Our speaker for our January educational program was Worshipful Brother Ed Tanner, reflecting on the 50+ years he has been a member of our fraternity.
I title this paper: “Masonry: Where It Was, Where It Is, and Where It’s Going.”
Subtitled, A review of my 50 years as a Mason. I would like to quote Bro. James R. Robinson, P.M., Boone-Union Lodge No. 304, F&AM, Union, KY, after receiving his Gold Card and 50 year membership pin. It is, “Fifty years is not a long time.” I totally agree with Bro. Robinson when I stop to think about what I have done and where I have been in the last fifty years, and before that, in and outside of Masonry. Time does fly by and can’t be saved for future years. I was Initiated, Passed and Raised at Boone-Union Lodge No. 304, F&AM, in 1965 at the age of 23. I had three uncles, two cousins, one which was the Master, and one Grandfather and church members who belonged there, and my father-in-law belonged to a Lodge in Chicago, IL and I became interested in what the Masons were and what they did. My initiation class consisted of five men, one of which was my father and one was a cousin, and I was the active candidate in the Master Mason Degree. As I sat on the steps outside the Lodge waiting to be called for my turn in the Legend of the Temple and listening to hear, “Ok Ed, your turn, come on up,” I couldn’t help but wonder: “Did I make a right choice?” The Lodge was located on the second floor and with every step I made up those stairs, wondering, what was going to happen to me? The other four never came back down from that room upstairs. I soon found out, and rose to appreciate it. Today as I reflect on my 50 plus years in Masonry, I’ve asked myself, “What have I seen, learned and hopefully helped someone or some cause.” In 1965 upon attending a Masonic Lodge I noticed that almost every man was wearing a suit and tie. After the initiations I recognized the officers knew their degree and ritual work almost to perfection, were sincerely glad to meet me and made me feel welcomed to join this Fraternity and especially this Lodge. As I observed my first nomination of officers later that year in 1965 I noticed that there were no shortages of candidates for the chairs. As my class was the second one to be raised in 1965, there were others ahead of me being asked to fill chairs. I never accepted the offer to take a place in the Lodge line until several years later, as I worked second shift and Saturday work was scheduled and wouldn’t permit me to give full attention to any office. There were no Past Masters being asked to fill a chair in the line as every Brother moved up the ranks to the station in the East. There was a full Degree Team which traveled to several Lodges to portray The Legend of the Temple. After a few years of regular attendance in Lodge I was handed a script for the third ruffian in The Legend and told, “Learn the part.” The following information is compiled from the Grand Lodge Proceedings of 1965, 1966, 2015, and 2016 published by the Grand Lodge of Kentucky:
Grand Lodge of Kentucky, F&AM
Total Members 100,235 38,814
50 Year Members 1,840 6,762
Total Lodges 471 369
Net Membership Decrease Since 1965: 61,421
Net Lodge Decrease Since 1965: 102
Total Current Members Less 50 Year Members: 32,052
Membership totals are not adjusted for dual members. In other words, the total numbers are inflated.
Where are we today? Membership is down, Past Masters are asked to fill positions in the line, officers read their duties from a book, can’t put on degree work themselves and have to ask Brothers from other Lodges to stand in, which is mainly due to only four or five members attending or the majority of the members are older and don’t drive at night, yet they still want the Lodge to stay alive and function, members don’t learn charges to the degrees, roughly present a proficiency examination from a new Brother, which is not an asset to him. After all, he is there to learn. Another alteration is the dress code of members in Lodge. It was explained to me that going to Lodge, a replica of King Solomon’s Temple, was compared to going to church. Dress that way. Times have changed and the dress code has been greatly reduced by Lodges and churches. Many Pastors say they would rather have members present and dressed as they wish than not have them attend at all. I suppose this could be the same line of thinking for Masters of Masonic Lodges today. True, many Masons don’t own a suit or like to wear a tie, but respectable, clean clothes should be the unspoken code for Lodge or other function attendance and the Grand Lodge Communication as well. In the Address to a Newly Raised Candidate, which has been presented by Bro. David Wood, P.M., Boone-Union No. 304 and Elvin E. Helms No. 926, there is a statement and I quote, “Membership in a Masonic Lodge can no more make you a Mason than membership in a Musical Club can make you a musician.” And so it is with Masonry and the Masonic Lodge. There are four classes of men in this world. Firsrt those who are Masons neither in name or nature; second those who are Masons in name only; third, those who are Masons by nature; and lastly, those who are Masons both in name and nature, and this class are God’s noblemen. I thought so much of this address that I learned it to present it after the death of Bro. Wood. Some men don’t ask for a petition because they aren’t interested or don’t care what the Masons stand for or do. Some men join, get raised or get in line and even become Master, after which they rarely and sometimes never set foot in a Lodge again. They become Masons in name only. Masons in name only also applies to the appendant bodies of the Masonic Order which members join and never participate in meetings or Degree Work. It makes one wonder, “Why did they join?” Is there some material profit or favor they expect to gain from saying, “I am a Mason,” or by wearing a ring? Those by nature are men who never ask for a petition but lead a respected, helpful, meaningful life, which all Masons should do. We probably all know someone whom we respect and think that they would be a good Mason because of their many good qualities. Those who are Masons in name and nature which there are many, take their obligations seriously and go about doing good deeds, not expecting any recognition or reward and being proud to be a Mason. Yes our numbers are down and those who are truly Masons in name and nature and interested in the Order still attend Lodge, still fill a station when asked, even though they may have for sometime but really don’t want to, learn and confer degree work, know how to open and close a Lodge properly, instruct proficiencies and go about doing good deeds for their Lodge, their community and especially their fellow man. Above all these Brothers are willing to assist others who have the desire to learn. In closing, “Where Are We Going?” That question can be answered by every Mason in the Commonwealth. To state it better, ask yourself, “Where Am I Going?” Do I dress and act the part of a respected Mason and am I going to learn rituals and degree work, am I going to attend Lodge on a fairly regular basis so I know what is going on with the Lodge and staying informed, contribute to the Lodge activities, instruct by word and actions, and be involved with the other Masonic bodies I belong to. Those members who are called upon and accepting an invitation to confer degrees, lectures, or charges for another Lodge are fading. I ask you, “Who will fill their shoes?” They will always be needed and asked to assist for reasons already stated, and thanks to God, they willingly accept the invitation. Masonry will be around a long, long time if the present members get involved in their Lodges and show the world what Masonry is about, thereby attracting men who want to be Masons and asking how to join, by doing deeds in the community, schools and toward their fellow man. Fifty years isn’t a very long time. I have seen many changes in both district and Grand Lodge, due to electronic communication and voting procedures, most of which are good, as secretaries don’t have to file reports to the Grand Lodge in triplicate or communicate with sister Lodges by the use of U.S. Mail. A most significant step is the fraternal relations with the Prine Hall Masons, something that would not have happened fifty years ago or even ten to fifteen years ago. I hope I contributed to a small part in Masons, maybe inspired a Brother to step up and take a part or fill a chair, taking a chair when asked by a new Master, even though I really didn’t want to, but later felt honored that I was asked and accepted the request. As a young man of 23 years of age, sitting on Lodge steps in 1965, wondering about his choice, I now know it was a good one because of the great men I have met and respected and still meet those kind of men, men from sister Lodges that attended my Lodge whenever there was degree work, just to visit, the grant men I have served under or served as Master of a Lodge or being involved in other bodies. Yes, it was a great choice and Masonry has taught me very much. I have gotten more out of Masonry than I have put into it and I am thankful for that. It is up to the present and future members to learn, serve, and keep the Greatest Fraternity in the World, going forever. My sincere wish is that they will. Fifty years isn’t a very long time. Get involved now, time is passing.