Provincial Grand Chapter
The MEGS's Address, Provincial Team & Committee Meeting Minutes
Click on the section headings below to see the various topics.

30th March 2017   
  Companions 
First, a warm welcome to all of you, not just to all our official guests whom I formally welcomed and introduced to you earlier this morning, but also to the members of this province and their guests for turning out in such good numbers to support us today. I'll try not to spoil your enjoyment by going on for too long, but I do want to say a couple of things.
Although this is a chapter meeting, I do want to mention the Craft Tercentenary as well as the launch of our own Festival on behalf of the Masonic Charitable Foundation. I am sure that you are all aware of the Sky documentary on Freemasonry – the first of five episodes will be aired on Monday 17th April (ie Easter Monday) at 8pm and I would encourage you to watch it. I have seen this episode – it is excellent, and the Province of Oxfordshire is well represented in it. I have no doubt that it will generate interest in Freemasonry, and we must capitalise on that. It will present a good opportunity to talk to our friends and to encourage them to join, if we believe that they will make good freemasons. Yes, we must seek to recruit, but we must maintain our standards and values.
The Festival was launched just over a month ago and has had an excellent start with over £60,000 already raised or pledged. This provincial chapter was kind enough to donate £5,000, and whilst it is a Craft Festival, I do hope that the Chapters in this province will also support it generously, to emphasise the close connection we have.
There is a lot going on in the Craft at present and it would very easy to concentrate on that – we must not forget Chapter - let's continue to build on what we have been doing and focus on getting the basics right.
As the Provincial Scribe E reported and is shown in the papers for today's meeting, we have seen an increase in our membership in the last year. This is the first reportable increase for many years and I thank you all for your efforts in this area. But we cannot rest on our laurels – there is much more work to do on recruitment. Whilst we are averaging 1.6 exaltations per working chapter, there are still some chapters who did not have an exaltation in the last year. Whilst I and the Executive can encourage from the centre, this is no substitute for you talking to your friends in Craft lodges, and extolling its virtues. We can't force them to join and there is clearly a risk if we push new craft members too quickly, but we should be asking and we can gently cajole them.
Without giving away too much, we can talk to them about the quality of our ceremonies and what we really enjoy about our meetings. When done well, the Chapter ceremony is without doubt one of the best and most memorable. Over the last year, I have seen many excellent ceremonies, with an increasing number of Chapters spreading the workload among more companions, and also adopting the recent narrative insertions. This all helps to make the ceremony more accessible, less daunting for those of us who aren't ritualists and a more enjoyable all round experience, which is also good for retention. And I encourage all chapters in the province to do the same. And of course, it does not hurt to point out the close connection between Craft and Chapter and the hints given in the Third Degree about substituted secrets. We can talk to our friends about the warmth of the hospitality and companionship that they will receive. And I have no doubt that they will deepen the friendships that they have made in the Craft.
Over the past year, I have been to some very well attended meetings, which have been enhanced by the number of visitors. The introduction of the Travelling Horn 18 months ago has, I hoped, helped this, but I am keen to encourage visiting between our Chapters even more. To this end, I have asked the new Assistant Scribe E to encourage reigning MEZs to visit more during their year of office. This used to be a regular feature that seems to have gone by the wayside in recent years to a large degree.
I am also instituting a prize for the Companion who visits the most chapters in a year. Further details will be available on the provincial website from our new Deputy Grand Superintendent who will administer this. However, it is up to you to nominate yourselves for this prize. The exact prize has not yet been defined, but I have no doubt that, in part, it will come in a bottle shape.
We are also becoming more active with our visits to and from other Provinces. Just before Christmas, a good number of the Active officers visited Cirencester in the Province of Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. In January, we were very pleased to host the provincial team from Warwickshire, even if they did try to corrupt us with some of their own idiosyncracies. Plans are also under way for the first Tripartite meeting with Buckinghamshire and Berkshire in June this year. I have no doubt that there will be more in the future.
Companions, the annual meeting is a time to recognise the contributions that you have made to your own chapters and to the province as a whole. All those I have had the pleasure of appointing and promoting today have earned their new honours, and I am sure that they will wear their new aprons and jewels with pride. Acceptance of the honour does bring renewed commitment to work for the future of the province in whatever way you can. To this end, I would particularly encourage the Active officers of the year to accompany me and the rest of the Executive when we visit chapters.
Of course, new appointments means the retirement of existing officers. I trust that they have enjoyed their year in office and I thank all of them for their contribution. There is one notable retirement this year, in our Deputy Grand Superintendent, E Comp Mark Harwood. Mark's contribution to this province in both Craft and Chapter has been enormous over a large number of year and I have already put on public record our thanks to him. I'm not going to list out everything he has done, but we did also want to give him something a little more tangible as a token of our appreciation.
Before closing, let me thank all those involved in organising and running this meeting. There are a large number of you, many of whom work quietly behind the scenes. But without your hard work and commitment, this meeting would not be the success that it is. I thank you all most sincerely.
I started by saying that 2017 is a great opportunity for Freemasonry in general. Let's ensure that the Royal Arch province of Oxfordshire does not miss out on that opportunity. We must focus on the basics – recruitment and retention are key; but let's ensure our meetings and festive boards are enjoyable and vibrant, and let's get back into the habit of visiting.
I thank you for your attention, and pray that the TALGMH will keep you, your families and friends under his protection.
 James R.G. Hilditch, MEGS
 
 
 
Chapter of the Year
Companions, the Chapter of the Year award now enters its second year. The first recipient of the award was Culham College Chapter and I know that they were very proud of their achievement and have used the award to advance their chapter still further.
But they must now hand over their mantle to another worthy chapter. The criteria for the award have not changed this year – an important factor continues to be how the chapter grows itself, not just through exaltations, but also joiners to ensure that it has a strong foundation for the future, as well as retaining their existing members. There are other important considerations – the encouragement of visiting, various aspects of the ritual, and mentoring and integration of newer members.
The choice has, this year, been hard. A number of chapters have distinguished themselves, with Wychwood Chapter heading the table of exaltations with five in their three meetings in last year, which just shows what can be done.
Whilst the chapter to which I am making the award this year may not have had quite as many exaltations as Wychwood, it has had two exaltations and three joining members. This chapter has struggled for a number of years, and at long last it is a real pleasure to see that the hard work that its members have put in is starting to pay off. Yes, it is coming from a small base, but I have no hesitation in naming St Giles Chapter as Chapter of the Year.
 James R.G. Hilditch, MEGS
 
 
 
Order of Merit
Companions, there is an additional item which is not on your summons but is on mine, which is the presentation of the Grand Superintendent's Order of Merit.
In a province like Oxfordshire, there are many companions who make a large contribution to their own chapter or chapters in a quiet but effective manner. They may have already been recognised by provincial appointment and promotion, but such is their love and commitment for this order that they continue to contribute in whatever way they can. The Order of Merit is designed to recognise this continuing contribution and I have no hesitation in making a further award this year.
The companion in question is a member of two chapters, having been exalted in 1971 and becoming a founder of another chapter in the province. He was first MEZ in 1986, has served as DC of his chapter for 9 years, and has been MEZ for a further 4 years.
He was recognised with provincial rank as sword bearer and subsequently promoted to Past Scribe Nehemiah 20 years ago. Since that date, within his two chapters, he has been in active office for 24 of the 20 years! Even when not in office, officially, he is ready to stand in where required and he always seems to be there. Companions, that is indeed commitment and a good example to us all, and I have no hesitation in asking the Provincial DC to escort E Comp Ken Calcutt to me.
 James R.G. Hilditch, MEGS