|Volume LVII||August 2010||Number 3|
Renaissance Impacts Smallest Lodges
The 21st Century Masonic Renaissance has passed its six-month milestone, a point at which it is helpful to remember why so much emphasis is being placed on introducing new ideas, vitality and change to Pennsylvania Freemasonry.
The number of blue lodges in the state of Pennsylvania has dramatically decreased as older members pass away, and there are not enough new members to carry the torch. As lodges merge or dissolve, years of history and tradition may be lost. Last year alone, eight lodges merged, while one lodge, Lehigh Valley Day Lodge No. 813, Macungie, was constituted, bringing the total number of Pennsylvania lodges to 432. In the last 280 years of Pennsylvania Freemasonry history, 381 lodges have merged or dissolved.
Like the foundation bricks of a building, each lodge has its place in supporting the overall structure of the fraternity. Each time a lodge is removed, the grand "structure" becomes weaker.
The smallest lodges across the state, despite having the unwavering dedication of officers and members and active community involvement, are at the greatest risk for being lost if the goals of the 21st Century Masonic Renaissance go unmet.
Robert A. Lamberton Lodge No. 487, Philadelphia, which meets in the Masonic Temple, was constituted in 1871 and was named after Bro. Robert Lamberton, R.W. Grand Master in 1869 and 1870.
From the lodge's inception, members focused on charity, coming to the aid of brothers affected by the Chicago fire of 1871 and the Johnstown flood in 1889. Over the years, the lodge became known for its celebratory banquets featuring elaborate menus. After World War I, the tempo in the lodge increased, and it became famous for its various musical showcases, earning the nicknames "Live Wire Lodge" and "The Musical Lodge."
The Great Depression had a slight effect on lodge events, but it quickly recovered and had upwards of 600 members in the 1950s. By the 1970s, however, it was no longer able, financially, to host the lavish entertainment and banquets of its formative years. Society in general was changing as men moved their families to suburbia. In 1971, the 100th anniversary of the lodge's constitution, membership stood at 342. As of 2010, it stands at 70.
"A small but strong and determined group of brothers continues to 'keep the lights burning,'" the lodge's Web site states.
"We're a close knit family, with a core group who are very active," Bro. Larry D. Dial, Jr., W.M., said. "Filling the chairs can be a challenge, but I think every lodge has that issue. I would like to see enough brothers coming out to keep the lodge a functioning entity."
Since the lodge meets in the Masonic Temple, it is more of challenge to host events, but they give charitable donations to local organizations and coordinate CHIP events. Bro. Dial has been a member for four years, although he wishes it was more like 25.
"I wanted to join when I was 18, but I was given bad information about the fraternity," he said. "Later, I met a Mason, who is now our lodge secretary, and learned what the organization is truly about. I'm hoping through the Masonic Renaissance we can get more exposure, so people don't just go by half-truths they see on TV. This is a really meaningful opportunity to invite new people to experience what I've come to love. If we don't do something now, it's just going to get worse."
"Increasing membership is our primary goal," Bro. Lynn Heath, W.M., said. "Family members from different generations are no longer joining. It's tough to get people to join with so much else going on in their lives. The initiatives of the Grand Master have a lot of potential if they work the way we want them to."
"It's a trustworthy organization, based on the integrity of the members," he said. "Our word is our bond. Honesty is a big part of it. I think sometimes guys sign up and don't understand what they're getting into, and it scares them."
His lodge was constituted Feb. 7, 1866, and currently has 67 members, although about eight members typically attend meetings. The lodge has never had more than 72 members, as far as he recalls. Holding community BBQs six times a year and serving approximately 150 local senior citizens at an annual holiday meal for the last 20 years keeps them busy. They received two petitions in June, and Bro. Lehoczky is optimistic that this is just the beginning.
"What makes the Masonic Renaissance important to me and Canawacta Lodge No. 360 is that it gives us more ways to show the general public who we are and what we stand for," Bro. W. Scott Muller, D.D.G.M., District 15, said.
Arcana Lodge currently has 62 members; however, "a lot are older and some are in Florida," Bro. Clarence Walker, W.M., said. "Most days, we barely have enough to open lodge - we're lucky to have seven or eight people." Bro. Walker is one of five "recycled" Past Masters, who take turns serving the post. Bro. Mark Jeffers, lodge secretary, estimates 40 percent of their members live outside of Pennsylvania, and the average age of the membership is around 60 years old.
Among the lodge's contributions to the community are helping to build a sidewalk with lighting from the center of town to the schools, so children can walk safely back and forth. Members have also worked with Boy Scout troops and a sportsmen's association to clean up a local stream.
A small lodge means the members know each other better, but with less income, maintenance of the lodge building is becoming more difficult. The Austin post office currently rents the downstairs, which helps with the expenses.
"We try the best we can," Bro. Walker said. "We'd like to get more members. My dad was a Mason, and he got me in it. I like to work and not just sit and watch."
With only 60 members, the brothers of Osceola Lodge No. 421, Elkland, all know each other, can accomplish things relatively quickly and are able to stay within their financial means, which can sometimes be difficult for larger organizations. On the opposite end, with few members to collect funds from and living in an economically depressed area, the impact they are able to make is modest.
The lodge, constituted July 22, 1868, had to sell its building last year, and now meets in the Cowanesque Lodge No. 351 building in Knoxville. They, too, find it difficult to fill officer chairs, as well as have a pool of qualified men for ritualistic work. Conforming to edicts from Grand Lodge also becomes a challenge.
A change in the demographics of the area caused the membership to decrease gradually from more than 120 in the 1990s, according to Bro. Alex Hartley, lodge secretary. "Our new members are down to one or two a year, and we lose that many due to death or other reasons."
William Penn Lodge No. 732, Philadelphia, which meets in the Masonic Temple, currently has 59 members. Constituted Dec. 16, 1924, the lodge has not had more than 100 members since 1975, as older members have passed away without new ones to replace them, according to Bro. Thomas Hopkins, D.D.G.M., District B.
"When one or two of the regular attendees are absent for a meeting, it is extremely noticeable and difficult to assign others to their positions," he said.
With a smaller membership, communication is easy when brothers want to make plans in the best interest of the lodge. Members remain in close contact with one another, especially those in the immediate area. Their future outlook remains optimistic.
"The Masonic Renaissance has allowed the lodge and its members to inform and invite friends and acquaintances to join our fraternity with ease. As a small lodge, it is important to be able to invite people into the fraternity and not have to wait for them to ask," Bro. Hopkins said. "Any new member is brought into the 'family,' and made an immediate friend and brother. Most friendships made are life-long."
Constituted Nov. 10, 1913, the James W. Brown Lodge had about 70 members in the 1980s, but some have passed away or moved, and few new brothers have joined. They received one petition in 2009.
"There are big differences between big and small lodges," Bro. Kenneth Launer, Jr., W.M., said. "The Masonic Renaissance will do a lot more good than harm for us. Changes are needed to come into the 21st century."
"Our lodge may be the smallest, but our friendship inside and outside is the greatest. A good percentage come out for meetings," Bro. Kenneth Owlett, W.M., said. "We have 10 to 12 brothers every month. We really care for each other and love our little lodge."
Whenever Bro. Owlett asks the membership to do something, a brother always obliges. The lodge actively gives to the community through donations to a local museum and fire company. They've held one open house in which 23 members and visitors attended, and are preparing to hold a second one. The lodge has even been able to make recent improvements to their lodge building, which also houses the Rome Post Office, including new siding, doors, carpet and air conditioners.
"We like a lot of the Grand Master's ideas, especially being able to have a printed copy of the ritual to study degree work," he said. He feels the degree work can be challenging for older members and may prevent them from learning the degrees.
"The Masonic Renaissance is important because most of these lodges cannot afford to have air conditioning, so the relaxed dress code is appreciated," Bro. Guilford Rowley, D.D.G.M., District 33, said. "The printed ritual makes it easier for many of the members with hectic work schedules to learn the work. The selective invitation may help these lodges increase their membership."
It only takes a small group of people to make a difference. If these smallest "bricks" of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania can continue to live up to and support the good name that is Freemasonry, and we can embrace the ideas of the 21st Century Masonic Renaissance, then it can only be imagined what they will achieve in the future with more members to contribute the "mortar" that will strengthen them - fresh ideas, helping hands, generous hearts and renewed vigor.
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