It was your run of the mill Sunday.
Got up from bed, had breakfast, and read the paper. Then church, lunch, and I brought my girls for a visit with their grandparents. The visit to my parents tied in with the need for my wife and I to go to a visitation, or wake, of her co-workers brother who had died of an early heart attack.
We dropped off the girls and plugged into our GPS the address of the Baptist Church in Yonkers, New York and were on our way.
The drive wasn't too bad at all and before we knew it we were being guided by satellite through the confusing streets of Yonkers. I never saw the movie "Lost in Yonkers" but I can certainly relate to the title because of the many times I found myself lost in that city, though not anymore due to the miracle of modern science and cheaper electronics. As we made our way through the city, we crested a hill and went down a street that over looked the Hudson River, the view was beautiful. As we approached the church we were forced to take a few laps through the surrounding streets because there were cars parked everywhere. On our second turn around the block I started to notice some Square and Compasses emblems on some of the cars, nothing new because since I have joined the craft, I have kind of a S&C radar for car bumpers and am always on the lookout for a Brother. The strange thing was how many I was noticing as we looked for a spot to park our car on the overcrowded city streets. I asked my wife if her co-workers brother was a Mason, to which she replied that she did not know.
We finally found a spot and proceeded to the church. It was a beautiful stone church on the hill overlooking the Hudson and when we entered its packed interior it became clearer that he was indeed, a brother Mason as I saw someone holding a white apron in the entry hall where the visitors book was. Not only was he a Mason, it turned out that he was a Past Master of his Prince Hall lodge as his body, the vehicle that held his soul, was adorned with the apron of a Past Master. The visit all of a sudden turned from supporting one of my wife's friends,to saying goodbye to a brother I never knew.
After giving his family our most sincere condolences we sat down in the back of the church to pray. As we sat down I noticed about 60-75 women in front of us wearing black hats that looked like fezzes. They were all dressed in black with long stemmed red roses pinned to their left lapels. Although they wore no pins or had any adornment on their hats I assumed they were a Masonic order. When my wife asked, I said that they were either Order of The Eastern Star or Daughters of the Nile, of which the former turned out to be true.
After noticing a man with a Marshall's baton, in white gloves and apron in the back door I whispered to my wife that she was about to see her first Masonic memorial service. It was exciting for me also, because I had never seen a Masonic memorial outside of my jurisdiction, let alone a Prince Hall one.
Behind the Marshall I saw the familiar staffs of the Junior and Senior Deacons carried by their respective officers and behind them was a man in a Derby hat, who had to be the Worshipful Master. The usual retinue of about 9 or so brothers marched in with him, nothing special, it was what happened next that amazed me. After setting up the officers at the front of the church the Marshall proceeded to the back of the church and led in what had to be 100 brothers dressed in black suits , white gloves and aprons, and that number is on the conservative side. They stood along both sides of the church and in rows at the back because of their great number and this was not a small church. Next came some brothers in familiar red trimmed Royal Arch aprons, but they wore hats that I had never seen before, they began the memorial with an address from their Chapter and gave his family a scroll with his achievements on it.
Next came the Masonic memorial delivered by the W.M., from memory, which was quite impressive as it was much longer than the standard service that we use in Connecticut. I cant recall all of the details, but it had many parts just like the service I have performed before, but with singing (we need to sing more!) and some preaching mixed in. It is hard to describe the feeling of being surrounded by over one hundred Brothers in Masonic regalia singing together and all at once producing a sprig of evergreen for their fallen brother. After commending his spirit to god who gave it, the assembled brethren deposited, one by one, their evergreens upon their brother craftsman who had been called to the celestial lodge. After the Brethren all proceeded out in procession, the Matron of the Eastern Star Chapter gathered the roses from the Sisters and gave them to the family and then they too proceeded out.
He was not a Grand Master, or some high ranking member of the order, just a Past Master of his lodge and there were more Masons assembled to dignify the passing of their Brother than I have seen at the largest gathering of Connecticut Masons I have yet been to.
It was at once extremely moving and embarrassing at the same time because of how hard it seems to pull my brethren from their lives to perform any Masonic deed. It was a look back for me into how it must have been to be a Mason in my own city 50 years ago when the craft was thriving. During the ceremony I could not help myself from joining the "So Mote It Be's" and doing the hand motions of the memorial. I even found my self putting my right hand to my heart in the sign of fidelity every time the W.M. removed his hat. I wish that I had an apron to wear because, if I could have, I would have proudly been a part of the final act of brotherhood to a man I did not even know. He must have been a truly great man because at the young age of 46 he had so many people paying respects to him, or perhaps the Brotherhood in his lodge is stronger.
I have read and heard how most Prince Hall Lodges would put the "mainstream" lodges to shame with their true devotion to the craft and its principles and flawless ritual. I have now seen it with my own eyes, Prince Hall Freemasonry is every bit the same craft as I practice and more. The supreme travesty of our time is that there are still Grand Lodges in our Nation that do not recognize these men as Brothers.
I left that memorial prouder than I ever have to be a Mason. The love for their brother and dedication to the craft that they showed had me wishing that they all knew that I was one of them. I am ashamed that some other so called Brothers would not think the same. We should stop the injustice that is a disgrace to the craft and everyone of us so called "mainstream" Masons. We, as a fraternity should do everything in our collective power to change the minds of the Grand Lodges that do not recognise our brethren. We should do it, not because it will be hard, but because until every man that lives up to the high honor and privilege that is being a Freemason, is recognised as a brother by us all, we ourselves fall short of the title.
There is much work to be done...
Was it by chance that I was there, or as I am now seeing more and more clearly, that in a life lived truly there are no chance happenings.