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Peppercorn ceremony draws Freemasons from US, UK and Canada

Close to 100 Freemasons flew to Bermuda this week to attend the Peppercorn Ceremony in St George’s tomorrow to boost the ranks of Lodge St George.

Immediate Past Master of the #200 Lodge St George of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, Martin Weekes, said the arrivals this year have doubled.

And plans are underway to a charter a cruise ship to bring fellow members in for the 200th ceremony in 2016.

The ceremony is unique to Bermuda as the lodge housed in the Old State House in the Town Square pays annual rent in the form of a peppercorn. The ceremonial payment has been made annually since 1816 for the oldest stone building in Bermuda.

“This year is likely to be the biggest showing by the Lodge ever; we are expecting 80 lodge members or more,” said Mr Weekes.

“Ten years ago we only paraded with about ten members to the square. This year we’ll have groups from Mecca Shriners in New York City, The Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons from Edinburgh, Scotland, as well as other visiting Freemasons from lodges in England, Scotland and Canada.

“And there’s talk of members booking a charter cruise to Bermuda to attend the 200th ceremony, so we’re expecting hundreds to come in for that event.

“The two biggest groups this year will come from the Grand Chapter in Scotland and New York, some will stay with residents while others will stay at various hotels,” he said.

Lodge St George has formalised a Facebook page dedicated to the Peppercorn Ceremony to boost interest in the event worldwide.

“We’re expecting the 200th ceremony to be huge and we’re looking to get the Department of Tourism involved and we hope the Bermuda Monetary Authority will produce a special commemorative coin.

“Our US members say they’re going to charter a cruise ship to bring in the whole lot and we’re also going to produce a commemorative apron for the event.

“It’s been getting bigger and bigger over the last few years and we’re trying to push the Peppercorn Ceremony to an international level.”

Lodge St George was the first lodge established in Bermuda more than 200 years ago.

To this day the brotherhood evokes widespread speculation on what reallygoes on behind closed doors.

Said Mr Weekes said: “It’s not a secret society, it’s a society with secrets.”

And Lodge leader Mikkel Harris moved to dispel some of the myths.

While there are those who are “a little wary about freemasonry”, he stressed that anyone who wants to know should ask, or do the research.

“People think there’s a lot of evil surrounding it or that it’s a form of devil worshipping and that’s just totally far from the truth,” said Mr Harris.

He also denied the belief that Freemasons are perceived to be the real power players behind the scenes over and above political parties and leaders.

“People say we can commit crimes and get away with it with the ring, but that’s totally not true.

“If a member does anything contrary to our obligation or to our laws then we take disciplinary action and if you commit any sort of crime then you know you have to be dealt with.

“But I will admit there’s still a stigma attached to being a Freemason; you will always have that stigmatism so I don’t get mad when I hear anything like that. But research will show that perhaps we’re not as bad as some people think.”

Membership peaked worldwide during the Second World War but dwindled over the years but that started to change in recent years with a resurgence in membership by young members.

The lull was attributed to the generation gap between grandfathers whose sons who did not pick up the mantle but their grandchildren are joining the ranks.

Mr Harris noted that Lodge St George has a host of young members who will join visiting colleagues for breakfast at the State House early tomorrow before the ceremony.

And he was hopeful the event, which starts at 11am will draw a large crowd to help boost the coffers of struggling businesses.

“St George’s is really quiet and this ceremony is probably the only thing that will bring large numbers of people to the east end for a walkabout,” he said.

Mr Weekes added: “If we bring in a shipload of people for this event to visit in 2016 that’s got to be a good thing as well. This is the only place in the world where a lodge pays one peppercorn a year for rent.

He also noted that Mr Harris was first black Bermudian to be iniated in Lodge St George to become its Master in the history of Freemasonry in Bermuda.

Bermuda is also the only country where there is no fellow branch for women, as the Eastern Stars died off with ageing members.

But there’s an open invitation to start up another women’s lodge if a request is put in writing and sent off to the relevant parties in England, Scotland or Ireland.

Mikkel Harris and Martin Weekes (Photo by Mark Tatem)

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Published April 22, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated April 22, 2013 at 11:15 pm)

Peppercorn ceremony draws Freemasons from US, UK and Canada

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