Canterbury Cathedral hosted a Tercentenary Thanksgiving service in recognition of its long-standing relationship with Freemasonry
More than 1,500 masons and their families came from across the Provinces of East Kent, West Kent, Surrey and Sussex to attend a service in celebration of 300 years of the United Grand Lodge of England.
The event was held on 18 February in the presence of the Grand Master HRH The Duke of Kent, the Vice Lord-Lieutenant of Kent and the Lord Mayor of Canterbury, and was led by the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, the Very Reverend Dr Robert Willis.
During his sermon, Dr Willis thanked the Duke of Kent for his long-standing support of the cathedral. He recalled how the Royal Family helped when the cathedral was damaged by bombing during World War II. He also paid tribute to the generous support of the masonic community, whose relationship with the cathedral dates back more than 100 years.
Canterbury Cathedral is currently undergoing the largest restoration project in its history. The interior and exterior are covered in scaffolding to allow the ancient building to be restored to as close to its original condition as possible. A donation of £300,000 from the Freemasons of Kent, Surrey and Sussex has funded repairs to the North West Transept, including new tower pinnacles and a spiral stone staircase.
East Kent Provincial Grand Master Geoffrey Dearing said: ‘The existence of Freemasonry for over 300 years bears witness to the fact that the idea of men from all walks of life coming together to make society a better place is one that has stood the test of time and inspired successive generations.’
There’s nothing like a bit of fun and games to keep people entertained and that’s exactly what happened at the 2017 Cornwallis It’s A Knockout Competition
Sponsored by the Cornwallis East Kent Freemasons’ Charity and supported by the KM Charity team, the event was held as part of the United Grand Lodge of England’s Tercentenary celebrations and to help raise £20,000 for Macmillan Nurses.
The head of East Kent Freemasons, Provincial Grand Master Geoffrey Dearing, opened the event at the Aylesford Bulls Rugby Club on Sunday 4th June, where over 200 people took part in the challenge. They made up a total of 21 teams as they ran, slid and tumbled their way across a number of activities including inflatable obstacles and dragon racing – all in the name of charity!
Over a thousand spectators were also present to cheer on the teams before Cornwallis Charity Trustee, Past Assistant Provincial Grand Master Nick Waller, presented the trophy to the winning team from the Spirit of Rugby Lodge.
John Grumbridge, Chairman of the Cornwallis East Kent Freemasons’ Charity, commented: ‘What a fantastic day seeing all sorts of teams having so much fun in doing something that will ultimately help others. I am sure that one or two people will be aching, but the fundraising achievements will have been greatly worthwhile.’
Please scroll through the gallery at the top to view some of the action from the competition
Speaking at Great Queen Street on 26 April, masonic leaders explained how Freemasonry can grasp success if members can learn to share ideas and work together
William Shakespeare, John F Kennedy and even Steve Jobs all managed to find their way into the Gallery Suite at Freemasons’ Hall in a typically entertaining afternoon of speeches at the Pro Grand Master’s Annual Briefing Meeting.
Before an audience made up of Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Masters and Grand Superintendents, speakers took their turn at the lectern to review the developments in Freemasonry in 2015 and looked forward to an exciting future for the Craft and Royal Arch.
Understandably, the Tercentenary featured heavily, but there was also much to discuss about the recommendations of the Membership Focus Group (MFG) on how best to attract, recruit and retain members at a time when membership has shown a decline. The overall message was overwhelmingly positive, with several new initiatives announced.
Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes kicked things off by reporting that a four-part television series on Freemasonry is under way. This will be broadcast to coincide with the Tercentenary celebrations and will include the Pro Grand Master’s fly-fishing technique at the Hampshire and Isle of Wight fishing day.
The Pro Grand Master then reported that commemorative paving stones containing the names of Freemasons who received a Victoria Cross (VC)
in World War I would be installed at the front of the Peace Memorial, adding that ‘there are 60 such VCs to be commemorated’. He also encouraged brethren to wear a special commemorative tie and jewel for the celebratory period, and announced that a major charitable gift of £3 million would be distributed by the Masonic Charitable Foundation in the form of 300 grants, allocated according to the outcome of votes cast both by masons and the general public.
The Pro Grand Master felt that the celebration of Grand Lodge’s 300th year is a great opportunity for publicity. ‘The Tercentenary gives us all a chance to reflect on the place of Freemasonry today and the role of our lodge and our brethren,’ he said. ‘This is an opportunity not to be missed and it is up to us to ensure that Freemasonry benefits.’
Facts and figures
Next up was Anthony Wilson, President of the Board of General Purposes (BGP), to discuss the 2015 financial accounts and recent BGP initiatives. He revealed a strong yearly surplus generated from investment income, which has supported capital expenditure and the ongoing maintenance required to deal with Regent Street disease (corrosion) at Freemasons’ Hall. Anthony emphasised the importance of the building for filming and events while also being mindful of its core purpose.
The cost of the Tercentenary celebrations were included in the 2016 forecast for the first time, but ‘there would be no call upon members for funds’, as this would be supported by events and reserves. Anthony asked brethren to spread the word about the benefits of the Masonic Insurance Mutual, and, most importantly of all, noted that Freemasonry Today costs less than £1 per member, per issue.
Second Grand Principal Russell Race discussed the ‘encouraging straws in the wind for membership of the Royal Arch’ before Sir David Wootton gave some thoughts on governance – ‘who does what with what authority’ – based on findings from the MFG.
‘If we can bottle the masonic sizzle from the best lodges and spread it around the rest, we can start to address all the issues.’ Michael Ward
Taking up the theme in more detail, Third Grand Principal Gareth Jones explained how ‘we need to build on the work that has been started, moving from securing evidence to emphasising delivery and implementation’. Gareth also talked about the importance of communication and spreading best practice from the Provinces and Districts.
Sir David then announced a proposal to take forward the work of the MFG: this would be a new body of a dozen members who would represent all ‘the talents, geographies and constituent parts of the Craft and Royal Arch’. The hope was to get this up and running by the end of 2017 to ‘develop and embed systems, ensuring that the necessary steps will be taken to continue and enhance Freemasonry’.
Looking after initiates
John Roscoe, an industrial psychologist, then presented the MFG’s findings on the negative effect of un-masonic conduct in lodges. John cited ‘the greatest cause for early dissatisfaction with initiates’ as being a perception of senior members dominating the lodge. He read out a number of testimonies in which masons recounted incidents of brethren being overzealous or overbearing.
John then asked those present to think of three ways to deal with behaviour that is not in keeping with the spirit of Freemasonry. Each table put their heads together to engage with this issue, and there was much debate as solutions were considered.
After a coffee break, PGM for Warwickshire David Macey led a commendation of ADelphi 2, showing some of the possibilities of the new membership database. ‘It’s now working well and is generally very stable. We are continuing to improve performance and security,’ he said. David gave a demonstration
of its promising new dashboard system. ‘The MFG gave us a very clear list of what PGMs and Grand Superintendents need,’ he said, showing how a simple dashboard will allow users to find a summary of every lodge in their Province, showing the 10 best and worst performing lodges, comparisons of members’ ages and contact information.
Deputy Metropolitan Grand Master Michael Ward then gave a careful analysis of the findings of an MFG survey that explored why so many initiates drop out soon after joining and what could be done to counteract this. It was vital, he said, to capitalise on work already done in the Provinces on these issues rather than try to ‘reinvent the wheel’.
Michael discussed what could be done to help lodges that were struggling to attract new members and finished by exhorting that, ‘success is within our grasp. If we can bottle the masonic sizzle from the best lodges and spread it around the rest, we can start to address all the issues. It’s in our hands.’
PGM for East Kent Geoffrey Dearing spoke about the importance of data protection and compliance before Malcolm Aish, President of the Committee of General Purposes, presented the annual report and statistics for the Royal Arch. Malcolm noted the enthusiasm for charitable contributions and also thanked brethren for completing the survey.
Chairman of the MFG and Deputy President of the BGP Ray Reed then gave highlights from the Craft annual report, showing that new initiates were rising and resignations declining, with the annual membership loss down to 1.65 per cent. Lodges reported an 83 per cent reduction in resignations, while 69 per cent reported increasing initiate figures. Ray singled out areas for improvement, including a willingness to engage with ‘local press, business, civic and religious leaders’ and the importance of attracting and mentoring quality initiates.
Emphasising the need for Provinces to share ideas, Ray concluded by thanking brethren for their ‘support, energy, creativity, hard work and, most importantly, belief in helping make things happen’.
A Canterbury tale
The links between Freemasonry and Canterbury Cathedral have helped preserve this iconic building. Glyn Brown gets to the foundations of a historic relationship that was only renewed 10 years ago
Canterbury Cathedral is a place of strange and majestic beauty, from the echoing cloisters and soaring Bell Harry Tower to the dazzling stained-glass windows and vaulted ceilings.
Founded in AD597, rebuilt and enlarged, it seems to sanctify and protect Canterbury. With the pale Caen-stone grandeur of this UNESCO World Heritage Site dwarfing the modern buildings around it, the Cathedral has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries. Chaucer’s motley crew are perhaps the best known of those travelling to its sanctuary to worship at the seat of the Anglican church and the shrine of St Thomas Becket.
The sense of peace and the knowledge of the sheer human endeavour that went into its construction make the Cathedral a deeply moving place. Added to which, there are ties between Freemasonry and the very fabric of the Cathedral that go far back in time.
The building has survived all sorts of trauma, from the civil war to damage during World War II, and so requires ongoing restoration. And this, in part, is where Freemasonry comes in today. Not only does the Grand Charity donate regularly, but Kent Freemasons and their neighbouring Provinces have pledged to raise a substantial sum for a particularly urgent project.
Launched by Provincial Grand Master of East Kent Geoffrey Dearing, the 2017 Canterbury Cathedral Appeal is being coordinated by Roger Odd (pictured), Past Deputy Provincial Grand Master of East Kent: ‘For a long time, I had no idea there had been links between the Cathedral and Freemasons,’ Roger admits. ‘Then I realised Archbishops of Canterbury had been Freemasons – people like Geoffrey Fisher, who crowned our current Queen. I also saw a picture of Past Provincial Grand Master of Kent Lord Cornwallis at a service in 1936. There had been connections, but the relationship hadn’t been re-established for some time.’
It was 10 years ago, when Roger was asked to find out if Freemasons could attend a Cathedral Evensong service, that this all changed. ‘I made an approach, met someone from the Cathedral Trust, which was about to launch an appeal for restoration work funding, and our relationship started again. It was really just us asking what Freemasons could do to help.’
The relationship has since blossomed and Roger now visits the Cathedral several times a month, often going behind the scenes. ‘It is such a privilege. You see the actual construction of this glorious, iconic building, how it’s survived, how bits haven’t survived – and why it needs such tender loving care.’
‘It is such a privilege to see the actual construction of this glorious, iconic building.’ Roger Odd
Investing in craft
One of the more resonant things to have come out of the relationship is the grant of £22,000, given for the past three years by the Grand Charity towards funding an apprentice stonemason. ‘The trainees are passionate about what they’re doing, and it’s lovely to see some of them now becoming master masons and trainers themselves,’ says Roger.
The Kent Museum of Freemasonry is currently mounting a timely exhibition to explain the bond between Freemasons and the Cathedral building. A video features a stonemason at work: ‘He’s a young stonemason who we supported and he’s so dedicated, so enthusiastic, and only too pleased to show you how to try the job yourself – he let me handle the tools so I understood it.’
How did that feel? ‘I was scared, first of all! It’s the skill of being able to chip stone away at an angle, to use that heavy maul and chisel correctly. Some of these tools are years old, but the masons know exactly how to make the right groove and create the perfect figure or moulding.’
Heather Newton, stonemason and the Cathedral’s head of conservation, sees the Freemasons’ support as nothing less than a blessing. ‘We’re desperately in need of funds,’ she says. ‘It’s a huge building, and there’s always something that needs doing. The Freemasons have been immensely generous, but the fact that they’ve given much of their donation specifically for training apprentices is particularly helpful. It’s proper, practical help, and in many cases it’s been a lifeline for some very talented people. You see them develop over the course of the apprenticeship – the experience enriches them.’
For Newton, the stonemasons are the ‘guardians’ of the Cathedral. It’s almost as if the building is a living, breathing thing that holds people’s hopes and beliefs within it. ‘It’s exactly like that, an extraordinary place.’ But like any living thing, it needs support. ‘The weather throws everything at the Cathedral. The south side gets lashed by rain and wind, then hot sun in summer. The north side is attacked by cold.’
Does it cause you pain when you see it start to crumble?
‘It does sometimes, when you see really old little bits of detail just hanging on by a whisker. If something precious is on the brink we take it out and put it in a safe place, replacing it with as accurate a copy as we can. After all, the original will still bear that first stonemason’s marks.’
The most pressing issue is the deterioration of the north-west transept and its pinnacles. One of the oldest parts of the building, dating back to the 11th century, it supports the area of the Martyrdom, the small altar to St Thomas Becket, as well as one of the breathtaking stained-glass windows Freemasons of the past helped provide, dating from 1954.
With the Cathedral in need of support, it was a happy coincidence that Roger was considering how best to mark the Freemasons’ Tercentenary. The result is that the Provinces of East and West Kent, Sussex and Surrey have pledged to raise £200,000 by the end of the year to enable restoration work already underway to be completed.
‘The Freemasons have been immensely generous. They’ve given proper, practical help.’ Heather Newton
And so to the Kent Museum of Freemasonry, where you will discover – if you don’t already know – that Freemasonry is thought to have origins in English stonemasons who built the great cathedrals and churches of the Middle Ages.
Tony Eldridge, a museum trustee and volunteer, says visitor numbers have risen notably since its refurbishment in 2012: ‘We’ve had 9,000 visitors in the past 12 months, over 5,000 of those non-masons.’ From the interactive children’s area to the surprising list of masons (including George Washington and ‘Buzz’ Aldrin), the museum opens a door on Freemasonry, particularly through the current exhibition tracing modern – and ancient – bonds with the Cathedral.
A semi-professional singer, Tony often sings at Canterbury Cathedral and knows it well: ‘A Canon, Tom Pritchard, once said to me, “If you think of the prayers that have soaked into the walls, it’s no wonder people feel so uplifted here.”’ Or as Roger says, ‘The more I get involved with the Cathedral, the more I feel, “Aren’t I lucky to be a part of this?” ’
Find out more about the Kent Museum of Freemasonry at www.kentmuseumoffreemasonry.org.uk
Spirit of rugby in East Kent
More than 500 rugby fans and masons filled the Margate Winter Gardens to witness the founding of Spirit of Rugby Lodge, No. 9922, formed by a group of more than 50 rugby enthusiasts in East Kent. The lodge was consecrated at a special meeting of the Provincial Grand Lodge presided over by PGM Geoffrey Dearing.
APGM Roger Waltham said, ‘Rugby Union has significant parallels with the core values of Freemasonry – in particular, respect, integrity, cooperation, and benevolence and charity.’
In the largest gathering of its kind for a decade, over 500 rugby fans and Freemasons filled the Winter Gardens in Margate on Monday 29th February to witness the founding of a new masonic lodge dedicated to the spirit of rugby
Spirit of Rugby Lodge, No. 9922 was formed by a group of over 50 East Kent rugby enthusiasts who recognise and value the strong connections between rugby and Freemasonry.
Medway Rugby Football Club member and founding Master of the lodge, Roger Waltham explained: 'Rugby Union has significant parallels with the core values of Freemasonry – in particular with respect to integrity, cooperation, and of course, benevolence and charity. Thus it’s hardly surprising that many rugby players also find their way into Freemasonry.'
Roger, who is also an Assistant Provincial Grand Master in the Province of East Kent, added, 'These links go back to the very roots of rugby. William Webb Ellis was himself a Freemason.'
The lodge was consecrated at a special meeting of East Kent’s Provincial Grand Lodge, by a team presided over by the head of East Kent Freemasons, Provincial Grand Master Geoffrey Dearing. He said: 'This was a very special occasion. I was absolutely delighted to meet so many rugby fans and Freemasons from across the UK and Europe, who came to join in the celebrations. An event like this shows the increasing value of Freemasonry in everyday life.'
The event was quite a spectacle as observers had the chance to witness the pageantry of Freemasonry combined with the fun and camaraderie of rugby football. The founding members sported especially commissioned rugby caps along with their traditional masonic regalia.
So called ‘special interest’ lodges have become increasingly popular over recent years and are helping Freemasonry to remain relevant and develop as an integral part of modern society. Sporting connections are a natural ally for those formed in a masonic lodge and rugby in particular is leading the way, with several lodges already formed across the UK.
Also present was Colin Broughton, Master of the oldest lodge in East Kent, the Royal Kent Lodge of Antiquity, No. 20.
Following the meeting the attendees shared a celebratory meal and raised over £2,500 for charity.
Among those visiting were representatives of rugby lodges from other part of the UK. Alan Hurdley, from the Province of Yorkshire, West Riding, commented: 'I must congratulate everyone involved in setting up the Spirit Rugby Lodge for making this initiative a reality. It was a wonderful ceremony and most convivial festive board, all conducted in the true spirit of rugby!'
And a spirited success it seems to have been, with prospective members already lining up to join.
There was a big surprise for one member of an East Kent Lodge, when a very special visitor made an unexpected visit to present a long service certificate.
Members of Rochester Castle Lodge No.9260 had gathered at the Stanley Rooms in Chatham on February 3rd to celebrate Frank Holding’s 60 years in Freemasonry. So popular is Frank that the meeting had to be moved from the usual venue, in order to accommodate almost 70 brethren who had booked in for this very special occasion.
The Deputy Provincial Grand Master, Peter Williams, arrived as expected and was admitted into the lodge to deliver Frank’s award. However, a few moments later there was an unexpected knock at the door. A “Friend you will know” was announced.
To (almost) everyone’s surprise the unexpected guest was non other than Provincial Grand Master, Geoffrey Dearing. Lodge Secretary Roy Goodhew had discreetly arranged this special visitor and had managed to keep it a secret from everyone else in the lodge.
Retired farmer Frank was “dumbfounded and delighted” to receive such an honour and felt spurred on to lead the rest of the meeting. This included Passing Jake Rowan, during which Frank was ably assisted by Jake’s Father Ian.
“We were delighted to make this such a special evening for Frank.” said Roy. “He was our founding Master and has always been a driving force in the lodge. He is a fine ritualist and one of the kindest men you could hope to meet. As an example, rather than accepting a personal gift for his long service, he asked for a pair of commemorative wands to be purchased for the lodge to use.”
On presenting the certificate, Geoffrey Dearing gave a retrospective of Frank’s life and distinguished masonic career, including a look back at World events from 1955, the year he became a Freemason.
Following the meeting and a fine festive board, Frank went home happy and still somewhat pleasantly shocked by the events of the evening. One member remarked “It was a great night. We were all totally surprised when the PGM walked in, everyone’s jaws hit the floor!”
Canterbury evensong for Royal Arch
The choral evensong congregation at Canterbury Cathedral was enhanced by almost 500 companions, brethren, their families and friends coming together for the Province of East Kent’s Royal Arch biennial church service.
Led by Grand Superintendent Geoffrey Dearing, distinguished guests included Assistant Grand Master Sir David Wootton, Third Grand Principal David Williamson, the then Metropolitan Grand Master Russell Race and several neighbouring Provincial Grand Masters.
Guests were able to view the Ancestors exhibit, a series of life-size figures representing the Ancestors of Christ that date to the 12th and early 13th centuries. These beautiful examples of medieval stained glass had been temporarily removed from the Cathedral’s Great South Window while conservation work was carried out on its crumbling stonework. They were on display in the Chapter House, the East Window of which was a gift from the Freemasons of Kent.
East Kent goes the extra mile
After five years of dedicated fundraising, the Provincial Grand Lodge of East Kent celebrated the close of its 2014 Festival for The Freemasons’ Grand Charity
East Kent announced that more than £3.65 million had been raised, a total well above the Province’s target. ‘All the money for this appeal has been raised by the members of the Province and I was delighted to announce the culmination of their efforts at our celebratory dinner in Folkestone,’ said Provincial Grand Master Geoffrey Dearing. ‘I know that our donation will help to change the lives of thousands of people in need. I am so proud of all our members and their families for their generous support and the huge efforts they have made.’
More than five hundred Freemasons, their wives, partners and friends joined the celebration at Leas Cliff Hall in Folkestone in June 2014, including Deputy Grand Master Jonathan Spence; President of the Grand Charity Richard Hone, QC; and the Grand Charity’s Chief Executive Laura Chapman. Speaking about the Festival, Richard said he was tremendously grateful to the Province and their families for their contributions. With grants totalling millions of pounds each year, the Grand Charity assists thousands of people in both the masonic and wider community. Without the support of Freemasons and their families, this would not be possible.
The nave of Canterbury Cathedral welcomed around 1,000 masons, their families and friends for a service to celebrate the bicentenary of Royal Arch Masonry
On Saturday 21 September, a unique event was held at Canterbury Cathedral that not only marked a special milestone in masonic history but also demonstrated a great affinity between Freemasonry and the cathedral’s stonemasons. Freemasonry has its roots in the lodges of medieval stonemasons and to this day supports the training of apprentice stonemasons at the cathedral.
The occasion was a combined celebration for the Provinces of East Kent, West Kent, Sussex and Surrey, each led by their respective Grand Superintendents, Geoffrey Dearing, Jonathan Winpenny, Kenneth Thomas and Eric Stuart-Bamford. The significance of the event was acknowledged by the presence of the Second and Third Grand Principals, George Francis and David Williamson, respectively. Russell Race, the Metropolitan Grand Superintendent, and David Boswell, the Grand Superintendent of Suffolk, were also in attendance, as was the Sheriff of Canterbury, Cllr Ann Taylor, who represented the city and people of Canterbury.
The Archdeacon of Canterbury, the Venerable Sheila Watson, conducted the service, with the grand setting and the superb King’s School Crypt Choir adding to the memorable ambience. The Archdeacon referred to the long connection between the cathedral and Freemasons, in particular the gifts of the Chapter House east window and the Coronation window. She paid tribute to the masonic principles of unity, fellowship and service to the community, and spoke of ‘service beyond ourselves’, a virtue embraced by the Church and Freemasonry alike.