I little thought after my announcement last September that I would, some twelve months later, still be addressing you as your Provincial Grand Master. Such is the havoc wreaked by the dreadful virus that has beset us during the past six months and which, by all accounts, is about to enter upon a second phase.
Hertfordshire has not been immune to the difficulties caused by Covid-19: in the year to 31st August we were saddened by the deaths of over one hundred of our Brethren, a tragedy to which I referred at the much-reduced meeting of Provincial Grand Lodge held this morning at Fleet House.
Likewise, our excellent Masonic Centres are suffering badly from the absence of activity and subsequent loss of income which is placing some strain on their future viability. I have stressed over recent months the absolute need for individual lodges, indeed for all Masonic Units in the Province, to assist their local centre to the best of their ability. The message is simple during this very difficult period: “Support your Masonic Hall or lose it.”
The Annual Meeting today was required to be held purely to deal with essential items of Provincial Business whereas it was expected to be the glittering occasion of the installation of a new Provincial Grand Master. Sadly that must be postponed until such time as prevailing circumstances permit the attendance of a Ruler to conduct the ceremony.
The appointment and promotion of Provincial Grand Officers as listed in the Grand Secretary’s circular published on 20th August was confirmed and I offer my congratulations to all those Brethren who, with immediate effect can assume their new rank, and I give commiserations that what should have been a very splendid day for them has passed off as something of a damp squib. It is to be hoped that a suitable occasion to celebrate their appointment can take place in the not-too-distant future.
There have been some domestic changes: VW Bro James Young has retired as a Trustee of our Provincial Benevolent Fund after many years very valuable service, along with W Bro Neil Connolly who has retired by virtue of his appointment as my successor. W Bros Keith Dunnett, Adrian Wells and Simon Cooper have been appointed Trustees in their stead.
W Bro Terry Mitchinson has stood down as Provincial Communications Officer and Editor of “Provincial News” and I take this opportunity of publicly thanking him for his splendid services over the past four years. Terry will be replaced by W Bro Daniel O’Connell who will take over as head of our expanding Communications Team.
Following his appointment as Provincial Senior Grand Warden W Bro Chris Noble has surrendered his role as Provincial Charity Steward but is still continuing to raise funds for good causes, a skill he honed to perfection in his outstanding work for the Festival in 2019 for the Royal Masonic Institution for Girls and Boys. In the last week or so he has organised a very successful Charity Shoot which attracted over ninety socially distanced competitors and raised £600 for the Noah’s Ark charity. W Bro Martin Francis has been appointed Provincial Charity Steward to succeed Chris Noble and we welcome him to the Provincial Team.
Appointments in Provincial Grand Lodge are finalised quite early in the calendar year and certainly before mid-March. In anticipation of Neil Connolly’s promotion, W Bro Simon Cooper was to have been invested as an Assistant Provincial Grand Master with W Bro Tom Tinner succeeding him as Provincial Almoner. As a further example of how Covid-19 has upset our planning, Tom has been confirmed today in his new role, in which we wish him well, whereas Simon is temporarily without a formal office but, following his very hard-working four-year stint as Almoner I am certain that he will appreciate a short break to recharge his batteries.
The annual conference of the New and Young Masons Clubs which was to have been hosted by Fleet House Light Blues Club over the last Bank Holiday weekend has been postponed for twelve months but I am pleased to report that FHLBC have retained their hard-won right to host it in 2021 and I wish them every success in their endeavours.
Brethren, these are extraordinary times during which UGLE have had to take very difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions and I make no apology for quoting, almost verbatim, the remarks made by the MW the Pro Grand Master at the Quarterly Communication held on 9th September, “UGLE has followed two guiding principles: Firstly, obey the law and follow official guidance and secondly, trust our members and our lodges to decide what is right for them, encouraging those that wish to meet whilst supporting and respecting those that feel the time is not yet right”.
I have been very proud of the fantastic response that Hertfordshire Freemasons have exhibited in their determination to beat the coronavirus epidemic. The support that has been given, both large and small, to local and national charities and in particular to the MCF Covid-19 Fund, to the many acts of kindness towards other brethren, to members of the community at large and to our hospices and care homes, has been outstanding.
On Sunday we witnessed the Westminster Abbey Service and the Flypast to commemorate the 80th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain, those dark days when our Nation was in great peril; let us grasp the fighting spirit that led to victory then and in the words of our wartime leader, Sir Winston Churchill, let us “keep buggering on” until we defeat Covid-19.
Brethren, enjoy your Freemasonry as best you can, take care of others less able than you to manage their daily lives and, above all, keep yourselves and your loved ones safe and well.
May God bless you all.
23rd September 2020