"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Lodge Vitruvian at Age 15

Fifteen years ago today - May 21st, 2002 - a year after first receiving a dispensation to work, a group of Indiana Masons assembled at the Temple of Broad Ripple Lodge on the north side of Indianapolis to receive our official charter for Lodge Vitruvian No. 767. Technically, that makes us 16 years old today, but fifteen under an actual warrant.

Jeffrey D. Naylor was our founding Master, and he received the charter that day from Roger S. VanGorden, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Indiana. Jeff would serve in the East for the first two years, and was responsible for much of what we did, how we "looked," and the philosophy that guided us (and still does even today).

It started as a conversation between Jeff, Eric Schmitz, Nathan Brindle, and me one Saturday afternoon in 2000 about how to create a new kind of lodge, and it turned out that other Masons around the U.S. and elsewhere at the time were (or had already been) coming to many of our same conclusions. Kent Henderson in Australia first noodled some of these ideas in a paper called Back To the Future back in 1992, along the lines of a “European concept," and he and a handful of brethren established Lodge Epicurean 906 there. Meanwhile in College Station, Texas, Pete Normand labeled their local experiments as "traditional best practices" and established St. Alban's Lodge 1455 along similar notions. So did John Hilliard with Independent Royal Arch Lodge 2, in New York. By about the time we were talking in Indiana, a different group of brethren was assembling their own thinking under the umbrella term "traditional observance," and Dennis Chornenky and others came up with the Masonic Restoration Foundation to promote their similar evangel. Independent from all of these others, our own growing circle of guys explored concepts and collected our thoughts into what became a paper called Laudable Pursuit.

All of us sought to approach the problem of the dull monthly lodge business meeting that offered Masons no education or enlightenment, bad or no food, under-financed programming, lackluster participation and retention, and little actual brotherhood - in short, any sense of "specialness" that Freemasonry had promised us all, but sadly, rarely delivered. We all went at it a little differently, but we all knew that lodges could be better than what most of us were experiencing if they would only demand excellence from themselves and their members.

Those of us starting Vitruvian established several primary tenets:

  • Dignity and high standards are to be maintained by the Lodge in all its undertakings.
  • Nothing short of excellence in ritualistic work is acceptable.
  • Masonic education - especially original papers or guest speakers - will be expected for every meeting.
  • Candidates shall be advanced only after having undertaken an intensive program of Masonic education and proving themselves proficient in open Lodge.
  • The Lodge enjoys the fellowship of the Festive Board at a local restaurant following all Regular and Emergent Meetings of the Lodge.
  • Members are expected to dress properly to attend to the duties of the Lodge. 
  • The Lodge shall create its own distinctive regalia, within the limitations of Grand Lodge regulations.
  • Attendance is mandatory. Members receive a summons for meetings and are required to attend or provide apologies. Those unable to do so will be politely asked to demit after a year and find another lodge.
  • The Lodge officers are to be elected based on merit and active participation alone, and not merely advanced through the chairs as an annual expectation.
  • A Lodge of excellence and high caliber must be paid for.

We agreed to meet quarterly, not monthly. We also informally agreed that we would deliberately not accept more than 36 members, because a man can't truly get to know and care about more than three dozen members or so. We felt that if we got that popular, the answer would be to spin off a "daughter lodge," not expand our own size. At the time, we had the highest dues in the state, and numerous predictions of our imminent demise were commonly expressed by naysayers. But when we circulated the word about what we were proposing, twenty-three brethren eagerly jumped on board:

  • W. Bro. Dale Adams, Mt. Moriah Lodge No. 77 (*)
  • Bro. Wallace K. Aiken III, Broad Ripple Lodge No. 643
  • W. Bro. William K. Bissey, North Park Lodge No. 646
  • W. Bro. David Bosworth, PM, Calvin W. Prather Lodge No. 717 (†)
  • W. Bro. Nathan C. Brindle, PM, Broad Ripple Lodge No. 643
  • W. Bro. Jerry T. Cowley, PM, Broad Ripple Lodge No. 643(†)
  • W. Bro. Howard A. Farrand, Centennial Lodge No. 541
  • W. Bro. James Guffey, PM, Millersville Lodge No. 126 (†)
  • W. Bro. Christopher L. Hodapp, PM, Broad Ripple Lodge No. 643
  • W. Bro. Michael W. Klepper, PM, Morristown Lodge No. 193
  • W. Bro. Rodney A. Mann, PM, Farmers Lodge No. 147, Current Grand Master of Indiana (2017-2018)
  • W. Bro. Jeffrey D. Naylor, PM, Losantville Lodge No. 674 (*)
  • W. Bro. Irwin H. Sacks, PM, Monument Lodge No. 657(†)
  • Bro. Travis G. Sandifur, Monroe Lodge No. 23
  • W. Bro. Eric T. Schmitz, PM, Monroe Lodge No. 23
  • W. Bro. Edward R. Smith, PM, Spencer Lodge No. 95(*)
  • W. Bro. John B. Stevens, PM, Grant Lodge No. 637
  • W. Bro. W. Keith Stiner, PM, Quincy Lodge No. 230 (*)
  • Bro. Louis P. Tompkins, Monroe Lodge No. 22
  • M.W. Bro. Roger S. VanGorden, Past Grand Master of Indiana (2001-2002)
  • Bro. Jack D. Weagley, McCulloch Lodge No. 737
  • W. Bro. Roderick V. Welker, PM, Jonesboro Lodge No. 109
  • W. Bro. Cleon H. Wright, PM, Eureka Lodge No. 397
(*) Past Master of Vitruvian
(†) Deceased

All of our members at the time communicated electronically - unheard of then. We also regularly had a 90% participation rate among all of our members - also unheard of. And when we strolled into a local restaurant for our Festive Boards in our tuxedos - a supremely unusual scene in America anymore, outside of a wedding reception - we actually turned heads, and attracted questions from other diners merely because of the group of Masons they saw. Shallow? Maybe. "Elitist" looking? Possibly. Putting forth a public image of the fraternity as the world's premiere society of gentlemen? You betcha. We still do today.

Fifteen years later, there are only about 50 lodges similar to Vitruvian around the U.S. and Canada - a lot maybe, but not an overwhelming flood of acceptance - though northern Indiana now is crafting a similar alternative with Garfield Lodge 569 in Highland. Sadly, some grand lodge jurisdictions have actually banned anything remotely looking or sounding like what are now being generally branded as "observant" styled lodges, under a mistaken and unfounded fear that we are practicing something odd, foreign, elitist, spooky, or even antithetical to the equality of Freemasonry's basic tenets. That is a shame. Those of us who are members of these lodges or just visit them know that nothing could be further from the truth. 

No other lodge or grand lodge has anything to fear from these observant styled lodges. None of us actually proclaim (or shouldn't be, anyway) that anyone else is practicing Freemasonry incorrectly, nor that we have some higher moral ground and that only we are "doing it right" Observant lodges have not taken the Masonic world by storm, nor are they some silver bullet that will magically save the fraternity from plummeting membership numbers each year. But they have become a home to numerous Freemasons who might otherwise have left the fraternity because their longing for a more affecting personal lodge experience was not being fulfilled.

Moreover, we know that we actually look forward to Vitruvian's lodge night, enjoy our meetings and Festive Boards, learn something new each time, linger late into each evening, and are truly "happy to meet, sorry to part, happy to meet again." I'll take that to be a good development, and one I encourage every lodge to emulate, no matter how they choose to accomplish it.

Today, Vitruvian has more members than we started with and demits have been rare for the last eight or ten years now. We've had our ups and downs, our family fights, and other challenges. But we solved them as men and Masons should. We still have not bumped up against our limit of 36 members, although we're close. That's okay, because what is more gratifying is that we regularly have handfuls of visitors from across Indiana and even neighboring states who are eager to see what we are doing differently. They then return to their own lodges and argue for their officers to adopt some of our practices because they've seen how successful we have been and how much they actually enjoyed a stated meeting for maybe the first time in their Masonic lives. 

Perhaps that is the most satisfying aspect of what Vitruvian's example has accomplished in these 15 official years in Indiana. Maybe we haven't turned the whole U.S. Masonic culture on its ear or solved every issue. But we are influencing the leaders of tomorrow to go home and make their own lodges the very best they can be, along whatever path that leads them. By doing so, a rising tide raises all boats - or lodges, as the case may be. And that is a success our little lodge has hopefully been a contributor to.

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