The Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison said that he was both grateful for and moved by the wonderful support that was shown at the first of the church services of thanksgiving, marking the tercentenary of United Grand Lodge which took place at the Lancaster Priory. The historic event was very well attended by West Lancashire Freemasons from across the north, west and centre of the Province.
Gale force winds and heavy rain did not deter the hundreds of attendees who packed the 11th century church for this, the first Provincial service of thanksgiving. The service is to be repeated shortly at St Elphin’s Church, Warrington for brethren and their families in the south of the Province to attend
Tony Harrison and his wife Maureen were joined by the Deputy Provincial Grand Master Philip Gunning and Assistant Provincial Grand Masters, Tony Bent, Harry Cox, David Grainger, David Winder, Derek Parkinson, Kevin Poynton, Stewart Seddon and Robert Wright, many of whom were accompanied by their ladies. It was also wonderful to see Peter Hosker, PPrGM together with Tom Blackburn and Howard Jones both of whom are PPrDGM’s of the Province, joining many of their friends and colleagues.
A broad range of Masons from grand officers to Entered Apprentices took part in the service that was a combination of celebration and thanks. The choir and clergy processed into the church and were followed by the PrGM who was preceded by a full Provincial retinue including the Provincial sword bearer and standard bearers, together with both Provincial wardens. The processional hymn of ‘Praise my Soul the King of Heaven’ was sung with overwhelming gusto and provided a rousing start to the service.
The congregation were welcomed very warmly by the Rev Chris Newlands, Vicar of Lancaster who said how ‘sincerely pleased he was that the Freemasons had chosen Lancaster Priory as the venue for their service of thanksgiving’.
Following the bidding prayer, the choir sang Psalm 150 which was followed by a reading from ‘Chronicles’ by Jason Benn, a Fellowcraft from Baldwin Lodge No 1398 which detailed the prayer by Solomon at the building of the Temple. Another inspiring and uplifting hymn, to the familiar tune of ‘Cwm Rhondda’ followed with the congregation rising superbly to the task in rendering, ‘Guide me O’ thou Great Redeemer’ with a passion that would have brought a tear to the eye of many a Welshman.
A second reading from ‘Luke’, concerning the story of the ‘Good Samaritan’ was given by Stephen Fisher, an Entered Apprentice from Great Eccleston Lodge No 8895. This reading was to be reflected on in greater detail during the Oration.
Tony Bent, who has been responsible for the organisation and promotion of the Tercentenary celebrations within the Province, then gave an inspiring and thought provoking presentation on the work of Freemasonry within the community. He highlighted the ‘quiet and unassuming manner’ in which Freemasonry operated as a force for good and charitable works, reflecting that we had been, in the past perhaps ‘too quiet and self-effacing’ about our work. He further suggested that Masons were not just generous in their donations of financial assistance but were repeatedly as philanthropic in the gift of their time.
In his concluding remarks, he reminded the congregation that Freemasonry had always and should continue to be acutely aware of its roots in the local community and the role it can and should play in supporting that communal foundation. He ended by suggesting that although it was tempting and indeed understandable that we could reflect with pride on the past 300 years, it was equally important that we looked to the future and renewed our commitment to maintaining and promulgating the principles of Freemasonry.
Following a further appropriate and inspiring hymn led by the choir, the Provincial Grand Chaplain Rev Canon Godfrey Hirst ascended the pulpit to deliver his oration. Taking as the core of his text, both the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’ and the very human need to ever be seeking ‘truth’, Godfrey delivered a resounding and uplifting homily in his inimitable and poignant style. He used many examples which highlighted the ‘principles and tenets’ of Freemasonry and reminded everyone that although the ‘Volume of the Sacred Law, would guide us to all truth’, we as ‘children of our Creator’ had a responsibility to ‘be diligent in determining fact from fake’ and implored that, ‘may the search for truth be the focus of our further endeavours’.
During the offertory, which was made to the benefit of the Priory Church, Masonic stewards assisted and the congregation sang ‘For all the Saints, who from their labour’s rest’. This was followed by prayers of thanksgiving, led by Godfrey, and culminating with the singing of that quintessential celebratory hymn ‘Jerusalem’ accompanied by further stirring and profoundly moving accompaniment from Steven Derringer PrGOrg.
In a final act of avowal and reaffirmation, Godfrey invited all Freemasons to stand and join him in a pledge of ‘Dedication to future endeavour’ which they all exceeded to in response to each enquiry of ‘Will you?’ with the resounding reply of, ‘We will, the Most High being our helper’.
Very appropriately the final hymn of the service was ‘Now the evening’s shadows closing’ followed by ‘The National Anthem’, prior to the recessional led by the choir and clergy, followed by the Provincial team.
Speaking after the service, Tony Harrison expressed his gratitude and thanks to the Rev Chris Williams and his team at the Priory for allowing the service to be held in the church. He also gratefully acknowledged the time and efforts employed in organising such a successful celebration that had been undertaken by Tony Bent and his team. He reflected on the magnificent support shown by the brethren and said: “It has been a wonderful and historic occasion and I am sure that the second service at St Elphin’s in Warrington will be supported in an equally generous manner by the brethren in the south of this great Province of West Lancashire.”