Metro West Daily News - Boston MA|
To build numbers, Masons open their doors
By Theresa Freeman / Daily News Staff
Thursday, September 22, 2005
A society shrouded in mystery will offer the public a rare glimpse behind its doors on Saturday.
In an effort to boost membership, which has been sliding for decades, all Masonic lodges in the state will host open houses. Area Masons say their group, which traces its origins back to at least the 12th century, needs to try a different approach in a modern era.
"Fifty years ago in America, most men would do anything to join. I think what we're trying to do is get back to that," said Patrick Dreier of Franklin, master of Milford's Montgomery Lodge. "We're not a secret society by any stretch of the imagination."
Lodges are inviting men to take a tour and meet other Masons on Saturday, called "Square and Compass Day" after the group's symbol, the ancient Mason's tools. Most of the open houses will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
It is a rare event for an organization that in the past avoided active recruitment.
"When I became a Mason, no one would ever ask you to join. It was prohibited," said 26-year member Horace Fader of Natick, the master of North Star Lodge in Ashland. "It used to be you had to do it of your own free will."
The group relies on oral history to pass on traditions, rituals and tests to earn advanced Mason degrees, said Fader. But the lack of written material can make tracing the group's history a dicey path, he said.
With more than 3 million members, Freemasonry is the largest fraternal organization in the world, as well as the largest philanthropy, according to the Web site www.askafreemason.org. The first grand lodge was formed in London in 1717, a second in Ireland and the third was established in Massachusetts in 1733. Now most U.S. states and other countries have grand lodges. While some secrets do remain -- including the group's handshake, signal words and oath -- Masons are slowly going public with details of their organization and its charitable work.
"Masons tend to be reticent about talking about our group. We go about quietly. We believe our charity should be anonymous," Fader said.
Lodges in the state focus on CHIPS, the Child Identification Program, which provides fingerprints, video tapes and dental records to parents. The materials can be used by public safety officials to locate a child who has gone missing.
Also, the more than 5-year-old Masonic Angel Fund raises money to help children in local communities. Siloam Lodge in Westborough tapped into the angel fund recently to buy a bicycle for a boy who moved to Northborough after being displaced by Hurricane Katrina, said 44-year member Len Anderson.
"We try to do things quietly. Like this boy -- we don't even need to know his name," said Anderson of Westborough, a former master. "We try to keep that distance. We're not looking for a lot of prestige. It's just that we know there is a need and we meet it."
Siloam Lodge, for example, has distributed about $15,000, helping 80 children during the last five years, said Anderson. Montgomery Lodge is contributing manpower and money to help build the Milford Bike Trail, Dreier said.
Freemasons give more than $2 million a day to charities, according to the organization's Web site. They support a number of organizations, including Shriners children's hospitals and Masonic Learning Centers for Children.
Charitable giving is one of the group's three tenets -- relief. Other values include brotherhood and truth.
While Masons only accept men, the organization is related to The Order of the Eastern Star, which accepts women, as well as Demolay for boys and Rainbow for girls.
Masons accept people of all nationalities and faiths. Members, though, must believe in a god, said Fader. "But we never discuss religion or politics," he said.
Dreier, Fader and Anderson believe membership is lagging due in part to a myriad of activities available for families these days.
"We're trying to improve our image," said Anderson. "It's like every other fraternal organization. We've lost membership. It's not the same as it used to be."
Canton Journal - Canton Massachusetts
Canton Freemasons celebrate 'Square & Compasses Day' by welcoming public
Friday, September 16, 2005
Have you ever wondered who the Freemasons are and what they do? Well you will soon have the chance to find out Blue Hill Lodge, 21 Church St., Canton, will open its doors to the public on Sept. 24, 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.) as part of "Square & Compasses Day," a state-wide celebration of Freemasonry.
In conjunction with the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, approximately 250 Lodges throughout the Commonwealth will be hosting open houses to raise awareness of the organization and the positive impact it has on its members and their community. Members will be on hand to provide tours of their building, talk about Freemasonry's history, discuss its ritual, signs, and symbols, and explain what they do.
"'Square & Compasses Day' is a wonderful opportunity for the public to learn more about the Masons," said Jeffrey B. Hodgdon, Grand Master of Masons in Massachusetts and the presiding officer of 45,000 members. "Although many have heard of our organization, few are aware that we are part of an unbroken tradition of great men who have changed our world in ways both big and small. Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thurgood Marshall, and John Glenn, for example, all joined the Masons prior to achieving the successes we recognize them for. There are countless other great men, whose names are not widely known, that made their communities a better place; many of these men are the fathers, grandfathers, friends, and co-workers of the people we hope will visit one of our Lodges. I warmly invite the public to join us on "Square & Compasses Day."
In an unprecedented step, the Masons will promote "Square & Compasses Day" with an extensive advertising push. Beginning Monday, September 12th and running through Friday, September 23rd, the organization will air television and radio commercials that will reach every corner of the state. Lastly, a web site developed for "Square & Compasses Day," www.AskAFreemason.org, will provide additional information.
Freemasonry, the oldest and largest fraternal organization in the world, traces its roots to the stonemason guilds that built Europe's cathedrals and castles during the early part of the last millennium. As construction of these buildings grew more complex, they began accepting members from outside their trade. These new members, influenced by the "Age of Enlightenment," transformed the organization from a group for builders to one focused on developing the character of its members. Freemasonry was formally organized in London, England in 1717; and, in 1733 the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts was established making it the oldest in the Western Hemisphere and the third oldest in the world.
Dedicated to the singular purpose of "making good men better," Freemasonry provides opportunities for fellowship, charity, education, and leadership. It is open to adult men of any race, religion, nationality, or social standing. North American Masonic philanthropies contribute more than $2,000,000 every day, 70 percent of which benefits the general public. The Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts includes 45,000 members and 250 Lodges throughout the Commonwealth.
For additional information, please contact Blue Hill Lodge, Ralph W. Staples, Secretary, 28 Wardwell Road, Canton, MA 02021, 781-828-4088, or call the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts at 1-800-882-1020 or visit www.massfreemasonry.org .