Shropshire goes walk about

A band of walkers completed a 45-mile hike from the masonic hall at Constitution Hill, Wellington, to the masonic hall at Brand Lane, Ludlow, in Shropshire, in two 10-hour journeys.  

Deputy Provincial Grand Master Roger Pemberton, who had been on the walk, later travelled back to Ludlow for a meeting of the Lodge of the Marches, No. 611, where he received a cheque for £5,000 for the 2019 Festival Appeal in aid of The Freemasons’ Grand Charity, now part of the Masonic Charitable Foundation.

Bridging the gap

The Iron Bridge Lodge in Shropshire is attracting younger members with a blend of social media, streamlined ceremonies and core masonic values, as Peter Watts discovers

On 1 February 2016, something happened in Shropshire for the first time in more then a century. At a meeting room in Telford town centre, three new members were initiated into Freemasonry at one lodge on the same day. This was so exceptional it required a change in the rules. ‘The laws say you can only initiate two at once,’ says Andy Delamere of the meeting at The Iron Bridge Lodge. ‘We had to seek special dispensation from the Provincial Grand Master.’ 

What makes it more extraordinary is that one of those new masons was only 20 years old. 

Could the future of Freemasonry be blossoming in this corner of England?

It has been an impressive first 12 months for The Iron Bridge Lodge, No. 9897, which is named after a local landmark and created specifically to cater to the preferences of younger masons. In January 2015, The Iron Bridge Lodge became the 34th lodge to be consecrated in Shropshire and the first new lodge anywhere to join the Universities Scheme. 

Launched in 2005, the scheme was created to attract students into Freemasonry, an idea inspired by the existing lodges at Oxford and Cambridge. While The Iron Bridge Lodge is not affiliated with any university, it welcomes all students to join its meetings.

One of The Iron Bridge Lodge’s new masons is student Tom Perring, 28, who says he has been ‘interested in Freemasonry for as long as I can remember’ – an interest nurtured by reading copies of Freemasonry Today donated to him by an elderly mason. Tom explored various options until he heard about The Iron Bridge Lodge being set up. 

‘I followed them on Twitter and they followed me back, saying thanks for the follow and if I was interested in Freemasonry I should ask,’ recalls Tom. ‘I told them I was, and it went from there.’

Finding new channels

Embracing social media is just one way that The Iron Bridge Lodge is trying to appeal to a younger generation. When Shropshire’s Deputy Provincial Grand Master Roger Pemberton found that 27 per cent of new masons in his Province resigned within five years, he knew that making changes to recruit and retain young masons was key, but wanted to do so without diminishing the gravitas of the ceremony.

Roger was among those trying to find a way to marry the procedures of Freemasonry with the responsibilities of contemporary life. ‘We want to make Freemasonry attractive to young men and students in Shropshire, and one way to do that is to make it possible for them to be there,’ he explains. 

‘Society is very fast and unstable; Freemasonry offers a strong, decent core that can help people.’ Tom Perring

Lodges traditionally meet at 5pm, when many people are still at work or looking after children. ‘We therefore start at 7pm and finish by 9.45pm so people can get home at a reasonable hour. We’ve also made it a more attractive, simpler ceremony,’ says Roger.

Proceedings have been streamlined by circulating reports and minutes by email before the meeting, rather than reading them out. A buffet-style Festive Board has also replaced formal meals. This is more relaxed and provides an opportunity for masons to socialise. 

Roger was convinced that these measures would bear fruit. ‘If you have a market stall and you put it where people can’t see it then nobody will buy anything,’ he explains. ‘But if you have something attractive that’s easy to see, then people will be interested. It’s about presentation – making sure people feel welcome when they join and that this welcome is maintained. None of it affects the central tenets of Freemasonry, which are brotherly love, relief and a personal journey to truth.’

Ray Dickson, The Iron Bridge Lodge Secretary and a member of the founding committee, explains the journey that Shropshire Freemasons have been on. ‘We could see younger people live in a very busy environment where everything is needed yesterday, so finding time simply to attend meetings is difficult. We looked at how we could a provide a meeting place that accommodates modern life.’

Student recruits

As well as identifying ways to simplify the ceremony, the lodge founders contacted the Universities Scheme. ‘It sat with our ideals – bringing in young people, embracing and encouraging them,’ says Ray. ‘It seemed to be a good match with the principles we had started to build at The Iron Bridge Lodge and how we were organising and structuring things.’ 

The founders visited three Universities Scheme lodges in Leicester, Oxford and Nottingham to see how they operated, and contacted others via Twitter and Facebook. The results have been impressive. The Iron Bridge Lodge had 70-odd attendees at each meeting in 2015 and initiated seven new masons, some attracted by social media. 

The Iron Bridge Lodge was the first Shropshire lodge on Twitter, with its young members eagerly sharing information with their friends. ‘It puts it out there, the good we do, and that sparks an interest and shows this is a vibrant lodge,’ says Andy.

The younger masons have also brought ideas of their own and new members into the fold. 

‘Young people bring other young people. They bring enthusiasm and they also bring innovation,’ says Ray. ‘We don’t have a physical banner or tracing boards, we use projections – little things like that come from having younger people around. They are very enthusiastic with social media. That’s good for the lodge, Shropshire and Freemasonry in general.’

Tom is a fine arts student with an interest in film, so he’s made reels for the lodge and plans to make another for the Universities Scheme. He feels Freemasonry has much to offer men of his generation: ‘Society is very fast and unstable; Freemasonry offers a strong, decent core that can help people,’ he says.

For Tom, Freemasonry provides young men with the opportunity to give something back. ‘We’re learning confidence and manners, becoming better people and meeting people we’d never otherwise rub shoulders with. It makes you want to return the favour, using whatever talents you’ve learnt at work and university.’

Tom is just one of the new recruits who will take Freemasonry forward. Harvey Greatrex is a 21-year-old student who discovered The Iron Bridge Lodge via the website. He is looking forward to finding out more about the Craft and its values. ‘Some of the older masons tell us that we are still going to be in Freemasonry in 20 years,’ he says. 

Harvey’s journey in The Iron Bridge Lodge is something that Roger hopes will be emulated elsewhere in Freemasonry. ‘A lodge needs experienced people to start it off and run the main office until you get a cohort of masons who understand what it is about. We are two or three years away from that, but in about five years, this lodge will be entirely run by new young men.’

‘Young people bring other young people. They bring enthusiasm and they also bring innovation.’ Ray Dickson

VW Bro Roger Pemberton, Deputy Provincial Grand Master for Shropshire, writes of an initiative just launched by Shropshire’s Freemasons at the Poppy Lounge, Sheldon Ward, ROBERT JONES AND AGNES HUNT HOSPITAL, Oswestry

The Sheldon Ward at the Oswestry Orthopaedic Hospital looks after elderly patients who have recently undergone surgical procedures and who need a little time in rehabilitation before they are ready to return to their homes. Occasionally patients are admitted who are suffering from vascular and other forms of dementia which severely impair their cognitive faculties.

Sister Jackie Barry and her team were anxious to make a corner of Sheldon Ward more amenable and less clinical in order to assist elderly patients with severe memory loss by providing a comfortable, homely atmosphere with a real fireplace, pictures on the wall and a ‘memory trunk’ filled with memory aids to help them join past and present.

Sister Barry knew that patients with dementia were less likely to be confused and disoriented in an environment that reminded them of home, thus speeding the rehabilitation process. The problem was that she didn’t have the money to accomplish her dream.

A telephone call to the Shropshire Masonic Charitable Association brought immediate results. A grant of £3,000 was quickly delivered and work began on changing a plain and poky area of the ward into a warm and friendly relaxation lounge. Sister Barry chose the name The Poppy Lounge because she says, 'Poppies are all about remembrance and that is what we want to restore to our patients, a link with their own past.'

On 19th December 2014, the President of the Shropshire Masonic Charitable Association, W Bro John Williamson cut the ribbon at the official opening. Present on the occasion were Provincial Grand Master, RW Bro Peter Taylor and Deputy Provincial Grand Master, VW Bro Roger Pemberton as well many representatives of the staff and patient support groups of the hospital.

The Poppy Lounge, decorated with pictures of poppies and butterflies, will undoubtedly hasten recovery for many patients. Sister Jackie Barry gave a short speech at the opening saying, 'We are so grateful to the Masons for helping us to achieve our Poppy Lounge. With their help and with the help of others we are able to benefit our patients’ recovery and get them back home where they want to be, so much more quickly.'

The long march to Llandudno

Lest it be thought that senior masons everywhere are content to sit back and let the youngsters bear the brunt of the fund raising stunts, here is an account of the marathon trek from Shrewsbury to Llandudno in the words of Shropshire’s Deputy Provincial Grand Master Roger Pemberton, who walked the 120 or more miles in just five days

Each year on the first Saturday in June, the Friends of RMBI care home Queen Elizabeth Court at Llandudno host a summer fete to raise money for the benefit of the residents. Every seventh year, the Province of Shropshire gives North Wales a well deserved sabbatical by taking on the responsibility of arranging the day. 2013 was just such a sabbatical year and Shropshire had been well prepared.

The Shropshire Steering Committee headed by Simon Aucott, the Provincial Grand Charity Steward, employed a number of initiatives to raise money within the Province. There were competitions, raffles, donations and ticket sales... and then some bright spark suggested a sponsored walk from Shrewsbury to Llandudno.

As the crow flies it’s not that far, but via the Severn Way, Offa’s Dyke Path and the North Wales Coastal Path it turned out to be just short of one hundred and twenty miles of up, down and up again.

The walk was advertised as a five-day stroll with the Deputy Provincial Grand Master. That turned out to be something of a misstatement – it was more like a five-day yomp through rain and mist, up mountain and down dale. Seven men and three dogs left Freemasons’ Hall in Shrewsbury on the Bank Holiday Monday to walk the twenty two miles to Four Crosses, near Welshpool. There, in the pouring rain, we bid goodbye to the Provincial Grand Master who had walked the first day with us.

Day Two saw us hit the Offa’s Dyke Trail, through the hills above Oswestry to finish in a very damp Ceiriog Valley. On the third day we were fortunate to have sunshine for the first half of our walk through the beautiful Vale of Llangollen, finishing in Ruthin. The penultimate day was spent climbing the mist-shrouded Moels (Bare Hills) of the Clwydian Range and finishing at Rhuddlan.

Our final twenty miles from Rhuddlan to Queen Elizabeth Court were completed at a sprightly pace along the North Wales coastal path from Rhyl. For the last leg, with most of us on our last legs, we were joined by blind W Bro Clive Jones who walked the entire distance. W Bro John Yarwood, who started at the same time as the main party, completed the walk in just four days!

Now that very nearly all of the pledged money is in, it looks as though our walk has raised just under £6,500 towards the magnificent total of £50,000 presented to the Chairman of the Friends of Queen Elizabeth Court at a celebratory dinner at St George’s Hotel on the evening of the fete. A sizeable proportion of this was raised by Melvin Gough, a retired surveyor who, after 120 or so miles, surveyed Llandudno with relief and announced his retirement from charity hill walking!

Walkers were: Kim March, Roger Pemberton with Callie the Springer Spaniel, Mike Pemberton, Myles Pemberton with Ben the Springer Spaniel, Melvin Gough, John Yarwood and terrier. On the first day, Peter Taylor was among the group of ‘support walkers’ and on the last day, Clive Jones.

Would we do it again? Yes of course we would!

Published in RMBI

As the lark was still slumbering and dreaming of catching flies during the forthcoming daylight, 27 companions of the Provincial Stewards’ Chapter No 8516 of West Lancashire, Demonstration Team were already on the road and heading for Shrewsbury, in Shropshire.

They had been invited to the Masonic Hall in Crewe Street to perform ‘The Re-building of a Chapter’, by the Shropshire First Principals’ Chapter No 6262 after correspondence between their secretary Eric Booth and the head of the demonstration team Bill Smith.

After a long journey the team was thankful for a hearty breakfast which was served soon after arriving at the hall at 7.30 am, but a fully organized chef and his team were more than able to match even the most voracious of appetites.

The name of the host chapter is self-explanatory and was consecrated in 1987 and since permission was granted by Supreme Grand Chapter, has like many, chosen to dispense with the wearing of gloves. It meets in what is now the Shrewsbury Masonic Hall, which was the former parish church of St Michael and it was pleasing to see the war memorial within the grounds fully renovated and adorned with flowers.

The church was consecrated on 24 August 1830, being designed by John Carlisle in the Grecian style and includes an octagonal tower. The church was built in brick and the chancel was added later in 1873, the church served the local community until it was closed in 1976.

It was within this fine building that the demonstration team spent their early morning in setting out the room and having the necessary practice to assimilate with the unfamiliar surroundings.  When all were satisfied that everything was ready there was just enough time to change into regalia before the Shropshire companions arrived and the chapter opened. Present on the day were the Grand Superintendent of Shropshire Peter Taylor, accompanied by Roger Pemberton, (Second Provincial Grand Principal) and John Williamson (Deputy Grand Superintendent).

The past first principals of the chapter were introduced and escorted to their places, this was followed by the First Principals of Shropshire Royal Arch Chapters being individually announced and escorted to their respective place by a Provincial Steward from West Lancashire. The chapter was then placed in a state of darkness and a synopsis of the historical events and of the proclamation of Cyrus King of Persia leading up to the ‘re-building’ was delivered by David Harrison.

The chapter resumed its illumination as Barry Elman described the purpose and cause of the individual pieces of furniture which were brought in by the members of Provincial Stewards’ Chapter. When this was complete the chapter was opened by its three Principals and after two matters of chapter business had been dealt with the demonstration was resumed. The chapter was also at this time re-dedicated by Reverend Graham Halsall.

There then followed a reminder to the companions of what the six lights within the chapter represent. This was delivered by Bill Smith and his conclusion of the form of a triangle which represented the Supreme Being and/or an aide memoire, as the triangle could be reconstructed by using one piece of material or matter that was totally portable. Furthermore as it was a geometrical figure, was geometry itself the powerful superior knowledge that set aside the intelligent being, man? Robin Andrews Morris then presented the acting candidate to the first principal and proceeded to inform him on what the floor furniture represented.

Bill then introduced David Harrison, who had with him an extremely special gavel which may be described as a true Masonic gavel for a number of reasons, which David explained most eloquently. It is made of three differing woods; elm, ash, and oak.

On conclusion of the talk, David and Bill presented the gavel to the chapter on behalf of the Provincial Stewards’ Chapter, suitably inscribed onto an adorning plaque. First Principal, David Joyce assured them both that it would be treasured by all of the members of the Shropshire First Principals’ Chapter and become a respected artifact within the chapter.

On conclusion of the meeting, all descended to the ground floor for a very agreeable festive board at which twocheques were made out from the alms collection at the ceremony, for an equal three figure amount, one for the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity, the other was returned to David Joyce to be used for the benefit of the Midland Air Ambulance Service.

In the next available post, Bill Smith received a letter of thanks and appreciation from David Joyce, part of which said: “It has been a lovely experience and it is clear that the companions of our chapter and our Province were deeply impressed with the choreography, the detail and the ethos of your presentation. Would you please pass on to your team our enormous appreciation of the efforts they made, each and everyone? Thank you, again.”

It had obviously been a successful day for all concerned and it must be remembered that the demonstration team carry out their work voluntary and in their spare time, but such dedication brings its own reward at the satisfaction gained spreading knowledge to  those that attend a chapter to see the team at work. 

 

 

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