Freemasons from the Saedingburna Lodge in Sittingbourne recently marked Remembrance with the Ceremony of the Empty Chair at their meeting on Wednesday 1st November 2017.
The Ceremony of the Empty Chair dates back to 1875, a decade after the close of the American Civil War. It was used in Masonic Lodges across America to pay tribute to those from the North and South who did not return from the war. Since then it has been adopted and adapted by many lodges on or near Remembrance Day throughout America, parts of Europe - especially Holland - and now increasingly in Britain.
It pays homage to those Brother Masons who fell during WWI, WWII, and other conflicts throughout the world, as well as to remember members of lodges who have passed to the Grand Lodge Above. In Australia and New Zealand, it is performed at corresponding lodges on a rotating basis, on or near ANZAC Day.
The ceremony was introduced in Sheerness and Sittingbourne by Melvin Hopper a Past Master and the Director of Ceremonies in both Queenborough Lodge No 3893 and Saedingburna Lodge No 6728.
Here Melvin describes how he acquired it for use in his lodges:-
“I first got the idea when Keith Wiseman visited Queenborough Lodge, via my hostelry. Keith is the son of late member Bill Wiseman, and was over from New Zealand to visit his mother. Whilst chatting over a pint, he mentioned the ceremony, where corresponding Lodge’s alternate the ceremony each year on or around ANZAC day. My interest was piqued and I began investigating its origin. Keith later furnished me with a copy of the ceremony - it was literally the bare bones! The reader was encouraged to adapt and adopt the ceremony for use in their own Lodge.
“I adapted it for my Mother Lodge, Queenborough, and prepared to perform it at our meeting on 10th November 2016. However I found out that the Provincial Grand Stewards Lodge of Suffolk were performing the ceremony on Wednesday 9th November at Great Queen Street. To the best of my knowledge, that was the first performance of the ceremony in England.
“I was honoured when the lodge decided that, as I had written the ceremony and all the directions, I should be in the chair. The meeting was so well attended in 2016 that, as I was DC at both Queenborough and Saedingburna, I should adapt the ceremony for Saedingburna. It gave the opportunity to include one of Saedingburna’s Founders, Colonel Donald Dean VC, in the ceremony as the spiritual representative.
“The ceremony has sombre overtones, and is conducted with sincere and due reverence. However it is in fact meant as a joyous tribute to the memory of those respected Brethren and their family members. It helps to keep them always with us in our Lodges, and in our hearts.”
The meeting at Saedingburna on 1st November 2017 was well attended with sixty-eight members and visiting brethren. The offertory raised £150 for the Royal British Legion.
The photo shows the Saedingburna team members with the following brethren taking office on the night:- Alan Shardlow (WM), Colin Tunbridge (SW), John Coccia (JW), Ramsey Bahrawy (Chaplain), Melvin Hopper (DC), David Godden (SD), Darren Wood (JD), Keith Whitby (Services Representative), Barry Gray (ADC), Martin Thomas (IG) and Nigel Shotton (Tyler).
These two lodges plan to hold this ceremony in alternate years, with Queenborough Lodge next in 2018.
Saedingburna’s Secretary, Keith Whitby, is willing to supply a copy of the ceremony to lodges in other parts of East Kent (for a donation to the Cornwallis East Kent Freemasons’ Charity).
Report courtesy of: Keith Whitby and Melvin Hopper