This little essay was posted on the Grand Lodge of Mississippi's Facebook page from WB Rick Clifton, Past Master of Bay Springs Lodge 167:
What Treasures Does Your Lodge Hold?
When Minute Books of fifty of the oldest American Lodges as of the period between 1800 and 1825 are compared with the Minute Books of the same Lodges as of the period 1900 to 1925 it will be discovered that the subject of the Lodge inventory was somewhere lost, abandoned, forgotten in the years between. Every so often in the early days a Secretary, with loving care, and often with an openly expressed pride, wrote out his inventory; and such inventories are for us now one of the best sources for a knowledge of what Lodge life was a century and a half ago. Those inventories coincidentally make vivid and clear one thing wrong with Lodge life now— something lost out of Masonry, like the Lost Word, an old Landmark unintentionally violated; a thing lost though not necessarily beyond recall.
The inventory was not of the carpets, walls, windows, or other structural equipment, nor was it for real estate or taxation or fire insurance purposes; it was an inventory of the treasures of the Lodge. In almost every instance each item was described as a gift from some Brother, or as a memento of some occasion long remembered; there were oil portraits, framed prints, photographs; jewels kept in cases, of silver, and engraved, once the property of officers who later had presented them to the Lodge; aprons, collars, ballot boxes, gavels, Bibles and books, music books, an organ, sets of plate, glass and dishes, altar coverings, certificates, cherished letters in frames, punch bowls There were gifts which the Lodge had made to itself, such as hand-made carved chairs for the officers or a visitors' book bound in morocco. The Lodge Room had a feeling of being richly furnished; it was filled with the emblems and symbols of Freemasonry, of the Lodge's own past, of the community's esteem for it, and that the members who had gone were not completely gone.
Men loved their Lodge, and because they did there was no need to devise schemes for persuading them to attend.
In every Lodge, even the crassest, there are these untapped feelings of affection. Each one should have an inventory. When a Lodge room is empty, its walls bare, it has no atmosphere of its own. It does not feel like home. The Ritual loses its soul because it has not the environment it requires.
The worst effect of the bare Lodge room is that its Masonry in turn becomes barren because the Lodge has only the sense of being in a room and does not have a sense of being in the midst of a living and moving Fraternity; nor can it have a sense of its own past, or the Fraternity's past, but sinks into a feeling of isolation and flatness—it cannot even have a banquet because it has nothing to have it with. The inventory was one of riches; the riches came not out of the members' dues but out of their affection.
Rick Clifton, PM
Bay Springs #167
WB Clifton's thoughtful piece echoes a passage that H. L. Haywood wrote in his 1948 book 'More About Masonry,' and it can't be over-stated:
"In the Eighteenth Century Lodges the Feast bulked so large in the lodge that in many of them the members were seated at the table when the lodges were opened and remained at it throughout the Communication, even when the degrees were conferred. The result was that Masonic fellowship was good fellowship in it, as in a warm and fruitful soil, acquaintanceship, friendship, and affection could flourish - there was no grim and silent sitting on a bench, staring across at a wall. Out of this festal spirit flowered the love which Masons had for their lodge. They brought gifts to it, and only by reading of old inventories can any present day Mason measure the extent of that love; there were gifts of chairs, tables, altars, pedestals, tapestries, draperies, silver, candle-sticks, oil paintings, libraries, Bibles, mementos, curios, regalia’s and portraits. The lodge was a home, warm, comfortable, luxurious, full of memories, and tokens, and affection, and even if a member died his, presence was never wholly absent; to such a lodge no member went grudgingly, nor had to be coaxed, nor was moved by that ghastly, cold thing called a sense of duty, but went as if drawn by a magnet, and counted the days until he could go.
"What business has any lodge to be nothing but a machine for grinding out the work: It was not called into existence in order to have the minutes read: Even a mystic tie will snap under the strain of cheerlessness, repetition, monotony, dullness. A lodge needs a fire lighted in it, and the only way to have that warmth is to restore the lodge Feast, because when it is restored, good fellowship and brotherly love will follow, and where good fellowship is, members will fill up an empty room not only with themselves but also with their gifts."What business, indeed...