Report by Geoff Harris, Media Coordinator.
On Thursday 20th October 2016, two hundred and thirty Provincial Grand Officers attended the Winter Gardens, Margate for the Provincial Officers Mess. After catching up and socialising with old friends in the Bar, the members entered the hall for lunch at 1pm.
The President of the Mess, Provincial Grand Master Geoffrey Dearing, was introduced and welcomed, following which Grace was given by the Third Provincial Grand Principal, Clive Manuel. During the splendid four-course meal the President took wine with the Vice-President, Past Presidents, all members present and finally the Guest Speaker, Assistant Grand Secretary Shawn Christie.
Afterwards, the President proposed Toasts to Her Majesty The Queen and the Grand Master, His Royal Highness The Duke Of Kent.
The business of the Mess was then conducted:
- Apologies were given for those members unable to attend.
- The Provincial Grand Secretary, David Alexander, in the absence of the Provincial Grand Treasurer, William Daniels, presented the Mess accounts for the past year. He reported that they showed a surplus of £400.00 for the year, but recommended that due to increasing costs, the annual subscription (which had remained at £6.00 for many years) be raised to £10.00.
- The Provincial Senior Grand Warden, Andy Stevens, proposed that the Mess accounts be adopted and gave thanks to the Provincial Grand Treasurer for his excellent work in preparing the accounts. The Provincial Junior Grand Warden, Eddie Halpin, seconded the proposal and the accounts were agreed and accepted by all present.
- The Vice President of the Mess – Deputy Provincial Grand Master Peter Williams – proposed and the Deputy Grand Superintendent – David Kershaw – seconded that William Daniels and David Alexander be re-elected Mess Treasurer and Mess Secretary respectively. Both current holders were unanimously re-elected.
The President stated he was extremely pleased with the support of all Freemasons in East Kent as we approach our tercentenary. While this presented many opportunities, he expressed concern over our falling membership. When he took office five years ago East Kent was suffering a 5% net loss annually in the Craft. With the various initiatives introduced since then, including the mobile display unit – which he light-heartedly referred to as “Dearing’s Burger Bar” – has helped to reduce these losses to just 1%. He stressed the importance of meeting the expectations of new members but, with 20% of them resigning before they receive their Grand Lodge Certificate, it is a major cause for concern. While the Membership Focus Group is actively looking at ways to reverse this trend, he was pleased to confirm that new “independent” members (ie applicants via the website and display unit) were showing a very strong retention, suggesting that their expectations are being met. He concluded by saying that membership should remain a priority for all Freemasons, and he recommended that all lodges should appoint a suitable member to be their Membership Officer. Lodges and chapters must stay in touch with non-attending members and support and encourage them to return. The President announced that David Graeme is the Provincial Membership Officer for the Craft and that John Baker had a similar role in the Chapter.
The President then introduced the Guest speaker, Assistant Grand Secretary Shawn Christie.
- Shawn began by saying how passionate he was about the future of our fraternity; but that we needed to see how we can improve. He reiterated the President’s concerns about our declining membership numbers, and stated that we must not become complacent about this.
- Nationally membership is declining by 2.5% but, with the forthcoming television broadcast about Freemasonry next year, public interest is likely to grow and we need to be ready.
- Some lodges in East Kent are growing by 20% each year and, over the last five years, there were 6.33 new members on average for each lodge. However this was countered by more than 9 resignations on average for each lodge.
- It has become evident that the most successful lodges are those that have a plan of action for survival rather than ‘burying their heads in the sand’. It is all too easy for ‘struggling’ lodges to become too-accepting of their situation and not realise the consequences for their future.
- Lodges are encouraged – as recommended by the President of the Mess – to appoint a Membership Officer. Don’t force it but consider the benefits of someone taking ownership of this issue and don’t rule out the possibility of appointing a younger member.
- Masonry should “be an escape” from the stresses of everday life and senior members should endeavour to engage with our new members.
- Importantly, we must avoid desperation and not lower our standards when selecting new candidates; our future is in their hands!
- Shawn concluded by thanking East Kent for its hospitality and urged us all to enjoy our masonry and ensure that others do as well!
The President of the Mess thanked Shawn for his most interesting and informative talk. He said we have an extremely good communications team in place, led by Assistant Provincial Grand Master, Roger Waltham, and our websites are attracting a large numbers of hits, including justaskone.org.
He concluded by reminding the membership that our forthcoming 300th Anniversary and the television broadcast next year will be fantastic opportunities to show the public who we are!
After receiving a Vote of Thanks from the Provincial Senior Grand Warden, Andy Stevens, the President retired at 3pm to hearty applause. He was accompanied by the Guest Speaker and the members of the Provincial Executive.
Note: Date of next Provincial Mess meeting: Thursday 16th March 2017