Idiosyncrasies in the ceremonial content of individual chapters provide welcome variety and interest to visiting companions and promote an allegiance to the chapter amongst its members; a type of corporate branding that cements camaraderie within its ranks. Such deviations from the customary ritual recognised in the Province of West Lancashire are welcomed and enjoyed by members and visitors alike. They have generally emerged through tradition and evolutionary processes over many generations and do not greatly alter the accepted format of a ceremony. They have been adopted by the chapter and in the majority of cases the differences are fairly minor and hardly discernible to the casual eye. There is in the Blackpool Group however, a chapter that is somewhat an exception to this rule; Peace and Unity Chapter No 3966, more familiarly and simply referred to as ‘P and U’ chapter. These abbreviations could be equally applied to a renaming of the chapter to ‘Peculiar and Unique’ when the format of its installation ceremony is considered.
A short period after the commencement of the ceremony, visiting companions lay back in their chairs with inquisitive and benevolent expressions on their faces. They felt invigorated, alert and fascinated. Then by degrees, like a smoky haze, puzzlement began to creep upon them; faintly at first, then more and more insistently, till after various periods of time, each visitor was in a state of pronounced confusion. Or, to put it with less elegance, they were suffering from an exceedingly severe attack of bafflement. They sat there open-eyed, exchanging bewildering glances, as if seeking clarification from each other. But none could offer clarity. None had ever witnessed such an unconventional installation ceremony.
Assistant to the Provincial Grand Principals Barry Jameson, the principal guest who was representing the Grand Superintendent at the convocation was equally enchained with interest. A short while before, Barry had entered the chapter room with smooth dignity in conventional manner, accompanied by grand officers David Harrison and Harry Cox and supported by Chairman of Blackpool Group Peter Bentham, vice chairman John Turpin and acting Provincial grand officers Gordon Ivett, Bob Bennett and Peter Weller. At this stage, the chapter was conforming to accepted practise. Then things became different as the actual installation ceremony progressed.
Not to make a mystery of it any longer, elements were introduced that are not normally seen within the group or even surrounding groups. There were obligations to the chapter, unfamiliar recitals, ablutions and anointments and little known pieces of ritual; all adding mysticism (as well as interest) for those who were visiting the chapter for the first time. Even companions of the chapter admitted that they too were easily confused by the unusual workings!
It is not to say that the general fundamentals of the ceremony were not the same as in other chapters; it was more of a Morecambe and Wise scenario of ‘all the parts were there but not necessarily in the same order’, further embellished by the inclusion of unfamiliar additional workings. Nevertheless, all proceeded according to plan, presumably, as the three principals were adeptly installed into their respective chairs; Bob Sims in as first principal, Glenn O’Brien as second and Randal Boyd as third principal.
The robe addresses consisted of standard pieces of ritual with the crimson robe address being delivered by Richard Anderson, the purple robe address by Malcolm Woods and a first-class rendition of the blue robe address by Giles Berkley rounded off the section superbly well. Conventionalism continued during the investiture of officers of the chapter and through the addresses to the three principals by Ron Strangwick, to the officers of the chapter by Richard Anderson and to the companions by Barry Jameson, demonstrating his own individuality and flair in presenting ritual.
Conveying the best wishes of the Grand Superintendent, Barry commented on the novel and unique format of the ceremony and was sure that Tony Harrison would have enjoyed it to the full. He added that he had been told that it would be different but had not expected it to be so different.
The sentiment was reiterated by David Harrison in his response to the first rising, saying: “The strange goings-on in P and U never ceases to amaze me”; a point that John Turpin similarly expressed in response to the second rising, commenting on the complexity of the P and U workings. Somewhat out of the ordinary the ceremony may have been but all were in agreement on the enjoyment that the evening had provided.
Retiring to the opulent dining area of the Masonic Hall in Blackpool after the conclusion of the formal proceedings, any unconventional customs were shelved and the companions enjoyed a first class, highly traditional banquet, full of good old fashioned festive fun, a sumptuous meal and warm friendship.
Responding to the third toast on behalf of the grand officers, Barry again referred to the uniqueness of the ceremony in a humorous and well-structured speech. Away from the lighter side of things, he reminded the companions of the forthcoming festival that will commence in 2017 for the benefit of the newly formed Masonic Charities Foundation, the new organisation that will make funds available to the four national Masonic charities, stressing that, in the meantime, it is essential that the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity be supported.
Continuing on the theme of future initiatives, Barry also highlighted planned events for the tercentenary celebrations that will be take place in 2017, 300 years after the formation of the first Grand Lodge and encouraged companions to consider ways of celebrating the occasion.
Focusing on aspects specific to Royal Arch Masonry, Barry rallied the companions to witness demonstrations of the enhanced exaltation ceremony and the ‘Talking Heads’ presentation. Wishing the three principals a happy, healthy and successful year in office and thanking the companions for a marvellous evening, he concluded to warm and appreciative applause.
Demonstrating his versatility and virtuosity, David Harrison performed a rousing rendition of the traditional song to the three principals, dazzlingly accompanied by Phil Bolton at the piano.
As peculiar and unique the chapter’s installation may have been, the evening was full of conventional enjoyment, friendly rapport and traditional pleasure. Some things are never different in Royal Arch Masonry, whichever chapter one visits!