Being thrown in at the deep end with little prior warning is, admittedly, hard; calling for all that a man has of fortitude and endurance. And it was in such a situation that Shaun Bridgman found himself at the installation meeting of St John’s Lodge No 2825, taking the leading role of installing master in placing Neil Winkley into the chair of King Solomon.
One of the many great aspects of Freemasonry is that when the chips are down and a rallying call goes out, there are those who throw themselves into the task with zeal and commitment. On this occasion there was no shortage of zeal and the commitment was top grade. Bob Walker, the normally cheery master of the lodge was unable to attend the meeting due to ill-health and Shaun was keen to offer his support in the best way possible. Thus it was that he arrived at Blackpool Masonic Hall to conduct the ceremony on Bob’s behalf.
But of course an installation ceremony consists of a lot more than the installing master’s role and it is unquestionably up to others to deliver the goods. They did so abundantly and in heaping measure with a strong pulling-together spirit.
One’s feelings go out to any chap who has to perform a leading role, even if they have had ample preparation time but, when suddenly dropped in the soup at short notice, one can imagine the pressure on him. We can all recall what it was like being roped in to play a part in a school production and forced to wear an abysmal home-made costume. It made one jolly self-conscious, to say the least. This no doubt was how Shaun felt. If you described Shaun Bridgman at this juncture as all of a doodah, you would not be going far astray. He had stepped in at very short notice and the ritual that lay ahead of him was complex, as anyone who has performed it will only too well know. And just to think that a short while before, Shaun hadn’t had a care in the world!
Rising to the occasion after a momentary pause however, the St George spirit in him surfaced and with growing confidence he installed Neil Winkley into the chair of King Solomon in a sincere and dignified manner. Shaun had wanted to do his bit for Bob and he did it in fine style. Everything worked out superbly well and Neil, comfortably planted in the master’s chair with a broad smile across his face was exhibit A, if evidence were needed to prove the point.
Amongst the many other star players in the production were seasoned performers Jonathan Selcoe and John Forster, both admirably demonstrating their versatility as ritualists. The ubiquitous and effervescent Jon Selcoe played a multiplicity of roles: installing senior warden and its associated address, address to the wardens, address to the director of ceremonies and the address to the newly installed master. In moments of necessity, Jon Selcoe acts swiftly and highly effectively.
John Forster was equally diverse in his contributions to the proceedings. John presented the master elect, gave the address to deacons and the address to the stewards, all flawlessly and with the decorum and sincerity that only the most experienced can achieve.
Junior members of the lodge also provided moments of brilliance. The third, second and first degree working tools were commendably performed by Martin Beeker, Simon Fitzpatrick and John Earnshaw respectively, all signifying that the lodge is in safe hands for future ceremonies.
Guest performers like Michael Joyner of Blackpool Lodge of Sincerity No 4175 displayed similarly high standards in his recital of the address to the newly invested inner guard and there were other delightful pieces such as the rarely heard address to the secretary by Steve Morris and Jeff Basson’s dialogue to the junior warden.
Coordinating the event into an articulate and fluid ceremony was Anthony Rigby, director of ceremonies for the lodge. Unperturbed by the 11th hour alterations to plans he preserved a dignified and efficient formality throughout the whole proceedings, a praiseworthy achievement when considering that this was the first installation ceremony at which he had officiated as director of ceremonies. You have to be quick learners in Freemasonry!
Enjoying the day to the full was principal guest Tony Hough, representing the Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison. From the moment he processed into the lodge room, accompanied by Past Assistant Provincial Grand Master Terry Hudson and Chairman of Blackpool Group Peter Bentham and supported by group vice chairman John Turpin and acting Provincial grand officer Brian Ogden, a cheery sparkle and smile remained on Tony’s face, appreciating the commitment and effort that had been put into the day. On having the opportunity to convey greetings from the Provincial Grand Master, Tony was enthusiastic in his praise of all who had played a part in a most enjoyable ceremony and wished Neil a healthy, happy and successful year in office.
Other distinguished guests included a delegation from north of the border; Lodge Hamilton No 233 (Scottish Constitution). Representing the lodge were the master Kenneth McVicar, deputy master Danny Farquhar, senior warden Alex Watson, junior warden William Scott and David Russell. Their appreciation of the evening was wholehearted and exuberant; sentiments that were ardently sustained throughout the installation banquet that followed the formalities of the day.
Adding further to the successes of the ceremony was the stunning generosity of the lodge members, a point that Tony Hough applauded on receiving cheques to a total value of £3,629.75 for disbursement to Masonic and non-Masonic charities that included £1,610 plus an additional gift aided sum of £639.91 to the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity, £100 to the Burma Star Association, £167.24 to the Blackpool Masonic Hall Building Fund and £1,000 to Rosemere Cancer Foundation.
The installation banquet that followed was another of those notable occasions; bubbling over with joie de vivre, camaraderie and general joyousness. In responding to the toast to the grand officers, Tony reiterated his praise of the installation team for having produced such an enjoyable ceremony.
In his capacity as Provincial Masonic Halls Coordinator, Masonic halls are close to his heart and he urged the brethren to support them as much as possible, whether by raising funds or providing physical assistance in assuring their continued high quality maintenance. His idiom is that without Masonic halls, there is no Masonry, and without Masonry we lose the charitable giving. Halls are at the hub of Masonry and every Mason has a duty to support the efforts of his Masonic hall committee.
The sincerity of the day was preserved throughout the proceedings. A lively rendition of the master’s song was performed with gusto by John Cartwright, accompanied by Phil Bolton on the piano. It was a perfect end to a saintly day.