Once again heavy rain did not deter the hundreds of attendees who packed into St Elphin’s Church, Warrington, to attend the second Provincial service of thanksgiving to celebrate 300 years since the formation of the first Grand Lodge in the world at the Goose and Gridiron Tavern in St Paul’s Churchyard on 24 June 1717
St Elphin’s is the Parish Church for the town of Warrington, a place of worship has been present on the site of St Elphins Church since about 650AD, and the presence of a priest in Warrington was recorded in the Domesday Book. According to tradition the first church was built by Saint Oswald for his companion Elphin, who remained as the first priest there until his death in 679. The earliest fabric in the present church is in the chancel and the crypt, which survive from the church built in 1354 by Sir William Boteler. The church was badly damaged by the Parliamentary forces in the Civil War. Following this the tower was rebuilt in 1696 and the nave in 1770. The south aisle was added in the early 19th century. Most of the fabric of the present church is the result of an extensive restoration between 1859 and 1867 by Frederick and Horace Francis. It was during this restoration that the spire was added.
The Provincial Grand Master Tony Harrison and his wife Maureen were joined by the Deputy Provincial Grand Master Philip Gunning and Assistant Provincial Grand Masters, Tony Bent, Mark Dimelow, Harry Cox, David Winder, John Hutton, Derek Parkinson, Kevin Poynton and Robert Wright, many of whom were accompanied by their ladies.
A broad range of Masons from grand officers to entered apprentices took part in the service that was a combination of celebration and thanks. The clergy processed into the church preceded by Mark Barton and Malcolm Bell both of whom are Provincial Deputy Grand Directors of Ceremonies, followed by the both Provincial wardens, the Assistant Provincial Grand Masters and the Provincial Grand Master who was preceded by the Provincial Grand Sword Bearer and followed the the Provincial Grand Standard Bearers. The processional hymn of ‘Praise my Soul the King of Heaven’ was sung with overwhelming gusto and provided a rousing start to the service.
The congregation were welcomed very warmly by the Lay Reader Lee Marsh who said how pleased he was to see so many Brethren and their families attending that service of thanksgiving.
Following the bidding prayer, the choir sang Psalm 150 which was followed by a reading from ‘Chronicles’ by Richard Clatworthy, a Fellowcraft which detailed the prayer by Solomon at the building of the Temple. Another inspiring and uplifting hymn, to the familiar tune of ‘Cwm Rhondda’ followed with the congregation rising superbly to the task in rendering, ‘Guide me O’ thou Great Redeemer’ with a passion that would have brought a tear to the eye of many a Welshman.
The second reading from ‘Luke’, concerning the story of the ‘Good Samaritan’ was given by Clive Smith, an Entered Apprentice. This reading was to be reflected on in greater detail during the Oration.
Tony Bent, who has been responsible for the organisation and promotion of the Tercentenary celebrations within the Province, then gave an inspiring and thought provoking presentation on the work of Freemasonry within the community. He highlighted the ‘quiet and unassuming manner’ in which Freemasonry operated as a force for good and charitable works, reflecting that we had been, in the past perhaps ‘too quiet and self-effacing’ about our work. He further suggested that Masons were not just generous in their donations of financial assistance but were repeatedly as philanthropic in the gift of their time.
In his concluding remarks, he reminded the congregation that Freemasonry had always and should continue to be acutely aware of its roots in the local community and the role it can and should play in supporting that communal foundation. He ended by suggesting that although it was tempting and indeed understandable that we could reflect with pride on the past 300 years, it was equally important that we looked to the future and renewed our commitment to maintaining and promulgating the principles of Freemasonry.
Following a further appropriate and inspiring hymn led by the choir, the Provincial Grand Chaplain Rev Canon Godfrey Hirst ascended the pulpit to deliver his oration. Taking as the core of his text, both the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’ and the very human need to ever be seeking ‘truth’, Godfrey delivered a resounding and uplifting homily in his inimitable and poignant style. He used many examples which highlighted the ‘principles and tenets’ of Freemasonry and reminded everyone that although the ‘Volume of the Sacred Law, would guide us to all truth’, we as ‘children of our Creator’ had a responsibility to ‘be diligent in determining fact from fake’ and implored that, ‘may the search for truth be the focus of our further endeavours’.
During the offertory, which was made to the benefit of St Elphin’s Church, Masonic stewards assisted and the congregation sang ‘For all the Saints, who from their labour’s rest’. This was followed by prayers of thanksgiving, led by Godfrey, and culminating with the singing of that quintessential celebratory hymn ‘Jerusalem’ accompanied by further stirring and profoundly moving accompaniment from Steven Derringer PrGOrg.
In a final act of avowal and reaffirmation, Godfrey invited all Freemasons to stand and join him in a pledge of ‘Dedication to future endeavour’ which they all exceeded to in response to each enquiry of ‘Will you?’ with the resounding reply of, ‘We will, the Most High being our helper’.
Very appropriately the final hymn of the service was ‘Now the evening’s shadows closing’ followed by ‘The National Anthem’, prior to the recession led by the Provincial team followed by the clergy.
Speaking after the service, Tony Harrison expressed his gratitude and thanks to the magnificent support shown by the brethren and their families: 'It has been a wonderful and historic occasion and I am really grateful to the brethren for their support this afternoon.' He also acknowledged the time and efforts employed in organising such a successful celebration that had been undertaken by Tony Bent and his team.