To celebrate 300 years of Freemasonry in England, following the formation of the first Grand Lodge in June 1717, Widnes Group held a church service in the magnificent St Luke’s Church, Farnworth, Widnes. The church dates back to the 12th century and is a Grade II listed building.
As this was a very special occasion the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison had granted a dispensation to allow the wearing of regalia, which added a lot of colour to the occasion. Tony also supported the occasion by attending with his wife Maureen, along with Assistant Provincial Grand Master Kevin Poynton and his wife Sue, Widnes Group Chairman Neil Pedder and his wife Liz, Widnes Group Vice Chairman John Gibbon and his wife Yvonne along with other officials and committee members of the Widnes Group. Many members of the provincial Team were also present.
Wider support for the occasion was given by neighbouring groups Warrington Group Chairman Andy Barton, Woolton Group Chairman Andy Whittle St Helens Group Vice Chairman Graham Williams along with members of their groups.
The service was conducted throughout by the Provincial Grand Chaplain Rev Canon Godfrey Hirst and commenced with the Provincial Grand Master processing into the church accompanied by the Provincial Team. This was followed by a very warm welcoming address to all attendees by Kevin Poynton in which he mentioned that in 1717 in the Goose and Gridiron alehouse in London a group of Freemasons from all walks of life formed what we now know as The United Grand Lodge. Since then the fraternity has grown to over 200,000 members meeting in 7,000 lodges in England and Wales. Kevin then mentioned that as part of the Halton Heritage Week which is being launched on Wednesday 6 September at 5pm at Widnes Masonic Hall, and to continue the tercentenary celebrations, the hall will open to the public for viewing, with pop- up exhibitions, guided tours around the lodge rooms and explanations as to what Freemasonry is actually all about.
Following Kevin’s address, the congregation then sang the first hymn of the service, ‘Praise, my soul, the King of heaven’, was sung. All the music throughout the service was provided by the Provincial Grand Organist Stephen Derringer, who in the words of Yvonne Horabin the church treasurer: Brought our magnificent newly restored organ to life”.
There was then a Bidding Prayer from Rev Canon Godfrey Hirst which was followed by Tony Harrison giving a brief view of Freemasonry in the community. Tony started by saying: “Whilst the origins of our institution are shrouded in the mists of time, what is not in doubt are the benevolence and charitable record of service of Freemasons to their families, their dependants and, indeed, their communities. From the rather modest beginnings of the initiation into a non-operative lodge in Warrington on October 26, 1646 of Elias Ashmole, a Solicitor and Antiquary, our Order has grown and developed into a force for good, which transcends the boundaries of any local area, but which is always mindful of its roots in local communities. In 1725 the first Committee for Charity of Grand Lodge was formed, it may therefore, be safely assumed that charity has always formed part of the philosophy and practice of our institution.”
Tony added that in 2015 the four main London charities donated £14,249,547 to charitable causes and our own West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity donates monies in the region of £500,000 per annum to deserving cases and causes throughout this great Province. In conclusion Tony said: “Whatever definition you accord the concept of “charity”, it is my firm belief that we in West Lancashire meet that definition in word and deed. This great Province has an enviable record of charitable giving and charitable works and those precepts inculcated at our initiation are and remain watchwords by which we live our lives as men and as Masons. In doing so, we uphold those principles and tenets to which we committed ourselves on our path to becoming Master Masons. Brethren, as we celebrate the Tercentenary of Grand Lodge, there is a temptation merely to look back upon our history; however, this 300th anniversary, coinciding as it does with the start of our own 2021 Festival, affords us a glorious opportunity not only to show the world what we stand for and believe in, but also to look to the future, to continue the tradition of caring for those in need and to face the challenges of the future with that vigour, enthusiasm and commitment, which have ever been the defining characteristics of our Order.”
The combined church choir and the Masonic choir then sang Psalm 150 which was followed by Mark Pedder reading The Call of Samuel (1 3:1 – 18) from the Old Testament. The second hymn was then sung, ‘Eternal Father, strong to save’. Next came a reading from the New Testament by Les Williams, Imitating Christ’s humility (Philippians 2:1 – 11), and then the third hymn was sung, ‘At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow’.
Rev Canon Godfrey Hirst then gave an Oration based on the previous reading. The offertory hymn then followed, ‘Praise to the Lord, the almighty’. The offertory collection raised the grand sum of £367.57, with all proceeds going to St Luke’s Church. Prayers of thanksgiving were then given by Neil Pedder and then Rev Canon Godfrey Hirst led the congregation in saying the Lord’s Prayer and a commitment to future endeavour.
The final hymn of the service was then sung, ‘I vow to thee. My country, all earthly things above’. After the Blessing by Rev Canon Godfrey Hirst the National Anthem was sung and then Tony Harrison and the Provincial Team processed out.
Following the service, the congregation were invited to Widnes Masonic Hall for some light refreshments of tea or coffee and biscuits.
Article and photographs by F J Parle.