The Swan of Avon Lodge, No. 2133 - Stratford-upon-Avon

Competition

Following is the paper prepared  by our Brethren. They presented it to a meeting of the Warwickshire Installed Masters Lodge No 4538 on Friday 28th November 2014 at Provincial Grand Lodge, Stirling Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham.

It has not been possible for me to transfer across the photos attached to Bro Bailey's contribution. If you would like a complete copy, please email me at mg.goodyear@ntlworld.com


Acknowledgement from our Worshipful Master is noted below the presentation

 

The Swan of Avon Lodge, No. 2133

Bro. S. M. Bailey

Bro. J. G. Hollowell

Bro. J. A. Pérez Díez

Bro. P. G. Woolley

 

First Steps in Freemasonry: The Experiences and Practical Reflections

of the Junior Brethren of the Swan of Avon Lodge

 

Introduction.

This paper presents a selection of the early experiences in Freemasonry of some of the junior members of the Swan of Avon Lodge, No. 2133, which has been meeting in Stratford-upon-Avon since its consecration in 1886. It exemplifies some of the diverse reasons that members may have in the early decades of this century for joining the Craft, and the different backgrounds that Brethren may be coming from: as descendants or relatives of Freemasons inheriting an interest in the Order, or being people previously unconnected with Freemasonry who felt attracted to the principles and the spiritual and social aspects of its practice. In the first four sections, each of us reflects on our Masonic career so far, giving some details of why we decided to join the Order. Based on some of these experiences, the final section formulates a set of suggestions that the Mentor of our Lodge may find useful in catering for the needs and expectations of newly entered members. These suggestions, therefore, are meant to be the practical result of the process of collective reflection that emerged from a discussion we held after compiling our initial thoughts.


1) Becoming a Freemason today.

Bro. Peter Woolley, Junior Warden

 

To my knowledge no one in my family is a Mason. I had no friends who were Masons. What I did have was worrying and growing disappointment that the world felt increasingly one-dimensional—preoccupied with money at the expense of everything else. I had some time to think, and I also had an Internet connection.

The world seemed increasingly too material for me, my career was too material for me, and, as a captive audience of our world, I felt myself becoming and acting similarly too materially. However, I still had my conscience, and a growing concern that society was in danger of becoming a wasted opportunity. There is so much that is good inside each and every one of us on this planet we share—where does all this goodness go when we act as a society? So much in the world seemed to be reduced down to money and little else. I sought solace in attempting to find like-minded individuals who shared a determination to improve themselves and make the world a better place. To make good men better.

            In short, I was attracted to Freemasonry not because of connections: it was a calling to the message of Freemasonry and its practice. I’ll also admit the long tradition and history also attracted me in this fast-paced, ever-changing world of ours.

            Reading round the topic of the Craft online is difficult, as every point of view, extreme to mundane, is randomly presented by an Internet search. What I did find along the way, however, was an email address for the Swan of Avon Lodge in my hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon.

            As autumn wore on, I prevaricated for days before sending the email asking for further information.  To my surprise I received a swift response, with the offer of a home visit from the then Director of Ceremonies—an extremely knowledgeable, experienced, able, and amiable Brother. I confess I was a little unsure about inviting a stranger into my home. I’m so glad I did.

The three of us—my wife, John, and I—had a very open and frank discussion about Freemasonry on both a practical and more metaphysical level, without being too extreme or ‘heavy’. I’ve never looked back from that moment onwards.

            My Initiation was, to me, literally wonderful. As I entered the building that houses our lodge room, the friendly welcome I received was so important, and so friendly, that I immediately felt to be amongst friends. Soon after becoming a member, it’s so easy to forget what a daunting thing it was to do: turn up to a building where you know no one, only to be told to put a blindfold on and walk into the middle of a room you’ve never seen—hearing the shuffling and coughs of people all around as one is paraded around. However, the voice in my right ear, albeit it didn’t yet have a face, was as calm and friendly as the people I met when I first arrived.

            The experience was equally wonderful for my Passing and Raising. After a comfortable period having been made a Master Mason, I was politely and sensitively approached by some Brethren from my Lodge who were also members of the local Rose Croix chapter. My experience of this excellent order has been of the same standard and level as the Craft. There was no ‘hard sell’—this puts me off intensely—and no pressure; just fantastic ceremony, a great bunch of guys, and a sense of pride and belonging.

            Freemasonry, warts and all, exceeds all my expectations and my daily advancement in Freemasonry through that little blue book is part of the rhythm of my life as I progress through of offices in the Lodge. Regular meetings are real ‘events’ in my calendar I work towards and look forward to. Nothing is perfect in practical reality, but in my experience the reality of Freemasonry really is very good. I’m pleased to say the reasons I joined Freemasonry are the same reasons I stay a Freemason—ritual, friends, charity, and fun. The friends I have now through Masonry and our shared purpose/outlook on life are very dear to me. I’m glad it’s a part of my life, and it continues to deliver. Job done—except it never will be: like life, I’m finding Freemasonry is all about the journey, not the destination.

 

2) A Lewis’ tale.

Bro. Graham Hollowell, Junior Deacon

 

As a ‘Lewis’, my reasons for becoming a Mason were varied. My father joined a Lodge in Lancashire when I was in my late teens but my attendance at University followed by marriage and a move away from home to begin my career, meant that I knew nothing of his Masonic life or experiences. He never spoke about his Masonic journey and the only time it intersected with my life was when I attended a Lodge event, such as a Ladies Evening and at dinners once he became WM of his Lodge.

            I joined Swan of Avon Lodge in 2012, in part because the time seemed right and it felt the natural thing to do. I had recently returned home after working away for a number of years and was looking for something that would enable me to become ‘engaged’ in my local community. I felt the need to establish a connection with like-minded men in some kind of ‘brotherhood’, which in turn might lead to new friendships, but also involvement in a more charitable way within the community.

            I attended an ‘open’ weekend at the Lodge and felt a ‘call’ to respond to what I saw. This, together with the genuine care and offer of support from a Brother of the Lodge, encouraged me to apply and to begin my Masonic journey.

            My initiation remains a blur of blindfolds, strange accoutrements, whispered voices and parading, enveloped within an atmosphere of great warmth and cordiality. I now take part in First and Second Degree ceremonies, and think, ‘did I really do that?’

            In this fast-moving world, the challenge for Masonry today is how to retain Apprentices and Master Masons, and keep them engaged in the Masonic journey despite increasing demands on our work and leisure time.

 

3) The quest for knowledge of the newly made Mason.

Bro. Stephen Bailey, Steward

 

I had been approached on a number of occasions over the last thirty years by Freemasons who were keen for me to join their Lodge, and there were many reasons why none of those encounters succeeded in securing a decision from me. However, when in recent months I approached my father-in-law, who I knew was a Freemason, I knew I was ready to start a personal journey which I believed would be supported by a ‘fraternity’ who, whilst at different points on that journey, would be happy to help me seek understanding of Freemasonry and assist mankind.

I knew little about what to expect during Initiation. I had made the decision not to go to any externally derived commentary as, in order to accept the challenge of the journey, I felt it would be necessary to immerse myself in the process and trust those who were welcoming me into the Lodge.

After the initiation, the most striking memory, other than the enjoyment of being warmly welcomed, was of the numerous symbols and artefacts, whether they were part of the Initiation ceremony itself, the lodge room, or my fellow Masons’ regalia, jewels, chains, collars, and aprons. They were so numerous that by their variety and number it was difficult to appreciate their importance or meaning.

The Initiation ceremony itself has a place in explaining the significance of squares, levels, and perpendiculars, and introduces the entered apprentice to a series of mysterious and secret signs, tokens and words. However, it was not until being shown the Working Tools of an Entered Apprentice—the 24-inch gauge, the common gavel and the chisel—that I fully understood the ‘educational’ path I was treading.

Prior to my entry into Freemasonry I am sure I would have come across much of the external symbolism associated with it but had been ‘blind’ to its meaning. This is understandable as the underlying philosophy of Freemasonry is that, whilst in itself it is not a secret society, it is a society with secrets. In many ways, this is the quandary and dilemma for those who are not Masons and who have to deal with myth, legend, and suspicion when trying to interpret that of which they will have little understanding as they are external to the fraternity. Freemasonry, in my limited experience, does not have an extensive ‘promotional wing’ such that those who are not Masons can become familiar with its systems, ‘peculiar’ or otherwise, nor its extraordinary contributions to mankind.

As an ex-Headteacher, I am conditioned to wonder what, within the Freemasonry world, will trigger and sustain my learning journey, and question how I will focus my desire to become educated and seek greater knowledge. At this stage in the process, it will undoubtedly be a pursuit of an understanding of the major symbols, allegories, and tokens that become apparent as I progress through the three degrees of Freemasonry and beyond.

This realisation became even more apparent to me on a visit to Sheffield City centre, shortly after my Initiation, when I met with my son who is studying at the University. We were walking along Surrey Street when for the first time I recognised that a building I had walked past many times before had numerous Masonic symbols displayed within its fabric. In fact, on further inspection I noted that the entire building must have had a significant role to play in the Freemasonry movement in Sheffield. The past tense is appropriate as the building is now used as a student bar and trades under the name of ‘The Graduate’! I was bemused by the fact that prior to my Initiation I had not made a connection between the features of the building and Freemasonry, they were ‘invisible’ to me, albeit they were large, bold and on public display.

I started to research the history of the building: until the early 1960s it was the meeting place for a number of Sheffield lodges. In 1871 the site of an old savings bank was demolished and replaced by this purpose-built hall, designed by Scargill and Clark. The building was extended in 1913 and the architect on this occasion was A. E. Turner, himself a Sheffield Mason. The features are magnificent but their meaning was not immediately apparent to one who is at the beginning of his journey through Freemasonry. The research prompted me talk to fellow Masons within my Lodge and research the symbols as represented in the United Grand Lodge of England Constitutions, Supreme Grand Chapter Regulations, Grand Charity Constitution and Regulations 2001.

   

The Square = The Master of the Lodge,

The Level = The Senior Warden,

The Plumb Rule = The Junior Warden

 

 The Triple Tau, emblem of the Holy Royal Arch.

 

 

 

The Star of David represented in many Royal Arch jewels and chains.

 

 

 The Square and Compasses of the Master Mason, perhaps some of the most recognisable symbols outside of Freemasonry.

 

The five pointed star seen in the jewels and chains of Officers of the Grand Lodge – for example the Deputy Grand Master and the Provincial or District Grand Master.

 

 This ornate casting is seen above the entrance and includes symbols representing two of the three lesser lights within the Lodge, the Sun and the Moon, (the sun representing the Junior Warden in the South, the Moon the Senior Warden in the West). The Square and Compasses with one arm of the Compasses set behind the Square, and the Level usually representative of the Senior Warden.

This display is set within the confines of a much larger Sun and is surrounded by stars, perhaps—and one can only surmise that—the larger sun would represent the Master ‘giving light’ to his brethren. The research I have taken to unearth the history of the building is in many ways a reflection of my journey through this stage of Freemasonry. Initially, I could not see what was actually there but with knowledge and understanding, I am able to appreciate not only its historical context in Sheffield City Centre, but also some of the mysteries that unfold in Freemasonry. I would also suggest that Freemasonry itself is on a journey: here lies a building formerly the home of Freemasons in Sheffield, who by the end of the nineteenth century were happy and proud to construct an edifice which exuded their pride in the Order, and who were intent on sharing aspects of their symbolism with the wider world. This building is located in very close proximity to Sheffield Town Hall, the Civic Centre, and the main City Library, ‘prominent’ by default. Now, however, perhaps its significance and message is lost, other than to those who can ‘see’. The centre of Freemasonry in Sheffield has moved to the West of the City, to Tapton Hall.

Importantly, this whole process has underlined the need within my own Lodge to work to encourage Masons to create triggers for those ‘on the journey’ to continue to learn and become educated within the craft at a level suitable to their position, such that we enhance our knowledge of Freemasonry daily.

 

 

4) A Spaniard becomes an English Freemason.

Bro. José A. Pérez Díez, Steward

 

Having been Initiated in December 2013, I was until recently the most junior Brother of my Lodge. I do not come from a family with any Masonic tradition, and in my country of origin, Spain, Freemasonry was outlawed and demonised during the long night of General Franco’s dictatorship, from 1939 to 1975. This has, to some extent, conditioned my incipient exploration of the Craft, as I will describe.

At the beginning of Franco’s regime, Masonic lodges were pillaged and destroyed, and those members who could not escape from the country were incarcerated by the infamous Special Tribunal for the Repression of Masonry and Communism. As well as the immediate confiscation of all their material belongings, this judicial body imposed prison sentences of twenty to thirty years for officers of the higher ranks, and twelve to twenty for the more junior members. This was, however, an improvement over the situation during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), when thousands of Masons—as well as non-Masons for whom a pretext was needed—were put to death under the jurisdiction of military tribunals in the Francoist zone. During the subsequent decades, Franco published several anti-Masonic pamphlets under pseudonym, and insisted in public speeches on blaming the ‘international Judaeo-Masonic conspiracy’ for all the evils that had befallen on the country—a phrase that still rings familiar to Spaniards of certain age. The bugbear of this peculiar international threat, organised by the imaginary amalgamation of Masons, Jews, and communists, loomed over Francoist Spain for almost four decades. One of the most widely circulated stories is that Franco’s brothers, Ramón and Nicolás, were both Freemasons, and that Francisco Franco himself petitioned to join their Lodge when he was still young—but was unsuccessful; if the story is true, he seems to have never forgiven the affront. His obsession with Freemasonry went even further: Franco commissioned a full-scale lodge room to be built in his official residence, the Palace of El Pardo near Madrid, to be furnished with objects that had been requisitioned from Masonic lodges across the country; it was to be a constant reminder to him of the organisation he had effectively eradicated from Spain. Even in his last speech to the nation on 1 October 1975, only 50 days before he died, he insisted that the ‘leftist Masonic conspiracy’ was guilty of causing all the problems of the nation.

In the few years after his death, a few scattered lodges were formed under the auspices of the National Grand Lodge of France, then the regular Masonic authority in that country. But it was not until the 2 July 1982 that the regular Grand Lodge of Spain was re-established. By a happy coincidence, that event happened only four days after I was born. Since then, however, it has only managed to accrue a membership of just over 3,000 Brethren—roughly the equivalent number of members just in the Province of Warwickshire within the English constitution: it seems that the Spanish Masonic tradition, once strong and intellectually influential, has never recovered from the long years of exile and persecution.

With these historical precedents, it was perhaps inevitable that my family would receive the news that I had joined a Masonic Lodge with some incomprehension. In fact, I had to spend much time explaining to them what the Craft really is, and why I decided to join. But the fact is that it was always on the back of my mind. The Masonic Temple of Madrid, the headquarters of the Grand Lodge, is only round the corner from my parents’ house, and I was always intrigued by the world behind those bronze doors adorned with the Square and Compasses. When five years ago I moved to England, and to Stratford-upon-Avon, I rented a house just a few doors up the road from our local Masonic Hall. After years of walking by it every day, I decided to take the step: the Masonic threshold mysteriously beckoned to be traversed, and I have never regretted that I finally knocked on the doors.

My experience so far has been overwhelmingly positive. I will always remember the anticipation with which I awaited my Initiation, the slight nervousness with which I walked down to the Hall that night, and the warmth and cordiality with which I was received. The road did not seem lonely at all before or after the event, as my Proposer, who is now the WM, has always been kind and didactic, and remains a great friend and a wonderful support in these early stages of my Masonic career. A special highlight so far is having learnt the presentation of the Working Tools for the Initiation of the next candidate to join our Lodge, who also happens to be a close and dear friend: it was the first time I was involved in the performance of the ritual, and I could not have been more excited about it.

 

 


Conclusions and mentoring suggestions.

 

Based on the previous reflections and on our early experiences of Masonic life, we have compiled a series of suggestions to help the Mentor of our Lodge in his supporting role. We are aware of the fact that, as Brethren progress through the different offices of the Lodge, the concentration put in learning the ritual and the fulfilment of the different duties associated with each office, may put earlier experiences in the backburner: in a way, after perhaps many decades in the Craft, more senior members do not need to remember constantly what it felt like to have just arrived to the organisation, and what practical and technical issues they had to overcome. Our intention with this section is, therefore, to aid our Mentor by pointing out the things we would have found useful in the first stages of our Masonic path. We compiled these suggestions at an informal meeting in which we discovered that we had had similar difficulties in the early stages, and that we coincided in formulating similar solutions to overcome them.

Firstly, we felt that candidates accepted for Initiation may find it useful to meet the Mentor prior to the ceremony, in order for him to ‘set the scene’ as much as it is possible without revealing the precise details of the proceedings. This may include issuing some basic instructions about the structure of the meeting, as well as some basic indications of what is expected of him at the Festive Board, beyond the response to the toast to the newly entered Brother. We are aware that some crucial details of the Initiation ceremony and of Masonic protocol cannot be disclosed to those who have not yet been Initiated, but some basic information would avoid potentially alienating the newly entered Brother on the important evening of his entrance to the Craft.

In a similar vein, we think it would be useful that the newly entered Brother, once he has gone through the ceremony, is conducted to sit by a Brother entrusted with supporting him through this first night. In the same way that in our Lodge a Brother regularly stays behind at the opening of the Lodge to accompany the candidate before he is admitted, this Brother could be delegated to sit with the newly made Mason, and explain as much as possible the proceedings of the rest of the meeting: the closing of the Lodge, the singing of the Closing Ode, the procession out of the lodge room, and so on.

In the same way, it would be useful if this or another experienced Brother were delegated to sit with the new entrant in the first few meetings to continue to explain the more practical aspects. This aid should perhaps be extended as well to the Festive Board, where the recently made Brother would find it helpful to have the proceedings explained in more detail with respect to the seating arrangement, the order of the toasts and responses, the songs to be sung, the correct way of giving ‘Masonic Fire’, and other issues not sufficiently explained in the Entered Apprentice booklet or the standard Masonic bibliography.

As well as the copies of the Book of Constitutions and the EA booklet published by the Provincial Grand Lodge, it may also be helpful to provide the new member with song sheets with the pieces that are regularly sung during meetings, more specifically, the Opening and Closing Odes for the lodge room, and those pieces sung at the Festive Board: Absent Brethren, Grace, and the National Anthem, especially for Brethren of non-British nationality. The melodies can be learnt by regularly attending the meetings, but it would be useful if the new Brother could study the words at his leisure, finding it perhaps reassuring and inclusive to be able to sing with the Brethren in the full confidence of knowing the text. If the new Brother can read music, it may also be useful to provide a score to study the tune alongside the words, especially since the odes sung at the Swan of Avon Lodge were composed specifically for our meetings by Bro. J. H. Casey in 1890, and cannot be found in any standard book on Masonic music or Internet site. The songs could also be incorporated to the material to be covered in the Lodges of Instruction.

As for the Lodges of Instruction, we have also detected some confusion among more junior members as to when they are welcome or required to attend. It was felt that it would be useful if a brief note giving details of the work to be rehearsed during a given LoI could be included in the Summons, perhaps indicating which sessions are appropriate for newly entered Masons to attend, as well as an outline of their purpose and content.

In this sense, it may also be useful to hold specific Lodges of Instruction for newly entered Brethren that may help to clarify particular procedures, and provide an appropriate frame of reference. Amongst other things, this might include a briefing on the Working Tools, the practical functioning of a Lodge, the origins of Freemasonry, and other topics of Masonic history appropriate for this level of experience. It was our feeling that we would happily commit to a weekly Lodge of Instruction between formal regular meetings to cover these aspects of Masonic education beyond the practical rehearsals that are, nevertheless, so essential to the life of the Lodge.

 

 

 

Letter to the authors of the above from our Worshipful Master:

 

Dear Brothers Woolley, Hollowell, Bailey, Pérez Díez

Dear Peter, Graham, Steph and José

 

Warwickshire Installed Masters 'Lodge No 4538 Presentation.

First Steps in Freemasonry

 

The professional and frankly wonderful way you presented your paper this evening will stay with me for a very long time.

Not only did you show sincerity and passion but clearly thought hard and presented us with a superb evening with lots of ideas for us all to consider.

I was very proud of you and know that Swan of Avon Lodge members feel the same. The five of us, who saw you in action, were delighted and am sure agree that the many distinguished brethren who attended the Lodge this evening, including the Provincial Grand Master of Warwickshire would have left in the belief that the future of Freemasonry is going to be in good hands.

Well done.

Sincerely and fraternally

David

 

David Stevens

Worshipful Master
Swan of Avon Lodge No 2133

Past Junior Grand Warden (GLBFG) within The United Grand Lodges of Germany 

 

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