I often talk to Masons from many different areas who, after a number of years of attending Lodge, slowly stop coming. They tell me that they do the same thing over and over again. They say they grow bored and everything after awhile seems stale. Their meetings consist of either business meetings where they read the minutes, pay the bills, go over any correspondence and schedule any events or fundraisers, or the performance of a degree if they have any candidates. And that is all they ever do. I once had a prominent Canadian Mason and friend tell me that was what Masonry consisted of – the ritual which is self explanatory, and the business of the Lodge so that it could continue to put on degrees. That was it, which was what the Lodge was there to do, that and nothing else.
But this is precisely the reason Masonry is dying out. The Old Farts and The Past Bastards are crippling the Fraternity by holding it back, by not letting it be all it can be. There was a time when Masonry was imbued with grandeur and pomp and circumstance. Great gatherings of the Craft brought Brotherly Love & Affection to peak excitement. Those experiences seem to have been forgotten and Lodges seem to have evolved into the practice of the mundane. Perhaps it was the lack of young blood infusing our Lodges thereby resulting in Lodges filled with retired men with retirement attitudes. Perhaps it is because of dwindling membership, and drafty old Lodge buildings which are so expensive to operate and maintain in today’s economy or maybe because we seek to do things on the cheap, that we are stuck in a rut, a place where inventiveness and diversity no longer exist.
When I became a Mason and after I had gotten my feet wet and my wits about me, after looking around at what was being passed off as the practice of Masonry, I vowed that I was never going let my practice of Masonry be limited, stale and boring.
So first I set out to put into practice in my personal Masonic life some special ways of celebrating the Craft. I joined my Lodge’s Colonial Degree Team which performed the second and third sections of the third degree in colonial costume of the 1700s and after the degree added a patriotic message with a talk by the Degree Team Historian about the American flag and the sacrifice of Revolutionary War Masons. We marched into Lodge to the beat of our drummer, flag bearers carrying two flags, the Betsy Ross American Flag and the Degree Team flag. During the Historian’s talk we were all asked to stand and identify ourselves, each of us having taken the name of a prominent Revolutionary War Mason. We described that Mason’s place in history and what Lodge and jurisdiction he came from. I chose as my Colonial Degree name one William Munroe who came from the town I grew up in, Lexington, Massachusetts. It was here that the first battle of the Revolutionary War was fought and where in the early morning hours of April 19, 1775 Paul Revere rode into town exclaiming – “The British are coming”. There to meet him in the middle of the night was Brother William Munroe, Sergeant in The Lexington Minutemen, posted on an all night vigil. The Patriots gathered at the Buckman Tavern which still stands today and where my mother acted as weekend tour guide when I was a young boy. Later William Munore would be the Master of Lexington’s first Masonic Lodge. For years I performed the Masonic charge for this Degree Team.
Years later I was to add another important vehicle for the personal celebration of Masonry in my Masonic life. I was invited to become part of a group of Masonic players who performed the Carl Claudy play, “A Rose Upon The Altar” to Masonic and general public audiences. The Director of The Masonic players many years previous had petitioned the Grand Master to let the play be done before the general public by eliminating from it the Masonic modes of recognition. This play was usually performed by the Scottish Rite before Masonic audiences only. Now with the Grand Master’s permission we became the only Blue Lodge Masons performing A Rose Upon The Altar and the only one doing so before the general public. I took one of the leading parts in the character of Squire Bentley and thus was born my use of this name as a pseudonym thereafter.
Having spiced up my personal Masonic life with these additions, I set out to do the same in my tenure as Master of my Lodge which supported a two year line. One of the first celebrating events was organized by the District Deputy. The entire eight Lodges of the District were to perform an outdoor degree in the woods of our fifty acre Masonic Home grounds. There away from everything at the bottom of a hill a clearing had been made and stone stations and a stone altar permanently put in place. I will long remember my first look at the Secretary’s desk which was this long slab of imperfect rock with a stone seat. At the top of the hill we fashioned the door to the Lodge room by a cowhide stretched between two trees. The door knocker was a cow bell. That day we raised five Masons to the sublime degree of Master Mason and the Grand Master came to participate. We were all dressed in tuxes and adorned with full regalia. I performed the Third Degree Emblems lecture. What an inspiring time!! Later I was to attend a neighboring Lodge’s Communication aboard a mothballed WWII Heavy Cruiser anchored in a harbor as a tourist memorial. The two guides that manned the ship for this closed to the public gathering were both Masons employed by the National Parks Department. Now what can be more interesting than holding your Masonic meeting at some unusual venue?
One day at home I received a call from my church’s oldest member. She was selling her house which had been in her family for generations, packing up and moving to Assisted Living Quarters. In cleaning out the basement she found an old Masonic Diploma from pre Civil War 1800s which she asked me to come over and take into my possession. This ancient document was issued by a Lodge in the neighboring state of Connecticut. Tracking down the secretary of the Lodge, I suggested that I come out with a delegation from my Lodge and return this Masonic document back from whence it had originated. So the following month off we went with a van full of Brothers to not only present this diploma back to the issuing Lodge but to meet new friends and break bread together. Six months later we would return with The Colonial Degree Team for a historic performance with Connecticut’s junior Past Grand Master and three District Deputies present.
In my first year as Master I brought the Colonial Degree Team to the Lodge in Lexington, Massachusetts for a performance. What better place to celebrate Masonry than in the place where our separation into a free country started and on the very ground that Paul Revere had once ridden into town. But this was not going to be just any usual performance of the Degree Team. We brought together three Lodges, with their principle officers and a District Deputy presiding. And after the degree we retired to the dining room for a tri Table Lodge where a seven course meal and seven toasts made for hours of great camaraderie. We started at 4:00 PM on a Saturday and finished at 11:00 PM and there were more than one hundred Masons in attendance that night.
Soon after at our Ladies night in the Lodge I and my talented wife and a team of Brothers and wives decorated the Lodge. I booked an all women’s Barbershop Harmony Chorus of around twenty five members to perform the entertainment. After a delicious catered meal we all enjoyed about two hours of beautiful music and fine family Masonic togetherness.
There were two important new ideas that I instituted as Master. We published and mailed out a well laid out and presentable Lodge Notice or Summons. In addition to adding many Masonic stories and tidbits to the Notice I also started a page about our newest Master Masons, one by one printing their picture and answers to questions about their likes, dislikes and their vision. At Lodge meetings, as I would be presiding at the turn of the Century, I had the Secretary read the minutes of exactly one hundred years ago. The first one read was from November 1898 and that Communication was a fraternal visit from the District Deputy where there were in attendance that night 397 Masons.
While my Lodge had a Degree Team, that did not stop me from inviting in another Degree Team. So at a third degree the Kilwinning Degree Team, a Scottish Team performing with bagpipes with all dressed in kilts and Scottish wear performed. We packed the Lodge full that night to see this wonderful performance and when at the end all the members of the Team gathered in a circle around the altar holding hands and singing Auld Lang Sine, you hardly could see a dry eye.
The best time as a Mason I had in my Lodge was when I organized a Masonic Roast a la Dean Martin style for our most beloved Past Master. He was the Don Rickles of Masonry and was forever able to stick it to you with brotherly love and affection. As a member of all eight Lodges in the Masonic District he was the most well known, respected and revered Mason of that region. I opened it up to all the Brethren of the District and their wives and made it a surprise for him. All of his family attended and again we packed the Lodge dining room. After a catered meal we started in on him. We roasted him up one side and down the other. I laughed so hard my side hurt. At the end was the speech made by his best friend and then he himself spoke last. He was overwhelmed that somebody would do this for him and the laughter soon turned to tears, not of sorrow but of love and appreciation. I will never forget that night. My eyes water as I write this. Two years later this beloved man joined The Celestial Lodge Above.
Now my two years as Master was over. I thought, well the Celebrations will slow down quite a bit now. I was so wrong. While I was Master I was working on getting an invitation for The Colonial Degree Team to perform in my wife’s hometown in Indiana. It would require some financial help on the other end, permission from two Grand Lodges, and a lot of logistics to be worked out. The Master of the Indiana Lodge was very enthusiastic about bringing us out there but he just couldn’t make it happen. After more than a year of negotiations and trying I departed the East with this being a dead issue. Then all of a sudden a new Master came into the picture and he picked up the torch and after another year of preparations he made it happen. So five weeks after 9/11 about twenty of us were on a plane to Indiana. Our plan was to fly in Friday afternoon and fly out Sunday afternoon. The Indiana Lodge was to board and feed us, we were to pay our own air fare. We breeched our first roadblock by getting permission from both Grand Lodges to perform Massachusetts ritual in Indiana. A Past Grand Master of Indiana who was a member of this local Lodge met us at the airport in Indianapolis some 75 miles away with a van packed in the back with bedding. We were transported to a Shrine Club where we had a Friday night dinner and then to our place of Boarding, the state DeMolay chalet about ten miles outside the town where we were to perform. The chalet was two stories with a wrap around deck. The first floor had six bedrooms each with two double deck bunks and bathroom and showers. The second floor was living area with a living/dining room, kitchen and bath. When we opened up the refrigerator there was a case of beer there for us. Saturday the van picked us up for breakfast at the Lodge, everything you could think of including biscuits and gravy. Then we had a guided tour of the area in the van. Saturday night we performed the degree after dinner at the Lodge. After a super performance before a packed house we all went out to an Irish Pub. There we made some truly heartfelt Masonic bonding. Sunday it was back to the Lodge for breakfast before we were driven back to the airport. We had a really wonderful time, exchanged gifts and made some lasting friends.
Again I thought that this had to be the top of my Masonic celebrations. Nothing else big was going to come along. I was a Past Master now and slowing down. No sooner did I get relaxed and comfortable then I got a call that A Rose Upon The Altar was going to be given at a very special performance. The Masonic District south of me had an exchange program going with an English Lodge. They and their wives had already been over to England for a week’s visit. Now the English were coming here with their wives. The gala celebration was to last the whole weekend. We would perform the play Friday night for them and anybody and everybody who would like to come. Saturday morning they would do an English degree for any Master Masons and Saturday afternoon a DeMolay Chapter would do the DeMolay Degree for them. Then we would all gather for a huge Saturday night dinner. Sunday morning we would all gather again for breakfast before sending them off. Everything went as planned and it was an event I will long remember, reminding me of the universalism of Freemasonry. It bought back to memory another time not mentioned. When I was Senior Warden the Colonial Degree Team went to Maine and Brothers I had met on a worldwide Masonic Internet Forum came to watch, one from Maine, two from Ohio and one from India. It was very special to meet a Brother from half way around the other side of the world and to hear how Freemasonry is practiced in India. The two Brothers from Ohio also came to see the English Masons and to witness a Rose Upon The Altar. Again bonds of lasting friendship can be made in this Fraternity and in celebrating one’s Masonry doors open up for long lasting friendship and fellowship.
Just as I was beginning to enjoy life as a Past Master a dramatic event in my life changed everything. My wife and I decided that it was time to sell our house and move south. The market forces were just right and we would probably never get as much for our house as we could at that time. So here today, gone tomorrow. We upped and moved 2000 miles away. Finding new work, new doctors, new churches, new dentists, new car repair people was bad enough. Getting acclimated to Southern Masonry was not quite so easy.
While working my way into Lodge life in the South I had also continued my involvement with Internet Masonry becoming a Moderator on a Masonic Forum and writing a regular column for Masonic Magazine. One day I was amazed to find that I was invited to an all expenses paid speaking tour of Alberta Canada. While I have been avoiding dropping names in this message I cannot help but mention the over the top great hospitality of Brothers John Hayes and Stephen Dafoe. They are the ones who made that trip possible and who boarded and fed me and my wife, and drove us everywhere seeing the beautiful land of Alberta. I addressed three Lodges, one in Jasper Mountain National Park and another in Hinton where my address was taped by a TV camera. In Edmonton there was a special Festive Board at a very nice restaurant where I spoke to the Brethren after Lodge. We had a really great dinner, a great crowd and long afterwards we hoisted a few to the brotherly love and affection of Masons everywhere. I wrote two long papers for the occasion, “World Peace Through Brotherhood” and “Native American Rituals and The Influence of Freemasonry.” Both papers can be read on www.phoenixmasonry.org When I delivered the Native American paper I played a CD of Carlos Nakai we had brought with us and afterwards with the help of the Brethren present we reenacted a Native American Indian ceremony. The people, the places and the Masonic brotherly love and affection are memories which will last me a lifetime. Every celebration of Masonry just seemed to be getting bigger and better. When you set your mind to revel in the greatness of the Craft there is no telling to what great height you shall be taken.
Back home again I was having great misgivings with my Southern Mainstream Grand Lodge, so much so that I soon demitted and joined Prince Hall. So I took a turn at the fork in the road and now new experiences were awaiting me. I figured this to be a time of learning and adjustment and not of any big Masonic celebrations. How wrong I was. It just seemed that I didn’t have to go looking for it anymore it came to me.
I wrote my last two columns for the closing Masonic Magazine. But they were two of my most interesting pieces and ones I needed a lot of editorial help with. The first was an interview with my Prince Hall Grand Master. I went to the organization of a new Lodge where the Grand Master officiated and afterwards we sat down for a long quiet talk. I had an instant great affection for this wonderful man which would soon lead to things I had not envisioned. The last paper was an interview with the Secretary and the leader of the Oklahoma Masonic Indian Degree Team. I travelled to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma to interview them both and that was just an amazing time. I left with a great appreciation for Native American history and what these Brothers were doing for the spread of Brotherly love and affection over a wide area.
Back home enjoying local Lodge life, I stepped into the office of Chaplain. One day I got a message from the Grand Master. Would I address the next session of Grand Lodge and what would I like to talk about? I wrote and delivered a too long paper entitled “What Really Makes a Successful Lodge” also available on www.phoenixmasonry.org But the highlight was the Grand Raising of 81 Master Masons. This was not a One Day Class. All Brethren had received their First and Second Degrees at their local Lodges and had passed their first two proficiencies. This was a Third Degree where each and every one was raised by the Grand Master. There was around four hundred of us attending that Grand Session. After the raising I gave the charge to all 81 new Master Masons, the Canadian Charge as it is known where I come from. Now I had done the charge many times before but never before so many at one time. You could hear a pin drop as I spoke and I was riding on pins and needles for weeks afterwards. I celebrated Masonry and passed that celebration on to many, many more.
Now you go and do likewise.
This story is all about me. It has to be. Nobody knows me better than I, myself. I don’t know about you and how you have celebrated Masonry. I don’t know anything about you. So please pass on some comments on how you have celebrated Masonry and what has inspired you in your Masonic life. I am eager to hear all about you!