Sunday, October 20, 2013

Cambridge Masonic Temple Open House yesterday

Open House at the
Cambridge Masonic Temple
By Aaron Sherman

As I posted on Google Plus and Facebook, yesterday, we had a state-wide Open House in the Masonic Lodges in Massachusetts along with several other states which followed our example of previous years.

To recap the event, we had a good turnout. Lots of folks wanted the full tour and I started to get a sense of what was useful and not useful to cover for someone looking at us from the outside. In case anyone's curious, here's how it went:

Usually we'd start in the basement function hall to grab a snack or drink if they wanted any. We'd hang out there and chat to see if we could bundle up a group and then proceed to the second floor "business room" which is just an informal room with a big table for hanging out and talking before meetings or otherwise having less formal events like our book club. We'd talk about the history: when the Grand Lodge of England was formed (1717), when the Massachusetts Grand Lodge was formed (1733), when the oldest Lodge associated with the Cambridge Masonic Temple was formed (1805) and when the Cambridge Masonic Temple was built (1910).

Then we did a quick tour of the Master's Office (a small library where we keep the safe that has our Charters and other important documents) and headed off to the Tyler's hall which has pictures of various past masters of the Cambridge lodges.

From there, we go to the smaller of the two halls (which name I sadly forget, right now) and we'd talk about the hall itself. We covered the fact that "east" in a Lodge room isn't necessarily the geographically eastern end of the hall as well as the fact that a "Lodge" is a formal gathering of Masons, not the room or building in which they gather. Finally, we'd point out the central altar and the Bible that was on it and explain that candidates take their oaths to the Fraternity on a "Book of Sacred Law," but what book that is varies depending on the individual. Most Lodges in Massachusetts will have the Bible, Qurʼan and a Chumash handy, but other books have been used by many candidates. This segues into the requirements for being a Freemason in Massachusetts: a man, freeborn, of lawful age and well recommended who has a belief in a Supreme Being (in Massachusetts this includes being a monotheist, though the definition of monotheist can be moderately liberal). The "man" requirement isn't meant to exclude women (and in fact, there are many similar Masonic organizations, both recognized by mainstream Freemasonry and not, which do include women) but to imply that this is an organization dedicated to helping to find the place of a man in society, which in many ways is identical to that of a woman, but in some ways is a unique experience with its own unique lessons. The "free born" requirement is interpreted in the modern day to mean that a man must be able to enter into a binding agreement which, for example, some previous oaths might preclude.

After this or during that explanation, we move into the Endicott Hall, which is a beautiful room with a massive pipe organ and a balcony with extra seating. Here we discuss a bit of what goes on in a Lodge if asked: basically everything that goes on here is either initiation of new candidates, business such as upcoming meetings, minutes, finances and balloting on new candidates or the odd extra ceremony such as welcoming a visitor from the Grand Lodge or presenting some award to a member. We talk about the sense of universal Brotherhood and what charity means to us in that context, both to our Brother Masons and to the community at large. We also discuss the items that aren't allowed in a Lodge: religion and politics. Religion is an interesting item. In a Lodge that is opened on a prayer, to have a prohibition against discussing religion might sound odd, but it's important. We don't discuss our individual views on religion because it can be a divisive issue (to understand the enormity of this, understand that there are Lodges in Israel where Brothers are of Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths... and they truly are Brothers in the Lodge). We do discuss religious topics through the allegory and symbolism of Freemasonry, and that might mention specific elements of specific faiths, but this might mean different things to different members. To some it might have deep religious significance. To others it might be a meaning-laden allegory, but otherwise not relevant to their personal belief.

The final topic as we move up to the third floor recreation area is the appendant bodies of Freemasonry. The Open House isn't about those bodies, so we skim the topic, but we want to make it clear that Blue Lodge Masonry, the three degrees that are conferred within the body of the Lodges we've been discussing, are the three degrees which make one a Master Mason and a Brother to every other regular Freemason in the world. There is no later degree which can change that or make someone "more a Mason" than any other. If you decide to pursue later education (like going on to college) then that's great, but if you do not, then you are no more or less a member of your Lodge and some members are great contributors to their Lodge without ever exploring any other body within Freemasonry. Some members seek out the philosophy, some the fraternal and social aspect, some the esoteric or religious aspect and some the opportunity to do good in their communities (or, more commonly, some combination of these). All of these types of Freemasons are essential to us and are embraced by their Lodge.

Finally, we head down and entertain any last questions. We don't give anyone any paperwork (this is an open house, not a recruiting effort, as Freemasons do not recruit.. to join one must seek out the Fraternity of their own free will) or ask them to do anything. The tour is done and what someone does next is their choice. If they ask for a card or other contact info, we provide it and otherwise send them on their way.