THE ROYAL ARCH IN LONDON
THE ROYAL ARCH IN LONDON: METROPOLITAN PRINCIPALS DISCUSS THEIR JOURNEYS
E Comp Rod Glyn-Thomas and Comp Seb Giroux interview
By the power of Zoom we are meeting with E Comp Patrick Penny PGStB 2nd Metropolitan Grand Principal and E Comp Simon White PGSoj 3rd Metropolitan Grand Principal, for a discussion on their experiences of the Royal Arch in London.
Our discussion begins with the somewhat large elephant in the room – the pandemic and its impact.
Comp Patrick (above), recounts how the annual Metropolitan convocation had to follow the rule of six and the various distancing measures in place, nevertheless it remained a beautiful ceremony.
Inspectors had to invest themselves in a cleverly orchestrated rotation, but all was made following all due protocols.
“Even though there were only six people present, we rehearsed it properly, then rehearsed it twice more with the Met Superintendent before we did it live. We took it seriously, even though nobody will ever know.”
So, onto their journeys and Comp Patrick reminds us of his passion for the Royal Arch and how important it is to Freemasonry as a whole, providing a real inspiration to all members.
He also points out that a mason who is also a companion in the Royal Arch is five times less likely to ever leave freemasonry than a mason who is only in the Craft.
He went on to say that Royal Arch offers something different to the craft three degrees, albeit very connected. It brings additional flavours, a greater depth to the legends and symbols.
“There may be only one ceremony” Comp Patrick tells us, “but it is so rich, so elaborate, so theatrical, it gets me
to reflect differently every time. I love history and I really enjoy how the ceremony takes us to this ancient period of time, mentions some famous
names and gives this overarching view of what happened then. It blends the lectures of the Craft ceremonies together in historical context.”
Comp Simon remembers how his interest in the Royal Arch was ignited.
After becoming a Freemason, he learned by chance that his school also had a Lodge and immediately sought to join. Right after his raising, he was told that he had only seen three parts of a four-part drama.
After enquiring about this elusive final part and hearing more, he simply asked When can I join? .
He did so about 15 months later, through his old school Chapter to confirm that link with his alma mater. Units linked to Schools certainly have great importance Comp Patrick tells us.
He joined his own school Lodge in a meeting in Devon a little while back, but for him it was a very personal affair.
“I am a fifth-generation mason, and I was lucky enough that my dad acted as Junior Deacon for my initiation.”
As he moved into the Royal Arch later, Comp Patrick was once more welcomed by his father who had asked to take on the role of Principal Sojourner for this special occasion.
Tragic personal events that had affected them both deeply only a week before the ceremony made Comp Patrick’s exaltation more moving and poignant to him.
“It was such a revelationary ceremony, so spiritual at a time when I had been thinking about eternity and death quite deeply.”
Comp Patrick’s personal emotional experience of the Royal Arch drove him to seek out ways to make exaltation special for all candidates.
Comp Simon (above), agrees that, in sharing the work of ceremonies, companions should also look at how friends and relatives can pick up some of the roles and lectures to make it that much more special, even if they do not belong to the same Chapter or Lodge.
“To have someone special holding on to you, as you are feeling nervous, it is like your safety net and it is better if it is somebody special.”
“The ritualists were superb, especially the Principal Sojourner” Comp Simon remembers, “and the immersion into the story felt real. More importantly,” he adds “during Craft initiation, there is that strange episode when asked if we have anything to give in the name of charity, and we get this impression something has gone wrong. There is no such feeling of almost panic during exaltation, the transition into Royal Arch brings some serenity.”
After his exaltation, Comp Patrick moved quite fast through the offices, which can happen in smaller Chapters. He was honoured then to be able to install the Companion who had proposed him in joining the Royal Arch.
“It was a nice way to say thank you to him”.
Comp Simon took a more traditional route and became First Principal in around five years. But it is not so much progression within the Chapter that
matters says Comp Simon but within the broader context of the masonic journey.
“Timings and opportunities vary for different people but I benefitted from becoming First Principal as I left the chair in Craft.”
“Totally agree,” adds Comp Patrick, “progressing through to First Principal right after leaving the chair in Craft means that you can build on all that good practice of learning rituals. Then in Royal Arch, the top job is more comfortable, less daunting than that first ever time you have to run a full ceremony in your Lodge. The very configuration of Chapter also makes it more collegial at the top, it’s a great experience, more relaxed in many ways than the chair in Craft to my mind.”
Indeed, the Royal Arch is not just an extension of the third degree, but as Comp Simon passionately points out,
“it is an intrinsic part of the masonic development pathway, and we, in our respective Lodges, have a duty to ensure younger masons are aware of it early enough, so they can choose to learn more about it.”
Moving onto their Metropolitan offices Comp Patrick recounts that, after becoming his Chapter’s First Principal, he alternated appointments between Craft and Royal Arch.
“It really was a parallel progression between the two arms, allowed me to give enough focus to each.”
Comp Simon put the same into action as soon as he finished being First Principal of his Chapter by becoming both a Metropolitan Steward and Metropolitan Deacon. With two active appointments, one in Craft, one in Royal Arch he would be remarkably busy for the year. But with his work and his personal circumstances he was able to take a full year off work on sabbatical, allowing him to do a number of things, which included having the time to devote to fulfilling both offices concurrently.
But as they moved up through the ranks, they each faced these special moments where they had to think on their feet-a key talent for Metropolitan office.
As a Metropolitan Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies, Comp Patrick had to stop the opening of a conclave of Installed Principals when he suddenly realised one of the officers was still present in the Temple despite being unqualified for it. Hastily suitable changes in personnel were made to avert disaster.
Comp Simon remembers the difficulties at time of being a young Visiting Officer, surrounded by much more senior masons and having to conduct official visits.
Certainly, a good grounding to develop one’s confidence.
On a particular occasion, he was accompanying the Inspector when the Chapter meeting turned into a discussion on some very personal business.
“There is not always an answer in the book and sometimes, you have to read the situation and decide on the spot how to act.”
So, Comp Simon stood up, asked the companions to stand while the Inspector retired from the Chapter and escorted him out for a few minutes.
Spur of the moment decision that could have gone either way, but for which the Inspector thanked him as he was getting rather uncomfortable.
They returned after a few minutes and the meeting resumed as if nothing had happened.
After several years of learning how to deal with a variety of situations and progressing through Metropolitan offices, they each recall receiving the news of their appointment to become Metropolitan Principals.
Comp Patrick remembers receiving a call from Sir Michael Snyder.
“Well,” he thought as he picked up and recognised the voice, “I guess my Met journey is coming to an end, time to move on.”
But that was certainly not the reason for the call, quite the opposite. As he was being offered the role of Metropolitan Second Grand Principal, he took less than a second to think about it before accepting.
“I was both surprised and elated.“
Comp Simon was not as doubtful when he got his call, but he was certainly as prompt as Comp Patrick in accepting his appointment.
“When you get offered a dream job, there’s only one response. As Met Principals, we get to work in the best Masonic temple in
the world and with a speaking role! It genuinely is the dream job.”
Comp Patrick agrees wholeheartedly.
“It is especially good to get to do the work with really good friends like Comp Simon. But one must also recognise how much work has gone into developing training and all the support that we are getting now as we step into more senior roles.”
It becomes clear as we speak that they are both grateful to be given such a great opportunity to contribute to developing the Royal Arch across London.
As an added bonus, Comp Patrick confesses that,
“another great aspect of the role is that the administrative side is a little less than in previous roles, but the ambassadorial and strategic sides are greater.”
Comp Simon particularly enjoys visiting various chapters and picking up on their individuality.
“We have a great opportunity to identify and drive changes not just for a single Chapter, but for the better good of Metropolitan Royal Arch.
“We also represent Metropolitan in events outside London and can contribute wider this way.”
As Comp Patrick also sits on the Committee of General Purposes, he can bring some ideas from Metropolitan and affect changes at National level.
“We have a seat on the Metropolitan executive committee which allows us to look at the Royal Arch holistically and with a much more strategic approach. Our role really is about giving the right attention to Metropolitan Royal Arch.
“There is a lot to do all the time, for instance, right now there are around 3500 Royal Arch masons in London who are not attached to any Chapter and we need to help them.”
It is especially important for both, to help every companion as much as they can.
If one person told Comp Simon they joined the Royal Arch or they stayed in because of him, “that would be perfect,” he says, “it would make my work worthwhile.”
The lockdown imposed earlier this year and again more recently kept them rather busy.
“We needed to draw up and adopt large changes quickly to answer many questions and help Chapters keep their members engaged,” Comp Patrick tells us.
“Being able to see what both Metropolitan and the whole country were doing was incredibly useful to provide valid advice especially on social distancing during the summer resumption.”
The passion from them both is almost palpable and as the discussion comes to an end, we all feel so impatient to get back to our Chapter and meet our companions again.
As we miss our masonry, Comp Simon and Comp Patrick both confess they are really looking forward to help drive the post-Covid bounce back.
“It’s not just about getting new members in,” says Comp Simon, “it’s also making it better for all those already in, stoking that fire in their belly and make them strong advocate for the Royal Arch when they go to their Lodge meetings.”
Ed: since the interview E Comp Simon White has been appointed an Assistant Metropolitan Grand Superintendent / Grand Master.
This article is part of the Arena Magazine, Issue 43 January 2021 edition.
Arena Magazine is the official magazine of the London Freemasons – Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London.
Read more articles in the Arena Issue 43.