On Neckties and Freemasonry or: How Forgetting The Windsor Made Me Love Ritual

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Adam Thayer

For many years, I worked in a sales position which required me to wear a necktie. Before that point, I had never worn a tie outside of weddings, funerals and interviews--so learning new and interesting knots kept me amused for many weeks on end, before I finally settled on the classic and simple Windsor.

I tied that Windsor with fat ties and with skinny ties; with solid colors, patterns, and prints; I even tried tying it in a bowtie (just a note, don’t do that). I tied it so often, I could tie it in my sleep and that is not an exaggeration; my wife once woke me up to ask me what I kept doing to my neck while I was sleeping. That knot saw me through the advancing line in two lodges, multiple annual communications of our Grand Lodge, and more degrees than I can remember.

About a year ago, I changed jobs, and the dress code in my current position could be generously described as business casual. It was a large change in mindset as well as in wardrobe, and it has taken a lot of time to get used to not needing to wear a full suit every day. Of course, on lodge nights, I still wear a suit to work, because my office is only a block from my lodge, and it’s just easier to not drive home to change.

All of that is background information for the rest of this story.

Last Friday, I was preparing for work as usual, and since it was a lodge night I was going through the usual motions of getting the full suit and tie on, and all of a sudden, I couldn’t remember how to move my hands to make the tie work! Now, I could blame this on the early hour, or a lack of sleep (I have a one year old daughter who doesn’t believe in sleep), but the truth is, I forgot because I was out of practice. Something that used to be as natural as breathing to me had, through neglect, turned into something foreign and strange.

While I was searching the internet, trying to find the motions to make my favorite knot, I couldn’t help but compare my memory lapses to what I’ve seen happen so many times in lodge: forgetting ritual.

When we’re new to lodge, we’re often so excited to take part that we work extra hard to learn the ritual work. I remember hopping from one role to the next, learning lectures, even picking up parts that (in Nebraska) aren’t required to be memorized. For many of those lectures, I performed them so often that I was concerned that I would start reciting them in my sleep as well, which would lead to interesting conversations with my wife for sure!

But, as time has gone by, I’ve stepped back from a lot of the ritual work to let newer members have their chance to shine. I still end up doing something in most of the degrees that my lodge holds, but as I have taken a less active role, I’ve noticed something: I’m forgetting ritual! The ritual that I hold so dear and close, and I find myself slipping on words that used to flow smoothly.

You see, only half of the work for any skill really goes into learning it. The hard part is the other half of the work; once you’ve learned it, you have to stay fresh with it, or it will start to slip away.

So now, I’m starting to practice my ritual again, while I’m getting dressed for lodge. It starts crossing the tie over, and the two most powerful words I’ve ever learned: My Brother...


Bro. Adam Thayer is the Junior Warden of Lancaster Lodge No 54 in Lincoln (NE) and the Worshipful Master of Oliver Lodge No. 38 in Seward (NE). He’s an active member of the Scottish Rite, and Knight Master of the Lincoln Valley Knights of Saint Andrew. Adam serves on the Education Committee of the Grand Lodge of Nebraska. You can contact him at adam.thayer@gmail.com

AMD - Masonic Week 2016 Wrap-up

By Midnight Freemason Contributor
W.B. Gregory J. Knott

Greg Knott and Jason Richards
I attended the 2016 AMD – Masonic Week that was held in Crystal City, Arlington VA near the Reagan National Airport. This was the first year for this location after the last three in Reston, Virginia. For those that don’t know, this event is organized by the Allied Masonic Degrees (AMD) and is co-hosted by several other Masonic organizations such as the Knight Masons, Blue Friars, The Masonic Society, etc. It is a four day event running Thursday – Sunday that includes business meetings, special degrees, expensive dinners and most importantly lots of great conversations.

This event tends to attract many of the big names in Masonry such as Brent Morris, Thomas W. Jackson, Jason Richards, Jon Ruark, Robert Davis and more. Its great fun getting to speak with them person. In all, there are typically 300-400 brethren from around the United States and a foreign lands that come to DC for this meeting.

Many of the masonic bodies that hold their meetings here are invitational only and seem to have many of the same members who simply trade sashes and titles between the various business meetings. However that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to do at AMD – Masonic Week. For example, I attended the Society of Blue Friars to see Michael Halleran become a member of this esteemed body. Blue Friars are a group of masonic authors and one can only be elected by the membership. Their meetings are open to the public however and it always includes a great lecture.

On Saturday afternoon, I was initiated into The Royal Order Masonic Knights of the Scarlet Cord of the United State of America, which is a relatively new body in the United States having been established here in 2012 via the United Kingdom. There are 6 grades to this order and I was given the first 3. A very interesting experience. The brethren who performed the degrees did a great job in putting on the degrees.

Take a look at the Masonic Week website for more details on what takes place during this event. If you ever have the chance to attend, I highly recommend it. I want to especially thank Brother Moises Gomez of New Jersey who does a great job in coordinating the entire event. Without his efforts it wouldn’t happen.


WB Gregory J. Knott is the Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge No. 970 in St. Joseph (IL) and a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL) and Naval Lodge No. 4 in Washington, DC. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite, the York Rite, Eastern Star and is the Charter Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign-Urbana. He is also a member of ANSAR Shrine (IL) and the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. Greg serves on the Board of Directors of The Masonic Society and is a member of the Scottish Rite Research Society and The Philathes Society. Greg is very involved in Boy Scouts—an Eagle Scout himself, he is a member of the National Association of Masonic Scouters

The Fraternity Needs a Lighthouse

by Midnight Freemasons Contributor
WB Bill Hosler

Recently I saw a photo of a lighthouse being hit with a giant tidal wave. Mother Nature hit this edifice with everything she had and it not only withstood the force of the wave but the lighthouse continued to stand and its beacon still shining it's light to the world. 

Lighthouses are designed to warn ships of upcoming dangers; coral reefs, shoals, shallow water and harbor entrances.  Anything that may cause a vessel to sink, incur damage or cause loss of life. Their light shines in order to make navigating the seas a better, safer place. 

When constructing a lighthouse the builder would pick a solid, level area in which to lay a solid foundation using only the finest materials available to him in that area. Upon the foundation the more modern lighthouses were built using rocks or stones cemented together into one majestic edifice which, if properly maintained, can withstand the elements and continue to be at the benefit of man for an eternity. 

I would like to think our gentle craft is much like that lighthouse. Our Fraternity was built upon a solid foundation of faith, hope and charity.  Each stone of that lighthouse is emblematic of the Brethren which comprise the membership of our craft. Each one of us were once rough stones which, much like the Temple of King Solomon were chiseled and shaped by the builder with the working tools of Masonry until those stones, like us, were hewed, squared and leveled to the builders requirements. 

These stones are united into one common mass and strengthened by the spreading of cement which, when hardened, allowed the builder to complete this collection of individual stones into a structure which produces light, and which when used properly can help us ward off all approaching danger and become a benefit to mankind for the ages to come. 

The world will never know how many people throughout history were saved from an early, watery grave because the light from those lighthouses alerted the crews of those vessels and kept them on a safe path to their final destination. Much like we will never know how many men have been saved from a life of disrepute and dishonor because they were taught and learned to apply the teachings of our humble craft to their life and used the light of Freemasonry to help them subdue their passions. 

Any man made structure requires constant maintenance to ensure its long time service. Preservationists must continue to inspect and repair parts of the building which have begun to weaken or fall apart. The light source which is the reason for the buildings existence must also be constantly maintained or the source replaced and perhaps upgraded to ensure the lighthouse’s relevance. If the lighthouse no longer produces light, chances are the edifice would be abandoned and the entire building would begin to crumble and eventually, cease to exist. 

Many people contend Freemasonry has begun to follow down the path of that neglected lighthouse. In our zeal for greatness in numbers we have ceased to continue to maintain or upgrade our light source. 

Dues which no longer cover the costs of running our lodges and the living stones have begun to crumble away. The cement which should merge us into one sacred band of friends and Brothers has begun to crack as our meetings which were once a source of enlightenment and friendship have degraded into a two hour long argument over the costs of basic supplies like toilet paper and light bulbs. Like pieces of dried mortar our members drop away never to be seen again. 

Even when the Brethren want to maintain their symbolic lighthouse many times they aren't allowed to even try because of “building codes” of a far away Grand Lodge who micromanage and oversee everything. Many common and sensible solutions cannot be applied to fix their lighthouse because of the over regulations of Grand lodges and when the workers asked the reason for the rule they are told it's because “we've always done it that way.” All the while, the stones begin to fall away from our lighthouse and sadly can’t be replaced. These poor workmen have to stand by and watch in frustration as their beloved structure falls apart. 

The light source itself may also become dim from lack of maintenance. A century ago the light was produced by a single source, provided by a candle or a lamp which was reflected into a large lens and then it was magnified, and could be seen for miles. Think about that: One spark from a small candle or lamp could provide lifesaving light for miles away. What if the fuel source for that light wasn't replenished on a regular basis? Without the fuel, there is no light and the entire shore would be cast into darkness and sadly vessels approaching the perils of the shore would not receive warning and their passengers would perish. 

Sadly in the last half century our lodges have not been replacing the fuel of Masonic light, allowing many of the followers of King Solomon to be cast into the darkness. Lodge meetings have become a place to discuss fundraisers to supplement the deficit in the lodge treasury which unrealistically low dues and charity events which will get the lodge's name in the local newspaper in hopes of bringing more men to the door of the lodge. The source of light being Masonic Education and Charity have been extinguished in order to try to bring in new members. 

The light of Masonry has been dimmed in our lodges because in the last half century our Fraternity has chosen bureaucracy and membership numbers over Masonic Education and Masonic Charity. 

When the light of a lighthouse has been dimmed due to circumstances like fog the keeper will turn on a foghorn. A fog horn is a device which emits a loud sound to warn vessels when the lighthouse is too dim to be seen. A loud cry in the darkness to warn others in order they may ward off all approaching danger. 

I hope this paper will be seen as a foghorn which warns others of the dangers of a dimmed light source. The Grand Edifice of Freemasonry may be in a state of disrepair, but it is far from being to the point it needs to be torn down. Our foundation is as solid and level as it was when it was first laid. 

We must begin to repair what time and neglect have done to our lighthouse using quality materials and upgrade all operation systems to ensure we can withstand whatever is being thrown at us and to keep our light shining for centuries to come. 


WB Bill Hosler was made a Master Mason in 2002 in Three Rivers Lodge #733 in Indiana. He served as Worshipful Master in 2007 and became a member of the internet committee for Indiana's Grand Lodge. Bill is currently a member of Roff Lodge No. 169 in Roff Oklahoma and Lebanon Lodge No. 837 in Frisco,Texas. Bill is also a member of the Valley of Fort Wayne Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite in Indiana. A typical active Freemason, Bill also served as the High Priest of Fort Wayne's Chapter of the York Rite No. 19 and was commander of of the Fort Wayne Commandery No. 4 of the Knight Templar. During all this he also served as the webmaster and magazine editor for the Mizpah Shrine in Fort Wayne Indiana.

Wise Counsel

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Adam Thayer

In the Master Mason degree, we are assigned a duty, that we will whisper wise counsel into the ear of an errant brother, which is such a beautiful sentiment that I can’t help but believe most of us don’t truly understand the ramifications of it. This is such an important duty that many jurisdictions claim it as one of the duties of the chaplain, situated as he is on the immediate left of the Worshipful Master, and for this reason it is generally understood that this position is filled by an active Past Master of the lodge, who is best in a position to give advice as needed to a new Worshipful Master. In light of this, perhaps we should spend a few moments reflecting on the full meaning of this duty.

There are many parts to this particular duty, which I will attempt to break down as simply as possible. First, to whisper. Before I tell you how important this is, I should admit up front that I fail miserably at it. My friends, if they’re being generous, would describe me as having a loud mouth. I shudder to think of what they would tell you if they are not feeling generous. To whisper, for me, is to actively fight my natural inclination to shout loudly when I see an injustice, to choose only those words that create the proper meaning in a positive way, and to tell it directly to those who most need to hear it, or are in the best position to change something. This, to me, comes at a great cost; as a writer and an entertainer, I am rather verbose, and want my writings read by everyone. Hopefully, you have already conquered the first challenge better than I, but if not I encourage you to add being quiet to your list of virtues to meditate on.

Wise counsel requires that the information we pass on is both helpful and intelligent. If I were to explain the whole of Masonic history to you, that may be wisdom, but it is not counsel. By the same argument, if I recommend that you come to lodge in the nude (excepting the apron, which is the proper dress of a Mason), that is definitely counsel, but far from wise. Wise counsel, therefore, requires not only giving advice, but to give intelligent advice that can be used to help correct the current situation.

To whisper wise counsel in the ear of a brother requires courage, especially when it is a brother who has strayed from the path. It isn’t easy to tell someone they are doing something wrong, especially someone you care about. If you analyze the situation, you will usually find that they are better off for your intervention than they would be if you ignored the situation.

Generally, I try to avoid giving unsolicited advice, because it never seems to end well, however our duties do not allow us that option for a brother. We are specifically charged to watch our brothers, to hold them accountable for their actions, and to help them to be better. In short, we ARE our brothers’ keepers.

Ask yourself this difficult question: if you saw a brother about to commit a crime, would you try to stop them? It is not a rhetorical question, please send me an e-mail with your answer and your reasoning.

Of course, we all want to say “Yes, absolutely, I would try to stop my brother from erring.” Sitting behind the comfort of a keyboard, it is so easy for me to say that I would, without a doubt. Out there, in the real world, the story may be different. Maybe it is too embarrassing for me to say something, or I don’t feel I have the right to correct them because, after all I’ve made plenty of mistakes too, or maybe I was just too tired so I turned the other way instead of helping. There are so many easy excuses, because it’s so much easier to just stay out of it.

Where do you draw the line? If you saw a brother about to murder someone, I feel safe that all of us would intervene, but what if it wasn’t something so obviously wrong? What if it was a brother stealing from work, or cheating on his wife, or just jaywalking? Just how far does your obligation extend?

Freemasonry teaches us in a different way than we are used to; instead of treating us like we’re children, and presenting pure, easy to follow examples, it knows that we are adults, and so presents us with situations where there are not any clear answers, and then challenges us to discover what the answers are within the framework of our own morality. It seems intentionally designed to force us to be better men!


Bro. Adam Thayer is the Junior Warden of Lancaster Lodge No 54 in Lincoln (NE) and the Worshipful Master of Oliver Lodge No. 38 in Seward (NE). He’s an active member of the Scottish Rite, and Knight Master of the Lincoln Valley Knights of Saint Andrew. Adam serves on the Education Committee of the Grand Lodge of Nebraska. You can contact him at adam.thayer@gmail.com

No Mason Left Behind Part 3

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. "Doc" Gentry

I just want to touch on a few things. First, congratulations on taking the first steps in Masonry with your candidate / brother and doing it right with all the advice given to you. I hope you realize that I am just gathering information, the best practices as it were, of the way others have mentored and has been successful. These aren't original "Doc" thoughts, because SUPRISE, I'm not that smart.

Your candidate has taken his time to observe and take in your words of wisdom-- the esoteric teachings to which he has either gone crazy with or thought they were cool and has since moved on. As a brother, and yes as Entered Apprentices, they are brothers on the level, your lodge has invited him to stated meetings and other EA degrees and hopefully your lodge had a Worshipful Master who was smart enough to invite the new brother to the East at these events to see the whole thing from that perspective, I mean what's the purpose of becoming a Master Mason if not only to one day become a Past Master. (I will write another piece on this later, just place that idea to the rear of your mind for now). Your candidate / brother is now absorbing information, asking comprehensive and very deep questions about their journey so far, because if you follow the steps, that is exactly what happens, questions get asked! Also, I hope he is still being encouraged to write in his journal of all the feelings and emotions through each step he has taken. 

The day has finally come for the second degree and you are ready! You give him those really wise words and tell him you will be there to help when it's done. You sit in lodge and watch and someone fumbles their ritual, others forget their lines, and remember, this is the hardest degree to perform, but at the end, so much information is given to the brother and there will be shock from it all, even if it is done correctly. This is your chance to shine brother, to be that Mentor that will go down in the history books, fore you will talk with your Intendee after its all over. 

Don't blow it! Don't say something stupid like, "Do you have any questions?" Or "Would you like me to explain anything?" No, no, no, no! You are smarter then this, you're a Master Mason for goodness sake! You need to block out a good chunk of time after this event, but not right after, because he is going to be confused. Don't believe me? Remember when you did it! Go back into your journal (if you kept one) and look into what you were feeling and thinking right after this. Every brother I mentored, after the second degree feel the need to go write in their journal, it's overwhelming. So wait. Wait until after the cake and pie, wait until after the handshakes and congratulations, wait until after the lodge is closed and locked. Let him take in the second degree before you try and talk about it. They don't even know how to pose the questions they have yet. So when you finally get to the time where you will talk to them, front load some questions you think they are going to have. What's wrong with being prepared? Take a good amount of time to go through these and the ones you have that they don't ask, pose them and answer them anyway. This may take multiple sessions and that's fine, it means they are on the right path in Masonry! We don't just say ritual, real master Mason's know at the baseline what they mean and have enough understanding to explain them simply. We have studied it to not just memorize, but to figure out what we heard. 

Take your time, Freemasonry is not a race, it's a life long journey for the perfect ashlar. You will make mistakes too, admit them. No matter what your Grand Lodge says do not, do NOT, DO NOT pressure that brother to "hurry" their journey. Numbers and retention be damned! These experiences are for him and no one else and you as the Intender should be blessed to be on this journey with them, remember, no one takes a step in Freemasonry alone, not even the Intender, don't forget that. You as the Intender are a Mason, and No Mason Left Behind is not just a cute statement!


Brother Daniel "Doc" Gentry is a Brother Master Mason under the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Mason's of the State of Illinois, in the 1st Northeast district. His sign is Leo, and has been known to enjoy long walks in blizzards. He is stubborn and has no plans of joining the York or Scottish Rite anytime soon. Also in his spare time, he is a great DM for D&D games. Sacred Geometery! You can reach him by email at doc@midnightfreemasons.org

Member Retention: Keeping Them Coming Instead Of Going

by Midnight Freemasons Contributor
Todd E. Creason, 33°
So lets say I own a business that sells office supplies, and I begin losing customers.  I would immediately realize there's a problem.  Something changed and I need to figure out what that is.  If I'm a smart business owner, I'm not going to spend a bunch of money in advertising to try to attract new customers until I figure out why I can't hang onto my old customers . . . right?  It's probably one of two things--I'm doing something wrong, or somebody else is doing something better than I am.

So why do Masonic Lodges have such a difficult time understanding that? 

I was at a meeting a couple weeks ago, and there was a discussion about membership retention.  Some of the comments went as follows:  Our old members aren't active.  We get new members, and they come for a few meetings and then we never see them again.  The Shrine and the Scottish Rite are poaching our members.

I didn't say it, but it's obvious what the problem is.  It's the Lodge!  If your old members aren't coming, it's because they aren't getting anything out of it--or at least enough to keep them coming back.  Same with your new members.  And if appendant bodies are able to get your members involved in their organization, it's because they are getting something there they aren't getting from the Lodge. 

And how do lodges typically counter this problem with retention.  In my opinion--in the wrong way.  They work to recruit MORE MEMBERS without ever considering why they can't keep the members they already have--and the cycle repeats. 

If you want your Lodge to thrive, there's no reason to add one single new member until you figure out why you can't keep the ones you have.  Doesn't that make sense?  Take a break.  Talk about it.  Talk to a few of those guys that aren't coming anymore.  Look at your meetings--are they boring?  Do your active members look forward to the meetings or do they suffer through them?  Do you have education at your meetings or invite speakers to come and talk?  Do you have social events at your Lodge? 

There are all kinds of things you can do to identify the problem your Lodge is having once you recognize the fact that maybe it's not your members, or those pesky appendant bodies--it might just be your Lodge.  I think if you take the time to look into the issue, you're going to find that the problem isn't identifying the problems, it's in finding amongst your membership a willingness to change. 

Talk about it.  Come up with a plan.  Start small.  Try a few things.  See what works, and what doesn't work.  And share those successes with other Lodges--as often as this topic comes up, you're not alone.


Todd E. Creason, 33°, FMLR is the Founder of the Midnight Freemasons blog and is a regular contributor.  He is the author of several books and novels, including the Famous American Freemasons series. He is the author of the From Labor to Refreshment blog.  He is a Past Master of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), and currently serves as the Secretary, and is also a member of Homer Lodge No. 199 where he serves as Senior Warden.  He is a member the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, the York Rite Bodies of Champaign/Urbana (IL), the Ansar Shrine (IL), Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees, Charter President of the Illini High Twelve in Champaign-Urbana (IL), and a Fellow of the Missouri Lodge of Research.  He is a charter member of a new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter U.D.  He was named the 2014 Illinois Secretary of the Year Award by the Illinois Masonic Secretaries Association.  You can contact him at: webmaster@toddcreason.org

Rebuilding a Lodge

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
RWB Michael H. Shirley

The other day at one of the many and varied Masonic meetings I seem to attend, a Brother stood and asked the crowd if anyone had any advice for rebuilding a moribund lodge, especially in a small town. We didn’t exactly offer advice, but several of us talked about what lodges we knew had done to turn themselves around. It occurs to me that my lodge, Tuscola No. 332, might be an example for some, so I offer this narrative in hopes of encouraging others.

When I became interested in Freemasonry in 2006, I sent an email inquiry to the Illinois Grand Secretary’s office, and received a reply saying that someone from the local lodge would be getting in touch within 48 hours. Two weeks later, having heard nothing, I sent another email. That apparently lit a fire under someone, because the next day, Tuscola’s secretary was at my door with literature and a petition. He stayed for a while, answered whatever questions I had, explained the membership process, and took my signed petition and check away with him. A few weeks later, he and another Mason came to investigate me. Apparently, this was a fairly unusual experience, as they hadn’t had many candidates in recent years. (I found out later that I was the first candidate raised in my lodge in three years.) Anyway, I was elected, and received my degrees in reasonably good order, although only one or two members of Tuscola knew enough to do any ritual in them. I was raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason on November 20, 2006. At our next Stated Meeting in December, which was the first regular meeting I was eligible to attend, we received the District Deputy, Right Worshipful Brother William C. Dillon, for his official visit. I had no real idea what was going on, but I noticed that the Worshipful Master was reading from a little blue book, and the DDGM seemed angry about it. RW Brother Dillon had been at all of my degrees, so I knew him a little, and hadn’t seen him mad before. We had our election of officers that night, and before it happened, he pointed at me and said, “you put that young man in a chair.” So they elected me Junior Warden. (I do not recommend that. It worked for me, as I’m a quick study, and emergencies require drastic steps, but try not to make the new guy a Warden.)

Worshipful Brother Frank Lincoln, who had been Master in the mid seventies, was elected Master, and Brother Matt Pangburn, a superb ritualist and dedicated Mason was elected Senior Warden. Together, we planned for a year of Frank being back in the East, to be followed by what has become a tradition: two year terms for the dais officers. It lent stability, and gave us time to learn more. Matt did an excellent job, both as Senior Warden for a year and Master for two, setting an example of dedicated work and learning more ritual than had been the norm. 

Not knowing any better about the traditional way to do things, I proceeded to learn my ritual, fulfill my duties, and tried generally to figure out what Masonry was all about. I liked it, although the meetings were sparsely attended. I particularly liked the ritual and the monthly Workers Club meetings, where Brethren from round the district came to learn and practice the ritual and floorwork. It made me realize there was more out there than just Tuscola’s way of doing things. My district was then particularly fortunate to have Arthur Lodge No. 825, home lodge not only of Bill Dillon, but then-Grand Master Noel C. Dicks, and Right Worshipful Brother Jesse Higginson, past chairman of the Board of Grand Examiners. Jesse was our regular instructor, and was quite happy to put people on the spot and push them to learn. He would regularly assign me new bits of ritual and expect me to have them ready at the next monthly meeting. 

Having found that I liked Masonry, I started looking around for potential members. Tuscola is a “city” of 4600 in a county of 19,000, so the membership pool is not huge, but I knew a few people. The first man I approached was Eric Frahm (he would later follow me as Worshipful of Tuscola Lodge), an IT guy I’d known for years, mostly through our wives. I handed him Chris Hodapp’s Freemasons For Dummies, and told him to read it and see if it sounded like something he’d like. A few months later, he said, “yeah, sounds good.” So Eric became Brother Eric. His cousin, Cory, petitioned the lodge at Eric’s urging, and the three of us set about looking (in a fairly haphazard way) for good men we thought would make good Masons. One friend of mine, now a member of our lodge, had never inquired about Masonry because he thought you had to be asked to join. Others had never realized Masonry existed. We got new members fairly regularly, and they interested their friends, and before long we had regular Work, with more and more of our members able to participate in degrees beyond just standing in the obligation line.

We started cleaning up two miles of a local highway, sponsoring the local high school’s Scholastic Bowl team and hosting their awards dinner; sponsored two blood drives every year, conducted ILCHIP events, traveled to other lodges to help them with their degrees, and generally tried to be active on a number of levels.

Three years after I was raised, I was elected Worshipful Master, succeeding Worshipful Brother Pangburn, who became Lodge Secretary. As a lodge, we set about planning our 150th anniversary rededication. We put down new flooring in the dining room, replaced stained ceiling tiles, and generally spruced things up. Although I kept referring to the Most Worshipful Grand Master, Richard Swaney, as “Most Excellent,” because I was apparently channeling Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, it was a wonderful ceremony, held on the actual date of our charter. We didn’t feel old at all.

We kept working, with new petitioners coming fairly regularly. Eric succeeded me as Master,  and Cory followed him. I conferred a lot of degrees during my time in the East, as did Cory and Eric. It became the expected thing to know the work. If a Brother had trouble learning it, there was no shame. But everyone tried, and that was and is a wonderful thing. It’s become the norm for us to learn ritual. Some learn a little and some learn a lot. But we all learn. 

Not quite ten years have passed since I petitioned for my degrees. Eric, Cory, and I are all Past Masters. We’ve raised twenty-nine Master Masons since then, and, while some have moved away and others are infrequently at meetings, eleven of them are there every month.  We’re also active enough that some Brethren who’ve moved here from other places are now regular attendees. One of them has affiliated with us and is now our Senior Warden. This year, the Worshipful Master, Secretary, Treasurer, and Tyler are Past Masters. Everyone else is new. It feels wonderful.

So, what did we do that worked? A number of things, some of which may be universally applicable and some not. I offer them in no particular order:

1. We kept trying new things. If something didn’t work, we abandoned it, but if it did, we kept doing it. We plan plans, but we don’t plan results.

2. We learned ritual. When I was raised, if I recall correctly, only one member of my lodge could do any work in the Third Degree, and only a couple could do any work at all. Now Tuscola can do all its own work if we all show up, although we like to have visiting Brethren work in our degrees. It seems only fair to let travellers have fun.

3. We sought out new members. Illinois allows us to ask potential members to join, and we did. Sometimes we did it well, and sometimes badly, but we were looking for good men who might enjoy Freemasonry as we did. We don’t act like salesman, but I, at least, will say to a guy who I think would be a good Brother, “why aren’t you a Mason?” It gets the conversation started.

4. We got visibly involved in the community. Blood drives CHIP events, scholastic bowl sponsorship: all these things matter, particularly in a small town. Besides, doing good things together connects us to one another.

5. We maintained the building. We’re fortunate in that we have a downtown building with a tenant downstairs whose rent just covers our property taxes, and a temple board that’s frugal. In the last ten years we’ve had the building tuck pointed, repaired the roof a couple of times, replaced the sign, put down new flooring in the dining room, replaced ceiling tiles, ceiling fans, and lights, and generally kept the place looking fresh. We solicited donations among the various bodies that meet there (Blue Lodge, Eastern Star, York Rite), spent from saved funds, and did most of the work ourselves. The kitchen is a mid-70s time capsule (thank goodness the colors are muted), but it works, and that’s good enough. A lodge is the Masons and their charter, but buildings are part of our existence, and maintaining them is essential.  Old and well-used buildings are charming; neglected ones aren’t. Potential Masons look at our physical temples, and if it looks like nobody cares, they won’t usually inquire further.

6. We committed to Freemasonry. We showed up, did what needed doing, and looked for good examples among our Brethren. We didn’t wait to be shown: we got involved. That said, we also exhibited enough enthusiasm that our older Brethren volunteered to help us. 

7. We traveled to other lodges for degrees and instruction. I, for one, love my lodge, but I also love going to see other lodges, love watching other Brethren work, and generally love holding Masonic fellowship away from my home turf. Those of us who learned ritual found out we were often asked to help out in other lodges during their degrees, and we did. That not only made us feel welcome and competent, it encouraged us to learn more ritual.

8. We respected and learned from our elders. When Worshipful Brother Burl Green, 93 years old and nearly seventy years a Mason, rises to speak, we pay attention, even if he’s just talking about something we already covered. Our ancient Brethren are often fonts of wisdom. Even when they’re not being particularly wise, they’re our Brothers. We let them talk and we’re attentive.

9. We didn't inflict guilt trips on Brothers who can’t make it to lodge for work, family, or other reasons. They’re our Brothers, and we know they’re busy, especially the young guys. We just welcome them whenever they can show up, and make sure to keep them in the loop.

10. We did not look back at the “good old days” as being better than today. We study our history, but we live in the present moment, and we look to the future. There are bright days ahead, at least if we don’t rest on our laurels. This fraternity did not get to be nearly 300 years old by standing still.

So, is Masonry what I expected? Have I found what I was looking for? I can’t say yes, because I didn’t expect anything and I had no idea what I was looking for. What I did find was men looking for a higher purpose in their lives, a ritual that teaches me how to live every day, and a history rich beyond measure. I also found a future that is what we make it. Together, as long as we keep working together within the points of the compasses, Tuscola Lodge No. 332 will continue to rebuild itself on the foundation of those true Masonic ornaments: brotherly love, relief, and truth. We will, I trust, never stand still.


R.W.B. Michael H. Shirley serves the Grand Lodge of Illinois, A.F. & A.M, as Leadership Development Chairman and Assistant Area Deputy Grand Master of the Eastern Area. A Certified Lodge Instructor, he is a Past Master and Life Member of Tuscola Lodge No. 332 and a plural member of Island City Lodge No. 330, F & AM, in Minocqua, Wisconsin. He is Past Most Wise Master of the George E. Burow Chapter of Rose Croix in the Valley of Danville, IL; he is also a member of the Illinois Lodge of Research, the York Rite, Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees, Eastern Star, Illini High Twelve, and the Tall Cedars of Lebanon.The author of several article on British and American history, he teaches at Eastern Illinois University.You can contact him at: m.h.shirley@gmail.com