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De Furnival Preceptory – Oration

Oration delivered by the Provincial Prelate, Em. Kt. The Rev. Canon Kenneth J. Phillips, Dep.Gt.Alm., at the Sesquicentenary Celebration of De Furnival Preceptory, No.66, on 2nd June, 2011.

I begin this Oration by expressing our hearty congratulations to De Furnival Preceptory on the achievement of your Sesquicentenary. It is in any event a mark of often dogged “stickability” in this “throw away” age, while at the same time a matter of deep and abiding enjoyment to those who stick at it. Indeed, I am reminded of a moment forty-nine years and two months ago, when I was unfortunately in a position to overhear – I assure you, without any intention on my part – a conversation which went something like “I’ll give it six months ………” As the occasion was the marriage of my wife and myself it was one of those occasions when diplomatic deafness was the order of the day …… It is a matter of some wonder on my part, together with undying admiration for my wife that the said comment has had no basis in reality, but there! … … But, to yet more important things ………

By now most, if not all of us will have discovered that the word Sesquicentenary refers to the 150th Anniversary, in this case of this Preceptory. and if fifty years is a long time for a marriage, this is three times as long: no mean achievement! But why should a hundred and fifty years be thought important enough to warrant coming along to listen to me – and why bring the Very High and Right Eminent Great Seneschal, together with other great and good of the Order here ……???

During the course of my ministry in at least four disparate counties of England, I have from time to time been talking with House Groups, and have often asked, “Is there any part of the Bible you would like me to talk about?” No, resist the desire to sleep – it’s only just after midday! – The answer had come back, “What about the Book of Revelation?” Now you will be relieved to know that I don’t intend to give you a commentary on the whole of the said book …… though I may perhaps urge you to read some part of it when you get home! If you do, and are of any sort of mathematical bent, you may very well soon begin to notice the number of “Sevens” that occur – sometimes specifically described as such, as in the messages to the Seven Churches of Asia, and sometimes with a little less obvious emphasis – seven golden lampstands, seven stars [which always takes me back to my school days when the “Seven Stars” was the pub across the road from Derby School, and so named from the same Seven Stars in the Book of Revelation ……… just a bit of useless knowledge kicking about in the back of my mind ……]  The marvel for the serious reader lies in the fact that after each series of SEVEN there comes an “extra” – when we seem to get a glimpse of heaven, where the Saints are “casting down their crowns before him” – making a kind of EIGHTH.

Well, we know that Seven was a very important number in Jewish thought.

There are seven days in a week with the Seventh day being the Sabbath of the Lord God: their Menorah, a seven branched candlestick – originally made by Bezalel and placed in the Sanctuary of the Tabernacle: their seven-year rotation of seed-time and harvest, with all the emphasis on the seventh year as another kind of Sabbath when the land was rested ……… Those of you who were present at the Sesquicentenary of this Province, last year, may remember how our old Jewish brethren were told that every seventh seven year period – in other words 49 years – was to culminate in a Jubilee Year, the 50th, and hence 150th Anniversaries mark the third Jubilee: and this is yours! Wow!

You have just heard from Kt Christopher a word about the history of the Preceptory, and E Kt Robert has read from the Minutes of the First Meeting – so I won’t waste time by repeating what they have already said. It is rather a statement of the obvious, even, when I say that times have changed since 1861! We have seen vast populations move with increasing ease, by rail, road, canal and sea, and finally by air. I am old enough to remember a world before jet aircraft wrote icy patterns in the sky, and when the English Test Cricket team took weeks to get to Australia by boat! Times of War and times of relative Peace have marked the passage of a hundred and fifty years, along with times of Prosperity and times of Austerity. As a boy in 1941 I had measles – a childhood illness not thought very much of, it seemed to me at the time – and a caring neighbour went shopping and managed to find the last bar of Fry’s Chocolate Cream in Mr Bridge’s shop – more precious than much fine gold in those war-time days – but she gave to me, I ate it, and promptly was sick, to my mother’s discomfiture ………

Throughout these years De Furnival Preceptory has continued its existence, and as with everything else sometimes has been blessed with success, and sometimes the members have wondered whether there was any point in continuing …… There must surely have been times when this thought has been voiced, and what better time than your Sesquicentenary to have a big Celebration and then perhaps even say “Well, that’s that!”, but certainly to think quietly that a hundred and fifty years is enough ………

But it certainly is not! Back to Biblical things, as a clue, and a question: while many folk are recovering from New Year’s Eve, there celebrates what Festival on January 1st? ……… Now rather coyly in the new “Book of Common Worship” it is entitled “The Naming of Jesus”, but rather more robustly in the words of the Prayer Book it is called “The Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord”. It commemorates the day on which our Lord Jesus received the mark of his Jewishness. And numerically it was THE EIGHTH DAY …… which was the start of a new week, but indeed, of a new life – a life which would culminate in the events by which you and I were saved from sin and death, in Jesus’ case.

So, a Sesquicentenary: a time for celebration, for sharing with our friends in the Province and way beyond; a Celebration shared with the Very High and Right Eminent Great Seneschal, representing our new Grand Master, who I was privileged to see installed last week. In a short while we shall move to our Festive Board to share in a celebratory meal. All too soon our congratulations will be past – though I know they will live on in our memory – and then what?

Centuries ago, when in 1099 Baldwin II became King of Jerusalem and began to bring order out of chaos and law to the lawless, the “Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon” came into being to protect Pilgrims returning to Pilgrimages to the Holy Places – and those who were at our recent Family Service at Batley must forgive my reminding you of it again! – soon becoming known as the Knights Templar. In this age too we have desperate need of guides and guards for our own pilgrimages – perhaps not to Jerusalem, but in our ordinary daily lives. It is no mere whim that when a supplicant comes to join our Order, he comes as a Pilgrim.

Look again at our Precepts:

Love, honour and fear God; walk after his commandments. Maintain and defend the Christian faith, and the honour, dignity and interests of our Order. Be loyal to your Sovereign, dutiful to the grand Master, and obedient to those who rule over you. Prefer honour to wealth. Be just and true in word and deed. Give no willing cause of offence to any; but, while opposing wrong and injustice, deport yourselves courteously and gently. Assist the distressed, the widow and the fatherless. Eschew all debasing employment, recreation and company; abhor pride and selfishness, and so raise the standard of chivalrous honour, striving for the welfare of your brethren.

In the closing acts of this Preceptory, as in all Preceptories, the Chaplain will read them again, and I apologise in advance for stealing a little of his thunder! But, I believe they cannot be read too often. Yes, they amount to a beautiful piece of prose, which in itself is perhaps reason enough, but far more than that, they are indeed a perfect medicine for this twenty first century.

When we were first clothed in our Knightly attire, it was done to the words of the Epistle to the Ephesians: those words followed these: “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Therefore take on the whole armour of God ………”  I am afraid that every time I read this out, I see this as a daunting prospect – “against principalities, against powers ……” – I was not built for that sort of thing! I am more at home with a glass of port and a book – or perhaps an hour with wife and friends ……… Those Knights of long ago, “The Poor Knight of Christ and the Temple”, the first Knights Templar undoubtedly also faced the dangers and difficulties around about Jerusalem nearly a millennium ago – aye, and others thereafter. Brother Knights, we too, I hope, also wear the Cross, with pride in our ancestry a hope for the future, still acknowledging the amounts of spiritual wickedness out there!

Let me tell you of something that happened to me, now many years ago. I was waiting in the upstairs bar at Preston Masonic Hall. Waiting in fact to be called to be prepared for my Initiation into Freemasonry.

There were already some faces I knew, there awaiting the start of another Order. Later I discovered it was the Antient and Accepted Rite, which was working in another Temple in the building. Then in came another friend, Canon John Adam, lately Vicar of Preston. Seeing me he came across, saying “Well, Kenneth, what are you doing here?”, to which of course I replied that I was awaiting Initiation to Endeavour Lodge.

“Well, Kenneth” he continued, “In Freemasonry you will meet a lots of odd chaps, but I reckon that in the end you’ll find that they’re all on the side of the angels ……” I have indeed met many gloriously odd characters …… and have truly found them to be as John Adam said ……

So again, Brother Knights, having been refreshed and renewed by this celebration of your Sesquicentenary, your third Jubilee, know this!

Quite apart from our fellowship and friendships month by month, which are great indeed; our labours in the Preceptory, which fit our minds and hearts for life; and our efforts, for instance, for the St John Eye Hospital, WE ARE NEEDED IN THIS WORLD OF TODAY! Knights of De Furnival Preceptory, and of the other Preceptories represented here today, go out from hence and seek out more Pilgrims: those who would preserve and increase our Christian way of life, and our Christian faith. Bring them as Pilgrims to your Preceptory, to join you in your work and your play, as the inheritors of the Precepts of Knights Templar in this crazy, mixed up, disjointed and often lawless world of today ………and may God bless you in all your work.

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