PROVINCIAL GRAND LODGE,
12th APRIL 2019:
AN OBSERVER’S UNOFFICIAL REPORT
PROVINCIAL GRAND LODGE, 12th APRIL 2019: AN OBSERVER’S UNOFFICIAL REPORT
At precisely 1627 hrs (1527 hrs GMT), the Provincial Grand Master pressed a big red button, a klaxon sounded, the lights in the auditorium dimmed, and with a whoosh and a roar the space rocket took off.
We all sat there, astounded.
Then, with a fanfare, the screen cleared to a pound sign and then, one by one but in reverse order, came the magic figures we had all been waiting for: 000,005,3. Three million five hundred thousand pounds: the sum the Province of East Kent was aiming to raise for the 2025 Festival. Fireworks all around – on screen, of course – and we, the audience, celebrated with enthusiastic applause: the Festival had been launched!
The date was Friday 12th April 2019: a dull, grey, chilly afternoon, the brisk north-east wind coming straight off the North Sea and biting right into my face as I walked from the railway station, along the promenade at Margate, and headed doggedly for the aptly-named Winter Gardens. I got there just before two o’clock. Once inside the building, the warmth and camaraderie of fellow Masons soon thawed me out as I mingled with old and new friends. Yes, here I was again, at the Annual Festival, or Meeting, of the Provincial Grand Lodge of East Kent.
I signed in, and picked up a copy of the Annual Festival brochure – a bit like a Lodge Summons but much grander – and found a seat in the lower stalls, facing the main stage. We were all wearing our masonic regalia, those of us with Provincial Rank wearing our full-dress outfit, the one with gold braiding around the edges of the collar and apron. The Hall was pretty full, numbers attending were significantly up on the previous year. A sense of expectancy was building. It’s always like this at Provincial Grand Lodge!
At 1420 hrs Andy Stevens, Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies, made the usual announcements before the session started: would we please turn off our mobile phones, and so on. He asked those receiving honours or promotions that afternoon to be gentle with the Provincial Grand Master, as he would be shaking more than one hundred and eighty eager hands; and no cheering or shouting, please, when your particular favourite stepped up in his turn. Andy had such a nice way of putting things that you were only too happy to comply.
Now it was time for the processions. Firstly, we had the Grand Officers and Heads of Other Orders. We all stood up as they came into the Hall and made their way to the seats reserved for them. Next came the Distinguished Guests: Grand Masters and other top-ranking brethren from other Provinces, followed by Past Provincial Grand Masters, Deputy Provincial Grand Masters and Assistant Provincial Grand Masters from East Kent. Again, everyone was able to go directly to his seat without having to shuffle past anyone else: which made me ponder, “Imagine how much organisation and detail must have gone into preparing all this”. Scope here for a future article in The Provincial Magazine, I thought.
Finally, we were called to order to receive the Provincial Grand Master, Neil Hamilton Johnstone, and his team of Officers. The PGM was preceded by the Provincial Grand Sword Bearer and followed by the two Provincial Grand Standard Bearers. The Standard Bearers walked up the steep side-steps on to the stage and placed their flags next to the Provincial Banner. Fortunately, no one stumbled. (Why do such things always cross my mind?)
At 1449 the Provincial Choir entertained us with a beautiful song, and then the PGM opened the Provincial Grand Lodge. After a prayer was said, we sang “So Mote It Be” so loudly and impressively that it reminded me of a Welsh Male Voice Choir at its finest. It sent tingles down your spine.
A sad moment followed, as we stood in respect of those Masons who had died in the past year.
The PGM then introduced all the Distinguished Guests. West Kent was so well represented that the PGM quipped that they must have had a minibus to transport them all! Laughter all round.
Item 5: The Minutes of the last Provincial Grand Lodge meeting were confirmed, ditto the Provincial Grand Secretary’s and the Kent Museum and Library Trust’s Reports (Item 6).
Item 7: Mark Bassant, Assistant Provincial Grand Master, and Peter Rhodes, Provincial Grand Charity Steward, were elected as Trustees to the Masonic Charitable Foundation.
We were positively whistling through the Agenda.
Item 8: to receive the audited accounts and Treasurer’s Report: no trouble here.
Item 9: The Provincial Grand Treasurer was absent, but William Daniels was re-elected unopposed. The PGM paid tribute to his hard work in such a vital role.
Item 10: To elect the Auditors, “vide Rule 85 B. of C.” Done. Out of curiosity, I checked Rule 85 when I got home. It was indeed about electing the Auditors ….
And then to Item 11, the Appointment and Investiture of Provincial Grand Officers for the ensuing year. We started with the reappointment of the ever-popular Peter Williams as Deputy Provincial Grand Master, then the four Assistant Provincial Grand Masters (David Graeme, David Alexander, Mark Bassant and Richard Wingett), the Provincial Senior Grand Warden Nigel Fitz, the Provincial Junior Grand Warden Martin Atkins and all the other Active Officers.
To many of us, Item 11 meant seeing our own Lodge chums being escorted with pride to receive their honours from the PGM. Yes, it was time for the Annual Carousel. If you’ve never seen it, you’ve missed a treat. The Stewards line up and each takes a recipient with his collar up to the PGM, who invests them and shakes their hand. The Steward then escorts the recipient back and picks up the next one in line. It’s all highly synchronised, and needs to be so, for the Provincial Grand Secretary Phil South announces each recipient in turn, and woe betide anyone if they are presented in the wrong order! However, as you would expect from our Province, the whole thing went like clockwork. And no cheering. Although I did detect a few handclaps that were louder than others. Yes, you lot in the Gallery! It’s cheating if you take your gloves off!
Item 12 was a tease – to present Meritorious Awards to Distinguished Brethren. Who would it be this year? “Nearly 98 years old.” That narrowed it down a bit. Still the Lodge Organist at the Hexagon Lodge No.5380, Rochester, as he had been since 1993. Awarded the MBE in 2015 “for services to people with disabilities in Kent”. Yes, the PGM’s Award went to the remarkable Douglas William Moutrie. To thunderous applause, Douglas strode with a sprightly step to the PGM’s pedestal, where RWBro Neil Johnstone offered his congratulations and presented him with his Certificate, to renewed applause. A real moment to savour. We were all absolutely thrilled for Douglas.
The PGM then turned to Item 13 – to receive a presentation by the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) on the 2025 Festival. Firstly, the PGM thanked Peter Rhodes, Provincial Grand Charity Steward, and Mark Bassant, APGM and Appeal Chairman, for all their hard work in preparing for the Launch. Then he introduced Les Hutchinson, Chief Operating Officer of the MCF, and Howard Wilson, MCF Trustee. Howard had travelled all the way from Solihull to be there: brave man, I thought.
Les began by reminding us that the MCF was an amalgamation in 2015 of several Masonic charities under the one umbrella. He gave an example of how the MCF was helping a Mason and his family in Kent in which the Mason’s wife had sustained severe brain damage following a serious road accident. Howard then quoted many impressive statistics showing the scope of the MCF’s work. They were receiving over a thousand calls a month. Despite the many millions of pounds distributed annually (did I hear him say £12.3 million for last year?), the Charity had never needed to seek financial help from the wider community. The MCF gave its thanks to our PGM and the Festival Team who had already “shown great imagination” in their plans. He stressed that the Festival was an opportunity for us all to have FUN.
Les added that the Province of East Kent had “a long and proud history” of supporting charity. He and Howard wished us every success as we embarked on our Festival journey.
As our applause died away, Andy Stevens wheeled a small plinth in front of the PGM’s pedestal. What was that round red object sitting on top of it? It looked a bit like the U.S. President’s nuclear button. Oo-er!
The PGM thanked Les and Howard for their presentation, referring to the MCF as “one of the most significant charities in the country”.
And then, the extraordinary set-piece I mentioned at the start of this report. Chocks away! The EKP 2025 Festival was launched, and we were told the sum we were aiming for: £3.5 million. The PGM summarised the main events that the Province had planned for the next few months, and urged us all to support them. Of course we would! But I wasn’t too sure I’d be joining Mark Bassant on his “Wing Walk” …
RWBro Neil mused on how quickly the time had flown since his Installation as PGM last October. He had been especially pleased and proud to have visited so many of the charities supported by us.
He was glad to see so many Masons attending today, especially as the location of the meeting, Margate, was at one extremity of the Province. The reason Margate was chosen, he said, was “just to see who really WANTS to be here”! (Laughter)
After drawing our attention to the Dean of Canterbury’s invitation to us all to attend Evensong on Sunday 8th September, the PGM concluded by reminding us that we were all ambassadors for the Craft – and membership, recruitment and retention, were a key area for us to focus on. He thanked everyone who had worked so hard to make the afternoon a success. (Applause)
Item 15 was “To collect Alms”. Lovely to listen to Provincial Grand Organist John Fry’s music as we passed the hat around. I’m sure I heard “Pennies from Heaven” in his repertoire.
Finally, a customary short list of Apologies, and then we were called to order for the Closing of the Lodge. A prayer, followed by that wonderfully sonorous “So Mote It Be”, and soon the top brass were filing out in procession and it was time to go. 1655 hrs. Those staying to Dinner adjourned to the bar, while the rest of us said goodbye to our friends and made our way home. The sun was shining now – as if to reflect our sunny disposition as we left happy Margate for another year.
On the train home, I glanced out of the window and spotted the carousel in the Dreamland park. Lots of activity there – but not a Provincial Grand Steward to be seen.
P.S. If you missed the moment of the Festival Launch, you can see it here:
Report by John Ray