In 1881 two soap makers, Harley Proctor and Brother James Gamble (Cheviot lodge #140 Cincinnati, Ohio), were looking for a way to distinguish their soap from that of their competition. The two men sent their soap to have it analyzed and compared to what was the best soap of the day, Castile soap.
The analysis returned to the men showed that their soap, which was called Ivory soap, had fewer impurities than its competition. Ivory was advertised for many years to be “99 and 44/100% pure” and nearly free of the nasty stuff people don’t want to think about when they are bathing with a bar of soap.
The last few months of this Covid-19 pandemic has brought out the best and the worst in people. It has also forced many of us to alter our lives--just a few months ago, we would not have believed it to be possible.
At the onset of this epidemic, when states began to close business and encourage citizens to remain in their homes, many Grand Lodges ceased labor all around the world. Lodge halls remain dark; aprons remain unworn and such things as shaking your Brother's hand seem, for now, to be discouraged. I had one brother who asked me. “Do you think this will kill Masonry?” He added, “We had such good momentum going bringing new members in. It would be a shame to see it just fade away.”
Many of you who know me know I am usually not the most optimistic person in the world, but upon reflection, I think of this time in our lives--to quote brother Churchill, as our “finest hour.”
If you look at Masonic history, Freemasonry has not only survived through the hard times; it has thrived! Through wars, dictatorships, depressions. No matter how dark things appear to be, there are always men who refuse to bend or give up. I believe we are living through another one of those times.
Over the last half-century, Masons have been conditioned to believe that practicing Freemasonry consists of fish-fries, constant charity schemes designed to bring new men to the doors of our Lodge rooms in hopes of making enough money in dues to pay the utilities and fix our crumbling temples. “We never did it that way.” or “That would never work.” was the answer to every new idea a younger Mason introduced.
As time marches on, we find ourselves in 2020. The worst pandemic our world has seen in over a century. For now, we can practice Masonry “The way we have always done it.” Much like Ivory soap, we have been forced to render all of the impurities out of Freemasonry, and we are now entering a “New” phase-- our Craft hasn’t seen these conditions in a long while. I call it “Pure Masonry.”
Since the suspension of labors, Lodges cannot keep beating the membership drum and begin to practice Freemasonry. Brothers are checking on each other, making sure they are OK, and have everything they need to get by day to day. If they need something, a Brother will “Fly to the relief” of that Brother. Our elderly Brothers and their widows who have not heard from their Lodges in years are getting phone calls to check their welfare. If they need food or medicine or just to talk to someone, the members who took an obligation are fulfilling it. I cannot read the future, but I hope this level of caring about each other survives the outbreak. It is my belief caring for each other and fulfilling that promise we made will do more for membership retention than any open house or pamphlet ever could.
Even though we are all socially distancing, Masons are still meeting virtually on such platforms as Zoom or WebEx, or by other means. These aren’t actual Lodge meetings (but it may happen) and none of “the secrets” will ever be exposed to possible cowans who fall through the cracks and gain access. If they want those "secrets" they can be found on the conspiracy website we all know and love.
These men are getting together to “spread cement” virtually-- to spread some good cheer and keep each other’s morale up while cooped up inside. The Masons of Great Britain have taken to Twitter to post a selfie of themselves raising a glass to their departed Brethren each evening at nine o’clock. At one point, there were so many Brethren toasting it started trending on Twitter! Who would ever have thought something positive about Freemasonry would ever do that?
Masonic Education has also been growing by leaps and bounds. I know several Midnight Freemasons who have given multiple Masonic presentations to lodges all over the country on the same night. I know a lot of Brothers have joked they are busier now Masonically than they were before the outbreak.
Small Lodge’s can, for just the price of an internet connection, can have presentations from some of the most exceptional Masonic speakers of our time right in their very Lodge room and not worry about the cost of the speaker’s travel or lodging expenses. The same Brethren can even have a virtual Masonic book club where they can each pick a Masonic book and discuss among themselves from their own homes. The possibilities are endless.
I even heard of one Grand Lodge which held its secretaries’ school in a virtual meeting. The Grand Lodge was shocked because the virtual meetings had higher attendance than any physical seminar has had in years. If correctly used, a virtual meeting like this for administrative purposes like Wardens retreats, district conferences, “Grand Lodge town halls…etc.” could be a large savings in time and money for Grand bodies who have seen their budgets shrinking for decades. No longer would they have to rent hotel ballrooms or pay mileage, and lodging for Grand Lodge members travels. Add these savings reducing paper forms in favor of online forms these windfalls can fund other projects or expenses which need more attention. Am I advocating for lodge meetings on the internet? Absolutely not! No electronic device will ever replace the handshake of s Brother or the visit to a Lodge room. But if we are smart about it, these webinars can become an unbelievably valuable working tool in our Masonic toolbox.
Brethren, we have accomplished a lot of positive things over the last few months of this terrible time. The funny thing is, much of these things I have illustrated in this essay, we have been told over the last few decades “would never work’” or that they would “destroy Freemasonry.” But from where I am sitting, it appears to me the Corona Virus has shown us that “...real Freemasonry works every time it’s tried.” as Dwight Smith used to say, but it also seems to make it stronger.
I hope when this terrible virus has been defeated and we can all return to our normal lives, I want us to remember what we achieved during this period and continue to practice Pure Masonry-- to insist our Brethren and Grand Lodges continue to do so. We can honestly say, “This was our finest hour.”
Who knows? Maybe if we have been right about these points, maybe some of the other ideas we Masonic restoration advocates have are right too.