by Midnight Freemasons Founder
Todd E. Creason, 33°
It’s inevitable–the older you get the more you think about what you’re leaving behind. Have you made a difference? Have the things you’ve done left an impact? Have you been a good father? What will remain of you after you’ve gone?
I don’t think about my legacy much, but a couple weeks ago, I found myself in a local tavern. I was lost, so I’d stopped for directions. Perfectly innocent. I didn’t want to appear rude, so I had a couple beers while I was there . . . No, my wife didn’t believe that either. Anyway, when I visited the men’s room, I noticed the mirror over the sink. There was a little bronze plaque on it. It said, “In Memoriam: Joe Smith.” I changed the name, but that little plaque got me thinking that I hope I leave more behind than a mirror in a men’s room in a local watering hole.
Many Freemasons achieve at least some small level of immortality in their Masonic Lodges. If you visit a lodge, old or new, you’ll see pictures of the Past Masters on the walls. You’ll find evidence of those men that came before you without trying very hard at all. And those are wonderful tributes to those Masons that have dedicated themselves to Freemasonry.
But that’s not what I want to leave behind. What I want to leave behind isn’t a faded picture of my handsome face. What I want to leave behind is a strong lodge. I want to leave my lodge better than it was when I found it. I want it to be a place that continues to inspire men. I want it to be a place that continues to teach us how to improve ourselves. But most of all, I want it to still be there when my grandson is old enough to petition. And his son, too. Because I believe Freemasonry is that important–especially today in our increasingly valueless society.
But change is hard in a Masonic Lodge, and too many Lodges are on a path that will lead to their eventual demise–coasting through meeting after meeting to their inevitable end. Members are hesitant to change things, or try new things. I’ve found that out the hard way. I’ve been working at it for a long time, and it’s always been two steps forward, and three steps back. But we’re finally making some slow progress forward.
The other thing that makes change so tough in a Masonic lodge? You spend years working your way through the progressive line, and you finally find yourself in the East. You have it all planned out, and you have a great year (or two) in the East, and you’re so happy with what you’ve accomplished. Then the election comes, and a new Mason is elected Worshipful Master. And he has all kinds of ideas of his own, and that direction you were taking falls by the wayside and your Lodge heads in a new direction. And what about your legacy? In most cases, two or three years down the road, there’s not much left of it.
You’ll find that true at the Lodge level, and at the Grand Lodge level as well. I was the Secretary of a Lodge for a long time, and every two years without fail, the focus, the rules, and the emphasis changed with the installation of a new Grand Master. But I’ve been very fortunate to have recognized this trend early on, and I’ve found a way to mitigate that constant shifting focus that comes with a new captain at the helm every year or two. It works well, so I’m going to share it with you.
I’ve been fortunate to have been involved in creating two new Masonic bodies! I know–that’s pretty uncommon in today’s world! But in 2012, a group of us chartered a new High Twelve Club in Champaign, Illinois–Illini High Twelve. It took us a couple years to get it together, and of course, we wanted to do a few things differently than a typical High Twelve, so we had some convincing to do. But it happened finally, and I was the Charter President. Several Presidents later, it’s still going strong, and doing basically the same thing we wanted to do when we began.
And right now, we’re in the process of chartering a brand new Chapter of the Royal Arch–again, with a very different slant. It’s a Chapter with a focus on education. That seems to be a theme with me. Anyway, Education is the focus of every chapter meeting. Not a very typical format for the Royal Arch Chapter. Again we had some convincing to do, but in June our Charter was approved but the Grand Chapter of Illinois. I have little doubt that our new Chapter, Admiration Chapter, will still be education based for a long time to come.
How do I know that? Because when we put together the Illini High Twelve and Admiration Chapter, we sat down with our charter members, and our charter officers, and we put together a plan of what we wanted to do. Those two organizations both started with a crystal clear vision of purpose.
Lodges are no different. If you want to leave a legacy–a lasting change–you have to get everyone on the same page. As I said before, established lodges are harder to change without a doubt. But it can be done. But you’re not going to do it during your year or two in the East, so get that idea out of your head. Nobody is that visionary. You’ve got to get your heads together and come up with some consensus of what you want to do going forward. That way each successive Worshipful Master advances that goal further down the road rather than shift the focus entirely.
I’m currently the Master of Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL). It’s an old lodge, and it has been teetering on the edge of closure for years. We serve two year terms in Homer, because in the past, we’ve barely had enough to open some months. Some years ago we had the discussion–should we try and save the lodge, or should we merge the lodge with nearby Ogden Lodge No. 754. We decided to make one final push to save it.
I’m at the beginning of my second year. Since that conversation some years ago, all the hard physical work to restore the Lodge has been managed by my predecessors. The Lodge is beautiful. It’s been patched and painted, roofed, some brick work has been done, and everything has been cleaned and polished. Let’s just say we’ve all invested a lot of sweat equity into that old building–and it is a jewel. That building also serves as the home of the new Admiration Chapter. Since the restoration it has been used by the Knight Masons, the Allied Masonic Degrees, the York Rite, the Scottish Rite, the Shriners, and has been rededicate by the Grand Lodge of Illinois (first time we believe that Lodge had been visited by the Grand Lodge since the building was dedicated in 1893).
It fell on me during my term to fill it up with new Masons. We tried a number of things last year, with somewhat disappointing results. This year, we’re working on the meetings. Every meeting is an event. We start with education, and we invite local lodges to join us. Slowly, the word is getting out. We’ve added a few dual members. We’ve had a few guests join us for our education programs. Change is beginning to take hold.
In fact, we recently received a petition from a young man whose great-grandfather was a member of our lodge. He visited the lodge during one of our open houses. You should have seen the look on his face when he found photos of both his great-grandfather and his great-grandmother hanging on our walls–they were both active in the Eastern Star Chapter that met in our building many decades ago. When members of my lodge see things like that, it makes all that hard work worth it.
Now my exit from the East is coming, but I have no worries. What I started during my term will continue. Because it’s not just me. The next two Worshipful Masters are on the same page–incidentally the next two Worshipful Masters are also Midnight Freemasons contributors. I’m pretty lucky to have Greg Knott as a Senior Warden, and Darin Lahners as a Junior Warden. We share the same view of the importance of Masonic education and member development to lodge health and growth. But the most significant factor is that the members of Homer Lodge are really enjoying the meetings! If we can continue having great meetings that our members look forward to, and adding new members, I think Homer Lodge will be around for some years to come.
As Masons, ensuring the continuation of our Lodge should be our legacy. How are your great-grandkids going to see your picture hanging on the wall if your lodge closed decades before they were born?
Todd E. Creason, 33° is the Founder of the Midnight
Freemasons blog and is a regular contributor. He is the award winning
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 the Worshipful Master of Homer Lodge No. 199 and
a Past Master of Ogden Lodge No. 754. He is a Past Sovereign Master of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied
Masonic Degrees. He is a Fellow at the Missouri Lodge of Research. (FMLR) and a charter member of a new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter
U.D. You can contact him at: email@example.com