A banner dedication is not a common ceremony to witness in this day and age and it is particularly unusual when the lodge concerned is only two years away from celebrating its centenary. In fact, there are quite a few things that are unusual about Brotherhood Lodge No 3967. Consecrated originally as a half Jewish/half gentile lodge in November 1919, it remained as such, with equal numbers of Jewish and none-Jewish brethren until relatively recent years when the Jewish community in Blackpool declined in numbers. It has, nevertheless retained the ethos of a mixed lodge and the design of its newly produced banner reflects its origins.
It was, understandably, a special day for the brethren of the lodge and a nervous tension was visible amongst them as the start-time for the dedication grew ever closer. To say that the approaching ordeal left master of the lodge Steve Booth feeling completely at ease would be presenting the facts incorrectly. Steve’s diffidence was clearly visible. He did with some effort nevertheless, overcome his diffidence and confidently opened the lodge, concluded the general business and opened in the second and third degrees before the Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies Mark Barton glided in (in that phantom-like manner which only Provincial Directors of Ceremonies appear capable of achieving) to announce the presence of Assistant Provincial Grand Master Harry Cox.
A warm welcome was assured as Mark led the procession of grand officers and acting Provincial officers down the north side of the lodge room. And what an impressive line-up they made as they paraded in with due reverence and decorum. The galaxy of grand officers and distinguished Provincial officers included Terry Hudson, David Randerson, Ron Weatherill, Giles Berkley, Roger Perry and Rev Canon Geoffrey B Moore and the Chairman of the Blackpool Group of Lodges and Chapters John Turpin, all superbly complemented by a plethora of acting Provincial officers in the persons of Gordon Ivett, Roy James, Anthony Rigby, Allan Howie, George Coulter, Jason Dell, Rev Canon Godfrey Hirst, and of course Mark Barton. As is customary on such occasions, the master of the lodge offered the gavel of the lodge to Harry Cox who graciously accepted it, much to Steve’s obvious relief.
The ceremony of a banner dedication follows a recognised format and is a marvellous spectacle of formality and grandeur; things that Freemasonry is so good at. Like most ritual, however, it isn’t the programme or sequence, or the pomp and circumstance that make it memorable. It is the individuals and personalities presenting the ritual that gives it a special oomph. And on this occasion, the best were involved.
Occupying the master’s chair and having appointed Provincial officers to assist him in the capacities of wardens, deacons and inner guard before resuming work in the first degree, Harry introduced the purpose of the ceremony by reviewing the history of banners and the diversity of groups in society that display them, pointing out that for hundreds of years, organisations that have a marching tradition have made banners in order to identify themselves. This includes trade unions, friendly societies, temperance groups, co-operative societies, Orange orders, suffrage, women’s and peace organisations and political parties, but also non-political organisations like churches, chapels, Sunday schools and, of course, Freemasonry.
Having completed his introduction and got the assemblage in the right frame of mind for the dedication proper, Harry called upon the Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies to form a deputation to carry the banner into the lodge room. Under the guidance of the musical director (the Provincial Grand Organist Stephen Derringer), the assemblage sang an opening hymn ‘O God, our help in ages past’ as the deputation entered and processed around the lodge room to display the banner to the gathered assemblage (a full house).
It was then that the familiar figure of the Provincial Grand Chaplain Godfrey Hirst stepped into the limelight to render the dedication prayer, booming it out with the fervour and passion that we have come to expect of him. Godfrey is no mumbler. When a prayer is required, everyone hears it when Godfrey delivers it.
On a command from Harry and the instructions of the Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies, banner bearer Graham Kenyon carried the banner to the east where Harry delivered it into the keeping of the master Steve Booth, who received it on behalf of the Lodge. Pausing momentarily to relish the moment, Steve requested Harry’s permission for the banner to be placed in the east. There it remained in all its glory for the duration of the proceedings for the admiration of the masses.
While the gathering admired it, Godfrey Hirst proceeded to deliver an oration in which he espoused the ethos of Brotherhood Lodge, its formation and history; at the same time explaining the reasoning behind the design of the banner and its symbols. It is at this sort of task that Godfrey is at his very best. He delivers thought-provoking messages with gusto and zeal, while ensuring moments of subtle humour to lighten the mood. Demonstrating his versatility, Godfrey went on to sing a closing hymn before pronouncing the Patriarchal Benediction.
All that remained was for Harry to summon the lodge officers to return to their stations before inviting Steve to re-occupy the master’s chair. The ceremony had been a great success; the brethren of Brotherhood Lodge were delighted and the brethren in attendance had experienced a rare moment in their Masonic careers; after all it is a once in a lifetime that one experiences a banner dedication.
It was with glowing hearts that they all retired to the festive banquet to continue the celebrations, although there certainly wasn’t the same degree of reverence and decorum that was prevalent in the lodge room. The evening had been a major success and all that remains is to close with the words ‘ Congratulations and Yishar kohakha (loosely translated to ‘May your strength increase’) to the brethren of Brotherhood Lodge No 3967.