Over the past several months, you may have heard some Brothers talking about a new lodge being formed in New Hampshire, with terms like T.O. or Traditional. These terms may have some certain implications and some associated “bad-press” with them, so I have decided to prepare a piece on what several Masons from around our jurisdiction are trying to do.In the spring of 2010, I contacted a handful of Brothers from around New Hampshire whom I knew to be searching for ‘more’ in Masonry and asked them to start looking at the website of the Masonic Restoration Foundation (www.traditionalobservance.com). This organization, an education based non-profit, was formed in the early 2000s to help reignite the spark in Freemasonry that many feel has been lost. Over the spring and early summer, this group of Masons decided to take the next step and “meet” on the level to begin discussing Masonry. Over the summer and fall of 2010 it was decided that we should organize as a club with the goal of trying to form a new lodge in the future. We organized a brief set of bylaws, adhered to some Masonic principles and began charging small amounts of dues to help build a treasury for what we hoped would be a new lodge. 2011 has been a whirlwind for us; word got out, our numbers grew, we have had great Masonic discussions, we had the former president of the MRF come and give a presentation on Traditional Observance Masonry, and have tried to keep Brethren from around the jurisdiction involved. In August, four of our club members went to Alexandria, VA to attend the Masonic Restoration Foundation’s Annual Symposium and were left awe-struck by the experience; contacts were made, authors were met, luminaries from Freemasonry spoke (Bob Davis of Oklahoma, Julian Rees of the United Grand Lodge of England, and Mark Tabbert, author of American Freemasons)…the event spurred the club members on further, to the point where there is talk of New Hampshire hosting such a symposium in the future. Over the past couple of months, the club has elected officers, drafted bylaws, begun work on a lodge manual, received the recommendation of the local lodge that would share its temple and begun the dispensation process.Now, for a brief explanation: imagine if you will, Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington all sitting in lodge together. These were men of the Enlightenment, worldly men who studied and wrote. Do you think they sat and debated lodge finances and the infrastructure of the building? Or do you think they talked of the ideas of the Enlightenment, the true tenets of Brotherly Love, Relief & Truth, and other philosophical and esoteric subjects? I, and many others, believe it was the latter. Masonry has lost those principles which set it apart from all the other ‘service clubs’ and the MRF is a grassroots organization designed to help promote education and offer different and historical views Masonry. This type of “grassroots” effort is well known to us in New Hampshire; the home of grassroots politics, where most of us have shaken the hand of the next President of the United States…
A Traditional Observance Lodge is a lodge that is focused on the initiatic experience of a candidate. Utilizing methods such as a chamber of reflection, the candidate is left with a deep and meaningful experience of what should be a life-changing moment on his entrance into our fraternity. A T.O. Lodge focuses on education and introspection; before a candidate can advance to the next degree, not only must he recite his lesson in full, but present a paper on a topic of his choosing, usually discussing the degree and its importance to him. Papers and presentations are the norm for meetings, as are silence, musical pieces and introspective meditation; we should all strive for enlightenment not only as a time period of the past, but as a recurring state of mind. An Agape (or Festive Board) takes place after every meeting, where discussion and pure Masonic love is shared by all attending. A T.O. Lodge requires the officers and members to dress formally with white gloves, signifying our pure intentions in the Craft. New Hampshire ritual will be used in our lodge, with some best practices from sister jurisdictions being available outside of our normal ritual. Very important is the dues of a T.O. Lodge; purposely high because of the many aspects that the members get from it will be well worth the cost (books, aprons, discussions, meals, guest speakers, etc.)- our lodge would require dues of $360 annually.
While these things may not seem like everyone’s cup of tea, statistics show that this is what many men who are seeking petitions are looking for in Masonry. The goal of this T.O. Lodge is not to steal members, in fact, membership will be purposely low-72 in all, with no more than 3 to 4 candidates expected per year, negating the argument that we will be taking away candidates…after all, if a lodge is worried about losing one candidate to another lodge, it has bigger problems.
Our members will NOT leave their lodges, they will continue to be productive and helpful members of their mother lodge as long as they wish. Visitors will always be welcome, but adherence to the dress code and formalities observed in the lodge are requested. The goal is to be elite…but not elitist. New Hampshire Freemasons are humble, honest and forthright Yankees, and that is what sets us apart from other jurisdictions. Everything we will seek to do in the lodge will be for one distinct purpose; to leave an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of those who choose to become members.
The name that was chosen for our lodge is Phoenix; because as the mythical bird rose from the ashes of the fire that consumed its former self, so to do we believe that our lodge will help to make Masonry flourish again.
There will be approximately 20 members on our charter from across the many districts of our state, and the only direction we seek to go is up.
Our club meetings are open to attend ($10 donation requested); our next meeting will be on December 9 at the Tilton Masonic Temple at 7 PM; be warned however, if you plan on coming, be prepared to join in the conversation and have fun!
– Bro. Paul C. Smith, PM