Brethren, my grateful thanks to you all for your attendance this evening and, as always, for your support throughout the Masonic season – specifically ahead of the forthcoming Provincial Grand Lodge (PGL) meeting, where I look forward to seeing you all.

Firstly, I am delighted to welcome a 50% increase in the attendance of our Light Blues Club (LBC), which has tonight taken three tables at our event.  This pool of talent represents our future – and I hope that they have enjoyed the proceedings.

This is the first step to ensuring that we modernise and evolve the Mess in its current format and make it more inclusive and effective, an issue that I will be turning to later on in my address.

2019 Strategy

As with every developing membership organisation, our strategy continuously evolves.  As I announced at last year’s Provincial Grand Lodge meeting – our three Provincial Strategic Objectives for 2019 and beyond will be: –

  • More Members
  • More Money
  • More Community Profile

This year, our main focus will be on achieving results, and I know that we have the right team at Executive level in both Orders to achieve that aim – each of my Executive team are in no doubt that they are accountable for the performance of their respective functions and I am looking for that same level of accountability and performance at every level of the Province, especially in our Lodges and Chapters.

No.1 – More Members

Membership remains our principal and over-riding objective and put simply, we are still not doing nearly enough about membership.

The rate of membership decline in the Craft remains to me unacceptably high.  In particular, those that I consider as “controllable losses” namely – resignations, exclusions and cessations.  For the last 12 months till 28 February, our membership has declined by 120 members – from 4,477 to 4,357, and our memberships reduced by 131.

Whilst we increased memberships from initiations, joining and rejoining memberships to our Lodges by 271, we lost 402 – the principal losses being 201 resignations, 26 cessations and exclusions with 96 lost thought death.

Had there been no resignations, we would have been in positive territory, and I appeal to you all to ensure that we absolutely minimize these controllable losses, whilst focusing on attracting like-minded people to the Craft.

With less than 10% of our memberships under 40, and 35% over 70, we really must focus our attention on membership above all else and manage down controllable losses wherever and whenever we can.

Members’ Pathway

To achieve that aim, I commend to you the Members’ Pathway – it sets out 11 simple steps – from “Lodge Planning” to “Retrieving Members” – including the Royal Arch as a key step – and clearly defines the roles which the Membership Officer, Mentor and Almoner in Lodges an Chapters will need to play.  Each Lodge will receive all the necessary information to implement the Pathway and our new Membership team will provide any help and assistance you may require to succeed with this objective.

Despite these trends, I continue to be excited about the sense of purpose and the spirit in which the Lodge and Chapter meetings I have recently visited are held.

Each Centre has been provided with copies of the LBC brochure, and I am keen to see as many members who have yet to received Provincial Rank, join that Club – whilst each Lodge will continue to shape a member’s Masonic journey, the Club will provide social opportunities for our members and their families and cement their interest in yours and Provincial activities, whilst eliminating the number of resignations we receive within the first three years of membership.

I’m also excited that I have received further expressions of interest for new themed Lodges – based on Rugby, Golf, Motoring, Music and Marine themes – which will allow us to rescue ailing Lodges or start new ones if that is the wish of the petitioners.  These will enable us to access a considerable number of non-Masons who share these interests.  I encourage any of you who have further ideas in this area to come forward so that we can increase our membership still further.

To help the cause, we will be launching our new Provincial website at PGL in May which will not only continue to be an ongoing resource for our members, but much more engaging for the public who may be considering membership.

Brethren, no amount of advertising, brochures or pop-up stands are in any way as effective for membership growth, as your personal invitation to become a Freemason to your family or circle of friends and acquaintances – please, please – let’s increase our proactivity and encourage our circle of contacts to become part of this wonderful fraternity.

No.2 – More Money – Festival 2026

You are all aware that we will be launching the 2026 Festival on 1 January 2020.

I believe the key to our success is optimal planning and preparation – to that end, I want to reinforce my earlier request that all Lodges and Chapters to use 2019 to achieve two key objectives: –

Firstly, to replenish your Relief chests with the proceeds of your raffles, other events and donations so that each Lodge and Chapter has the resources to make a meaningful donation to the Festival at launch, which will set us on our way with a purpose.

Secondly, it is essential that every member of the Province makes regular modest contributions by gift aid to the 2026 Festival which is in accordance with their financial means – if each of us were to do so, we will achieve our aim with ease and without the need for more last minute pushes which we have had to face in the past.

I have been hugely impressed with the work that Roland Stokes has undertaken to date on our behalf – he has appointed a team of Festival Liaison Officers to assist him and bespoke Provincial Festival Stationary has been produced in conjunction with the Masonic Charitable Foundation.

No.3 – More Community Involvement

Our Communications Team is continually seeking press and media opportunities to illustrate how Freemasonry can make a positive contribution to society – by identifying local good causes where West Kent might make an impact, and I need your continued contribution wherever you can identify an opportunity for us to do so.

This year, we have helped Lee Baker, a member in our Community, to overcome a life-threatening illness, we’ve supported a Girl Scout achieve her lifetime dream of attending the World Scout Jamboree, allowed an 8 year old boy with a terminal illness to achieve some of the items in his bucket list through the kind auspices of Andrew Child, and through a tip-off from Stefan Wright, of Brunt Ash Lodge, garnered 16 members to refurbish a Pensioner’s home who had been burgled – each of which made the Press.  Oh, and the lady’s son-in-law was so touched with how we helped her in her time of need, that he has applied for membership.

To further enhance West Kent’s community profile, and expand the scope of the Communications Team – a new External Events Team, co-ordinated by James McNulty – will help promote the Province at local shows, displays and public events in the wider community during 2019 and beyond.

Our Executive and I, along with West Kent Members at all levels, continue to participate in Civic Parades and local events – many of which have involved wearing Regalia in public, continuing to increase our local presence, and the public’s awareness of Freemasonry and its values.

As I have mentioned before, given our ambition of “more community presence” and greater external understanding – I am keen to ensure that all that we do in the field of Benevolence and Charity is completely aligned to achieving this aim, and has a clear strategic direction.

There is a big difference between activity – and strategic direction.   Whilst we have achieved much in the fields of benevolence and charity, Philip May, in his new role, will help to provide strategic direction for all our “Non-2026 Festival” charitable and member welfare endeavours.

As a start down this road…. you will all have seen my recent note to encourage Lodges and Chapters to focus their charitable contributions on the 2026 Festival – and submit Petitions for individual local good causes to the Provincial Charity Committee for their support.  To help facilitate this process, I shall be attending Provincial Charity Committee meetings to explore how we might help to further support this process.

Regarding Education and Learning, you will have seen the article on the new Solomon portal in the latest edition of FT.  This resource is open to all members and is a superb source of information, much of which can be included in your Lodge’s agenda as 3-4 minute Learning nuggets and I commend it to you.

I recently announced the appointment of W.Bro Tony Harvey as Head of Learning and Development in the Province, and he will be responsible for maximizing our member’s masonic education, knowledge and awareness, and also focus on improving our Training resource.  You will have all seen my recent eFlash requesting expressions of interest from those who wish to be considered for three key posts in his team, and he looks forward to hearing from you.

New tie

Last year, I asked for expressions of interest from you for the design of our new Provincial Tie.  I asked you to be innovative and creative, and propose a design which could be worn in public and our meetings alike, that was not dour and dark, without obvious Masonic symbolism and which identified our Province and the County of Kent.  We received very many designs and the wining submission was received from Bro John James, and I’m pleased to show you a preview of the tie now.

It will be available in two forms – one for members to purchase and a second – more cherished version with Gold Invicta horses, which will be presented only to those who have excelled and gone the extra mile to assist with our objectives.  The tie will be available for sale at PGL together with many other items, including the DVD of the last PGL meeting.

We have also produced a Members’ Passbook – a compendium of Masonic information and an almanac of a members’ Masonic journey – a personal “Grand Tour” – which is equally geared to younger and more seasoned members alike.  It is a fascinating and very useful addition to a member’s Masonic toolkit and will also be available at PGL.  The proceeds of all these items will support the 2026 Festival.

In addition, I am pleased to share with you a preview of the new Provincial Jewel, which should receive approval by the Grand Master’s Council in June, and which will be available to those who have appropriately supported the 2026 Festival – more details will be provided to your Charity Stewards in due course.

Grand Ranks

Brethren, I always like to be the bearer of good news and I’m delighted to advise you that the Most Worshipful Grand Master and First Grand Principal, his royal highness, the Duke of Kent, has been pleased to make the following appointments and promotions in Grand rank: –

CRAFT FIRST APPOINTMENTS

Andrew Charles WADDINGTON ………………………………………. PJGD

Anthony Roger FLINT (also ProvGSec Sussex)………………….. PAGDC

Walter GRUNDY ……………………………………………………………… PAGDC

Sushil Kumar Chandulal RADIA……………………………………….. PAGDC

Robert James RAFF………………………………………………………….. PAGDC

Graham RAVEN……………………………………………………………….. PAGDC

Graham Douglas HORSMAN…………………………………………….. PGStB

Ian Russell MACKNELLY………………………………………………….. PGStB

CRAFT PROMOTIONS

To

Brig. William Edward SHACKELL, CBE PJGW……………………. PSGW

Mark Robert Jason EYLES-THOMAS PSGD………………………… PGSwdB

James John MARSH PAGDC………………………………………………. PSGD

Dr John William Arthur REUTER JGD……………………………….. PSGD

David JORDAN PAGDC……………………………………………………… PJGD

Edward John SMITH PAGDC…………………………………………….. PJGD

CRAFT RE-APPOINTMENTS

Peter Geoffrey LOWNDES………………………………………………… ProGM

James Henry NEWMAN, OBE……………………………………………. DepPresMCF

ROYAL ARCH FIRST APPOINTMENTS

 

Anthony BURD ……………………………………………………………….. PGStB

Gregory DUNHAM …………………………………………………………… PGStB

 

ROYAL ARCH PROMOTIONS

To

John Robert BAKER PGStB. ……………………………………………… PAGSoj

In addition, I am pleased to announce the following appointments and promotions to the Royal Arch Executive team, which will become effective at our Provincial Grand Chapter meeting in November.

  • Brian Saunders will be reappointed as Deputy Grand Superintendent
  • After years of excellent service as 3rd and 2nd Provincial Grand Principal (PGP), Michael Stillwell will be standing down this year – I am most grateful for his superb service and wish him well in the future.
  • Alan Cope will be promoted from 3rd PGP to 2nd PGP, and Ex Comp Bipin Patel will be our new 3rd PGP
  • After 3 years of excellent service as Assistant to the PGPs, Graham Raven will be standing down this year – I am most grateful for his energy and enthusiasm he has shown in this role and in his new role in the Provincial Office.
  • I have appointed Ex Comp Anthony Burd to succeed him and Ex Comp Michael Page will be reappointed as APGP.

APGMs

I would very much like the spotlight to be directed, for a few moments, on four dedicated members, with particular reference to their highly valued contribution – Philip May, Eric Hampson, James Marsh and Andrew Waddington.

You’ll be aware that I publish my movements on our Facebook page, so that members are aware of what the Exec does on their behalf – but my efforts pale into insignificance, when we consider their efforts behind the scenes over the last 12 months.  They visit Lodges in their Group every other year, visit other Provincial Grand Lodge meetings, undertake 50th citations, presentation of Grand Lodge certificates and these duties can add up to over 35 visits a year.

There have dealt with the demands of GDPR and the introduction of Basecamp, to ensure that documentation is available for review and decision-making.  This has impacted dramatically on the documentation that they complete – yet they have met these challenges with the upmost care, due diligence and professionalism.

The introduction of the new Provincial Honours assessment system – where members are appropriately rewarded for their efforts for their Lodges, the Province and the Community – has also seen a marked increase in their administrative activity.

Given that some members had not been reviewed for promotion for some time, I instigated a root-and-branch review by the APGMs of some 4,300 members of the Province, so that we could be certain that none had been overlooked, including long-standing Master Masons.  This review took substantial man-hours and the first tranche of that review will be rewarded at this year’s PGL.

Last year, we introduced an Honours’ board, where each and every candidate for appointment and promotion was discussed before the schedule was submitted to me for approval – this event took the team over 12 hours, with over 340 individuals being recommended for preferment in May 2019.

It has also culminated in over 132 individuals already being recommended for appointment or promotion at PGL in 2020.  In fact, given the new procedures I implemented for talent management, they have already identified some 530 individuals be considered for preferment over the next 5 years – a quite incredible achievement, which will ensure the future success of the Province.

So, for those of you who aspire to a position on the Provincial Executive, you can be assured that it it’s not all glitz and glamour, but their contribution to date and their output has been extraordinary and, they deserve our utmost appreciation and respect. Brethren, perhaps you’ll join me in congratulating them for their efforts to date.

Changes to the Provincial Officers’ Mess (POM)

At our last POM I stated and I quote – “we have witnessed the inclusion of Master Masons at Quarterly Communications of Grand Lodge, and this is the first step to ensuring that we modernise and evolve the POM in its current format and make it more effective, an issue I will be giving a great deal of time to over the coming weeks. ” – and we have sought the opinions of other in Executive on this matter.

The rules of the POM as detailed the Provincial Handbook state and I quote” that the Mess is to promote the welfare of the Province and to give its members the opportunity of meeting together and discussing matters of Masonic interest”.

However, if I look back at my last 20 years of attendance since being appointed a Provincial Steward, I reflected that this bi-annual meeting lasts some 3-4 hours, however, I rarely got a chance to mix with many of its members as I was rooted to a table over dinner, and the PGM got no more than 10 minutes of air time with us to share his ideas.  I also noted that we rarely – if ever – heard from any other members of the Executive nor had a change to interact with them.  This feeling has not left me since that time and has not wavered since my tenure as PGM.

We have some 2,000 members qualified to attend but yet we rarely meet the 300 member capacity of this venue – tonight, we only have some 220, which has been augmented by 26 LBC members – I can only assume that either those that can attend choose not to – and those that want to do so, cannot because they do not qualify to attend. We also have a high number of resignations from those through the Chair, due to a lack of a progressive office, or Provincial engagement.

In addition, we also face a huge administrative burden for the Provincial Secretary and Treasurer in keeping track of and processing 2,000 £4 annual subscriptions from each of you each year, which translate to an 85 page Bank statement to reconcile.

I and others have given serious though to the future of the Mess – and can now formally announce that this will be the last POM in its historic format.

As from 1 July, the Provincial Officers Mess:

  • Will become a bi-annual Provincial Conference
  • Have new Terms of Reference for membership
  • The annual subscription mechanism will be reviewed
  • Be open to all who have reached the rank of Worshipful Masters
  • Have no formal “Top Table” but move to a buffet format to facilitate discussion and improve access to PGM, Executive and Senior Officers
  • Be a more interactive meeting, allowing attendees to engage with the Executive and each other, so that we can learn much more from you – our key Provincial resource, and
  • If successful, perhaps we can consider making it peripatetic – to be more inclusive to those who have far to travel

Before I close, I have a number of important reminders and dates for your diary.

We have received positive response for bookings for the Provincial Grand Lodge meeting on 7 May, which this year will again be open to our families and prospective members alike.  However, I’m aware that a number of Lodges, and indeed recipients of appointments or promotions this year, have yet to submit their bookings so please do so as soon as possible.

In addition to the PGL meeting, other dates of interest are:

  • Provincial Quiz Friday 29 March                    Oakley House
  • PSA Testing Saturday 13 April                  Sevenoaks
  • PGDKC Summer Fair Saturday 11 May                   PGDKC
  • Provincial Church Service Sunday 12 May                      Rochester
  • Provincial Film Night Sunday 21 July                       Stag Theatre, Sevenoaks

Brethren, as always, it is a pleasure to have been able to be in your company and … until we meet again … may God bless you all.