Annual Meeting of Provincial Grand Lodge, on the 17th November 2016
Brethren, please let me begin my annual address by repeating my thanks to you all for being here this afternoon.
I must also congratulate all those Brethren who are to be appointed or promoted within this Province and thank those who relinquish their appointments today, for their hard work, enthusiasm and commitment.
It is also essential that I should thank the very Senior members of this Province, including the Deputy Provincial Grand Master, the Assistant Provincial Grand Masters, the Provincial Grand Secretary and all the members of the Craft Cabinet, never forgetting the Deputy Grand Superintendent, the Second Provincial Grand Principal and Third Provincial Grand Principals in the Royal Arch and, of course, all the Secretariat at Ashday Lea.
I am very lucky, because all of those Brethren and all the staff are good friends of mine and it is a privilege for me to work with them.
As many of you know, I use this annual address to highlight what has happened over the last twelve months and to share with you what is happening now and in the future.
This last year has been a very busy time for most of us.
As a result of the devastation caused by storms and flooding in this Province last Christmas, I have set up an Emergency Planning Committee and a Provincial Flood Relief Committee to ensure that we will not be caught on the back foot again.  The Emergency Planning Committee under the Chairmanship of WBro Chad Northcott and the Relief Committee chaired by the Deputy Provincial Grand Master will not only disperse funds to those adversely affected in the future but will, now be in a position to react quickly and decisively should such devastation occur again.
This last year, I have concentrated on the importance of the Royal Arch Representatives in our various Craft Lodges.  The selection of the right Brethren to occupy this position in the Lodges is of special significance to me to ensure that at the appropriate time more members of the Craft are encouraged to join the Holy Royal Arch.  Assistance to the Lodges to accomplish the success we wish to see will be available through the Chain of Command in both the Craft and Royal Arch.
We have also set up a Committee which concentrates on Recruitment of non-masons into Freemasonry.
This Committee chaired by WBro John Farrington has already taken a number of initiatives which will assist in that process.  I have appointed WBro Dr Mo Afsa as the Provincial Membership Officer and he together with the assistance of other members of John Farrington’s Committee have made a number of presentations within this Province which have been very well received.
As an important adjunction to our Recruitment Drive, earlier this year, I was delighted to launch a brand new trailer which highlights the many advantages of joining Masonry.  It has already been on display at many public events such as agricultural shows, country fairs and anywhere else appropriate.
Many of you will have seen the trailer outside this Hall today and I hope you approve of our initiative.  My special thanks go to WBro David Lightbown and his colleagues for ensuring that this trailer is something we can all be proud of.  Please inform us whenever and wherever you think it could be effectively used.
I can also announce that the new Provincial Website is launched today.
The new format has been skilfully and professionally prepared.  It is attractive and engaging and will assist us in our task for increasing recruitment as well as being of considerable assistance to all of you in keeping up to date with various developments in this Province.
I must also mention that this Province, along with others, has been selected by Grand Lodge to pilot their initiative on the Pathway strategy – again encouraging recruitment and retention and ensuring that the selection process of new members is more carefully processed.
This initiative together with Masonic Education, Leadership training and a strategy on Masonic Halls has now passed from the Membership Focus Group, set up by Grand Lodge, to a new body entitled the Improvement Delivery Group.  The IDG will be under the Chairmanship of the Assistant Grand Master the Right Worshipful Bro, Sir David Wootton and I am pleased to say that the RWBro Stephen Blank will sit on it.
The preparation of many of the papers emanating from this national strategy, have been greatly assisted by the significant input of our own Provincial Grand Mentor, WBro Alan Kirwilliam and in the case of the Education initiative by WBro Chris Welton.  We are emphasising the importance of our ritual and our desire to make our meetings more interesting and enjoyable in preparation for the Tercentenary next year.  I promised at this meeting last year that we would launch a new Video or DVD which will go on our Website.  WBro John Hesketh and his wife Sandy have already captured on film a selection of interviews with younger Brethren in this Province, many of whom wear light blue aprons, who have shared their reasons for joining and their enjoyment of Masonry.  It also captures the experience of a young wife who details why she supports her husband in his Masonic journey.  As this is the wife of WBro Chad Northcott, it would be appropriate to describe her as a child bride with the patience of a saint.
This video will be available in the run up to the Tercentenary and I must emphasise Brethren that this is yet another recruitment initiative.
All of this leads me onto our Tercentenary in 2017 when we celebrate 300 years of Freemasonry.  It will be a glorious opportunity for us to emphasise the importance of Masonry – not only in our communities but regionally and nationally.
As many of you know nationally the United Grand Lodge will mark the Tercentenary with a huge meeting in the Royal Albert Hall in London on the 31st October next year.  It will be presided over by the Most Worshipful Grand Master, the Duke of Kent.  That will be followed by a formal dinner at the Battersea Evolution.  As one of the larger Provinces we have been allocated 71 tickets for the Royal Albert Hall and 26 tickets for the Dinner.
I am anxious that all members of the Province, irrespective of rank, should have the opportunity for applying and that any procedure implemented to allocate places is fairly administered.  The Provincial Grand Secretary will – in due course – advise all our members of this procedure.
A video of both these events will capture the significance of them and I intend to arrange that to be shown within this Province at a venue and time to be decided.
Quite apart from events which will be organised by individual Lodges and Districts, it is important that I should underline what events are being organised by us at Provincial level.
First of all, I am encouraging all the various Hall Companies within the Province to open their doors to welcome, Mayors, MP’s, Leaders of the Clergy, other leaders in the community and many other non-masons to witness at first hand what we do and why we wish them to join in our celebration.
We will be holding an East Lancashire Tercentenary Dinner at the Macron Stadium in Bolton with a party worthy of our 300th Birthday and where we will simply have fun.
We will also have a Teddy Bears Picnic at Hewlett Court on Saturday, 1 July.  It is an opportunity for us to showcase Freemasonry in this Province.  It will be a day with something for everyone, but especially the children, grandchildren and of course teddy bears.  I am still waiting for nominations from Lodges to recommend a clown in their Lodge.  I would have thought it wouldn’t be difficult.
On Saturday, the 28th October we will celebrate 300 years of Freemasonry and Music by holding a unique Concert at this Hall.
It will feature the Greater Manchester Police Band, fanfare trumpeters, the superb Haydock Male Voice Choir, guest soloists all tied together with a narrative plotting our Masonic history against a historical and musical backdrop leading up to the present day.
I think perhaps the most exciting and significant event of the year is that I can now confirm that Manchester Cathedral have generously agreed to host a celebration of our 300th Birthday on Sunday, the 17th September.
We are one of the few Provinces to have been able to secure such an event and the fact we have managed to do so is a great achievement for our Province.  I have been ably supported in this undertaking by WBro the Reverend Canon Richard Hawkins – an Honorary Canon of the Cathedral, who has been tireless in arranging this landmark event.  After this address, I will be appointing him to be Provincial Grand Chaplain.  This event will be, of course be a family occasion and an opportunity for all religious faiths to come together and recognise and celebrate the significance of 300 years of English Freemasonry.
In addition to all this, I should inform you that I have invited the Most Worshipful Grand Master, the Duke of Kent to officially open the newly renovated Freemasons’ Hall in Manchester in the Autumn of next year.
I hope you will all be impressed by the events which I have now catalogued.  Just looking at them and thinking about them, I am physically and mentally exhausted.  I am sure you will support them wherever you can.
Brethren, many of you will have realised that throughout this address, I have repeatedly referred to the importance of us enjoying our Freemasonry.  It is in my opinion, the most important part of our commitment to the Craft.  Without that enjoyment, none of us would continue to do what we do.
But there is another very significant bond which binds us all together and that is the critical importance of family to each and every one of us.
In the website of the United Grand Lodge of England it emphasises that all Freemasons consider the importance of family to be “Paramount”.
You will soon discover when the new video is launched, that in my brief introduction to it that I use the words – and I quote – “as Freemasons, we are expected to put our families first”.
These words are not some idle dream or a placatory statement simply to encourage people to join us but a fundamental truth which is the cornerstone of our commitment to a civilized society.
Whilst it is true that we are one of the world’s oldest and longest non-religious fraternal and charitable organisations, it is also true that we are very proud of the fact that we have members who are Christians, Jewish, Muslim and from many other denominations.
What is significant is that all these denominations prize, the importance of family as being paramount in their lives.  Every single one of them.
It is an unequivocal statement that our families in general have such importance to us, that they are the glue which holds us together and has a deeper meaning which allows us to become better people in such a troublesome and turbulent world.
I am very proud of that commitment; it has immense significance for me personally.  It is no wonder then that in every description of Freemasonry to enlighten non masons of our beliefs, whether on a website, in serious articles on the Craft and in our ceremonies, the word “family” occurs, time and time again.
I have only just realised that when I was describing the events planned for our Tercentenary, I used words such as “this will be a family occasion” or “this will be family event”.  That in itself is significant!!
Finally, Brethren, there is of course, another family.  The family of Masons which I am proud to be a member of.  Your help and support in ensuring that this family of masons in this Province is in good heart is invaluable.  It is a powerful force for good.  As in Freemasonry in general!
In a world full of people who couldn’t “care less” , we all try to be people who “care more”.
I wish each and every one of you continued success in the year that lies ahead.