Good evening again Companions and may I start by saying what a wonderful turn out we have had for this event. The move from November to January has I hope given us all something to look forward to after the Christmas period and, with the exception of, and with an apology to, all the accountants in the room for whom the end of January is a busy time, it seems to be a popular one. Last year we had around 140 attending but this evening companions it is nearly 170, so I thank you all for your support and friendship.
It seems but 5 minutes though since I was delivering my first Principals and Past Principals Dinner speech and so much has happened in the intervening 12 months. Being the Tercentenary year made 2017 a particularly busy one with many events celebrating this masonic milestone. Companions I saw many of you at these events, enjoying the celebrations and supporting Warwickshire freemasonry and I thank you all. Certainly, the Mfest and PGL meeting were highlights but the celebration at the Royal Albert Hall in October was beyond expectation and if you have not had chance to see the recording then it is still available via the Freemasonry Today web site.
In the Royal Arch we also were very busy, and I thank you all for the support you have given to the new initiatives we introduced last year. The change of attendees at Installations has proved very popular, both with the Chapters and with those who are now having an opportunity to be involved representing the Province and supporting the meetings. I am also particularly pleased how well the attendance at exaltations has been going. My team of Principals have been able to attend all bar 1 exaltation in the last year, to welcome the candidate and support the Chapter. Each one I have personally attended has been very special and particularly memorable night and I have thoroughly enjoyed each happy meeting welcoming some most interesting new Companions into Warwickshire Royal Arch.
The happy by-product of this is that we get to see a Chapter properly working and to that end I am really pleased to see more and more sharing of the work. The ceremony of exaltation splits easily into three parts with both the Principals work and the Sojourners work being easily shared. For those yet to see how well this works the General Chapter of Instruction on April 18th at Atherstone will be demonstrating the method under the Presidency of our Past MEGS E Comp John Saint. I am conscious that the space will be limited at Atherstone though, so I have asked E Comp Mark Phillips, the preceptor of the GCofI if he could take his team around the Province and demonstrate the ceremony in private Chapters. So Companions, if you have a quiet night in your Chapter and would like to see a demonstration of the Exaltation ceremony, do please get in touch with either Mark or the Prov GSE who will try and organise this for you. This will require a little time to put together so do please think ahead to give Mark time to organise his team. Likewise, Mark also heads up the Chapter Exaltation Support Team who are happy to help with exaltation ceremonies filling any role that a Chapter may need, be that a sojourners role or a principals role, and again just get in touch through the ProvGSE to request this.
The ‘Setting the Scene’ and ‘Sojourner’s card’ are also being widely used by Chapters during the ceremony of exaltation and I am pleased to announce that to make this even easier a new Warwickshire Ritual Book will be on sale shortly, which now includes these readings in an addendum at the back of the book. There have been very few other changes to the ritual or the rubric in the new book, only some minor alterations to bring the ritual in line with SGC directives, but we have also included both an example of the sharing of the work in an exaltation and a version of the presentation of a Grand Chapter Certificate, so a new Companion can reference the symbolism of the certificate at his leisure after he has received the presentation. The first delivery of the new books should be later this week so please get your orders in with the Provincial Grand Treasurer as soon as possible. They will continue to be sold for a very reasonable £11.
All this work by the Provincial Team has of course one primary aim – that we attract more brethren into our order so that they complete their journey in pure and ancient freemasonry. I am delighted to advise you that it seems to be working and the aspiration to join our happy order is increasing. Those of you who have read my occasional ‘Musings’ or ‘Ramblings’ as I have heard them called, will know that our numbers are on the up. The trend has been a positive one over the last 12 months, with 2016 ending with only 28 new exaltees but 2017 ending with 42, a 50% improvement and a result that I think we should all be proud of. We are one of very few provinces across the country who can boast of a stable membership and again I thank you all for all your support and focus on this.
It is now important that we carry on this trend and I ask again for your support for the forthcoming RA Roadshows at Yenton and Rugby. I need you all to go from here and identify a brother from any of you craft lodges who is curious, or aspirational or frankly even one who is sceptical, and bring him along to hear about our order and to have the opportunity to ask any questions they may have. There will be free food and drink on offer so what more incentive do we need!
I have previously talked about a revamping of the Royal Arch rep scheme across the Province. I am pleased to say that with the support of the Provincial Grand Master we will be rolling this out later in the year. The new scheme will mirror the current Visiting Officer Scheme which is so successful in the Craft and I am sure will increase support for the Royal Arch across the Lodges in the Province and encourage more brethren to join our happy order.
Companions, I had a very pleasant evening at the launch of the 2023 Festival in support of the Masonic Charitable Foundation. This is a festival for all Warwickshire Freemasons and whilst under the day to day charge of the Craft, I have no doubt the Warwickshire Royal Arch Masons will want to make a significant contribution to the Festival, just as we have always done in the past. I am pleased to confirm that if a Companion qualifies to wear a Festival stewards jewel, then he may also wear it in Royal Arch Chapters across the Province.
I am pleased to report that I have already attended Chapters where the collection has been in support of the Festival and I am grateful for that, but we must also remember the other calls on our charity. I may venture to suggest that a Chapter may wish to collect for the Festival at one meeting, the Benevolent fund at another, and not forgetting their Almoners fund and other specific charities that can be spread across the year.
In connection with the RA Benevolent Fund, the Charity Stewards across the Province will have received a new leaflet from the ProvGChStwd, E Comp Fred Ditchfield detailing the changes that we have made to the Chapter Charity-Giving Support Scheme. This will allow the Benevolent fund to support smaller charity appeals that are special to a Chapter. This will be by use of the Relief Chest Envelopes and consequently by the inclusion of gift-aid. The trustees of the Benevolent fund will then consider the additions of further funds to the individual appeals on a case by case basis. Companions this initiative could have a significant impact on the donations you are able to make and if handled cleverly will enable some positive advertising for Warwickshire freemasonry in general and the Royal Arch in particular. Please be assured this will be in addition to the aims of the fund as established initially of making a significant donation every couple of years or so to a specific charity appeal. Full details of the mechanics of the scheme will be on the Provincial RA web site by the end of the week.
On the 25th February the Annual Church Service will once again take place at Coughton Church followed by the tea, which last year was actually rather enjoyable! The format of the service this year has been changed from previously to be more family orientated and to embrace differing faiths. Whilst still a Christian service the hymns will be better known and the service less ‘High Church’. I have also asked two of our recently invested MEZ’s, from Athol Chapter No 74 and Trinity Chapter No 256, to deliver one of the readings. As always Companions your support and that of your families would be gratefully received at this significant event for the Province and Julie and I look forward to seeing as many of you there as possible.
The Annual Convocation will again be held at Rugby College in the summer – July 7th for those who want a date. We’ve looked at changing venue, but the college has overall provided all that we need, and cost must be a factor. I do intend to personally invite all the exaltees of the year to come along to the meeting to see the colour and splendour of Warwickshire RA masonry at it’s best. I also plan to make a bit of a fuss of them which I hope you will all approve of! The Annual Convocation is the pinnacle of the year and as a number of neighbouring provinces are investing new Grand Superintendents this year we will see a few new faces visiting us I suspect. It would be great to put on a fine show of Warwickshire’s strength and I know I can rely on you all for you ever faithful support.
At that meeting I will be pleased to once again reappoint E Comp Philip Gough as my Deputy Grand Superintendent. It is hard to convey the importance of the role Philip plays in supporting me and the Province, he has been very active at Chapter exaltations and other events throughout the year and his considered thoughts and wise counsel are constantly invaluable to me and the Provincial Team. Thank you, Philip, for all you do, and I look forward to working with you again next year.
New to the team last year but already a key player, I will also be pleased to reappoint E Comp John Emms as the Second Provincial Grand Principal. E Comp John brought with him many years of experience at Provincial level and has personally taken charge of organising the team to deliver the RA Roadshows in a few weeks’ time. He will also head up the revamp of the RA Rep scheme later this year and I am grateful for his thoughtful input and dedicated hard work.
After two years in post as Third Provincial Grand Principal, E Comp David Evans has become a familiar and popular figure across the Province with his easy smile and caring manner. E Comp David has been a most diligent member of the Provincial executive and has been key in establishing the use of the ‘Setting the Scene’ readings and educational talks across the Province. His wise judgement and support of me has been a constant and as we both live in or near Lichfield we have shared many a drive to events across the Province. Whilst standing down as Third Principal David will remain on the strategy committee for another year and the General committee, and whilst no longer on the chain circuit he will be active around the Province and continue to support exaltations and installations.
In his place I am delighted to announce that I will be appointing as Third Provincial Grand Principal, E Comp John Starley of Jephson Chapter. E Comp John served as Prov GSE for 3 years and is well-known across the Province and I am delighted that he has accepted my offer. I know his happy manner and caring approach will be well-received by all.
After some 7+ years in post E Comp David Shakeshaft will be stepping down as the Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies. E Comp David has become such a familiar sight at our events that it seems unfathomable to imagine him not running them, quietly and efficiently in the background, as all the best DC’s do! E Comp David has a number of personal projects that he is keen to pursue and whilst he may be a little less visible across Warwickshire for the next couple of years I can assure you that situation is only temporary and in the words of a well-known Californian Mayor, ‘he will be back’. I will say more at the Annual Convocation but thank you David for all you have done both before I was appointed but particularly since. You are and have been an outstanding Director of Ceremonies and I am sure the Companions will wish to show their appreciation.
I am pleased to announce that taking over as Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies will be E Comp Geoff Walker, the Prov Dep GDC.
Finally Companions nights like tonight do not just happen and I am sure you will join with me in thanking E Comp David Graham the Prov GSE and E Comp Gary Evans the Prov AGSE for all they have done in making this the success it has been.
Companions we now have a quiz to look forward to prepared by our good friend E Comp Peter Sorrill. I thank you all once again for your support, for your friendship and for your Companionship. I look forward to seeing you again at our happy Royal Arch meetings very soon. God bless you all.
To round of the evening. The MEGS and Quiz Master Peter Sorrill reflect on a very successful evening.