By Right Worshipful Brother Ken Clay, Deputy Grand Master
On Sunday, June 24, 2018, Freemasons from throughout New Hampshire gathered at various places of worship to celebrate Saint John’s Sunday. In Portsmouth, 56 Masons formed a procession and marched from William Pitt Tavern – where our Grand Lodge was formed in 1789 – to St. John’s Episcopal Church. There we joined in the Sunday service. The brethren then re-formed and marched back to William Pitt Tavern under the escort of bagpipers.
The History behind the tradition of the Mason’s annual visit to St. John’s Church
At an early date in England, the Masons chose as their patron saints, St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist. The corresponding feast days were chosen by Masons as holidays to be observed by attending a religious service followed by a banquet, and the rest of the day was to be spent in “Brotherly Love and Innocent Mirth.” On Tuesday, June 24, 1755, the members of St. John’s Lodge No. 1 formed a procession from the lodge to Queen’s Chapel where a sermon was preached by The Rev. Arthur Browne, and then the Masons returned to the lodge room to feast and enjoy one another in social conversation.
Starting in 1826 there was a period of time called the Anti-Masonic Era, which caused great upheaval throughout the Eastern United States. Priests and ministers who had been Masons were forced to resign or leave the church and for 47 years the Masons were not invited back to St. John’s Church. However, in 1886 The Rev. Henry Hovey, already a Mason when he arrived in Portsmouth, became Rector of St. John’s and officially invited the Masons back to participate in Sunday services once a year during the week of the Feast of St. John the Baptist. After Fr. Hovey’s death in 1909, there was another hiatus until The Rev. Nelson Kellogg, also a Mason, became Rector in 1916. Although Fr. Kellogg was not affiliated with St. John’s Lodge, he did extend the invitation to the Masons to renew their annual visit to the church. The Masons accepted the invitation and from 1916 have returned every year since.