The following article comes from the book Alberta Workshop which is a compilation of the theme speeches of the first 25 years of the Masonic Spring Workshop held each April in the Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta. Bro. Tom Jackson (Pennsylvania) called this the best workshop available to rank and file Masons anywhere.
SO, YOU ARE A MASON?
The Venerable R. B. Crowder
Thank you for the opportunity and privilege of being able to speak to you tonight, although I must admit from the beginning that I am a distinct disadvantage in that, of necessity, I am not aware of the aims and purposes of the Masonic Lodge. Nevertheless, I have been asked to speak to you as an outsider, and I hope you will bear this in mind as I talk, noting that some of the things which I say may be contradictory to your purpose and ideals. I am speaking to you as one who does not know.
My first associations with the Masonic Lodge, as I remember, were impressions I gained as a boy in the old country, as the Sunday School which I attended, shared a hall with the Lodge. I remember that there was a door and an anti-room in that hall which was used exclusively by the Lodge, and there were special rooms which were reserved for the Lodge alone, and the whole thing, for me, seemed to engender an air of mystery. One thing I do remember is that the gentlemen of the Lodge always dressed formally for their meetings, and this seemed to add to the dignity of a situation and impressed me as something that was formal and grand.
In later years I got to know quite a number of the members of the Lodge, especially on the prairies, although when my wife and I lived in the bush country we were pretty well isolated, and at that time the only Lodge member I remember meeting was my own Bishop. May I say, I have worked with members of the Lodge in the Church — very fine men — who helped me with my work, as Wardens and Vestrymen in my Church, and during the past thirty years I have served under five bishops, four of whom were members of the Masonic Order, one of whom is a Past Grand Master — a gentleman who you possible know, Bishop Calvert. I can truthfully say that all of these gentlemen were very fine men and I owe a lot to some of them who helped me with my work and gave me necessary encouragement to get on with the job.
I remember years ago, there used to be a great deal of discussion about the work of the Masonic Lodge and perhaps some criticism, in that the Lodge seemed to cherish a type of isolationism which was difficult to digest because of its secrecy, especially in some communities where, of necessity, the population tended to be a tightly knit group. These days it seems that people do not talk about the Masonic Lodge so much. Perhaps it is because I live in an urban area, but nevertheless if you were to ask me “do people really care what the Masonic Lodge is all about”, I would have to say “no”. there seems to be no feed-back, no enthusiasm to talk about what goes on with regard to the Masonic Lodge, which indicates as far as I am concerned, a deterioration in the impact of the Lodge on the community.
Every man and/or group has a right in society to express himself freely, openly, or secretly in any endeavour, and I cannot criticize the Lodge for guarding very jealously its liturgy and ceremonial. It’s their, and as far as I am concerned it’s a sacred trust. Again I remember when I was a boy, when I was employed at the age of fourteen in a lumber yard on the docks on the north east coast of England, at first I was required to be a messenger boy, as I was learning the trade and went from one division of the mill to the other. Frequently I was required to visit the saw sharpener’s shop where an old gentleman of the old school worked at his trade. He had a contraption fixed to the door whereby when anyone opened the door it would make a noise over and above the noise of the sawmill, and warn him that someone was coming into the shop, whereupon he would down tools. His first greeting would be “what do you want lad?” and I would tell him the purpose of my visit, to which he would reply “alright hop it”, and as soon as I left the shop he would start working again. You see, his trade was a secret trade — as I said, a member of the old school — and he guarded the secret of this trade jealously and didn’t allow anyone to see him work. He was fiercely proud of his skill and would only impart his knowledge to an apprentice. I must admit that later on when he realized that I wasn’t going to be a saw sharpener, he continued to work while I was in his shop and it was a treat to watch him hammer out a buckle from a very large heavy steel circular saw.
It seems that in these days we have lost such fierce pride in our work and our skills, and perhaps it would do us all good to return to this type of attitude, although many would say that such an attitude is paultry and not progressive. The point was, men benefitted from his secret skills and they saw the results of his hard labour. I don’t know whether I can draw a parallel here, but it seems to me that if the Masonic Lodge guards its secret ceremonials etc. with fierce pride, that at least the world should see the results of the action which it takes. I ask you the question because of your secrecy and your ability to keep your functions secretive, are you becoming ingrown and destroying the Masonic Lodge rather than building it or making it a creative element in society. If society is not benefitting from your work why are you hiding what you are doing?
The layman asks “why do you hide your purpose and your ceremonials etc. from society”, or am I dwelling on this particular aspect of your work too much? Someone told me all I had to do was to go to the library and look up something on the Masonic Order and I could discover for myself the ritual and ceremonial proceedings of the Masonic Lodge. I did not follow up on this suggestion.
This brings me to the question, why are you a member of the Lodge and not me? I remember that there was a time that I would have enjoyed being a member of the Masonic Lodge, but it seems to me that I was waiting for an invitation to join. I did not realize then what I realize now that members of the Lodge had to request membership, and so I am inclined to think that many outsiders are saying, “why did you not ask me to join the Lodge?” Is it because I am not good enough to be a member of your exclusive group, or is it because I am not able to afford it as I am a poor man. Is the Masonic Lodge a rich man’s Lodge and if you hold me in high regard, and practice what you profess and see me as a possible good member, would you make it possible for me to join your group even though I could not pay the fees. I must impress upon you right now that I don’t know what the fees are, I only have the impression that I must have the wherewithal to be a member of your group.
Of course, there are other questions which the layman might ask, which are rather negative in their outlook, such as “do people join the Lodge because it is politically expedient to be a member, and by being a member gather special concessions in high places because of the apparent brotherhood aspect of the Lodge, assuming that members of the Lodge would support and look after their own first of all.” Of course, one can find a very free and obvious type of fellowship and brotherhood and an outgoing, happy type of co-operation in various service clubs which are much more accessible that a secret organization. I am assuming that politically and privileged members would receive preferable treatment which is only natural by belonging, although it seems unfair that the poor man is to be denied this although he himself, in his poverty might by God’s own gentleman. Or does membership in the Lodge have a psychological reason, is it an escape or a banding together which gives a sense of security which cannot be found elsewhere in a noisy, frustrated and fast-moving society. Or could membership be a filler or substitute for a vacant spot in life. Something which helps to fill our a man’s life recognizing that there are dozens of organizations whereby a man can devote his time and efforts for the betterment of the greater brotherhood, i.e., society, without the shackles of secrecy. Or as a clergyman, I should ask this question, “are your activities a substitute for the religious life (how many of you are in church every Sunday).” “Are you religious men looking for something more than any other organization or Church can offer you in the way of ritual and action”? “Is it a conscience pacifier in that you can give yourself more or less completely to something which is beyond yourself”. There is a slight contradiction here because I have met members of the Lodge who have been opposed to ritual and ceremonial in the Church and yet at the same time (I guess) loved the ceremony, ritual and regalia of the Lodge. Could not I do what you are doing in a wider fellowship without the strength of the Lodge with its secret exercises and being open and above board in my religious exercises be more effective by including all men? If all men are brothers and you work for the good of the fellowship, why not broaden your horizons and invite me into this brotherhood which seems so exclusive. On the other hand you may not want me because my influence might be negative to the purposes for which you stand, I just don’t know!
What does the Lodge look like to an outsider? I wonder how the man in the street reacts to the Masonic Lodge. I know it looks terribly rich and that it seems to be an elaborate dress-up situation. I cannot react negatively to that because the Church cannot be surpassed in the manner of dress and ceremony, but at the same time there seems to be something of a secretive “playing-of-games” nature in the Lodge. A return to a secretive and mystic right or society, which does not seem to be in tune with modern society, and yet, perhaps it is right in tune with modern youth and the resurgence of mystic rites and secret societies. It looks like, as I have said previously, a matter of looking after number one first, which is a contradiction of the Christian purpose in life, in that one should look after one’s neighbour as one’s self unless one regards one’s neighbour as another member of the Lodge.
Relatively to this, there is one thing which should be cleared up effectively and that is the apparent relationship of the Shiners to the Masonic Lodge. I understand that the Shrine Organization is not the Masonic Lodge, but that a prerequisite to be a Shriner is to be a member of the Masonic Lodge. The man in the street cannot help but associate and equate Shriners with the Masonic Lodge. When he sees the Shriners in the Stampede Parade with all their gimmicks — Arabian costumes, motor cycles and fire trucks — and men walking in that parade who seem to be plainly embarrassed because they are simply out of context and because their feet hurt, he laughs or says “how stupid”. We know that the Shriners do good work but that is another story.
This talk might seem negative, but you have asked me, as a layman, to tell you what we think. I know that the Masons do good work. I have worked, and do work with Masons, but please give us a straight-forward answer to what you are doing. How about a straight-forward open declaration for what the Lodge stands. What are your aims in life as a community and as individuals? What do you do for each other, and especially what are you ding for the society to which you belong? If people do not know, then either they are not going to be bothered with you or you are going to get some adverse criticism. If you want an answer to membership then perhaps you should tell what is the situation on an individual basis and make people see and know that you are Masons and that through your personal lives show a standard of living which people will appreciate, admire, yes, and respond in such a way as to say “There goes a Mason, why can’t I belong and be like him?”