East Kent Provincial 2012 News

A Dutch "Mourning Lodge"

Sheerness Masons witness a rare Ceremony

On 21st November De Shurland Lodge No. 1089 in Sheerness hosted a very special meeting, involving brethren from the Netherlands who delivered a ceremony rarely seen in this country.

Background to the Meeting

De Shurland has been twinned with Loge Arauna No. 281, Brielle, of the Grand East of the Netherland since 1986, when Arauna was consecrated. Since then, members from both Lodges have visited each other several times a year, most notably for Installations and the Winter and Summer St. John meetings in Holland. 

Under the Dutch constitution a Mason can only be a full member of one lodge. However, several brethren from De Shurland have joined Loge Arauna as “Extraordinary” (or country) members. One of these was W Bro Sam Johnson, Master of De Shurland in 1986, who attended the Consecration meeting of Arauna in that year. In the intervening years Sam visited Brielle at least twice a year and became a firm favourite with the Dutch Masons; he regularly stayed in a member’s home and returned the compliment when they visited us.

Sadly, Sam lost a long battle against illness and passed away in June this year. His loss is still felt keenly in both Sheerness and Brielle.

In Dutch Masonry there is a special ceremony to mark the passing of a member, a “Rouw Loge” (in English “Mourning Lodge”). Every Brother has the right to such a ceremony if he indicates his wishes during his lifetime. When Sam’s health deteriorated there was never any doubt that he would be so honoured. Following Sam’s passing in June 2012, arrangements were made for the brethren of Loge Arauna to visit Sheerness and work the Rouw Loge.

The Ceremony

On 21st November 12 brethren from Loge Arauna, led by their Worshipful Master, W Bro Ynze Kuiper, came to Sheerness to work the ceremony. They attended De Shurland’s regular meeting and immediately after this was closed the De Shurland Brethren left the lodge room while it was re-arranged in the Dutch form; the most noticeable difference is that the Wardens are both seated in the West, at the head of the North and South columns.

After the room was prepared, W Bro Ynze explained how the proceedings would be conducted and the tokens of recognition communicated.

The Brethren were then escorted into the Lodge room, led by the members of Loge Arauna, followed by the guests and visitors, the visiting Masters, and finally the distinguished guests. For this meeting, these included the four Assistant Provincial Grand Masters from East Kent, Past APrGM Charles Boxer, and the Provincial Grand Chaplain, Philip Cox. Depending on seniority, all of those present were introduced under the “Steel Arch” of five or seven swords.

After the Lodge was opened in accordance with Dutch tradition (somewhat different from our own) the Mourning ceremony was worked. W Bro Ynze had updated the English translation of the ceremony, which had last been worked at Sheerness in 2000, following the passing of W Bro Ian Jennings, who was another Extraordinary member of Arauna. This enabled all of the visitors to follow and understand the proceedings.

The ceremony itself follows a traditional narrative approach, in which the work of the Lodge is brought to a halt by the failure of a brother (in this case W Bro Sam) to report for work. After the Master calls upon the Wardens to investigate the reason for this, the Junior Warden reports that the North column was broken and that W Bro Sam had been called to higher service by the GAOTU, causing him to put down his working tools.These tools (his apron and gloves) remained idle; they were lying on a vacant chair in the middle of the column.

The Master declared that the Lodge was in consternation because one of its workers had been summoned to the Eternal East and that to measure the scale of the loss he needed to understand the place W Bro Sam had in their midst. W Bro Gyula Halvax, Arauna’s Orator, described Sam’s work in bringing the Lodge closer to the De Shurland Lodge and the part he had played in their lives, not least of all by the artefacts that he had crafted and presented to their Lodge. Bro Graham Hayes, De Shurland’s Almoner (and also an Extraordinary member of Arauna), then delivered an oration upon Sam’s life, his days as a boarder at the Royal Masonic School for Boys, his Masonic career, and the influential part he played in fostering relations between the two Lodges.

The WM referred to the understandable feelings of anger against the decision of the Great Architect to take W Bro Sam away from the Lodge’s work, but reminded everyone, through a reference to Job’s trials, that His plans were long laid and that we can comprehend them in part only. We must therefore accept the wisdom of His decision and honour the memory of W Bro Sam.

After that reflection, W Bro Sam’s apron and gloves were presented to the WM, who received them so that they could be passed on to another worthy of continuing his labour.

Before the Lodge was closed, brethren renewed their mutual covenant, through the sharing of the Chain of Fellowship. The closing also included a catechism between the WM and an “Entered Apprentice” (actually W Bro Jaap Jonkers). The catechism is a combination of the questions to examine a candidate and the dialogue between the Master and his Wardens at the closing of a meeting.

The Lodge was closed in accordance with the Dutch custom and brethren were escorted out under an arch of seven or five, in reverse order to their entrance.

Aside from the unusual nature of the ceremony (to English Masons’ eyes), one other element was very different; six musical interludes which, played at key parts of the ceremony, permit time for quiet reflection. They were selected by Arauna’s Master of Talents (an office that does not exist in English Lodges), W Bro Hein Verhoef, and included pieces by William Byrd, Thomas Tallis and Edward Elgar. He had chosen English works to reflect not only Sam’s nationality but also the close relationship with English masons which is so valued by the Dutch brethren.

After The Meeting

Another unique feature of Dutch Freemasonry is the Tafel Loge (“Table Lodge”) which is an extension of the formal Lodge proceedings. This differs significantly from our festive board in a number of key areas; most notably the toasts are taken before the meal. After the members have dined there is a “Lodge of Eloquence”. Instead of formal responses to toasts, any brother who wishes to make a speech places his glass on the table cloth but not on the red and yellow ribbons which are placed down the centre of each table.

However, on this occasion, the Arauna brethren wished to enjoy an English festive board, with its formal toasts and responses and they particularly enjoy Masonic fire! Their wishes were met, except that the festive board was presided over by the two Masters, W Bro Ynze Kuiper and De Shurland’s W Bro Brian Reay. Despite the sombre background to the meeting, the festive board was a very light-hearted affair, celebrating the friendship between Sheerness and Brielle and the part that W Bro Sam had played in that.

To further commemorate the occasion, W Bro Brian presented Loge Arauna with a framed photograph of Sam being presented with his honorary membership of De Shurland (Loge Arauna had previously presented to De Shurland a photograph of Sam receiving his honorary membership of their Lodge). In addition, when proposing the toast to the visitors, W Bro Nick Waller presented framed copies of the Lawrence Greenleaf poem “Hands Across The Sea” to both W Bro Ynze and W Bro Brian. He explained how the relationship between the two Lodges had enriched his masonic life and that a copy of the poem had been given to him by Loge Arauna at his Installation in 1999.

Reflections

A number of those attending the meeting had never witnessed a Dutch ceremony, let alone a Mourning Lodge. Quite a few had not known W Bro Sam. However, everyone agreed that it was a most moving event and expressed regret that we did not have anything similar to mark the passing of a brother. One element on which many commented was the musical interludes; a number said it was a very peaceful time to reflect on other brethren whom they knew who had been called to higher service.

The brethren who knew W Bro Sam know that he is looking down, very pleased that he got his wish, and that everyone marking his passing had shared a truly memorable evening.