Following the undoubted success of 2022’s ceremony, the 2023 ceremony saw an uptake in brethren eager to witness this unique ceremony with 70 distinguished brethren, including Assistant Provincial Grand Master Andrew Whittle, gathering at Widnes Masonic Hall as Goodwill Lodge No 3896 once again conducted ‘The Empty Chair Ceremony’ in honour of members of our fraternity who fell during times of war.
This ceremony dates back to 1875, a decade after the close of the American Civil War when it was used in Masonic Lodges in America to pay tribute to those who did not return from the war. Having gained providence in England, it has started to be used by lodges around Remembrance Day to pay homage to those brother Masons who fell during WWI, WWII and other wars.
As the Goodwill Lodge meeting falls so close to Remembrance Day and with a high number of brethren who had military connections, Bob Williams had suggested that the lodge November meeting would be an ideal opportunity to perform this ceremony and that he would put together a suitable ceremony that would pay honour to the fallen
Following the opening of the lodge the WM Jim Ross, he asked that a ceremonial procession of ‘light blue’ brethren retire from the lodge in preparation for the admittance of the ‘Empty Chair’.
In due course the procession returned with the empty chair which signified the spiritual presence of the memory of departed brothers and it was paraded around the lodge before it was placed in front of the WM facing west, the brethren then came to order and sang a fine and solemn rendition of Abide with me.
The WM then asked that the lodge’s Senior warden Bill Linford, who had served his country in uniform, place the apron of an entered apprentice on the chair, as it would be where our brothers would be present in body as well as spirit and to signify solidarity with a suitable reading.
The WM, who himself was and is still heavily involved in the Irish Guards, then placed medals of honour as decorations to their Masonic apron; but as the world sees, those honours do not decorate a brother’s Masonry, but rather highlight the spirit, which made him both a Mason and a man of service
The lodge chaplain Paul Smith then placed a wreath of poppies on the apron, a symbol of the immortality of their souls before the brethren came to order in solemn prayer; which was then followed by the chaplain’s recital of the 23rd Psalm, The Lord is my Shepherd, after which the brethren sang an uplifting rendition of Eternal Father.
At this time of year, it is traditional to wear the poppy as a symbol of remembrance, a tradition that began as a result of the poem entitled: In Flander’s Fields by John McCrae and it was David Redhead who solemnly recited this poem.
While it is traditional to read that classic poem at this time of year, the lodge wanted to include an additional poem written by Miss Moina Michael. Moina Michael was an American lady who was so moved by McCrae’s poem, that she went out and bought 25 red poppies. She wore one herself and sold the other 24 thus starting the poppy fund as we know it today. She also wrote a poem of her own in response to In Flanders Fields, called We shall keep the Faith, which was read by Barry Horabin.
Following the readings, the lodge deacons distributed a poppy to each brother present before the lodge fell silent in respect of all brethren who fell during foreign wars. This was followed by Stuart Pennock, an entered apprentice, who played the Last Post and Reveille, a poignant ending to a wonderful ceremony.
Retiring to the festive board for a delightful three course meal, Jim Ross later gave an overview of why it’s so vitally important to acknowledge Remembrance Day. To further illustrate this, the special menu cards had photographs of some of the key figures who were involved in establishing what we now know as Remembrance Day and who were spoken about during the ceremony.
The festive board raffle raised a handsome £324, and the liquid prizes certainly put smiles on the faces of the winners! Whilst the lodge festive board was taking place, the WM’s good lady had organised a social gathering for the wives and partners of the brethren. Following a sumptuous buffet various games designed around raising funds for local charities were played raising £100 that will be faithfully applied in due course.