I've written about a bunch of "Masonic Conventions" that I've been to. Advocating, reviewing, and generally praising those few lodges out there with a dream of creating something more. Something that seems impossible--something that embodies the best-imagined things you ever had. If you're like me, it means sitting at a small dining room table coated with a wood veneer. You know the kind. It looks halfway decent until you sit at it every day, and the edges are cracking. It keeps poking your forearms. You resist the urge to pick at it, less your dad gives you a whoopin'.
I'd sit there every morning, resisting the urge to pick at the table, slurping my Cocoa Krispy cereal, daydreaming. I'd dream about all things fantastic. Sometimes it was about cartoons, sometimes it was movies, and sometimes it was Batman, racing the Batmobile around the kitchen table--swerving around my cereal bowl.
As we get older, our daydreams shift into things that we're actively involved in or want to be involved in. Getting that promotion. Getting picked up to play triple-A ball. Or maybe it's bringing a ton of brothers from around the country into one lodge, with a full day of programming and dinner. That's just what Bryan Simmons did a few years ago. He called some great speakers, got his entire lodge to help out, spread the word, and charged $5 per head at the door. Hundreds of brothers from all around the country showed up at Ezekiel Bates' doors. And then, he did it again, and again and...not again.
Covid struck with a vengeance. Our lodges around the world shut down. It was like watching Toys R Us go out of business--every day. Your soul hurt. So Bryan and Ezekiel Bates pushed out the conference in 2020 in the hopes they would be better able to accommodate the hundreds that would normally attend. The money had been collected, spent, and people were waiting--stakeholders chomping at the bit to get a taste of this thing, now in its 4th year. People who'd watched it happen and read the reviews and social media postings about it, thinking at first--this is nothing. The minds transitioned from indifference to curiosity, to yet a compulsion to come, and then--the conference got moved out because of the pandemic.
Summer rolled around, and Massachusettes, like the rest of the world, saw the uptick in Covid cases again. The world that had given us hope--that we were on the other side of this thing had waffled. People let their guards down, cases rose, and restrictions once again forced Bryan and Ezekial Bates to put the Masonic Con on hold. Eventually, 2021 had signs of hope. Ezekial Bates pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, decided on a date, set everything up, and let their speakers know that it was time to secure your airfare once more.
Going for it
We did. We called the airlines, booked our travel, and made our arrangements. May 1st, 2021, was going to be the day that Masonic Con 2020'ish happened. And it did. With close to what seemed like 100 people in person and countless online attendees, the day went off with presentations from some of the most well-known and respected men of our fraternity in modern times.
What if I told you Chuck Dunning and Ben Wallace took the stage together?! Or two Freemasons who are pastures in their respective churches took the stage together? Or a presentation by Tony Crisos, a man who lives the Orphic life, and he explained the system to us all in attendance? All this and more, over a nine-hour day. It was exhausting--but in the best way possible. I had the honor of presenting amongst these titans, and I even got to sit on a panel discussion with Chuck, Ben, and Bryan as they talked about the cognitive and emotional direction of the Craft in the coming years.
That night we had a festive board which was simply astounding. One bite of the prime rib--I looked over at Alex Powers, the host of Historical Light and Director of the Kansas Lodge of Research, and he was stunned. "Who was the caterer? This is epic." he remarked. I replied, "It was Bryan Simmons. While these presentations were going on, he cooked up over 700 pounds of prime rib." That sounds like an accomplishment in and of itself, now that I type it out. Seven Hundred Pounds!
What the hell's the point, RJ?
Well, if you've read this far, great. Because something else happened over that weekend. Bonds were made. Not only amongst brothers of the Craft but the wives. I have never in my 11 years as a brother of this fraternity witness what I witnessed. The wives of the lodge members (myself, Alex, and Joe included) hung out all weekend. They were laughing, having drinks, and genuinely enjoying each other's company. It was remarked over the weekend that none of us had received texts from our wives. Yeah--it was like that. They were literally all best friends--sisters. I even heard a rumor they have their own Facebook group now.
Sunday, May 2nd, 2021, I was sitting at a place representative of revolution. Three Freemasons sat at a table in the Green Dragon Tavern. Bryan Simmons, Mike Jarzabek, and I. As we reminisced over the previous day's events, Bryan said something that made us think. "This whole thing--it's just a way for us all to get together. Yeah, there's the Masonry that's for everyone and the fellowship. But look--it's all of us, our wives, and we're using this time to get together and be a family. We don't need Freemasonry to be an excuse to do this."
And it hit me. Freemasonry is the foundation stone of most of our lives. Sometimes we use Freemasonry as an excuse to see people or do something big. But maybe, we don't need it all the time. Maybe we need to remember that the thing that connects us first is our humanity. Remembering this opens up new doors for us to be connected. We don't need a giant Masonic convention as an excuse to come together, but sometimes it helps.
The next Masonic Con will be in New Hampshire. It will be handed over from Bryan Simmons (The Architect) to Ryan Flynn (renowned fine artist). With the new location, there will come new audiences, new brothers, and new approaches. It's sure to be amazing. While we wait for this next convention in 2022, more conferences are happening this year. In 2021 we're looking forward to:
Esotericon (not exclusive to Freemasonry) June 2021
Cooperstown Masonic Con October 8-10, 2021
And in 2022, we will see the return of even more conventions that took a break due to Covid 19.
South Pasadena Masonic Lodge - Masonic Con 2022
Texas Masonic Con
Masonic Con New Hampshire
Cooperstown Masonic Con 2022, Cooperstown, NYC
Midwest Conference of Masonic Education 2022, Kansas City, MO
Maybe something around the Kansas area even...
There may be even more, and if they happen too-- it will be amazing. I had to answer the question a few times about Masonic Con Chicago, and the answer is, "No. There will not be a Masonic Con Chicago 2021 and likely not even in 2022. The next likely date for it will be in 2023 or after."
RWB Johnson is a Co-Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the 2nd N.E. District of Illinois. He currently serves as the Secretary of Spes Novum Lodge No. 1183. He is a Past Master of Waukegan Lodge 78 and a Past District Deputy Grand Master for the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts weekly Podcasts (internet radio programs) Whence Came You? & Masonic Radio Theatre, which focuses on topics relating to Freemasonry. He is also a co-host of The Masonic Roundtable, a Masonic talk show. He is a husband and father of four, works full time in the executive medical industry. He is the co-author of "It's Business Time - Adapting a Corporate Path for Freemasonry," “The Master’s Word: A Short Treatise on the Word, the Light, and the Self – Annotated Edition,” and author of "How to Charter a Lodge: A No-Nonsense, Unsanctioned Guide. More books are on the way.