On March 7th, 2020 a lodge in Florida opened its doors to Freemasons from around the world. Brothers from Arizona, Nebraska, Illinois, Michigan, Virginia, and even Germany were present--not to mention a multitude from the Tampa area and around Florida. As Masonic Conventions pop up all over the country, it's only natural that Brothers ask themselves, "Why can't we do this?" And that's just what Worshipful Billy D. Schmidt did.
Billy wasn't even the Master of his lodge when he started to think about putting on the Southeastern Masonic Education Symposium. He had his plans, and as fate would have it, the backing of his Secretary, Tom and the Brothers of Hillsborough Masonic Lodge No. 25.
Hillsborough Lodge lies right smack in downtown Tampa, Florida. The hustle and bustle of many big cities are not evident here. It's not overly dense in population. It's clean. And that local business flair is evident—small shops boutiques and restaurants lining the streets. The only downside? Some places are only open Monday through Friday when the corporate folks are in town. That seems to be the same way in most big cities though.
Nestled in a row of connected building space that seems to be an entire city block, is the lodge. Beyond the brass doors lay a foyer that would fit my home lodge inside of it. As you walk inside, Past Masters stare at you from the walls. Then you make your way through two brazen pillars, then up the staircase which leads to a massive common area complete with a pool table, several areas for lounging, offices with glass panes and expertly painted letters, "Worshipful Master". There's also a secretary's office and many other rooms and vaults. It's amazing.
Of course, this doesn't do it justice. The lodge room is as impressive as you can imagine. Ceilings that remind me of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. A lodge room, with the gallery, that seats over 400 people. Blue carpet, modern lighting and all the traditional elements that make you fall in love with the architecture and history of the Craft.
I flew in on Friday evening and met Jon Ruark at our hotel. We dropped our things off and walked three blocks to the lodge on a cool evening. Floridians were cold. Jon and I being from Illinois and Virginia were... comfortable. After arriving and shaking the hands of a few local Brothers, we assisted in setting up some things and met our friend and Brother Juan Sepulveda of The Winding Stairs and Gentleman's Brotherhood. He was busy setting up his art.
After some great conversation and fellowship, we all went back to the hotel to get rested up for the day ahead of us—The Symposium. Of course, I watched some Rick and Morty and read a little before falling asleep.
My phone rang at 8:05 A.M. "Good Morning, sunshine." It was Jon. I was 5 minutes past our designated meeting time to walk to the lodge. I got ready in nearly record time. And walked to the lobby...15 minutes. Not too bad.
Jon was the first to present that morning and he did a wonderful job. His presentation was on the Circumpunct and it's esoteric origins and symbology. He unveiled some amazing concepts which truly had brothers asking questions. Next up was me. I did my presentation on esoteric origins and different wisdom schools with an emphasis on Freemasonry. After this was Brother Nick Harvey. Nick in a very charismatic way, spoke about a Mason's legacy— He asked us repeatedly, "Who is performing Your Masonic Funeral?" It made us think about our relationships with Brothers and reflect on the impression we might be leaving behind for them to remember. He also was witty as heck, with a few jokes that left us in stitches. Nick was great.
We all adjourned for lunch. Jon and I "escaped" for a quick lunch at a bistro located in the old Federal Court building. The words, "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" prominently etched into the front of the massive stone facade.
After lunch, Jason Richards who was unable to be present physically, presented via the web. His
presentation on the multiple flood mythologies in the world and their relation to Masonic degrees was as amazing as always. I've seen it three times now and each time, he adds to it, making me more interested each time. Simply fascinating. I wonder when History Channel will call up Jason Richards to be on an episode of some show—or better yet give him his own.
The final presenter for the day was John Nagy, some of you know him as "The Coach". John's a business and life coach in his professional career and is a wonderful presenter. His presentation had some great twists and turns but mainly focused on the contextual meanings of words in ritual. This presented problems—we're not actually doing what we're supposed to be doing because the meaning of words has changed over time. After John was done, I made my way to the common area and picked up two of his books, The Craft Unmasked and A Brother Asks Vol.1. I'm looking forward to diving in after my current books.
We closed out the day with a live taping of The Masonic Roundtable. Jon, Juan and I along with a lodge full of members hung out together to talk about Masonic Conferences. Then, we brought on the Worshipful Master, Billy Schmidt to get his thoughts. You can find that episode coming soon to the YouTube channel or via our podcast. There will be a short wait since we need to put it together.
After this we retired to dinner where conversations ensued, stories were told—and then topped, and inspiration flowed. The conversations and inspirational ideas from guys attending, were for me, the best. Hearing the impact that events like this have on local Brothers who crave a better experience solidified my inclinations- this is the future.
To the Brothers of Hillsborough No. 25 in Tampa Florida, thank you. You're making a HUGE impact on Freemasonry in Florida, but also a beacon. I think about the other places that are doing these Conventions, and I imagine them like giant Masonic "bat signals" being shown into the night. They're saying "We're here." The more conventions we have, the more that light adds to the others to illuminate the world. The verbiage from ritual paraphrased is coming to mind "...that light when added to the coming light..."
We'll see you at the next convention in Attleboro MA, Masonic Con 2020.
You can follow Hillsborough Masonic Lodge No. 25 on these social media accounts.
Hillsborough 25's Website - www.hillsborough25.org
Instagram - @hillsboroughlodge25