the more observant of you may have noticed a few changes today! Sadly, Bro. Eddie Thomson who gathered together his brass ensemble and arranged the music to enhance each Annual Meeting, passed away during the year – so it has been necessary to fill that void.
The members of my Executive insisted, yes Brethren, insisted (!) that we have the stirring music of the Celtic London Pipes and Drums. There will be more of them later whilst we take up the alms collection. My thanks to Pipe Major W. Bro. David Morris and his team, to whom I’m sure you will show your appreciation when they next play.
Another change this year, although not quite so visible, is that we have the services this afternoon of Grand Organist, W. Bro. Mario Rizzardi, as W.Bro. David Cresswell is unable to be with us. W. Bro. Mario thank you so much for your wonderful music. You really make that Grand Organ – sing!!
Our In Memoriam and Prayer for departed Brethren, beautifully crafted & delivered by our Provincial Grand Chaplain, was again enhanced by the sounding of the Last Post, played so evocatively by Bro. Andrew Tovey. Thank you Chris and Andrew.
This new broom has not only been sweeping clean on the music front but I have taken the opportunity to review the activities of our Provincial Care Committee. Their duties would have been particularly onerous during the dark days at the height of the Pandemic but the Lodge Almoners and Lodge Secretaries too have proven to be very diligent in maintaining contact with the vulnerable members of their Lodges. As a consequence I have stood down that Care Committee with my grateful thanks for their past services and to make sure that Lodge Almoners have all the assistance they need in terms of resources and back-up, the Provincial Almoner, W. Bro. David Nunn has increased the support he provides through the circulation of additional literature and a series of presentations. These are continuing so, Brother Almoners, please do try to attend and where necessary seek guidance from David, who has a wealth of experience in this area and excellent contacts within the MBF and also the MCF. Thank you David for the work you have undertaken so far with the Provinces’ Almoners and on behalf of the individual members, who have required your services.
It is always traditional to mention charity during these Addresses. You, the Brethren of London, continue to display that attribute both at Lodge level and as individual members. At the recent London Installed Masters’ Lodge Meeting, 20 Brethren received their collarettes at the hands of the President of the MBF, their personal donations representing some £33,000 to that Fund. Our London Lodges responded well to the MBF request for hospice nominations in memory of the late Duke of Edinburgh, and the Chains and I have been busy attending at various establishments around the M25 to present the cheques on your behalf. The recipient of the largest number of London Lodge nominations was Richard House Children’s Hospice and at our banquet later there will be two representatives from that wonderful organisation to receive its cheque.
I would also like to announce that we have carried out an exercise, during Suspension, to calculate the MBF Level of Patronage for every London Mark Lodge and thereby arrive at a figure which, if achieved, would take your Lodge to the next patronage level. Your OV has all the information and will be in touch with Lodge Secretaries throughout the year to share this data with you.
Given the historical levels of generosity displayed by London Brethren I am confident that this will be a truly worthwhile exercise and should enhance donations to the MBF, which, as has been seen from the recent hospices exercise, continues to do such excellent work.
From the reports I receive from many sources, the future of Mark Masonry is bright and no more so than in this Province. Since our last Meeting, despite suspension we have still been able to Advance and Elevate a number of Brethren. Losses through resignations and those passed to Higher Service inevitably continue to impact on our overall memberships of 2,231 in Mark and 1,521 in Royal Ark Mariner but on the recruitment front there remains a large number of candidates in the pipeline and arrangements are at an advanced stage for the consecration of a new Mark Lodge – the RAF Lodge of MMM. Over the next few months too, we will be busy consecrating 3 new Royal Ark Mariner Lodges. Details of these events and their dates are all available on our website or from the ProvGSec. Get involved Brethren, and come along to support these ceremonies if you want to derive maximum satisfaction from your membership.
Much of the information you will need to keep you abreast of the Province’s activities can be gleaned from our website and the frequent publication of our magazine – The London Mallet. Therein you will obtain all the information you need about our past activities and forthcoming events. The website and magazine have continued to benefit from the excellent supervision of our Communications Manager, Chris James.
Chris and his team of volunteers are also responsible for the production of our Year Book, which itself will see some changes and improvements this coming November.
Brethren, to thank each and every Brother who contributes to the well-being of this large Province would take much longer than the time available for our Annual Meeting. To all of you who have helped in whatever great or small way, I offer you my heartfelt thanks. You know who you are. There are inevitably some whose services go above and beyond the normal call and, having been denied the opportunity last year due to Covid, I would like to recognise two of them this year through the PGM’s Award of Merit. This year’s recipients are brethren who work largely on secretariat type functions and whose activities are largely unseen by the majority of you but whose contribution to the well-running of many aspects of the administration of the Province, is immense and highly appreciated by those they assist. Bro. ProvGDC would you please present to me W. Bros. Gurdeep Virdee and Richard Criddle.
Bro. ProvGDC, you will no doubt be pleased to hear that this now concludes the presentations I require during this Address but Jon I would take this opportunity to thank and complement you and your team of Deputies, Assistants and Stewards for your work in the run up to this meeting, for the very effective rehearsal which started early this morning and for your slick direction so far of today’s proceedings. The Chains and I are all looking forward to being directed by you and your Team as we make our way through the programme of visits during the forthcoming season.
And now, lastly, I have some good news from a financial perspective. The Provincial Grand Treasurer and I have been considering how best to reward Lodges for their continuing support of the Province over these past difficult months – especially in the continued quest to sustain & improve membership numbers. So, for the financial year to 31 August 2022, the Province of London will reimburse all Advancement, Elevation and Joining Grand Lodge Registration Fees. Lodge Secretaries and Scribes should therefore continue to pay these Grand Lodge Fees at the time of registering new Members, but without charging Candidates and Joiners; and then claim back the monies from the Province. This arrangement will be backdated to 1st August this year to reflect the number of candidates Advanced and Elevated over this extraordinary summer period. Provincial Grand Secretary will issue detailed written guidance in the next few days. Brethren, I hope this will be seen as a significant advantage in your various Lodge Recruitment initiatives in this post pandemic age. On top of the Grand Lodge rebate of £10 per membership, there never has been a more advantageous time to become a member of a Mark or Royal Ark Mariner Lodge in this Province of London, within which you have given me the great honour and privilege to serve as its Head!
Brethren all, thank you so much for your attendance and the attention you have given to today’s delayed but nevertheless special Annual Meeting. 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 London pride and loyalty which resides in you all and which I trust will continue to inspire you in your support of this wonderful Province of London.
May the Great Overseer of the Universe bless and protect us all.