Vol. XXII No. 11 — November 1944

Twenty Years After

R.W. Brother and Doctor Joseph Fort Newton, then editor of The Master Mason, now and for many years back chaplain of The Masonic Service Association, gathered together some editorials he had written for the magazine and published them as a Short Talk Bulletin, November 1924. So much of what he said then became a prophecy of the future; so much of what he there hoped found fruition in accomplishment; so much of what was then wisdom of the wish became knowledge of the fact, that this Bulletin, quoting from and commenting on his thoughts is published “Twenty Years After” in humble gratitude that the Great Architect saw fit to make his words come true.


Almost five years have now come and gone since The Masonic Association of the United States was organized. It grew out of a deep need and a fine impulse. The need which demanded it still exists; the impulse which created it is still alive and active. Something has been attempted, and something done.

How keenly the need was felt five years ago need not be dwelt upon. The plain, not to say disconcerting, fact was that Masonry had not come off very well in the Great War, because it had not found out how to function as a whole. The discovery that an un-united Masonry was unequal to the demands of a time of crisis was startling. Craft Masonry was aroused, and thoughtful men began to pay large and long plans against the future, lest Masonry be found wanting.

A Masonic service association was proposed. There were good and true men who said that such a thing was impossible, and could not be. It was an innovation. It had never been done before. Other orders were united and active, but Masonry seemed to be handicapped by its own organization and tradition. But where there is a will there is a way, and when necessity demands a way can be found.

1944— The way was found. This is not the place to chronicle the history — romantic in the perspective of the years — of the formation and beginnings of The Masonic Service Association. But men of good will and determination persuaded; leaders listened, and the Association became a fact.


Of the necessity there was no doubt at all. Facts do not threaten; they operate. Multitudes of facts fairly shouted the demand for some kind of concerted action if Masonry was to be an effective force in the life and service of the nation. Those facts still stand as stubbornly as ever. Many difficulties have been overcome, but all the suspicions have not been allayed.

None the less, in spite of all difficulties and vicissitudes, the Service Association is a fact. It is here, in face of those who said it was impossible. It lives, grows, and gathers power, in spite of those who say it is a fad, a failure, and a futility. Today the Service Association is the greatest united undertaking in the history of American Masonry, seeking to make speculative Masonry operative by making it cooperative. It is the outstanding fact in Craft Masonry in this land, and no one can ponder its potentialities without feeling that Masonry can be a mighty conservative and constructive power in the future of our country, and not simply an order to belong to.

1944— For twenty-five years the Association has “lived and grown and gathered power.” And now at long last, in the face of a war-torn world and a Craft which in many countries is bewildered and unable to work as a unit, here in our own beloved land Freemasonry can and does function — if not one hundred percent, at least in a large majority — to bring its gentle ministrations to fighting men and their families.

From the grand master of a grand lodge not a member of the Association come these words, written May 29, 1944:

I never miss an opportunity to praise the work of The Masonic Service Association, wherever I may be. That is the most important and valuable thing that has been done by Masonry in the forty years or more that I have been a member. The grand master quoted is M.W. Stuart E. Pierson, grand master in Illinois.


Anybody can find fault. It needs no talent to tear down. Even a blind man can see difficulties. But those who would be Builders must have courage, sagacity, patience; and the greatest of these is patience. Mistakes have been made, but they are such errors as attend every new movement which attempts to go where no path has been made, and do what has not been done. To attempt nothing is the greatest mistake of all.

1944— Aye, mistakes were made: it was inevitable that mistakes should be made. Where does history show any accomplishment worthwhile which was not built on the rubbish of early mistakes? There was never but one perfect man and Him they crucified nineteen centuries ago. Not being perfect, human beings inevitably make mistakes.

But mistakes are not necessarily obstacles; they may be stepping stones, if those who make them use them for building material. The mistakes the Association made in its early years were rectified. Time, experience, knowledge, built anew.

Its Executive Commissioners have been and are of the highest type of devoted and unselfish Masons. Its executives have been tireless in giving of their time and strength. Doubtless there will be other mistakes, but with the experience of a quarter of a century and the faith of the brethren, these, too, will be building material for a greater service to mankind in the years to come.


As the spirit and purpose of the Association are better understood, it wins its way. Its organization is unique. It is in no sense a general grand lodge, and never can be. It is not even a federation of grand lodges. Indeed, it is less an institution than an agency, an instrumentality whereby the member jurisdictions do together, in fellowship and common purpose, what none can do so well alone.

1944— There are still people who see ghosts, and the skeletons still dance above the headstones for some on Halloween! Even intelligent men have been known to shudder at the erie wail of a coyote in the dark!

Here and there there still may be the brother who believes the Association is stealthily working to form a general grand lodge when no one is looking! But it must surely be a long road indeed, when twenty-five years of existence have developed no evidence to support that belief. Some men, alas, have minds so tightly closed that they will not believe even the evidence of their senses. It can only be such as these who refuse to think that the constitution of the Association, adopted in good faith, signed by the most eminent leaders of the Craft, means what it says:

Amendment: This Constitution may be amended only at a stated meeting of the Association by a two-thirds vote . . ., provided, THAT THIS CONSTITUTION SHALL NEVER BE AMENDED IN SUCH MANNER AS TO PROVIDE OR PERMIT THE DEVELOPMENT OF THIS ASSOCIATION INTO A NATIONAL GRAND LODGE.

Hence the words written when it was but five years old ring now as a prophecy:


The Masonic Service Association is a beginning, and what it can do has hardly been dreamed, much less attempted. None of the dark suspicions which surrounded its birth have materialized. None of them will. They were the shadows of fear, not the light of faith. The purposes of the Association are clearly stated, its limits plainly defined.

1944— Aye, it was a beginning. And when war came again, this time to tear the world apart, the Association was ready with a background of solid plans and enough reserve funds in hand to do the will of the Grand Lodges of the nation, in rendering service to the fighting forces.

For many years the Craft had pursued its insular, protected, divided-into-forty-nine compartments way. Then:


Something happened — something sudden, terrifying, bewildering. The Great War shook the earth, shattering many a well-built theory: It crumpled up the ground beneath our neatly erected walls, tumbling them down and making gaps big enough for a tourist elephant with baggage to pass through. In an unmistakable, not to say humiliating, way American Craft Masonry learned the truth the old farmer learned:

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.”

Unfortunately not all of our brethren learned the lesson. Some grand lodges still keep their walls intact, as if they were afraid of their brethren on the other side. But a number of jurisdictions clasped hands across broken walls and formed The Masonic Service Association: the first tentative attempt of Craft Masonry in this country to think and work together.

1944— The history of the movement to give Masonic service to fighting men is yet in the making; it is less than four years since the first Army and Navy Masonic Service Center was opened (in Columbia, South Carolina). But enough time has passed, enough men have been helped, enough enthusiasm has resulted, for thirty-nine American grand lodges to stand hand to back, to help aid and assist, to whisper good counsel, to watch and stand ward over families and dependents, to extend the right hand of fellowship to millions in our armed forces, with something in the hand besides a clasp.

And this, too, was prophesied. Read:


The Masonic Service Association is undertaking something that has never been done before in America, or anywhere else. It cannot be done all at once. Nor can it be done by a few men who happen to be officers. It must be done slowly, by experiment — not without mistake, if we may judge by all other human undertakings — and it must be done together. No man, no set of men, however able and wise, can devise, out of hand, a plan or program to meet the case. There must, of course, be a tentative program, but it is only tentative; it must be thought out, worked out, tried out, modified as need requires and adapted to conditions.

1944— Beginning with one Center, at this writing seventy-two are in operation, including four hospital visitation posts. These Centers are as varied as the conditions they face, as different as the grand lodges within the jurisdictions of which they labor.

Starting an unknown job in a way not clear, the Association now has trained men, trains new men, has a practical working plan which is no longer a theory. As a result its work for, and under the direction of, its member and contributing grand lodges has won for American Freemasonry’s effort in the war the commendation of high officials of the government, army, navy, and Masons in the armed services and their buddies everywhere.


Today the world is a whispering gallery and a hall of mirrors where everything is heard and seen. Never were the agencies for the spread of truth — or error — so many and so marvelous. Within a few moments an idea, a fact, an event, whether important or insignificant, is sent to the ends of the earth. If Masonry has anything to say to mankind now is the time to say it. How often the grand orator has told us that the teachings of Masonry, if known and applied by humanity, will heal the hurts of the race and bring a new day in which brotherliness reigns. If that is so, then we have opportunity to tell the world a truth it needs to know.

1944— "Now is the time to say it” was written not of war work but of Masonic truths. But how true it is today — now IS the time for Freemasonry to say Your Son Is My Brother to every father whose lad is in uniform. It is because of what a united Craft is not only saying but doing for its servicemen and their buddies that we may stand indeed at the break of “a new day in which brotherliness reigns.”


Meantime, no jurisdiction has been invaded, no sovereignty impugned, no landmark violated. It is simply a feat in cooperation. Everything cannot be done all at once, but something has been done — something memorable and significant — enough to show what can be done in behalf of the greatest Fraternity known upon earth and among men, if we are wise enough and patient enough to add a new point of fellowship — shoulder to shoulder — in a spirit of mutual courtesy, cooperation, and brotherly good will.

1944— And here indeed all who have even a small part in the work which Masonry is doing to help our nation win its war may take justifiable and solemn pride. “Shoulder to shoulder" exactly expresses it. What even the greatest grand lodge cannot do alone, thirty-nine of them, shoulder to should, can and are doing.

And now for words which ring an alarm indeed! If they were even partly true in 1924, how very much more of the eternal verities are they today!


With such a beginning, and with so much promise of power for good to the cause of Freemasonry, it would seem folly to falter, much less to turn back. There has never been such an opportunity in the history of the American Craft and there is not likely to be another in our generation. If there are difficulties in the way, the alternative is still more difficult to face. What we need is a first-class exhibit of Masonic values, a practical application of the Gospel of Fraternity which we have been wont to preach so eloquently.

In the face of the challenge of the present situation, let us recall the famous story of Foch. A certain sector was hard pressed and the fine was wavering. The officer in command sent a message to Foch saying that he could not hold the line, and asked what to do. Back came the answer, worthy of the man and his cause: “If you can’t hold the line, Advance!"

1944— Of the Association has been written these words: let them end this account of the prophecy and its fulfillment twenty years after:


The Masonic Service Association of North America