Brethren of London, right at the very start I will say that I make no apologies for the length of this article. If you intend to bear with me and read to the end, I suggest you pause here, go make yourself a cup of tea, get yourselves comfortable and continue reading!
Despite lockdown and the suspension of Masonic meetings there is still so much going on and so much activity for me to tell you about. You will have a flavour of some of the topics I want to mention from the T@3 posts on Facebook. Firstly the ‘Welfare Initiative’ whereby each Chain asked the Secretary of each of his Lodges to work with the Almoner to establish effective communication with every Member (and widows too if appropriate) has been a great success, and it is my understanding and fervent hope that there is no Brother of the Mark Province of London who feels isolated or without a point of contact if he is in need of help – whether that help is just to have someone to chat to, or practical assistance by way of shopping, collecting prescriptions etc. Also, the Mark Benevolent Fund stands ready to consider Petitions from Brethren in financial need and approaches should be made in the first instance to the Lodge Almoner or Provincial Almoner Peter Brindle (email@example.com).
I have been heartened to read of Brethren offering to run errands in their (sometimes distant) geographical areas, those who volunteer to drive ambulances and many other acts of kindness and brotherly love. In the London Mallet this month you will see pictures of Bro. Carl Fazackerley and W. Bro. Paul Brown, respectively volunteering with St. John Ambulance and delivering food to those self-isolating. Well done, Carl and Paul! Stay safe and keep up this excellent work. I am sure there are many other Brethren carrying out similar charitable deeds – please let me know so that I can tell others. In these dark days we really need to hear of all the good deeds being done to help keep our spirits high, in the knowledge that there is so much charity and humanity being demonstrated to support those in need.
During the phone calls I have been able to make to some senior members, I have learned things about them I might not ordinarily have ever discovered – VW Bro. Brian Vickers cycles twice a week to his village shop to collect his own groceries; W. Bro. Andrew Peto has a great love for classical music and we swapped reminiscences of concerts and Classic FM programme content; W. Bro. David Alexander gets his exercise by walking past the magnificent Savoy Hotel – normally cheerfully and brightly lit up but unfortunately now in complete darkness. There are, sadly, Brethren who have passed away during this crisis and all our thoughts and condolences are with their families and other loved ones. But also there are those who have made or continue to make good recoveries from their Corona Virus illnesses and here I would like to mention W. Bro. Robert Lakic who has been very ill at home but who has recovered through his own fortitude from CV-19. Robert has also lost his mother in the past few weeks and he has asked that I pass on his grateful thanks for the messages of support he has received from many, many Brethren.
This does lead me to say that anyone who learns of the passing of one of our membership, do please advise one of the Provincial Executive before posting the news on social media – unless of course you have the information from a most reliable authority or source; and the family and closest friends are already aware.
Social Media has been a source of important information, general guidelines and – most of all – entertainment to so many since lockdown began. Zoom (a facility probably unheard of by most until recently) is now a word on everyone’s lips and is being used in a multitude of ways – committee meetings, educational presentations, PGM Forums, practising ceremonies (subject to UGLE guidelines on the private aspects of our ceremonial) and possibly many other ways too. Our own London Mark Provincial Facebook page has become a huge source of information and fun; and I am delighted to report a large take-up in members over recent weeks. When I look at the comments on the T@3 posts, there are so many from Brethren who only ‘joined’ during March. If like me, you are also a member of other Orders’ Facebook pages and WhatsApp groups (which have proliferated beyond all imagination) you will not lack any reading or viewing material! Readers of our Provincial Facebook page will also be aware of the Zoom presentations, which have been the inspiration of W. Bro. Mahir Kilic. So far Mahir has persuaded Cliff Sturt, Tim MacAndrews and myself to give short lectures on aspects of Mark/R.A.M. – all of which appear to have been well received. So much so that on Tim’s R.A.M. presentation on 21 April there were some 200 Masons logged on from dozens of countries around the world, including the MW Grand Master for New York! Well done and thank you to Mahir for driving this initiative. These presentations are held on a Tuesday at 5pm. April 28 will be W. Bro. Chris James telling us something about that most famous Brother, Rudyard Kipling. So if you are interested in ‘attending’ get yourself signed up to our London Mark Provincial Facebook group to find out the log in details. Any problems in finding the page, I will be delighted to help (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Your Executive has been meeting regularly by Zoom and the topics we have covered include:-
Dealing with missed/cancelled meetings; missed Awareness and Social events; Travelling Keystone arrangements; Year Book (I’m afraid this will likely be delayed until 2021); contingency planning; how to stay in touch with newly Advanced Brethren and those who have missed their Advancement Ceremony due to lockdown. We are also using the current quiet (quiet!!) period to review how we use the existing Provincial database and Keystone On Line (Grand Lodge’s database).
Looking to the end of the current emergency, I have set up Working Groups to investigate the practicalities of a special Service to commemorate our emergence from the suspension of Masonic meetings; to review the implications of a return to business-as-usual in our Lodges and, very importantly, arrangements for a replacement Annual Meeting.
As we are all well aware, one of the biggest casualties of this crisis has to be the postponement of our Annual Meeting on 9 July. This should have seen the investiture of W. Bro. Howard Markham as an APGM to replace W. Bro. Cliff Sturt, who retires by rotation this summer; and also the appointment and investiture of some 160 Brethren into Active, First and Promoted Offices.
We have both a Plan B and a Plan C for a replacement meeting, but of course much depends on the Government’s relaxation of restrictions and our own Grand Lodge’s instructions. We’ll just have to wait and see for the moment, but rest assured I will cascade details of any new arrangements as soon as it is appropriate and without causing any confusion over replacement dates.
Many congratulations to those Brethren whom I have appointed and promoted in the Province for the coming year. They should consider their start date as 9 July 2020, and at the first opportunity thereafter should wear the Apron and Collar Jewel of their new rank. Please feel free to make use of the Regalia Exchange service operated by V.W. Bro. MC Black (see here). Similarly this service might apply to those individuals who were appointed and promoted in Grand Lodge (see the list here). Grand Lodge’s meeting on 9 June is also cancelled and we await detailed instructions for any replacement date. And lastly, on the topic of Provincial Meetings, our Annual Royal Ark Mariner Assembly is still scheduled for 7 September – again subject to confirmation that it can go ahead.
So far as charitable donations by London Mark are concerned, I am pleased to report that your Province has given £10,000 to City Harvest (a charity dedicated to feeding London’s needy) and £5,000 to the London Telephone Bereavement Centre. Both of these charities are inundated with extra challenges at this time. We have also donated, through the Mark Province of Bedford, £1,000 to Captain Tom’s 100th Birthday walk for the NHS. Your donations to our 50:50 Club continue to arrive in Marios’ post and in June he will announce the winners and the charity which will benefit from your continued generous support.
Over the past months since my last ‘PGM Writes’ it has been my great privilege to hand over the keys of one of the St John Ambulances provided by the MBF; and also attend at the Richard House Children’s Hospice in Beckton to hand over one of the Lifelites technology trunks. It was also a great pleasure for a number of our members to visit the Gurudwaras at Hounslow and Southall – just before the Consecration of the new Khalsa Lodge – a splendid event we managed to squeeze in a week or so before lockdown!
Another casualty of lockdown has been our Mess Dinner on 21 April when we were to have had a presentation on the Victoria Cross from Bro. Mark Smith, TV personality and a member of our Maguncor Lodge No. 833. That date is also the birthday of our Queen, and yes I did send birthday greetings to Buckingham Palace. If Her Majesty replies I will share the letter with you all! It is hoped that Mark will be able to come to our Mess Lunch on 8 October to give his presentation then.
The Executive are all desperately hoping that 17 November will be well outside the lockdown period, as this is the date when we will celebrate this Province’s 30th Anniversary. London Mark may have seen some ups and downs in its 3 decades but nothing as threatening as the present CV-19 situation and I am hopeful that, such will be the enthusiasm for everyone to return to their Mark Masonry, all the 150 places will be snapped up for this celebratory black tie dinner as soon as we are able to begin marketing it. Our celebrity speaker is V.W. Bro. Roger de Courcey, so it should indeed be a fun evening. Put the date in your diaries now.
My Deputy’s T@3 on Sunday mentioned that some Brethren are getting bored – well, in the latest edition of The London Mallet there is a crossword and Chris James’ photograph challenge. Both of them have prizes, so perhaps he will be inundated with entries.
I’m coming to the end of this epic letter soon Brethren, but cannot finish without thanking a number of important people. Firstly my Executive for continuing to work hard during this crisis and to add value to the initiatives which we have in place to help see us through this difficult time; to the Lodge Secretaries and Treasurers whose admin work continues unabated, irrespective of whether their Lodges meet or not; and lastly to you all for your continued support of each other, our vulnerable members and this wonderful Mark Province of London. For being model citizens too, as I believe that we, as Masons, are all adhering to that section in the Charge after Initiation, which enjoins us to pay due obedience to the laws of any State. By conforming to lockdown and social distancing rules, we have a greater chance of getting safely through this pandemic and coming together in our Mark Lodges once again, to enjoy each other’s company and to introduce our candidates to the magic of the Mark Degree. As most of you will know I am a fan of the Gilbert & Sullivan Operas, so to end with here’s another topical take on the Major General’s song from the Pirates of Penzance:
Pandemics are alarming but they are not insurmountable
If everybody pitches in to hold themselves accountable.
In short please do your part to practise prudent co-existence-ing
And be the very model of effective social distancing!
Mark Well, Brethren. Stay safe and may TGOOTU bless and preserve you all.