Sunday, November 4, 2007

Crumbling Facades and Past Glory

Last Thursday before my lodges stated communication, while doing my usual perusing of the stuff that lines many of the walls within our old building, I came across a time stained picture that saddened me.
The picture was of our stately brownstone, former Episcopal church turned Masonic temple and was from our lodges 225th anniversary in 1990. It contained a brief history of the lodge and the building that has held us since the early 1900's. What struck me about the whole thing was that I think my lodge has changed more (for the worse) in the last 17 years than the 225 preceding ones.
If you ever read my first two posts about my beginning in the craft you would know that it was the lodge building that fanned the spark of interest in the fraternity into a gleaming fire and if you haven't read them, what are you waiting for.
Anyway, the lodge I belong to is one of the oldest in Connecticut, so old it actually is older than the Grand Lodge of Connecticut. Our original charter is from the Grand Lodge of New York and dates back to 1765. I fondly remember on one of my first nights at the lodge being reminded that our lodge is even older than our country! It kind of puts things in perspective when you are joining an organization with such history. That is the main reason I chose to join the lodge I did, and not the other lodge in my city.
We have had a couple of events where some of the history of the lodge was recounted for those in attendance, not enough for a history buff like myself, but quite enough for most brothers to fall asleep to faster than the reading of minutes!
My lodge has produced, or shall I say, been the mother lodge of many men of great esteem.
Now keep in mind when I speak about my lodge I am talking about the group of men who have met since 1765 under the same name and not the building where we meet. That is something that I think can be a bit confusing for speakers of the English language whose definition of a lodge is a dwelling or small crudely made house in the country. That was my definition of a lodge before I was a mason, but it now refers to the group of men I meet on the first and third Thursday of every month except July and August, but back to the history of my lodge and its building.
The first place they met was at the house of the first Worshipful Master and then at various houses throughout my city and in a couple of buildings until our current structure became available and was converted for Masonic purposes. It was a beautiful episcopal church and after much expense of my Masonic forefathers was turned into an incredible temple of brotherhood.
I came to learn from that old picture on the wall, that the ornate stained glass windows of our lodge building were used in a movie produced by the Grand Lodge called "The Quiet Fraternity". It also stated that at the time of our 225th anniversary, it housed six different Masonic bodies. In my snooping around the building I have seen many reminders of the many different appendant bodies that once lived there and that is the sad part, once. Our building houses many historical artifacts and priceless pieces of Masonic art, but at one point between that 225th anniversary in 1990 and the time I joined they got to the breaking point and were forced to sell the building that had seen so many fine men receive the mysteries of our order.
When I first found out about it, I just could not understand how such a grand historical institution could get to that point. I could not understand how a Masonic temple that had once played host to a former President at its 150th anniversary, could get to the point where there was no other course of action than to relieve the brethren of its financial burden. I could not understand how a Grand Lodge would not step in to save a building that was such a credit to the fraternity. When I first joined my lodge I spent many an hour fantasizing of what it must have been like to glance around our grand hall and see it full of the more than one hundred brethren the hall could and must have held. I also spent many an hour imagining it being filled again after a well laid out plan (of mine)to buy it back and grow the membership to a number that would do it justice.
As I looked at that old picture on the wall after being an officer for almost a year in a line that still includes the Past Masters that played musical chairs with each other when no one new came in to fill in the officers chairs, and seeing how hard it is to grow back an institution like ours, I have come to the sad realization that past glory is exactly what it is, past.
Long gone are the days when a single lodge could fill a hall with even 50 brothers. On most nights we are lucky to get enough to open the lodge properly. There is nothing quite as sad as seeing such a large hall dotted with only a few good men trying to hold on to a glorious past.
This past Saturday I went to the Wardens seminar held by our Grand Lodge for officers who are to be moving up toward the East.
One pleasant side note is that I was thrilled to get to meet in person Tom Accuosti from The Tao of Masonry, and "The Movable Jewel", my fellow bloggers in our little state.
At the seminar we learned how to plan for our time in the East because it will be here sooner rather than later. I still have grand plans in my head to make my lodge a better, more interesting, more esoteric place where younger men like me will want to spend a couple of nights a month in the company of like minded, enlightened men. I have not entirely given up on the idea of returning our building to the craft that built it, it will always be in my dreams.
We are very Lucky that the church that bought our building allows us to remain and still meet as we have for almost 250 years and I have come to realize that as once we met in our Worshipful Masters own house, as long as we are doing what we are supposed to be doing as Freemasons and making good men better, it matters not where we meet but that we meet upon the level and part upon the square.

1 comment:

Tom Accuosti said...

Long gone are the days when a single lodge could fill a hall with even 50 brothers.

Back in the day, a lodge was a social outlet. Speakers filled meeting halls, and people made a night of it.

Now we have TV, video, and DSL for our edu-tainment. That's why it's more important than ever to find interesting things in order to give the brothers a reason to come down.

The thing is, too, that you've got to do it frequently. Having one movie night might not get people to show up, but having 4 might be better - as the word gets around, some people will show up just to see what's happening.

It's tough to see those historic old buildings not doing well because the brothers can't afford the upkeep any longer. But remember, too, that a lodge isn't just a building - it's a group of brothers. 250 years ago, they were meeting in houses, barns, and the top floor of taverns.