Those icy December winds that cut through to the core and which layers of apparel seem incapable of taming can be instantly defeated by the warmth that radiates on entry into the Masonic Hall. The companionship of fellow Masons overcomes even the keenest of winter’s blizzards. And when the members of a lodge are intrinsically gregarious, the warmth of their company is particularly welcoming.
It was that magnitude of cheeriness that immediately struck the visitor when attending the annual installation meeting of Clifton Lodge No 703, the oldest lodge on the Fylde coast. One would never have guessed that only a couple of weeks before, the lodge’s plans had been radically revised.
Master of the lodge Stuart Williams had been preparing himself to be the installing master for the installation of Alan Hart into the chair of King Solomon, but due to ill-health, Alan regrettably had to withdraw his services from the office and suddenly, Stuart was to continue as master for a further term. Consequently, Stuart was no longer required to undertake a ceremony of installation but immediate past master Jim Harper would urgently have to learn a proclamation ceremony. Fortunately, canny wee Scotsman Jim is not easily ruffled and threw himself into the role with zeal and determination.
When Stuart opened the proceedings and dispatched the general business, no-one would have suspected that the lodge had been thrown into turmoil during the previous couple of weeks. The business was conducted with efficiency, cheeriness and aplomb. Swiftly moving through the degrees, director of ceremonies Roger Fish retired from the lodge, only to return after a brief sojourn to announce the presence of the principal guest, Assistant Provincial Grand Master Derek Parkinson and other distinguished brethren including Blackpool Group Chairman John Turpin, fellow grand officer Ian Robertson and acting Provincial grand officers John Guest and Philip Houldsworth.
Having processed into the lodge and graciously declined the gavel of office, Derek took his favoured position in the lodge and settled down to the main entertainment of the evening, the proclamation of Stuart Williams as master of the lodge for a further term of office.
In a slick and meticulously choreographed piece of ceremonial ritual, Jim Harper firmly and sincerely decanted Stuart into the chair of King Solomon. As previously noted, Jim had been thrown in at the deep end at short notice but his doggedness and genial nature produced a charming and dignified ceremony.
Jim was very ably assisted by the ubiquitous director of ceremonies Roger Fish, a Mason of rare quality who is always willing and able to turn his hand to any Masonic task – and do it extremely well. Throughout the ceremony, Roger not only guided Jim with paternal kindliness, he would also regularly pop up to recite ritual after ritual. He recited the working tools of an installed master. He presented the warrant of the lodge, the book of constitutions and by-laws. The address to the deacons was yet another opportunity to demonstrate his versatility.
There were, of course, others who contributed in no small way to the proceedings. Traditional roles such as the installing officers were meticulously selected to ensure the highest quality. Mike Thompson, Jonathan Selcoe and Kevin Croft were engaged as installing senior warden, installing junior warden and installing inner guard respectively.
Mike Thompson is as confirmed a Mason as ever slipped on an apron around his midriff or rolled up a trouser leg. Jon Selcoe is so dashed competent that one can spot it even in the way he delivers a gavel blow and Kevin Croft is a man with nerves of cast iron. Nothing appears to rattle him and he regards any looming ordeal with equanimity.
The recitals of the working tools of each degree were provided by Michael Wilkinson, Gary Harper and Andrew Inglis. Michael Wilkinson is another of the brethren with an innate talent for ritual, a quality he admirably demonstrated in his delivery of the third degree working tools and again in addressing the wardens. Showing promise for a bright future, fellow craft Freemason Andrew Inglis on his debut as a ritualist did a fine job in presenting the working tools of an entered apprentice.
During the investiture of lodge officers, there were other notable performances. Jon Selcoe, as one would expect of him, provided a perfect oration to the new junior warden. Alan Davies excelled in his address to the lodge stewards and Kevin Croft advised the new inner guard on his duties – the fact that the new inner guard was none other than grand officer Ian Robertson did not deter Kevin from stressing the responsibilities of the role, lest Ian had forgotten.
When Chris Walpole temporarily relinquished his secretary’s position to address the master of the lodge, a still silence descended on the auditorium; so quiet was it that you could have heard an ant clearing its throat. Those familiar with the piece are conscious of the strength, nobility and honour of Freemasonry defined in its narrative and there are few more moving sections of our ritual. It is worthy of silence and Chris brought out the best of it in his sincere rendition.
There only remained the address to the brethren, an element of the ceremony generally reserved for the principal guest. Now, a great many fellows seem to be under the impression that ease in performing ritual is an automatic outcome of receiving grand officer status but, such is not the case. A grand officer must labour as much as the next person if he is to produce quality and it was obvious that Derek Parkinson had put in a lot of work to achieve his standard of delivery. It was measured and artistic, passionate and earnest.
At the conclusion of the proclamation ceremony, Derek was lavish in his praise of those who had taken part in the proceedings when he conveyed the greetings of the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison. His attentions were particularly focused on installing master Jim Harper and director of ceremonies Roger Fish.
His day’s enjoyment increased further when presented with charitable disbursements exceeding £2,000. £500 was donated to the Masonic Charitable Foundation 2021 Festival, £250 to the Blackpool Masonic Hall Building Fund, £100 to Pancreatic Cancer Trust, £100 to Prostate Cancer UK, £300 to local chronic pain support group Smile, and £450 to the Tom Finney School in Preston for a specialist wheelchair. Including the white envelope Gift Aid scheme and donations to the sponsored walk, the lodge had raised £2,075; a remarkable sum for such a small lodge.
Inevitably, when considering the facts, the brethren sojourned to the festive banquet in high spirits to get themselves on the outside of a hearty bill of fare. The mood was warm and genial; the food was hot and sumptuous, and the brethren were confident and well satisfied. The day had gone well and they were set to enjoy themselves to the full.
In his response to the third toast, Derek Parkinson began by thanking the grand and acting Provincial grand officers for their support in accompanying him and then touched on a number of current Masonic issues, in particular the Provincial Grand Ball on 16 March 2018, final tercentenary celebrations, the MCF 2021 Festival, Provincial Grand Lodge meeting of May 2018, and MCF Community Grants in the Province.
The toast to the master was drolly given by Jim Harper, a man of keen wit and impish nature, before passing the limelight to Nick Harrison to perform the master’s song, a task that Nick completed with vim and gusto.
In his response, Stuart thanked all the brethren for the support that he had received and the work that had gone into the proclamation ceremony but expressed regret that, due to ill health, his intended successor Alan Hart had been unable to take the chair of the lodge as had been originally planned. He assured his audience that he was looking forward to his ‘second time around’, especially as he now had a chance to get some things right in ritual!