Rev William Anderson was elected as the sovereign grand master of the Imperial Grand Black Chapter earlier this month. In his first in-depth interview, the retiring minister sets out his priorities, and outlines his thinking, as the new leader of the Loyal Institution.
Just over one week into your new role, how does it feel to be sovereign grand master?
I suppose one could say my feet haven’t hit the ground yet! But I am delighted to be in the role and I’m looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead.
Did you have aspirations to rise to such high office when you first joined?
I never thought I would reach such dizzy heights. I was always prepared to work at whatever level I found myself at. Since joining the order in 1973 I have worked at all levels – preceptory, district, county and Imperial – never thinking such an honour would come to me.
Have your family always been involved in the loyal orders?
My family is steeped is in the loyal orders. My brothers, son, and grandson are all involved. My abiding memory is my mother getting seven children ready on the Twelfth morning to be out on the day. It was never an easy task, but she always managed it.
What are your first memories as a sir knight?
It would be going into a hall of men all sitting dubious and wondering who this person is entering the room. But later making friends with a lot of those individuals.
How important is the institution to you and what role does it play in your life?
If it weren’t for the institution I don’t think I would be in ministry. Sitting listening to men reading scripture and enacting out pieces of scripture was very challenging to me as a young person.
It sets out the whole scope of life, from birth to death, and from that we learn how to apply faith properly in our life.
Is your faith the most important element?
Yes, it is – and it is an important aspect of the institution, which I want to really highlight going forward. It will be one of my key elements.
Do you think the Royal Black remains relevant in the 21st century?
There are a lot of people who would say no, but I say yes. That is because it stands for the Reformed Faith – and the Reformed Faith must always be defended and propagated and encouraged in other people. That is what we do.
Some people see us as a solitary parading organisation – I don’t – I see us as an organisation that encourages people to consider their Christian faith and to apply that faith in everyday situations.
What would you say to those who say the Royal Black, and the loyal orders, are out-of-date and lag behind public opinion?
The challenge for church, and organisations like ourselves, is the secularisation of society today. But that doesn’t mean it is a good thing.
People can have different opinions, and people are entitled to hold an opinion – we have got to encourage others to be strong in holding their opinion and not to be swayed by secularism.
How will you seek to lead the organisation?
I want to set a vision for the organisation. I would love to change it from an organisation to a movement, to encourage people in their faith; instruct them; allowing them to build a strong foundation of their faith.
We need to set a course, steady the ship, and go forward on that course together. People need a route map and the institution has got to provide the ways and means to do it.
What will be your priorities as leader?
My priority will be setting that vision for the institution – understanding how we can improve the institution’s image and how it can support our churches in the work they are doing. It is important the institution flies the flag for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As well as improving our recruitment, we’ve also got to reinvigorate our membership.
How significant is the development of the new headquarters?
I’m really excited about the future. Whilst we have been established tenants at Brownlow House, there comes a time to move on, and we feel now is that time. The institution will benefit greatly from the move to Loughgall, which of course is steeped in Orangeism, and we will be part of that going forward. Our planned interpretative centre will also open up the organisation to the wider community to learn more about our heritage.
Have you always been a Church of Ireland minister?
I came into ministry late in life. I was a banker for 30 years before training to be a minister in Dublin and ending up in my only parishes of Tullanisken and Clonoe (before retiring yesterday).
How much are you looking forward to your first Sham Fight as sovereign grand master?
I am really looking forward to it – just in case the result changes! I have attended it for many years, both as a spectator and a participant in the procession. The pageantry is wonderful and a unique event that people from all over the world should come and see and be part of. Hopefully the tens of thousands attending again will go away uplifted and encouraged.
Where will you attend the Last Saturday later this summer?
I will be spending the day in Cookstown. I am looking forward to it. My own preceptory and district will be there which will give it an added personal significance.
Do you have any hobbies?
I used to love gardening, but I just don’t have the time. When I do, I like to read and listen to music.
Your favourite book?
It has got to be God’s Word. I read it every day.
To God Be The Glory.
When are you at your happiest?
On a Sunday afternoon with the grandchildren. There is noise in the house and they are making a mess – and enjoying making demands of their grandparents!
If you were holding a dinner party, what three people would you invite and why?
I think I would love to have Her Majesty The Queen for dinner. Just to have an in-depth conversation about what it is like to live life in the ‘goldfish bowl’ would be very interesting.
My wife, Betty, would be another, as without her I can do nothing!
Without being specific, my third guest would be a distinguished writer who could explain scripture and how they relate it to their everyday life.
I think that would be wonderful dinner party.