I start by welcoming you all to our meeting this afternoon and I offer my warmest congratulations to all the Brethren I have had the pleasure of appointing to or promoting in Grand Rank today. I know they have all worked hard to further the interests of the Craft, but in recognising their achievements we do of course look to them for even greater exertions in the future.
I turn first to the most important issue to have exercised Grand Lodge during the past twelve months, namely the future of Masonry in London. The process of providing a new constitutional structure for London Masonry, which has been in progress for some years, culminated in an historic vote in Grand Lodge last month, following the most extensive consultation exercise ever undertaken in English Freemasonry. This process is not yet complete because Supreme Grand Chapter still has to make its decision on these proposals tomorrow. I recognise the widely differing opinions held on this matter, but have been impressed by the wholly Masonic spirit in which the debate was conducted. I am certain that the increased opportunities offered to London Masons by the new structure will enable them to play a more active part in their Masonry in the future.
Our “Freemasonry in the Community” week, which was such a success throughout the country, was more than the additional effort to raise money for charity which in some areas it became. It gave our Masonic centres and individual Lodges an opportunity to reach out to the “popular” world and put our strategy of openness into practical effect, so bringing Masonry closer to the communities in which our Lodges function and flourish, and from which we draw our members.
This special week showed clearly that Masons are part of their local community and that they work for it in many different ways. It also demonstrated to the country that we are a society with principles which we are determined to put into action for the good of our fellow men, and especially the less fortunate.
Although “Freemasonry in the Community” week was not planned as a charity event, it gave Provinces and Lodges in England and Wales additional opportunities to raise funds for, and make further donations to, non-Masonic charities in their own communities. Everyone taking part in these activities throughout the country enjoyed the experience enormously and many have resolved to continue their efforts in subsequent years.
Continuing in the theme of Charity, Charitable activity, which forms such a large part of Masonic life, in the form of fundraising has continued unabated during the year with the result that we gave approximately £17m to Masonic Charities. I know how hard the Councils work which administer those Charities, and I wish to thank them for all their efforts on our behalf. I am very pleased indeed that the work of the Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys has been recognised by the award of Royal status, and with effect from tomorrow it will be known as the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys. It is also very good news that during the year donations to non-Masonic charities totalling in excess of £4m have been made by Masons under our Constitution throughout the world. This is a highly creditable achievement, and we can take satisfaction from it, but we must nevertheless remember that our Masonic Charities need our continued help, and should remain at the core of our charitable giving.
One of the effects of “Freemasonry in the Community” week has been to encourage many men to make enquiries about possible membership. In mentioning this I return to a topic which I last raised five years ago, namely the three “Rs,” — recruiting, retaining and retrieving. Recruiting is both acceptable and desirable, so long as it does not put undue pressure on potential candidates. Having succeeded in recruiting new Brethren it is clearly important that we make every effort to retain them. We all recognise the career and family pressures faced by younger men, so it is imperative that Lodges work to harness the enthusiasm of the new recruit and make him feel welcome. Retrieving lapsed members is initially a task for the Lodge Almoner, especially where financial or health difficulties have caused a brother to resign; but there is an increasing body of Masons who resigned from their Lodge because of business, career or family pressures, who may have found those circumstances have now eased or disappeared. Here we can all make a difference by encouraging them to rejoin their Lodge, or another Lodge, and once again become active in their Masonry.
I can assure you, however, Brethren, that in looking to you all to promote greater active membership of our Antient Institution, both new and old, I am not suggesting that we should ever contemplate the kind of mass recruitment which has recently been a feature elsewhere in the world. We are hardly going to strengthen our institution by relaxing the principles which we have established and maintained throughout our long history; rather we should respond to the challenges of a rapidly changing society, and show that our values have stood the test of time and are as relevant today as they have always been. This is the example we have set to other Grand Lodges around the world, that the quality of our Masonry should always take precedence over the quantity of our membership.
In this connection I should point out that English Freemasonry recognises 156 Grand Lodges throughout the world, all of which adhere to the same landmarks as does this Grand Lodge. Maintaining good relations with them and responding to approaches from other Grand Lodges seeking recognition from us, is an important part of the work of the Grand Secretary and his staff. I was particularly delighted that, as a result of such efforts, we were able to resolve our difficulties with, and re-recognise, the Grand Lodge of India during the year. Inter-visiting is an important part of Masonic activity and I am certain that our members in India and elsewhere will be gratified that they are able to resume official contact once more with Brethren in the Grand Lodge of India.
Brethren, in conclusion, I should like to thank all those who have worked so hard throughout the year to ensure that we enjoy our Masonry. I wish to mention in particular the Grand Director of Ceremonies, who retires today after eight years. He has been a tower of strength during that time and has directed our ceremonies not only with efficiency but also with good humour and a light touch. I extend our thanks to his Deputies, who have helped him to make today run like clockwork. I also wish to thank the Grand Secretary and all the staff of this building especially the maintenance staff and porters, who look after this magnificent building so well, and finally, Brethren, I thank all of you for your attendance and support in such large numbers at this Investiture.