Alice, Wiley and I were at Masonic Week in Alexandria, Virginia last week. It's always an amazing gathering of brethren - old and new friends, alike. Many, many thanks to everyone who stopped by the table and chatted.
I had started a long description of the event, when I came across WBro. Jay Hochberg's description of the festivities on the Masonic Light Yahoo Group. He managed to get to far more events and secret parties than I did, so with his kind permission, I reprint his report here.
Masonic Week (one man’s opinion) by Jay Hochberg
A truly wonderful weekend! It's the "perfect storm" of fraternity: Simultaneously I'm in the company of familiar New Jersey and New York Masons who I get to see pretty frequently in normal circumstances; then there are those from elsewhere in the country I only get to see once in a while; and then there's the chance to meet longtime penpals and others for the first time. The "perfect storm" is having members of all three groups in one hospitality suite... teaching MW Frank Haas how to safely drink absinthe!
It really was a weekend of singular occurrences like that. But if there was a theme unifying the spirit of the event, I suppose that theme would be "change." Perhaps it's the vapid rhetoric of our country's current presidential election season, in which "change" is the hollow mantra, but in many a conversation among brethren who hadn't even necessarily met before, "change" was on many lips.
It's hard to reconcile the two realities: Here we had very active Masons from many jurisdictions sharing their firsthand experiences in how their lodges are transforming. Though thousands of miles apart in some cases, the brethren were oddly in sync with the ideas of "Laudable Pursuit" or the Masonic Restoration Foundation or whatever clearing house of ideas that evidently is fueling renewal in Freemasonry in the United States. On the other hand, we're all floating in an ocean of old white guys bedecked in the colorful regalia of unusual little Masonic orders that the average Mason will never hear of, but who themselves seemed only slightly aware. Reflecting on the sight of many men in their scarlet gowns of Masonic Rosicrucianism, one experienced brother whose judgment is unquestionable noted how he didn't see any actual Rosicrucianism. But then of course that's emblematic of what need be changed.
I checked in late Thursday afternoon, just in time to clean myself up and get to Gadsby's Tavern for a very special dinner: The Annual Feast and Forum of the Knights of the North! Actually that's just the jokey name for it. The dinner was arranged by the Master and Wardens of a very historic lodge in the area who invited six KOTNs and several others for a very fine meal and discussion on where all this "change" in Masonry is headed.
I'll have to be a politician and not reveal details of this meeting, so I won't say more, except to sing the praises of Gadsby's Tavern. Really superb food and service in an atmosphere that is warmly embracing. You don't get the feeling you're in a historic place as much as you feel like you're part of ongoing history. It ain't cheap, but definitely worth it. The building is the site where George Washington's lodge met. Beautiful neighborhood too.
After dinner, a return to the hotel was fortuitously timed. We stepped out of the Dummiesmobile to be greeted by the tolling of what must have been hundreds of church bells. Clanging, bonging, gonging, thundering church bells! I imagine Paris must have been like that in the summer of '44.
Okay, that's merely the way my imagination remembers it. What really happened was we bumped into an officer of a certain self-described Masonic research society, who informed us that change (there's that word again!) was in the works for this society. The hope is to bring the society back from the dead by welcoming the long overdue retirements of several of its leaders, returning the society to its stated mission of researching and educating, and ending the political incompetence that resulted in the society actually being banned from both AMD Weekend and the hotel itself. But that's just me editorializing. I used to be a respectful member of this society, so it is hard to be dispassionate.
(And no, this is not a green light to discuss this troubled nameless society here, so please refrain.)
Friday, Feb. 8
The Grand Council of Knight Masons held its annual meeting with Great Chief's Council "0" doing its thing too. It was a pleasure witnessing the initiations of a new class. There's no substitute for receiving the degrees in your own council, but sometimes you have to take what's available. Congratulations to our very own Glen Cook and Bill Thomas, our new cousins!
At the 64th Annual Consistory of the Society of Blue Friars, an organization of Masonic authors, Grand Abbot Brent Morris opened the meeting and introduced the newest member: Gary H. Leazer of Georgia, Friar No. 97.
Bro. Leazer is probably the foremost authority on the subject of Freemasonry's rocky relationship with some Protestant denominations in the United States. Once a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention, he had been tapped by the elders to define Freemasonry and explain its compatibility with Christianity for the benefit of the congregation. When his report found no Masonic incompatibility with the faith, he was relieved of his responsibilities. I wonder where they stand on heliocentricity.
(The Grand Abbot happened to mention how the Mt. Vernon historical site will open an exhibit in 2011 that'll spotlight the role of Freemasonry in Washington's life. This is significant because Mt. Vernon is a public venue, and not a Craft venue.)
Then it was time for Sister Janet's 12th annual luncheon! For better or worse the only place to eat in or anywhere near the hotel is the Finn & Porter Restaurant. Very good food, but because the hotel is isolated in a corporate campus type of environment with no other commercial activity in convenient proximity, the Finn & Porter is your only choice without driving somewhere. And they realize this: pretty small portions and New York City prices. But very good food, for the most part, and a great atmosphere. (I had the "fish and chips": one piece of tilapia with four steak fries. I think next time I'll pull a Robert Benchley and have the scrambled eggs.)
As reported earlier, it took a while to get everyone seated, but there was a good sized ML contingent plus a number of others. I'll refer you to Janet's post of Friday evening.
I think it was at this lunch when MWBro. Glen Cook, Grand Master of Utah, kind of became the unheralded star of the weekend. Sorry to put you on the spot Glen, but for a great many of us, Masonic reformation is in the "think tank" stage, so if we were staring at you like slack-jawed idiots while you described the many improvements you're introducing to your jurisdiction....
Remember the scene in "2001" when the apes learned how to "work with tools?" It was that kind of a moment for some of us.
But even this doesn't tell the whole story, and it ain't my place to tell the whole story neither. Glen, if you wish, the floor is yours.
Later in the day it was finally time for an AMD meeting. None of the degrees were worked this year, but a number of qualifying ceremonies were held. Bill Thomas and Chris Hodapp and the rest of the class are now Installed Masters of St. Lawrence the Martyr, Installed Supreme Rulers of the Secret Monitor, and Installed Commanders Noah of Royal Ark Mariners. So if you choose to wear all that bling, you're more entitled than most.
Surprising myself, I made that the final meeting of my day. There were more on the schedule, to be sure, but I was having more fun socializing. (Couldn't find a place to smoke though.) At my only previous AMD Weekend (2002), I made every effort to attend all the meetings I could because I thought that's where the action is. (What can I say? I was less experienced.)
This time I realized the mortar really is mixed and spread amid private conversations in the hotel rooms. Eventually a group of us wandered into a hospitality suite just in time to see Alton Roundtree and Paul Bessel being interviewed on camera to discuss their new book, titled http://bessel.org/phbook.htm">"Out of the Shadows."
It was a very smooth interview. You'd think these guys had been in the limelight for decades, the way they fielded the questions and gave very polished answers. That means they have mastered their subject. (I used to be in public relations, so I know these things.)
What do Trevor Stewart, the St. John's AYM delegation, KOFU's Dave Daughtry, Ted Hogan, David Lindez, one expelled grand master and a bunch of other guys have in common? They were inducted at 12:01 a.m. by Bro. Rashied into the Order of Sleepless Knights! (No dues, no regalia, no ritual and, evidently, no smoking.)
Drink and conversation took us to half past two in the morning. There were various discussions flowing in several directions, but the subject of Masons in America starting their meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance seemed to draw everyone together. Piers Vaughan related how unpleasantly shocked he was when newly arrived in America he encountered our flag salute in open, tiled lodge. They sing "God Save the Queen" back home at Festive Boards, he explained, but nothing of the kind in lodge. We took turns suggesting reasons for this:
• We've always done it that way;
• we started it during the McCarthy era to keep the FBI out of the lodge;
• we started it during the War to keep fascists out of the lodge;
• and finally Ted Hogan came to the rescue and suggested that the history of the U.S. and the history of Masonry in the U.S. are so intertwined that honoring the freedoms that make Masonry possible is a perfectly natural thing to do. (Ted, correct me if I didn't get that right.)
A round table discussion ensued touching on the role of nationalism in various parts of the Masonic world. My memory gets kind of fuzzy here. Someone mentioned the Rumanian Stasi. I blamed something on Charles DeGaulle. It was getting late.
MW Frank Haas, the former Past Grand Master of West Virginia, was intrigued by the enigmatic bottle of absinthe on the bar. He really ought to have consulted a Junior Warden because he proceeded to drink it straight until we realized what he was doing. I think it was one of the St. John's guys who mixed him a properly diluted glassful.
Saturday, Feb. 9
The good thing about annual meetings is they come but once a year. Otherwise I think I'd have a problem with walking into an 8:30 a.m. meeting of the Grand College of Rites. They call us members "Fellows."
This year's "Collectanea" is Part 3 of Volume 19: Degrees of the Antient & Primitive Rite of Masonry (27° - 33°).
I don't think I've ever before seen a truly blank stare until I asked the Fellow collecting our dues money if he'd ever been contacted by anyone from a jurisdiction that works these degrees.
It actually was a pretty interesting meeting. And they kept mentioning Aaron Shoemaker's name.
Now by this time the Masonic meetings had been moved to another room, where the American flag was conspicuously missing. (Naturally I suspected Piers.) After pledging my allegiance to someone's flag-themed necktie in two consecutive meetings, I'd had enough and instructed the front desk to send in a real flag. My modest contribution to Masonic Week.
The flag was brought to the next meeting, but not in time to prevent our saluting someone's lapel pin!
Nine Muses Council has two purposes, one of which is to present the Sovereign Master's paper. Fortunately for all, the Master was our own Robert Davis of Oklahoma.
Bro. Robert spoke on a theme related to his recent book "Understanding Manhood in America."
The paper explains how Freemasonry can and must initiate males into manhood and transmit to young men the social honor and status that ought to define manhood. Robert's Fan Club (I'm treasurer) sat in the front row, and while we're not actually young anymore it nevertheless felt like he was speaking to us. He traced his own growth, using Wellins Calcott's thoughts on obedience and condescension (MM Charge) as the constant against which his evolving understanding and appreciation for those virtues were the variables. (Robert please correct me if I'm not getting it right, and feel free to share your paper!)
That definitely was the official highlight of the day, but the unexpected delight of Saturday was a quiet affair: lunch with Bro. Ted Berry. A terrific chat of more than an hour about our real lives and how the meaning of Masonry makes a difference. Ted is WM of Washington DC's Pythagoras Lodge of Research, and he'll be visiting New Jersey Lodge of Masonic Research and Education next month.
The Annual Meeting of the Grand Council of the AMD held a few pleasant surprises. For public consumption I'll only share that we voted unanimously to enter into a mutual recognition agreement with our British brethren as regards the Secret Monitor.
For those who do not know, Secret Monitor is part of the AMD in the United States, but in Britain (and elsewhere) it is an individual order. There are other differences evidently that prevented the British from recognizing what we do with the degree, but as of Saturday the U.S. recognizes their Order of the Secret Monitor, and on Nov. 13 they are expected to recognize our version. (This is especially exciting for me because my Council will confer this degree on July 26.)
As the next four (at least) Masonic Weeks will take place at this hotel, in the future I'll have to remember to:
1. Get there earlier.
2. Budget some time to get to the Birchmere!
3. And the House of the Temple.
4. Bring a notebook and camera so I can properly "report" to ML.
5. Insist on a room in the tower, and not in the Retreat.
That's another thing: People like me (cigar smokers) and the Hodapps (dog companions) get tucked away in the part of the hotel optimistically called The Retreat. Not really as in "sacred retreat of friendship and virtue," but an appendage to the main building that seemed pretty far away. Walking back and forth to the meetings was like that scene in "Goodfellas" when Henry Hill brings his date Dr. Melfi to the foot of the stage at the Jerry Vale show by way of the kitchen. And then once I actually got lost and found myself in the kitchen!
"Pretend you don't see her my heart...."
Met some more outstanding people:
Charles E. G. Toye of Toye, Kenning & Spencer.... the 323-year-old firm that is an official supplier of regalia to HRH Elizabeth II.
Bro. John Belton, of Internet Lodge fame, etc.
Bro. Mark E. Koltko-Rivera, a prolific writer determined to educate Masons. (I didn't have the heart to tell him.)
Bro. Doug Fegenbush, PGM of Indiana. If more Masons were like him, we’d have more Masons.
Mike Bayrak, Nathan Brindle, Andrew Hammer, Adam Kendall, Brian Patten, David Weinberg, Doug Wood and so many others.
There were tons of MLers there. I wish you guys would say something.