Provincial Grand Master’s 2021 Address

by Neill Rhodes
RW.Bro. Anthony Howlett-Bolton, Provincial Grand Master of Berkshire

Brethren, it is a delight to see you all here today as we re-emerge from the restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic. In so doing, we must ensure that we remain supportive and sensitive to the needs of all our members whilst encouraging them to enjoy the experience of meeting together again. At all times, we must be thoughtful and confident whilst displaying tolerance and respect for others but it is important that we also have fun and once again enjoy our Freemasonry to the full.

Whilst it was felt prudent to restrict attendance at the Annual Meeting of Provincial Grand Lodge this year, nevertheless I once again welcome our guests and thank them for taking the time to be with us. I particularly welcome Ruling Masters and Master Masons who may be attending for the first time.

In fairness to the Acting Officers I appointed last year, who have not had the opportunity to take part in any events, I decided exceptionally to roll all the appointments forward for a further twelve months and to invite those receiving past appointments or promotions over the last two years to this meeting so that I can congratulate them personally. I have to say that I wasn’t anticipating a fuel crisis!

To those receiving Honours, whether it be a first appointment or promotion, the Annual Meeting of Provincial Grand Lodge is the main occasion when I can recognise your contribution to the Province. This is your day of recognition and celebration. You should enjoy it wholeheartedly. It is a privilege to be able to invest you with your new ranks and to share your company. You should wear them with justifiable pride.

The last eighteen months have been difficult for us all in a number of ways. Masonically, they have certainly been challenging and it was felt appropriate that we should mark this Annual Meeting with respect and reflection for those that we have lost during the year through Covid-19 and other causes.

On a lighter note, it is so nice to meet face to face once again. During our time of suspension much has been going on at UGLE and within the Province to prepare us for a return to masonic duty and to modernise what goes on behind the scenes. There are a number of national initiatives rolling out not least of which is the revised Members Pathway that contains so much valuable information for us to reference and we have spent much time ensuring that we can support them all within the Province.

I am pleased that the Provincial roles of Provincial Grand Communications Officer as well as Provincial Grand and Lodge Membership Officer have now been officially recognised by Grand Lodge. It is important that we all support them as much as we can. They are mission critical to our future and the strengthening of Freemasonry.

I have spoken for some three years now about the golden threads of Membership, Mentoring and Learning & Development. These threads are now more important than ever. If we are to seize opportunities and to recover from our pandemic related losses and our inability to initiate, both Lodges and members need to be flexible, embrace change, raise awareness and encourage positive engagement from all. Lodges need to plan and accelerate candidates through ceremonies to reduce the backlog. We need to ensure that our newer members are not kept waiting unnecessarily and thereby avert any preventable resignations.

I am firmly convinced that the future is bright. We are one aligned coherent organisation with common values & purpose. However, in so saying, I do not want to give the impression that one size fits all. Local Lodge variation and traditions are welcome, to be encouraged and nourished. Nevertheless, it is our core values that bind us together and enable us to go forward as one. Berkshire is a thriving Province that men should aspire to join. Individual Lodges have the key role to play in this. We should openly celebrate our values of integrity, respect, friendship & charity in our public as well as private lives.

The strength of our relationship with the Royal Arch and the other Progressive Orders, focused exclusively on Berkshire, continues to grow as we meet regularly together in full partnership to enhance the quality of the masonic experience for all. I would like to take this opportunity of thanking the past Provincial Grand Master of the Mark Degree W Bro Richard Olliver for all his help and support and for taking on the role of Chairman of the Berkshire Masonic Charity this year.

I must also welcome his successor W Bro Graham Seeman and wish him well in his new appointment whilst thanking him for all his support to the Craft Province over many years as Provincial Grand Organist. I also welcome his successor W Bro Gordon Johnson and I look forward to working with him as music plays such an integral and uplifting part in all our masonic meetings throughout the Province. Organists are extremely valuable and cherished members for us all.

Last year, we had intended to consecrate two new Craft lodges and to support a new Royal Arch Chapter. I am delighted that all these have now been rescheduled to take place by the end of this calendar year. Indeed, the Berkshire Chapter of Enlightenment will be consecrated by the Grand Superintendent this Friday 1st October.

Externally, our profile in the community remains high through our charitable giving and I am grateful to all those involved in the Berkshire Masonic Charity for the work that they have been doing and to all those Lodges which have continued to support our charitable endeavours.

As we return to our masonic activities, we must be minded that as a consequence of the pandemic and the suspension of planned activities, the 2023 Festival and its planned events need active support from lodges & individuals if we are to recover lost ground. So, I thank those lodges on which I have today conferred Gold & Platinum Awards for leading the way in supporting the Festival.

The Imperial Dinner this month at which we launched the Berkshire Hart Egg and Berkshire Hart Pendant on behalf of Festival 2023 was a great success and this will be followed up with our Christmas Party on 18th December and the Zipwire Challenge in the summer of 2022 for which members need to sign up before Christmas. All the details are available from our Provincial Grand Charity Steward W Bro Gerry Preston and contained in our Annual Review which is published and available today.

The natural churn of everyday life, coupled with our inability to initiate during the year has resulted in a number of lodges becoming more vulnerable than they deserve to be. As I said last year, there is still much to be done to strengthen our lodges and to ensure that they thrive by embracing and adopting the revised Pathway and incorporating it as ‘business as usual’. It is the duty of us all to play our part. Success breeds success and we all want to be members of flourishing lodges. Brethren enjoy their Freemasonry and are energised when they are able to play a full part in lodge life.

With this in mind, I am aware that there is a considerable backlog of Initiation, Passing & Raising ceremonies in a number of lodges. To allow those members to play their full part, I expect lodges to do all that they can to ensure that they move them forward. To quote the Pro Grand Master ‘What proves to be practical will vary from Lodge to Lodge. I would encourage Lodges to consider multiple ceremonies, although, if a Lodge is averse to the idea, this must be respected. Indeed, traditions of Lodges should also be respected but, if for the good of the Lodge and for Freemasonry generally, a temporary relaxation of that tradition would be beneficial, consideration should be given to that. It may well be, brethren, that the tradition concerned is not as long standing as some would like to think!’

This year will be challenging and I will be looking for all your support to help to rebuild confidence and to seize opportunities where we can to ensure that the year is a positive one. Most importantly let’s have fun and enjoy each other’s company whenever and wherever we can.

In closing, I would like to thank my strong and skilled Leadership Team which is totally focused on ensuring that Berkshire continues to thrive. Once again, I thank them personally for their continued loyalty and support to me as Provincial Grand Master and for the enthusiasm, commitment and contribution that they continue to make to this Province on your behalf.

I additionally thank W Bros Laurence Fretwell, Jim Sampins and their teams for ensuring the success of today’s Annual Meeting

Despite the challenges we face, I am confident that I can rely on your support and commitment to ensure that the Province of Berkshire thrives. It is a privilege to be the Provincial Grand Master of this Special Province and I will continue to strive to ensure its success for future generations to enjoy as much as we do.

May the Great Architect of the Universe remain with you and your families and may brotherly love and affection ever distinguish us as men and as masons.

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