Coningsby Lodge in Herefordshire has carried out what must surely be a unique Initiation Ceremony, to welcome a new member. The Worshipful Master, Junior Deacon and Candidate were all blind, and all played their parts to a very high standard in a most impressive ceremony.
To make it an even more remarkable and joyful occasion, the Master, W Bro Andy Bailey, and his wife Suzanne, who is also blind, had their first child just four days before the ceremony!
The Master and the Junior Deacon, W Bro Basil Clement, played their parts superbly, showing how much work they must have put into their preparation. The Candidate, Jason Payne, also responded very well to the occasion. The members of Coningsby Lodge gave great support to the three of them, as they have throughout the Mastership of the current Master, and of W Bro Clement, who was Installed into the Chair of the Lodge in 2017. Basil conducted the Candidate round the Lodge in the usual way, the only difference being that he was accompanied by the Senior Deacon, W Bro Kevin Jones, who guided him while Basil guided the Candidate. Other than a couple of slight adjustments to the wording, there were no other changes made to accommodate the visual difficulties of the three main protagonists.
Andy and Basil became friends at the Royal National College for the Blind about 10 years ago. Both were interested in Freemasonry, and although Andy’s grandfather had been a Mason he had died before Andy was born, so neither had a Mason in the family. Basil had made some enquiries and made contact with Coningsby Lodge, and was Initiated in 2012. He brought Andy in the following year.
Andy had met Jason, the Candidate, when both were working for Guide Dogs for the Blind and had taken him to the Hereford Masonic Hall when invited there for the presentation of a cheque from Palladian Lodge. The Master of Palladian Lodge at the time, W Bro Paul Chambers, had nominated the charity for his fundraising efforts during his year in the Chair.
All three are busy with voluntary work, and both Basil and Andy have served as Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees of Herefordshire Vision Links, a local charity dedicated to helping those with visual impairments. Jason continues to volunteer with Guide Dogs for the Blind. All three work with Reach Radio, a local community radio project, which makes great use of Andy’s professional background in sound recording, and his degree from the University of Westminster in Radio Production and Media. You can find out more about this initiative at their website here.
The proceeds of the raffle after the Initiation were donated to Retina UK, which supports people with inherited retinal conditions, which affect both Jason and Andy’s wife Suzanne.
Asked what Freemasonry means to him, Andy said “Freemasonry has given me a place where I can be me. My blindness is not seen first as it is so often when I am in other situations particularly when seeking employment, and more recently when preparing to welcome my baby daughter into the world, concerns were expressed by some medical professionals as to how my wife and I would cope with it all. It can be demoralising and undermine confidence in yourself. I have not come across that in Freemasonry at all, we find ways to work together and make things happen. I consider myself lucky to call such an open minded and accommodating fraternity my Brothers and Friends.”
This is an excellent example of what is best about Freemasonry, with Brethren giving each other great support and friendship. As Director of Ceremonies, W Bro David Hudson, put it “As a Lodge we feel it is essential for all candidates for Initiation to be given a full and enjoyable experience. We have worked hard to ensure that this has been the case for our blind initiates, which has given the existing members a better understanding of the ceremonies and has greatly enhanced the teamwork of the officers participating in the ceremonies.”