A few weeks ago I packed up the wife and kids into the RAV4 and made for Pennsylvania to visit family. Despite being a Freemason for more than ten years, I had never manage to sit in lodge in my home state. Over the past two years, however, I have had to the pleasure of hosting Wor. Bro. Norbert Slezak, a Past Master from Victory Lodge No. 694
in Butler, at several lodges in Maine. This past winter I even seated him beside me in the East while I presided over a Master Mason Degree at Triangle Lodge No. 1 in Portland. Suffice it to say he has been very eager to return the favor, having been well treated by the Brethren of Maine. When he found out I would be coming down he sought out a degree for me to attend.
It was more than just a "degree." Bro. Slezak drove more than an hour from Butler to Connellsville to join me in witnessing a Master Mason Degree. The brethren of King Solomon's Lodge No. 340 were working their very last degree at their building on South Pittsburgh Street in Connellsville. The lodge had joined with three others to construct a new, single floor facility scheduled for dedication during the summer break. It transformed the degree into a significant historical event. It was easy to see why they were headed for a new location. Their building was quite old and had been wounded terribly by a lightning strike a few years ago. The bolt had cut a gash into the building and admitted a great deal of rain water, causing further harm to the building and leaving significant interior damage. Echoing two common issues facing lodges all over the country economic changes in the region had shifted the membership from the town center into the outlying areas while an aging membership, an upper-floor lodge and no elevator had gradually eroded attendance. the decision to create a new lodge hall sounds like a wise one.
As for the degree work itself, I cannot say for certain. The work was so completely unlike the Maine ritual, which is derived from the Webb Working of the mid-nineteenth century, that I was in no position to judge. This was not a surprise as my own research into the development of Masonic ritual made clear that Pennsylvania zealously guarded its working throughout its history. There were many phrases and words in common, but the differences were even greater including differences in our famously fixed elements like the sign and due guards. The only moment when I the two rituals merged was a brief section of the "working tools" lecture. In a general sense it had more in common with the English style of working, yet still substantially different in specifics from Emulation, which I have read, or Ritus Oxoniensis, which I have seen.
As I had been so long absent from Pennsylvania I had forgotten the odd Pennsylvanian sense of being "northern." In Maine, whether you are "northern" or "southern" depends on where you live. If you are from Calais, near Canada, then south of Bangor is "southern." If you live around Bangor then the line of demarcation only shifts to Brunswick. If you live in Portland then anything south of New Hampshire is "southern." Pennsylvanians, on the other hand, have this sense that they are the north pole of "northerliness" with every point outside of the state being "southern."
This issue arose in the context of my use of the due guard before speaking to the Master or answering his summons. One of the Past Masters was explaining to the brethren after the meeting that this was a "southern" style of ritual. Just hearing the statement flung me right back into the old sense of the entire world being south of Pennsylvania! I explained to the brethren that Maine could hardly be considered to be "southern" and that I had seen the practice in other States as well. However, neither Colorado nor Florida use the due guard in the fashion that Maine does. If the practice is common to Maine but not common to Florida, a person can hardly call it a "southern" practice.
The whole discussion made me miss my home state terribly, but no sooner had I returned to the Great State of Maine than the nostalgia was firmly expelled and I was glad to find myself back in my adoptive home state.
Labels: Freemasonry, ritual, travel