By the late 1980s The Grand Priory of Ukraine-Ruthenia of the Order of St Lazarus had established a strong presence in the USA and Canada and a minor presence in England and Wales and certain European Countries. The Grand Priory was formed and organised by the Ukraine Autocephalous Orthodox Church in the USA. During the mid-1990s selected individuals in the UK were invited to join using a process similar to that employed in the British honours system. Members joined at a rank depending on their contribution to the community, with particular reference to Health in the public, private and voluntary sector. The UK Commandery grew steadily during the late 1990s and membership reached about 100. Membership included six Knights Bachelor (4 NHS Regional Chairmen, the Chairman of BUPA, and the past President of the Royal College of Anaesthetics), Dame Barbara Cartland and the Bishop of Penrith. Members were obliged to purchase their own insignia and mantles but, unlike members of the Paris and Malta Obediences, no oblations or passage fees were required. All members were, however, expected to support the St Lazarus Charity for Medical Research. There was a single Commander, Dr A.G. Thompson, and a small executive committee.
Towards the end of 2000 the Commander was approached by the then Secretary-General of the Grand Priory of England & Wales to see if members of the UK Commandery of the Grand Priory of Ukraine-Ruthenia would consider transferring to the Paris Obedience at the same rank they currently held. All members received a personal invitation and about 40 agreed to transfer. Unfortunately, a number of members held senior management positions in the NHS, and, upon one of these seeking advice from the Chief Executive of the NHS before making a decision, he was informed that “...it would be inappropriate for any civil servant to be a member of an Order not recognised by the Crown.” The members concerned decided to accept this advice.
In April 2001 The Grand Priory of England & Wales arranged a special Investiture at the Priory Church, Lancaster to transfer the members from Ukraine-Ruthenia. Several senior serving members of the Order who lived locally were asked to assist in the organisation of this event which took place in the Spring of 2002. The Bailiff of the Grand Priory then asked a small group of members to consider the formation of a new commandery for those who lived in North Lancashire, Merseyside and Cumbria. On 24th June 2002 a small group of members approved by the Bailiff to become the first officers of the new Commandery met and the name "Cumbria" was chosen, bank accounts opened and arrangements made for a Grand Priory Investiture to be held at the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Kirkby Lonsdale, in September 2002. The Grand Priory decided it would be appropriate for the Cumbria Commandery to act as host because of its local knowledge. The officers were Dr A.G. Thompson, Commander, Mr H.M. Booth, Deputy Commander, The Reverend Canon Graham Bettridge, Chaplain, Dr W.G. Staff, Hospitaller, Professor Edward Parker, and Mrs I.L. Thompson as Recorder.
A second Investiture took place at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Kirkby Lonsdale in September 2003, again with Cumbria Commandery acting as host.
The third Investiture hosted by Cumbria was at Stonyhurst College, Hurst Green, on 6th and 7th May 2005. The Vigil took place in the Boys’ Chapel on the Friday night and the Investiture in the beautiful Church of St Peter on the college campus on the Saturday. About 120 people attended the Investiture.
Since Cumbria Commandery was formed members have raised over £36,000 in cash, while surplus medical equipment and supplies with an estimated value of £30,000 have been collected and delivered by the Bosnia Aid Relief Fund (BARF) to Bosnia.
The Feast of St Lazarus has been celebrated at a date nearest to 15th December each year since 2002 at St Michael & All Angels Church, Beetham, South Cumbria. This has become an important yearly event for members and their families and guests.
H.E. Chevalier Dr Geoffrey Thompson OBE, OStJ, GCLJ, GOMLJ, DL
Commanders of Cumbria Commandery
2002 – 2006 H.E. Chevalier Dr Geoffrey Thompson, GCLJ
2006 – 2009 Dame Margaret McCaldin, DLJ
2009 – 2012 Chevalier Barry Uttley, KCLJ