My (rough) Masonic ride
Editors note: This piece was written by a friend and Brother of mine for almost two decades. His purpose for writing this piece was not to point fingers, or criticize anyone or even to slander his Grand Lodge. The Brother just felt that maybe his experience might resonate with newer Brothers and let them know they aren’t alone. Lots of men have had a route start when they took their first upright, level step on their Masonic journey.
After much time, study and edition he was able to navigate the waters and become a just and upright Mason and became well respected in our hometown. Please don’t read his words and think he is eying to criticize or destroy anything. Try to look at it through his eyes and maybe see some of the things we as Fraternity can do keep new Brethren from experiencing the same issues. (Who knows. It might even explain some reasons why the men we raise don’t stay a second year.) I am just asking you to read it with an open mind and heart. Maybe he isn’t the only newly obligated Brother to experience it.
I was raised in a small town in Indiana. I didn’t even know that there was a Masonic lodge in my hometown (there was). As a teenager, I noticed my Uncle’s Masonic ring, but when I asked about it I was told that it was a Masonic ring. That was all and the subject was quickly changed.
Fast forward to my early 20’s. I marry a girl with a grandfather Mason and a grandmother that was “high up” in the Eastern Star. They live in Florida and we don’t get to see them often. While visiting one summer, I see my grandfather-in-law’s Masonic ring, and Shrine stuff all over their house. I asked about his Masonic ring, and was told that it was something that Shriners wore. I was then given a description of what Shriners do and how much they help – hospitals, transport, etc. During that time, I was also shown all the cool pictures of grandfather-in-law who was a Shrine Clown. All of the pictures were of him and his buddys, seeming to be having a great time. He had a lot of great stories, and seemed to have a bunch of great friends – kind of a Shrine “family”. Always beer. Lots of beer. I have no problem with beer…. He explained how Shriners/Masons always had each other’s back. How he didn’t worry when his wife was driving somewhere because she had a Square and Compass on her car – if she needed help, a brother would stop to help.
Fast forward to my late 20’s. Wife, kids, job. I hate to admit it, but National Treasure was an awesome movie. Around this time, the GL of Indiana was advertising on TV on the History Channel. The History Channel had some really good shows on Masonry, and one night while watching one of the shows, a GL of Indiana commercial came on. Perfect. This was meant to be!
The commercial had a 1-800 number listed. I promptly called the 800 number, I guess expecting someone to answer at 2am. They didn’t.
Many weeks go by, and I receive a call from a gentleman seemingly out of the blue thanking me for my interest in Masonry. But he said “Masonary”. I said yes, I was interested, could he tell me more? His reply was, “well, first we have to have you fill out an application”. He told me where to go to pick this up (I won’t say, because I’d like him to remain anonymous). I tried several times to arrange a meeting to pick up the application with no success, so I just gave up. A few weeks later, I felt the urge again, and went online and printed an application from the GL website. I also read all about Masonry on their pages and was really excited. Filled it out, and then didn’t know what to do with it. A couple of emails to GL and I received a call from the guy that called before. He totally forgot speaking with me and we went through the process of getting the completed application – and dues, and application fee (remember wife, kids, job?).
I hear nothing, from anyone. I made a call to GL, and was nicely told that someone would get in touch with me.
A few months later, I get a call from a really nice guy who tells me that I need to be “investigated”. Ok, I would expect this. I didn’t expect scheduling conflicts to cause another month in waiting. Finally, I receive a call to be at the Scottish Rite on this date to receive my Master Mason degree.
What? Obviously I had read what info I could online about Masonry, and knew that you didn’t just “go get” your Master Mason degree. Was this some kind of piece of paper that you get? Whatever happened to the “investigating” part?
I immediately called my grandfather-in-law to ask him about this. He is in his late 80’s, and his voice is failing, but I did make out “what the hell are they talking about?” in the conversation. I asked if he could be there for my “Master Mason Degree” and he said he’d love to be there, I just needed to let him know when. I told him it was next month, and I had already saved for a plane ticket for he and grandma to visit. He (in poor speech) said that he didn’t think it was possible. Was this my Fellowcraft degree? I said I don’t think so, they clearly said Master Mason.
Grandpa shows up at the house. The night before my scheduled degree, while I’m shaving, he says “make sure you are wearing clean underwear”. This I understood – his speech did not falter. But I didn’t have a clue why!
7am. Day of the “convocation” or so I’m told. Grandfather and I, dressed up in suits, head into the Scottish Rite. This is the first time I’ve been in the building and it is beautiful. It is packed. Wall to wall guys in suits. There are no signs and no greeters, just lots and lots of people I don’t know. I finally muster up the courage (I hate talking to strangers) to ask someone what to do. I didn’t even really know what to ask, so I just asked where I needed to go. The very nice gentlemen said I needed to go to my Lodge Secretary and he would tell me what to do, and then hurried off. Great. Who is my lodge secretary? I asked another stranger (again, painfully) where I would find my Lodge Secretary. He replied by asking what Lodge I belonged to. My honest reply was “I don’t know”. No one ever mentioned a Lodge name. Grandfather (who is also near hearing-impaired, especially in a noisy crowd) just stood there smiling. The man I asked, directed me over to another guy and he introduced himself to me. He said he was expecting me, and if my sponsor and I would go to this room they would come and get me when necessary.
We go to this room – with no light except a window – and wait. I don’t know what for. Grandfather is still smiling. It seemed like we were there forever. There were a bunch of younger guys also seated in this room, with their sponsors.
We then are directed to the huge auditorium. We sat and watched the Fellowcraft degree. During the degree, at appropriate times, we were taught to stand by the gavel and stand, give dugard and sign, etc. We were asked to do this with our sponsors, and Grandfather and I did so. Except I really couldn’t understand what he was saying. I couldn’t really see the step, and I
only half got the “hand-shake”. Then another strange handshake. Then another word that I couldn’t make out. Then another, and another. Then a nice speech from the Grand Master of Indiana congratulating us on being Master Masons.
Short break for lunch. Lots of congratulations going on, Grandfather smiling less, or to me he looked like he was faking a smile….
Next, “herded” back into the auditorium. Go through Scottish Rite. Extremely enjoyable, and really appreciated all the work that went into this. Beautiful backgrounds, great “acting”, and meaningful work. Grandfather snoring for the last half, but quiet enough I didn’t bother waking him.
Short break for coffee. Herded back into auditorium for sands? What are they talking about? Hot sands? Went through becoming a Shriner. Grandfather awake for all of this, he seemed to enjoy it too.
(At the time of application, I had no idea I was joining Scottish Rite and Shrine. That explained the high cost. I’m not even sure I filled out an application now that I look back.)
Back home, nice visit with grandparents.
Months go by. I am a Master Mason. And a Shriner. And a Scottish Rite Mason. What do I do with this? Finally, rather perturbed that I don’t know what to do, I figure that obviously Masons have meetings, right? I again go online, and use the lodge locator on the website. I find a BUNCH of lodges in my city, but they are all at one address! I finally find a phone number, talked to a really nice guy, and found out that there are several lodges at the SAME PLACE!!! How can this be? More than one “lodge” occupies the same space??? Is there some kind of strange Masonic physics going on here?
A little explanation from the nice guy on the phone tells me that my Lodge meets on this night at this time. This guy is not from my lodge, but is able to look up to see what lodge I belong to.
I go to the meeting, and am greeted by a bunch of really nice guys that are more than helpful. We had a nice dinner before, and then went into the lodge room. Ooops. I guess I should have paid more attention (wait, I DID pay attention) during the degree work. I have no idea what’s going on until we get to the business part. Blah, blah, business. Then we do the stuff I don’t understand again. (I did, however, meet the Secretary that signed me in at the degree work).
I asked the Secretary if he could give me a hand, and my family and I ended up becoming really good friends with him and his wife who was also involved in Eastern Star. They were of grandparent age and had no grandkids, so my kids became their adopted grandkids. This is another story – Jack died just a few years later….
Now I had some ammunition. Jack gave me a copy of our ritual book, and with his help I was able to barely understand some of the opening/closing.
At my third meeting, it was announced that our WM was being deployed to Afghanistan. Our Senior Warden would fill in for him, and we had lost our JW. NO ONE wanted to be JW. I was then elected to that position. I had no idea. Not a clue. I could barely get into a Lodge, and could probably not pass through a rigorous examination.
I went to the internet. I found written ritual books that a brother had acquired. I scoured and took it upon myself to learn and I was doing pretty well for my extremely limited experience (remember wife, kids, job, etc.?).
Then another ball drops on the Lodge. The acting WM, the official SW, decides to leave for the rest of the year to go on a humanitarian mission. This somehow puts me (now the elected SW) into the Master’s chair.
I’m doing pretty good. I’m (almost) able to open and close without messing up too bad. Thank God no candidates went through the Lodge!! Then we get to Lodge of Inspection as it was called then. Our Inspector came in and I explained what all went on, and why a “one-day-class-Mason” with about a year’s experience was in the East. He seemed to understand, but forced me to do all the lectures. I told him I couldn’t. He told me that it was required. I understand. I pulled out my ritual book and proceeded to read from it. Obviously, our Inspector – Mr. Inquisitor – had a problem with this. He completed his scathing remarks on our grade sheet and left. At dinner afterwards, our area GL rep asked to see my book. I won’t name him, simply because he is now or has been a GL officer. A couple of months later, I heard – through the grapevine – that this “brother” was having me brought up on Masonic charges for having a copy of the ritual. That was given to me. By a Grand Lodge officer. In a tyled Lodge room. Nothing ever came of this, except my distrust of some of my “brothers”….
This Lodge was a mess. It barely ever had enough brothers present to open. I found out that most of the other lodges in this building were in the same shape. I had mentioned that we should consolidate with some other lodge, and was told that this would NEVER happen because brother A did this and brother B did that and that we would not ever go to brother C, because, well, you know about brother C!!!! This group hates this group, this group never does anything, this group only wants to do this, this group is just lazy, this group, etc, etc, etc.
The building that the lodges were located was in desperate need of repair and updating. No air conditioning, enormous heating bills, antique/outdated elevators, etc. We’re talking elevators with open switches that spark like a bad Frankenstein movie. I got involved with the Trustees for the building, thinking I would help save the building. Grand idea. Too grand of an idea. I sat through many meetings of “brothers” cursing at one another, “brothers” backstabbing, lieing,
and doing whatever necessary to promote their agenda. I quit. I’d had enough. I wanted to be a brother, not a politician. I wanted being a brother to MEAN SOMETHING.
(During this time, I went to a couple of Shrine meetings, but it just didn’t seem to be the thing for me. I have great appreciation for the Shrine, don’t get me wrong. If I had more time, I’d probably go back. I also joined the York Rite during this time. Awesome degree work, and really explained a lot of things I feel I should have known during my Blue Lodge degree work. Unfortunately, I tried to get more involved in York Rite, but I will admit that I overestimated the amount of time I had available and probably committed to things I shouldn’t have. Lesson learned. Hopefully once my life slows down I can go back to York Rite!!!)
I left this lodge and joined another that was not in this building. There, I dedicated myself to the work and did my best. I went through the chairs, and was elected Master. I had a great deal of fun, made a lot of friends, and got a lot out of Masonry.
Last year, I had the honor of raising my son as a Master Mason. In a lodge. The RIGHT way. I made him learn the work. I did not, however, over-inflate Masonry to him. I want him to make of it what he puts into it, and I want him to appreciate it for what it is.
I have travelled extensively around the country, and find that certain parts of the country take Masonry MUCH more seriously than our area. I like that. I like tradition and I like the ceremony. I like helping people, and I like the comradery of the fraternity. I learned a lot over the years and hope to continue to learn. I don’t wish for anyone to interpret this writing to disparage anything in Masonry. I do hope that this article offers some of what NOT to do, especially when bringing in new Masons. I made LOTS of mistakes along the way as well. It is not possible to have an organization like this without some bad people, but I guess I could have “tried harder” at times. I probably got caught up in the brother A did this and brother B did that as well – and that was wrong. I over-extended myself numerous times. I’m not as active as I want to be, but hope to be much more active when I retire. I have regrets about my own doings.
I don’t, however, ever regret becoming a Mason.
UPDATED: The Catholic church made me choose, and they won. I have demitted from Lodge, but hopefully can come back soon. I hate that I had to choose, but I will respect my obligation, including the obligation to my family.
And I still don’t regret becoming a Mason!!!