Brethren and Companions,
What a difference a year makes! We closed 2019 on a high in the Province with huge anticipation of the exciting initiatives, developments and events awaiting us in the New Year. All that changed at the end of March and freemasonry has spent the last 8 months or so either suspended in lockdown or trying to hold meetings with extremely limited numbers. However, we can hold our heads high in Cambridgeshire, as I believe we have risen to the many challenges Covid 19 has presented and, usually, with a smile.
Whether through new Zoom meetings; different ways of giving or supporting the Festival and charities locally; supporting vulnerable families and their carers, particularly young carers, or just being there when needed. You have done some amazing things and I am sure we shall look back in a few years’ time with some fondness on how resilient, how innovative, how resourceful we were and remember some especial, albeit different, days.
For me one of the biggest highlights is to see how positive you have been in what have been extraordinarily difficult times. Just about everyone I have telephoned, emailed, chatted on WhatsApp or Facebook, or met on a zoom call has tried to be upbeat and, although realistic about resumption timelines, accepted the future will be brighter. That is not to say that the dangers of Covid have in any way been underestimated. I know many brethren have taken extraordinary steps to protect themselves and their loved ones.
Recently, I particularly enjoyed a Zoom meeting with the Light Blues where we had a great couple of hours with some challenging but very sensible questions. We have a bedrock of support for the future in this wonderful group.
Charitable giving has held up and I was so moved to hear that our recent Provincial Grand Lodge meeting, where of course only six of us could carry out the essential business, was magnificently supported by you with donations of nearly £1,200 for our Festival. Our Provincial Grand Chapter meeting was also conducted with six but, I hope in 2021, we shall be able to get back to more normal numbers for both meetings and also recognise and acknowledge all those brethren and companions who received or will receive appointments or promotions.
However, I must mention WBro Peter Brown who received my Certificate of Merit for services to freemasonry and also to Ex Comps John Breeze and Douglas Forsdyke who received it for services to the Royal Arch, the latter in his hundredth year, at those annual meetings. They were richly deserved and it is just sad that we were not able to do this in front of 300+ freemasons as normal.
The Province has been able to provide significant financial grants, particularly to the air ambulances, Arthur Rank Hospice, young carers organisations, local Samaritans, the Salvation Army, local foodbanks and many other deserving charities through direct funding, often with matched amounts, from Care & Relief and MCF. Both have been superb in turning round applications so quickly. This is in addition to PPE provision for the NHS, Care Homes in Cambridgeshire as well as to vulnerable brethren and families in our own Province. The work in our lodges and chapters carried out by all the principal officers, and particularly our almoners during these months has been outstanding and should be applauded. Please do not forget that both the MCF and the Charity for Care & Relief are always available to support any brother or his family who are in need and can be approached through your almoner or the Provincial Grand Almoner WBro George Brennan.
It is said every cloud has a silver lining and, during Covid, I think that has been our communication efforts. Indeed, the whole communications team, under the guidance of Mike Hinton, has risen to the challenge of finding multiple ways of engaging with you. Whether this has been through the Cambridgeshire Mason, the innovative Second Rising, updated articles and messages on our newly revamped website, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram posts or the latest Year Book; all have helped keep us in touch as well as providing updates, news and stories of what has been happening or will happen. It has been a mighty effort, which I hope has been worthwhile for each of you, and I am hugely grateful to the whole team.
So, brethren and companions, it has been an eventful year - quite different - but one where freemasons have, as usual, risen splendidly to the demands and challenges.
We must now look forward and, I think we can do this with some optimism. Vaccines should start to become available in the New Year whilst greater testing and containment measures are improving and apparently working. As the virus starts to be contained, and brethren are or feel protected, we may well be able to anticipate a gradual return to meetings during the first half of the year. My own feeling is that it may not be until the second half when near normality has returned BUT, if it does, we have some exciting prospects ahead of us. These include our two annual meetings on 2nd July , the Ely Cathedral Festival of Carols next December, three lodge consecrations, a re-launch of our Festival 2023 and I know we shall have some exciting news and events here when the shackles are taken off ! Our target is still a long way off but we have raised or have committed funds in excess of £675,000.
We can also look forward to strengthening our membership and bringing in those candidates for initiation and exaltation who have been patiently waiting these last few months, as well as those brethren who still have passings and raisings outstanding. The Executive have been working extremely hard, on your behalf, with a plethora of Zoom meetings, on Covid and more routine non-Covid issues. We are looking forward enormously to visiting your lodges and chapters and meeting you again. If that was a certainty, then it would be the best Christmas present I could have!
However, talking of Christmas presents, I am delighted that we were able to announce earlier in the month that this year we would be rebating back 40% of Provincial Grand Lodge and Provincial Grand Chapter dues ( £4.00 and £2.00 per head respectively ) to all lodges and chapters.
Brethren and Companions, thank you for your friendship, support, enthusiasm, fortitude but most of all your commitment to this wonderful organisation. I know the arrangements for the holidays are, as I write, still changing but I hope you will be able to enjoy a great Christmas with your families after such a difficult few months Let us look forward to a much better 2021 and my very best wishes to you all.
Yours sincerely and fraternally,