As autumn nears its end and the signs of winter start to dominate, and as the nights draw in and temperatures fall, members of Bryn Lodge No. 6553 which is member of the Wigan Group in West Lancashire start to get ready for their annual pilgrimage
A pilgrimage it must be acknowledged to be, as the hardy brethren have religiously made the journey to visit a lodge in a different country / jurisdiction for the last 16 years.
Last year was a trip to Flanders and Chevalier Ramsay Lodge No. 4 of the Regular Grand Lodge of Belgium and in previous years the team of lodge members visited Ireland in 2001, then Scotland, Germany, Czech Republic, Spain, Holland (to a lodge working under the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts), Portugal, Majorca, Jersey, Greece, Gibraltar, Bulgaria, Luxembourg and Hungary. On each occasion, they have visited an English-speaking lodge, and seen many variations of ritual, customs and culture. This year it was to Paris, and to St George’s Lodge No. 3, under the jurisdiction of the Grande Loge National Française, meeting at the Grand Lodge headquarters in the northern suburbs of Paris.
So, it was a cold and frosty (very early) Thursday morning when the intrepid travellers set off from Bryn Masonic Hall, on one of David Ogden’s coaches, loaded with bacon and sausage sandwiches, pies, chicken legs, boiled ham barm cakes, tea and coffee, and perhaps a little beer. 20 brethren made the trip, including the WM Mark Seddon, his wardens, all the light blue officers, stewards and to make the trip perfect, a new fellow craft and a recently initiated entered apprentice, as well as the ‘old stagers’ who originally started the trips all those years ago, as ‘juniors’ themselves. After a very pleasant, albeit long, journey the team based themselves in the Montmartre area of Paris, near to the famous Sacre Coeur church. In such a great location, they had a great time exploring the local area, bars and restaurants, and entertaining the locals with some melodious, albeit partisan, singing in the early hours.
All refreshed and rested on Friday, it was time to head for the lodge, suitably attired and raring to go. The 659th regular meeting of St George’s Lodge was to be an initiation ceremony. Two of the brethren, John Tabern and Garry Rowland, were a little exited as well as a tad apprehensive, having been given the honour of taking part in the ceremony, John as Junior Deacon and Garry in delivering the address at the NE corner.
With the assistance of satnav, following a short journey which battled through that nightmare which is Paris traffic, the expectant and eager brethren were dropped off just around the corner from the lodge with plenty of time for a relaxing drink at the bar, or so they thought! They were victims of a cruel turn of fate, there being two addresses in Paris with similar street names, one in district 6, the other in district 17, and guess what? Yes, you’ve got it, they were at the wrong one, some 40 minutes away from the lodge, through the rush hour.
A quick apologetic phone call was made to Michael Hawksley, WM of St George’s Lodge, who was very understanding and volunteered to open the lodge and deal with business and domestic matters until the brethren’s arrival. And so it was, the lost explorers were eventually re-united with their coach and arrived at the Grand Lodge building and were received into the lodge enthusiastically by Michael and his officers and distinguished guests.
St George’s Lodge, despite being in Paris and operating under the GLNF, work our familiar Emulation Ritual in English. Warranted in 1914 as a civil lodge, it obviously attracted much attention from visiting brethren during the troubled years that followed and rapidly became an Army Services Corps and Royal Engineers military lodge.
All present were treated to a fine initiation ceremony. Bryn Lodge can quite rightly be proud of their junior brethren who took part in the work, something that not many get a chance to do. The lodge room was significantly smaller than they were used to and John Tabern adapted quickly to manage the perambulations with skill and performed his task efficiently with a relaxed manner and infusion of appropriate humour that helped the candidate feel comfortable. Garry Rowland, for his part, delivered a word-perfect address from the NE corner.
The business of the evening being ended, the Bryn brethren joined their hosts at a fine festive board. The building accommodated several lodge rooms and several meetings were going on at the same time. There were also a number of dining rooms and the festive board was held in one of the larger ones. The brethren were treated to traditional French cuisine and fine wine, and the company of a great bunch of guys.
Mark Seddon was delighted to respond to a toast to the visitors and did so in his own inimitable style, enthusiastic, thanking the lodge and brethren, interspersed with ‘Scouse wit’, before presenting the lodge with an inscribed gavel and stand to commemorate the visit. He had been presented with a gift from St George’s Lodge, an inscribed tankard, in the meeting earlier. Following the response, as is the tradition at Bryn and to the delight of the assembled company, the visiting brethren stood and sang ‘Let us have harmony’, joined by the rest to complete the final verse. The evening was completed by a visit to the Masonic Museum filled with interesting artefacts and stories and historic anecdotes. After that it was back to Montmartre and a few nightcaps.
Saturday was a typical tourist’s day, with a boat trip on the River Seine, an ascent of the Eiffel Tower and a stroll down the Champs D’Elise and the Christmas markets, followed by dinner and drinks back in Montmartre. The journey from Paris to Calais on Sunday was a little fraught as news of storm Angus was filtering through. It was raging in the channel and crossings were delayed, a ship having gone down in the adverse conditions just off the English coast.
Fortunately, there was nothing to worry about, as, after a three-and-a-half-hour delay in Calais, the seas calmed smiling on the faithful brethren allowing them a safe return to their native shore, as was so desired. It was a tired and motley crew that arrived back at Bryn after midnight, but reflecting on a very successful and enjoyable trip. Freemasonry is truly universal, but surely, after 16 years, Bryn Lodge must be running out of options for future trips? Can they find another foreign clime and jurisdiction next year, that is home to a lodge that works in the English language and meets on or near to the weekend, to make it 17? We’ll just have to wait and see.