Sunday, June 27, 2010

Where Are Our Military Lodges?

My friend and brother from San Antonio, Richard Vickery, has been cycled back to Afghanistan. Have a look at his blog post from today in which Vick brings up an issue that has been bothering me for years.

Military lodges spread the fraternity around the globe almost since its London beginnings. If you know nothing about this phenomena, have a look at Jessica Harland-Jacobs' excellent book, Builders of Empire: Freemasonry and British Imperialism, 1717-1927. Jacob makes the strong case that Irish regimental military lodges, in particular, expanded the influence of Freemasonry farther and faster across the British Empire than any other force for almost hundred years.

Prince Hall Freemasons have long embraced military lodges, and in many cases, servicemen who are not Masons first encounter Freemasonry in active duty overseas through a contact with Prince Hall Masonry. Many servicemen are initiated in PHA military lodges overseas, where no one is dithering about regularity, recognition, or more important, race. Yet, mainstream US grand lodges, with very few exceptions, have overwhelmingly rejected military lodges since WWI. So, there's no chance to become a Mason, as many early Americans did, in a military lodge, unless it is in a Prince Hall one. Then those same servicemen, and new Masons, go home and are told after their years of service and their excited interest in their new fraternity, "Yikes! You're CLANDESTINE! You're not a mason! You joined the wrong lodge!" Nor is there any opportunity for sojourning Masons in Iraq or Afghanistan to take a couple of hours and enjoy lodge with brethren, without breaking their obligation, if their mother GL does not recognize the Prince Hall grand lodge sponsoring the military lodge they find.

So, why can't mainstream US GLs come to an agreement, to either sponsor military lodges overseas themselves, or to recognize PHA GLs across the board, so that our servicemen can enjoy the diversion and benefits of Masonic fellowship. without what should rightly be regarded as petty administrational squabbles back home? Racial divides fell a long time ago in the military, so they shouldn't be finding it in lodges and grand lodges of a fraternity that espouses universal brotherhood. And there is a gaping hole in serving our existing members in combat and deployment areas, as well as bringing new initiates to Masonic light. Yes, I understand the problems of long-distance administrivia of secretarial paperwork, as well as the vicissitudes of lodge officers being cycled around by their military scheduling and movements. But all of that can be worked out—it has been by others in the past. What is different now?

Canadians have had several of these lodges for quite a long time, and they have managed it. In these days of email, records can be sent instantly. Require all military lodge officers to be PMs, so they can fill in anywhere. All of these problems could be solved. And should be.

At the very least, there should be a strong move in mainstream and PHA GLs that have already recognized their counterparts within their own territories to expand recognition to all regular jurisdictions of both obediences. It is madness that an Indiana mainstream Mason cannot sit in a California PHA lodge, because California PHA and the GL of Indiana F&AM haven't exchanged the proper paperwork, even though each have recognized their counterparts within their own states. Perhaps the Conference of Grand Masters of North America could encourage this, and find a way to streamline the process of 100+ GLs having to contact each other to accomplish this. And it would be most helpful if PHA GLs would find a way to collectively assist in this matter. It would be to the benefit of all brethren.

5 comments:

MP said...

if their mother GL does not recognize the Prince Hall grand lodge sponsoring the military lodge they find.

It's actually worse than that, Chris: I belong to two GL's, they do not recognize the same PHA GL's - so even if I found a PHA Lodge when I'm deployed, if one of my GL's doesn't recognize their GL, but the other one does, I'm hosed.

It's why I want a blanket PHA recognition resolution adopted by the GL of MA.

Todd said...

Chris,

You're absoutly right! The military lodge has a rich history that now seems destined to become history. As a MM and Soldier, I take great intrest in the military lodge system and its rich history during our nations earliest days...
This is shame, I suspect if the GL's would come to a mutual agreement on the traveling military lodge you would see new growth where none was before.

Great article!!! Keep up the great work!

MP said...

Br. Chris - I just asked this of the chairman of a GL committee on recognition, and his response was that the GL does not feel blanket recognition is appropriate - if, say, MWPHG OK wants us to recognize them they can bloody well ask for it themselves.

Of course, I'm not allowed to communicate with that GL, so i can't say to them "Hey, if you DID ask for recognition from every GL that recognizes its PH counterpart, then their military Brethren could meet with yours downrange."

I HATE this "they must ask for it" attitude.

Wayfaring Man said...

We (mainstream Masons) had the same debate in 1861 with some jurisdictions allowing military Lodges, Indiana and Texas had the most respectively, and some GLs prohibiting them outright (like Kansas) over the concern that they would "admit the wrong sort of man" who couldn't be vouched for by his neighbors back home.

The problem today, in my opinion, is no longer one of "admitting the wrong sort," after all we don't have those concerns any longer... but more of hand wringing about the administrative details, who can conduct the work, who has the charter, dues, etc. I think these concerns could be easily solved with some pre-planning, but in my jurisdiction at least, there is a great deal of reluctance. At least for now.

What would be very nice would be to put this item on a conference for discussion - it would generate a lot of attention, I think, and might go home with the attendees to stimulate the respective Grand Lodges.

Until then, here's hoping...

Charles E. Martin said...

I am Charles E. Martin, a civlian technician in Afghanistan. I have been working in Iraq/Afghanistan since 2004. I have never attended a lodge meeting in south-west Asia. The only lodges here are PH, and if I attend, I am subject to discipline by my home Grand Lodge (Kentucky). So I stay away.

You can keep up with the state of Masonry in this part of the world, at

www.cemab4y.blogspot.com