With an overall attendance of approximately 250 including Brethren from within the Province and visitors, this was the first full Provincial meeting for RWBro John H Smith, PGM, since his investiture on the 19th of October 2021.
The meeting was supported by representatives from eleven other Provinces, including nine Provincial Grand Masters along with the Heads of six Orders from within the Province and a number of Past senior members of the Mark Province of East Lancashire.
Once the meeting had begun, WBro John Rimmer, RAMGR, led in the procession of the representatives of the 31 Royal Ark Mariner Lodges who pledged their support for the Provincial Grand Master.
Following on from the general business of the meeting, the Brethren were addressed by the Provincial Grand Master.
Distinguished guests and brethren
Welcome, everybody to our first Provincial Meeting for three years and what a relief it is to be back to some semblance of normality after the dark days of the Covid pandemic.
In the list of Brethren who have passed to higher service, the Deputy Provincial Grand Master read out the name of RW Bro Stephen Davison. Stephen was, of course, the Assistant Grand Master. He was a giant of a man both physically and in his personality. Approachable, easy of manner and a friend of everyone who had the privilege to meet him. He is a great loss to Freemasonry in general and the Mark Degree in particular. He will be sadly missed, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.
Brethren, I have already introduced and welcomed our distinguished guests from other Provinces and our own Province, but I would like to say once again, how much I appreciate their support, not just today, but on so many occasions throughout the year.
The past three years have been the most challenging for Freemasonry since the Second World War but thanks to the initiative, guidance and flexibility of our High Rulers, Mark Masonry has endured and has emerged from the pandemic fit for purpose and ready to meet the new challenges of the post-pandemic era. This has been achieved by maintaining contact with our Mark brethren throughout, the use of virtual business meetings to keep the administration of the Order up to date and, as we prepared to resume business once again, by holding virtual Lodges of Instruction to refresh us in the content and procedure of our ceremonies. Our Past Provincial Grand Master, RWBro Alex McLaren promoted all these initiatives with energy and enthusiasm and this Province owes him a great debt of gratitude for his care and commitment to our Order.
Alex retired as Provincial Grand Master on 4th September last year and after a short period as Deputy in Charge, I was installed on 19th October. Sadly, due to the pandemic, we did not have the opportunity to celebrate the culmination of our Mark Benevolent Fund Festival which closed in July last year. Had we been able to do so, I know that Alex would have wished to thank so many people for their hard work over the seven years we were in Festival. The late WBro Tony Davies for launching the Festival and overseeing the efforts of the early years. The Festival Committee and Ambassadors for their work in raising funds. The Banquet Committee for organizing the final celebratory event which sadly had to be called off at the last moment due to Covid restrictions and finally, all the Lodges and members and indeed, Provinces throughout the Constitution, for their tremendous support which enabled us to raise the magnificent sum, in excess of one million and twenty thousand pounds, in the most challenging of circumstances. Thank you, everyone.
Since September last year, we have started to return to Freemasonry as we all know it and quite a bit has gone on in the Province since the resumption. In October, we celebrated the sesquicentenary of William Romaine Callender Lodge and we were delighted on that occasion to have the presence of the Pro Grand Master, Raymond John Smith. He undoubtedly added great lustre to the occasion which was thoroughly enjoyed by all who attended. The following day, here at Blackburn, was my Installation as Provincial Grand Master and again, the Pro Grand Master presided. It was a wonderful day with a far stronger attendance than we might have hoped for and one that will live in my memory for the rest of my days. In November we celebrated the remarkable achievement of WBro George Cattanach attaining seventy five years as a Mark Mason in the presence of the Deputy Grand Master, RWBro. John Prizeman. Sadly, George passed to the Grand Lodge Above just a week later which was a shock for us all as he had been so well on his special night. He is sadly missed. Just a week later, the Deputy Grand Master was in the Province again to celebrate the centenary of Lancastrians Lodge. Another milestone event which was enjoyed by all. In January, it was the turn of Manchester Keystone Lodge to celebrate their centenary and I was delighted to have the opportunity to preside on this very special occasion.
Nevertheless, it would be foolish to think that everything is sunshine and light and we have had to face many challenges as we have returned to active Masonry. Encouraging members to come back whilst there is still uncertainty about Covid, addressing the needs of Lodges which are struggling as a result of falling membership, putting together strategies for recruitment and the reinvigoration of ritual, which is so easy to forget as we have had a two-year hiatus. All these and many other considerations have taxed the deliberations of the Executive and indeed, all the active members of the Province. We are having to think ‘out of the box’ and I am pleased that, in September last, we were able to repurpose Semper Paratus Lodge as the Provincial Grand Masters Lodge of Improvement. This has proved a great success and the members of that Lodge are now supporting other Lodges with their ceremonies and helping to ensure that candidates have a memorable experience when they are advanced. So very important brethren. Other initiatives are currently in hand and will hopefully come to fruition during the course of this year. There is great enthusiasm amongst the members of the Province and I am confident that we will see our numbers return to pre-pandemic levels in the relatively near future.
On the social front, the first event for two and a half years was our cabaret night held at the Holiday Inn, Bolton. This was very quickly sold out and was enjoyed by all who attended. It was just great to be out. In January we held a ball to celebrate the culmination of the 2021 Festival. The event took place at Manchester Hall and over 150 brethren and partners attended. Such was the feedback that we are organizing a similar event in 2023 billed as a Valentine’s Ball. Tickets for the Summer Barbeque are now in circulation and details of the Provincial Away Weekend will be available shortly. We all look forward to an enjoyable break catching up with friends old and new. Brethren, you may be aware that the ELMBF funded the cost of defibrillators for the East Lancashire Railway. To express their thanks, the Railway has made a carriage available to the Province on Saturday 11th June. There are three departure times available and places are open to all those who apply. Details are on the website and we hope that many of you will take up this opportunity to enjoy a ‘real steam’ journey.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Christie hospital to present a cheque for £28,795 to fund the establishment of satellite blood testing centres for people suffering from cancer. This initiative will eliminate the necessity for people to travel into Manchester at this difficult time of their lives. I am grateful to the Mark Benevolent Fund for its support in this very important project.
As the Executive move around the Province, we are pleased to see that the Lodges are renewing their support of our own Charity, the East Lancashire Mark Benevolent Fund. This fine charity was starved of donations during the MBF Festival but carried on its excellent work in running our two residential complexes in Bolton and Blackburn. These facilities are unique in the Mark Constitution and are something which we should all be extremely proud of. I would like to record my thanks to the directors, House Committees and volunteers who do so much to ensure that standards are maintained and that residents enjoy a happy and comfortable environment in their later years.
Once again, PSA testing is available at this meeting and since this initiative was introduced, it has been widely used and has helped a very good number of Brethren who were unaware that prostate cancer was taking hold of them. I hope that many of you have again taken advantage of the test today, which is of course, free, being funded by the ELMBF. To my mind, the best charity money which we spend.
At our virtual Provincial Meeting last year we congratulated all those who were appointed and promoted in Grand Mark Lodge and Grand Royal Ark Mariner during the lockdown period. In December last we attended the Royal Ark Mariner Grand Assembly and on that occasion, three of our Brethren were appointed to Royal Ark Mariner Grand Rank. They were Worshipful Brothers Gerry Young, Stephen Boyle and Shaun Higson.
On Tuesday 7th June we will be attending Grand Mark Lodge and on that occasion, five of our brethren will be receiving Grand appointments. They are WBro Martin Caller as Grand Steward, WBro Vic Murphy as Assistant Grand Inner Guard, WBro Ian Connor as PAGDC, WBro Ian Casson as PAGSwdB and WBro Peter Lambert as PAGStB. Also, on that occasion, WBro Paul Bowen will be reappointed as Assistant Grand Organist. In September, when promotions are conferred, WBro Gerry Young will be promoted to PGJO thereby becoming a VW Brother, WBro Gary Errock to PGSD and WBros Mark Davis, Stephen Lawlor and Kevin Reaney to PGJD. If those Brethren named would please stand I am sure that the brethren would like to acknowledge their preferment with acclamation.
I will shortly be investing Brethren with Provincial Grand Rank and to all those who are being honoured today, I offer my congratulations and wish you the very best of health to enjoy your new ranks for many years to come. Those of you who are being appointed to acting rank, please take the opportunity to accompany the Executive as they visit Lodges around the Province. This will greatly enhance your experience as an acting officer, will enable you to see the Province as a whole and will provide the opportunity to make new and lasting friendships.
Of course, everyone retiring from active office today has served two years albeit, due to Covid, only one season has been active. Brethren, I thank you for your support over this Masonic Season and for your understanding as it was necessary for you to be reappointed last year. There are however two Brethren who have held office for a number of years and I would like to say a special thank you to them on their retirement: –
WBro Donald Pryce who is retiring as Provincial Grand Chaplain after seven years and WBro Stephen Boyle stands down as Provincial Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies after 4 years. Stephen has now taken up the role of APGP in the Royal Arch and we wish him well in his new position.
Meetings such as today do not just happen and I would like to thank the Provincial Secretary and his team, the Event Stewards, the sound engineers and the paramedics for all their hard work both today and in preparing for the meeting.
Once again the Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies, WBro Michael Porter and his team have maintained the high standards which this Province enjoys in its ceremonial and I thank them all, not just for today but also for the support they give to the Executive as we travel around the Province throughout the year.
Brethren, as this season comes to a close we look forward to the next Masonic year with enthusiasm and renewed interest. There is no doubt that Freemasonry is seeing something of a revival following the pandemic. People have seen first-hand the good things that Freemasons do both in their community and nationally and now wish to become a part of it. New members joining the Craft are the Mark Masons of the future. Do not push them to join our wonderful Order but extend the hand of friendship and quietly tell them about the magic of the Mark. They will make their own decisions when they feel ready to join us.
We also have some very special occasions to look forward to next season. Several Brethren celebrate 50 years of membership of the Mark Degree, Skelmersdale, Wike and Starkie Mark Lodges all celebrate their sequicentenaries and Perseverance RAM their centenary. There will be a full programme of social activities and many opportunities to meet with friends and colleagues throughout the Province.
In closing brethren, I would again like to impress upon you all, the importance of maintaining contact with the brethren of your Lodges. This is equally important throughout the Summer period as during the season. Several brethren have said to me that they would not have returned to Freemasonry after the pandemic had it not been for the fact that the Mark Degree was so active in maintaining contact and making them feel wanted. It is essential that we keep up the good work and let brethren know that we are looking forward to seeing them all again in the new season.
Brethren, I wish you all the very best of health to enjoy your Mark and Royal Ark Mariner Masonry now and in the future. Thank you for attending today and a safe journey home when the time comes. May the Great Overseer of the Universe bless you and your families and keep you all in His special care.
It was then time for RWBro John H Smith, to invest his officers for the coming year.
Firstly he re-appointed WBro David G Rainford, PGJD, as DepPGM, then VWBro David H Thompson, PGJO, and WBro Kevin M Reaney, PGStwd, as APGM’s.
The following Brethren were then invested:
Office Name Lodge No
ProvGSW Aubrey Oldham Temperance 56
ProvGJW Martin Blades Pendle 695
ProvGMO David Key Temperance 56
ProvGSO Graham Jones County Palatine 156
ProvGJO David Dredge Union 171
ProvGChap Peter Hargreaves Starkie 159
ProvGTreas Ian Connor Union 171
ProvGReg David Stevens Friendship 1459
ProvGSec Andy Hickson Semper Paratus 852
ProvGDC Michael Porter Ardwick 1222
ProvGAlm Barry Heal Stanley 1454
ProvGCharStwd Brendan Harte Manchester Engineers 1059
ProvAGCharStwd Stewart Mills William R Callender 136
ProvGInspWks Bernard Forbes Roberts 24
ProvGSwdB Howard Freear Integrity 1369
ProvGDepGChap Roger Fielding Union 171
ProvDepGSec Malcolm McCarthy Friendship 1459
ProvDepGDC Stephen Lawlor Temperance 56
ProvDepGSwdB Roger Paul Good Report 1309
ProvGSD Stephen Pilling Salford 994
ProvGSD Stephen Whitelegg Fabric 939
ProvGJD Brian Derbyshire Starkie 159
ProvGJD Ross Turner Rectitude 18 TI
ProvAGSec Mark Rowe Union 171
ProvAGSec Vic Murphy Good Report 1309
ProvAGDC Wesley Marchant White Stone 1080
ProvAGDC Matt Phillips Constitution 949
ProvAGDC Stephen Lord Keep 911
ProvAGDC Ian Paul Manchester Engineers 1059
ProvGOrg Paul Bowen Stanley 1454
ProvGStB Alston Karl Hall Fabric 939
ProvAGStB Richard L Zoltie Constitution 949
ProvGIG Gordon Cox Middleton 1303
ProvGStwd Craig Wood Faith 20
ProvGStwd Stuart Hughes Lancastrians 689
ProvGStwd Christopher Cunliffe Union 171
ProvGStwd Robert Ashton William R Callender 136
ProvGTyler Tony Cleworth William R Callender 136
Office Name Lodge No
PProvGSW Anthony Dyson Rugby Football 1965
PProvGSW Kenneth Lambshead Temperance 56
PProvGSD Brian Durkin Manchester Engineers 1059
PProvGSD Ian Walvin Ardwick 1222
PProvGJD James Mullen Salford 994
PProvGJD Jim McNally Wycoller 1582
PProvGJD Michael Dawson Supera Moras 1042
PProvGJD Graham Allinson Pendle 695
PProvGJD David McGurty Adoniram 1065
PProvAGDC Roland Josef Schafer Keep 911
Office Name Lodge No
PProvGSW Ken Jones Arnold Moreton 1649
PProvGSW James Worrall Supera Moras 1042
PProvGSW Victor Longdon Ardwick 1222
PProvGSW Gordon Spencer Scarlett with Gawthorpe 1014
PProvGJW Alan Barlow The Roberts 24
PProvGJW David Whittaker Adoniram 1065
PProvGJW Paul Clark Manchester Keystone 745
PProvGJW David Wood Keep 911
PProvGJW Anton Koropisz Ardwick 1222
PProvGJW Ivor Beswick Fabric 939
PProvGMO Nigel Smith Adoniram 1065
PProvGSO John Jackson Manchester Keystone 745
PProvGSO Terry Smith Good Report 1309
PProvGSO Bryan Ross Pendle 695
PProvGSO Tony Smith Rectitude 13
PProvGSO Mark Rowe Union 171
PProvGJO Steven Howarth Wycoller 1582
PProvGJO Thomas Pearson Adoniram 1065
PProvGJO David Starbuck Wike 142
The meeting closed at 5.30 with the singing of the national anthem.
143 Brethren then attended the social board where WBro Aubrey Oldham, Provincial Grand Senior Warden, proposed the toast to RWBro John H Smith, PGM, who then responded and followed on by proposing the toast to the newly invested officers which was replied to by WBro Martin Blades, Provincial Grand Junior Warden.