AN OBSERVER’S UNOFFICIAL ACCOUNT
Wednesday 3rd October 2018. A pleasant autumn day at the seaside: cloudy but warm. Just right to pop along to the Winter Gardens at Margate and join in a rare and exciting occasion: the installation of a new Provincial Grand Superintendent/Grand Master: Neil Johnstone. “Doors open 9 am. Please be in your seats by 10 am.” Just like a date at the theatre! I made sure I was there in good time, as did the hundreds of other companions, turned my phone off, tucked away my popcorn and settled down into my seat. The Acting Grand Director of Ceremonies, Michael Gurney, called us to order, and the Pro First Grand Principal, Peter Geoffrey Lowndes, was escorted into the Hall, accompanied by the Second Grand Principal Russell John Race and the Third Grand Principal, Gareth Jones.
The Chapter was opened. Peter Lowndes directed the Provincial Grand Superintendent Designate to approach. To a hushed audience, Neil recited the Obligation eloquently and perfectly, as you would expect from a former Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies. “Rise, newly obligated Provincial Grand Superintendent.” The urge to applaud was stifled, of course. That really wouldn’t do. Once installed in the Chair as First Principal, Neil reappointed the Province’s Second Grand Principal, Clive Manuel and the Third Grand Principal, John Baker. Patrick King was reappointed Assistant to the Provincial Grand Principals, and David Kershaw as Deputy Provincial Grand Superintendent. The Provincial Grand Chapter was then closed in peace and harmony, the procession was formed and the senior Companions retired to enthusiastic applause. What an enjoyable morning! A ceremony conducted with real sincerity, making everybody proud of the Province of East Kent. Whisper it only, but did I hear the Pro First Grand Principal refer to us at one point as West Kent? Such light-hearted moments only added to the fun of the occasion.
Back at the Winter Gardens, the audience for the matinee – the Craft Installation meeting – was beginning to assemble. I returned to the Hall, and found a seat alongside two friends in the East Wing Stalls. Michael Gurney, the Acting Grand Director of Ceremonies, called us to order once more, and the Deputy Provincial Grand Master in Charge, Peter Williams, was escorted into the Hall. Once everyone was in place, Peter formally opened the Provincial Grand Lodge.
Next there was a report at the Door, the Pro Grand Master, Geoffrey Lowndes, demanded admission, and was escorted into the Lodge. The Pro Grand Master was offered the gavel, and duly took charge of the Lodge. Geoffrey outlined the purpose of the Meeting, to install Neil Hamilton Johnstone as our new PGM, and, having referred to Neil’s achievements, said he was convinced that Neil “will do the job more than justice”, adding that he would nevertheless need all our support. How well put, I thought. Freemasonry is a giant team, in which everyone has a role to play.
Next, Phil South, the Provincial Grand Secretary, handed a giant scroll giving Neil Johnstone’s credentials to the Acting GDC, who then presented it to the Pro GM for his inspection. The Acting Grand Director of Ceremonies, the Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies, and their Provincial equivalents then formed up in procession accompanied by Masters of some of the oldest Lodges in East Kent (a nice touch, I thought) and escorted Neil Johnstone into the Lodge. The acting GDC then removed the Chains of Office from Peter Williams and his acting Deputy, David Graeme, and escorted them off the platform. The scene was now set for the big occasion. Neil Johnstone was presented to the Pro GM. A prayer was said, and Neil recited his Obligation while kneeling at the Pedestal. Then came those magic words: “Arise, newly obligated Provincial Grand Master”. I glanced at my watch: 4.33 pm. A moment to remember! Again, the urge to applaud. The Pro GM placed Neil in the Chair, and we were directed to salute him as our new Provincial Grand Master.
So – what do you first do as a new PGM? Appoint your Officers, just as you do when you have been installed as Master of your Lodge (or Provincial Grand Superintendent, come to that). Peter Williams was reappointed as Deputy Provincial Grand Master, with much laughter as he and Neil shared a joke, and David Graeme, David Alexander and Mark Bassant were reappointed as Assistant Provincial Grand Masters. All three reaffirmed their Obligation, which was read out to them by the PGM, and each was invested in turn. Was that it, then? No, certainly not. There was one very important matter still to come: the appointment of a new APGM. “Provincial Grand Master: whom do you appoint Assistant Provincial Grand Master?” “Richard Henry Wingett” Richard was duly presented to the PGM, recited his Obligation, and was invested. In congratulating him, the PGM said that Richard would be in charge of communications matters within the Province.
The PGM then agreed to reappoint all the other Officers of Provincial Grand Lodge, and, to round things off, was given a copy of the By-Laws of his office. Neil Johnstone then addressed us all. He thanked Geoffrey Lowndes for installing him, and said, “what an enormous pleasure it is for all of us that he is here today”. Absolutely! He thanked the Grand Secretary, Acting Grand Director of Ceremonies, Provincial Grand Secretary, Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies, Deputy Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies, and all the others who doubtless had had sleepless nights with “lots of I’s to dot and t’s to cross”. As a former Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies, he was clearly speaking from personal experience! Neil also paid tribute to his predecessor as PGM, Geoffrey Dearing, who had held the office for some seven years. He wished him success in his “rather more relaxing duty as Chairman of the Committee of General Purposes”. We all laughed. Neil highlighted membership as one of our main focuses in the coming years, and stressed the importance of effective and integrated communications, with Richard Wingett heading up the communications team. Our new PGM said we were going to have fun and enjoyment – and on occasions we’d do some serious work too! He promised that he would give all the energy he could to the Province. He wished us all and our families every health and happiness. And may God bless us all.
Provincial Grand Lodge was closed formally at 5.13 pm (yes, another glance at my watch), and the main players then retired in procession. You know it’s been a good meeting when there’s a general buzz around the Hall. Everyone seemed to have enjoyed the occasion. None of the stuffiness: just a relaxed, well-oiled machine with a touch of humour when needed. I went home a happy chappie.