By kind permission of the Dean and Chapter, Canterbury Cathedral’s Choral Evensong congregation on Sunday June 21st was enhanced by almost 500 Companions and Brethren, their wives, partners, families and friends for the Province’s Holy Royal Arch biennial church service.
The sunny day commenced with pre-lunch drinks in the secluded Campanile Garden attended by Distinguished Guests of the Province. They included the Assistant Grand Master, Sir David Wootton, the Third Grand Principal, David Williamson, the Metropolitan Grand Master for London, Russell Race and several neighbouring Provincial Grand Masters. They were joined by members of our own Provincial Executive; a group of over 70 altogether, including their wives and partners.
At lunch in the Clagett Auditorium, and after the formal Toasts, The Grand Superintendent, Geoffrey Dearing, spoke briefly to welcome the Distinguished Guests and thank them for their support. He went on to talk about the significance of 2015 as an anniversary year - the signing of the Magna Carta, Agincourt, the Battle of Waterloo and the outbreak of the First World War – a theme later picked up by the Dean, The Very Reverend Robert Willis, during his Sermon.
After much excitement outside the Cathedral’s main gate in The Buttermarket, where no fewer than 7 fire engines had assembled to try and gain access to the grounds for what was thankfully a false alarm, the happy congregation began arriving in their droves.
At 3.15 the Dean, The Very Reverend Robert Willis escorted the dignitaries to their seats and welcomed the entire congregation to Evensong – especially Geoffrey Dearing and the Freemasons of East Kent and their families. He commented that it was particularly pertinent to see the other Geoffrey – Chaucer – on the Province of East Kent crest that was printed on the front of the Order of Service in “this special place of pilgrimage”.
The wonderful cathedral choir, very evident throughout the service, then set the tone with a moving rendition of the Preces, after which the first hymn, “Blessed City Heavenly Salem”, was sung by the worshipers.
Geoffrey Dearing, wearing his chain of office, delivered the Old Testament Reading from Deuteronomy 11.1-15.
The New Testament Reading, Acts 27. 1-12, was delivered by the Vice Dean. Its message of Paul crossing the Mediterranean, seemed pertinent with present day reports of refugees on that same ocean.
The Dean began his Sermon by speaking of the visit to the cathedral the day before, by His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent, in connection with the Battle of Waterloo commemorations. His Royal Highness, the Grand Master of English Freemasons, had asked about this service and sent his best wishes to the congregation.
In his sermon, the Dean spoke of how the Freemasons had taken the stonemason apprentices to their hearts and, for several years, had funded their training. One apprentice, Lewis, who featured in the recent television series about the cathedral, was inspired to take up his vocation during a school visit. “Ideas and visions unkindled by the unexpected” said the Dean. Part way into his training, Lewis was seriously injured in a road accident, and when he eventually returned to work, he was able to recognise the stone mullion that he had crafted for one of the windows. “It’s in the hands” said the Dean as he spoke of this particular creative art – a theme he returned to during his sermon.
The Dean spoke of this year of anniversaries and of the cathedral’s stained glass windows which were in place when the Magna Carta was signed 800 years ago. He referred to Paul, crossing the Mediterranean, trying to form an international community – “outward looking to serve the world” – and its parallels with both the Church and Freemasonry. He spoke of the importance of being open to the world, but loyal to one another and to build a world where the arts flourish.
During the final hymn, “Now thank we all our God”, a collection was received to be shared between the Canterbury Cathedral Trust and the Cornwallis East Kent Freemasons’ Charity.
Following The Blessing the congregation remained standing as the choir, clergy and Distinguished Guests departed into the sunlight.
Many then took the opportunity to view the Ancestors Exhibition, a series of life-size figures representing the Ancestors of Christ, which date to the 12th and early 13th centuries. These beautiful examples of medieval stained glass have been temporarily removed from the Cathedral’s Great South Window, while conservation work is carried out on its crumbling stonework. They are on display in the Chapter House, in which the East Window was a gift from the Freemasons of Kent.
There was also scope to view the recently installed statues of Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, which were unveiled by Her Majesty in a visit to the cathedral in March. Read more.
Others took the opportunity to visit the nearby Kent Museum of Freemasonry which had stayed open later than usual and reported a busier than normal Sunday with a number of East Kent Freemasons visiting with their friends and families.