LIVING WELL: The Masons

August 01, 2007 12:00 am
Bob Richmond of Baker City is deputy grand master of the Masonic Lodge of Oregon. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).
Bob Richmond of Baker City is deputy grand master of the Masonic Lodge of Oregon. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).

By LISA BRITTON

Baker City Herald

No one will ever ask you to become a Mason. They don't decorate booths at community events, hand out applications during parades, or go knocking on doors.

So how does anyone join this fraternal organization?

It's simple: "To be one, ask one."

And this weekend presents a perfect opportunity to do just that — Baker City will be inundated with Shriners for the annual East-West All Star Shrine Football Game.

Shriners, known for their trademark red fezzes and other grand costumes, are first and foremost Masons who have worked their way up through the degrees of the organization.

But who, exactly, are the men of the Masonic Lodge and the women of the appendant organization called Eastern Star?

"The bottom line of all these organizations is not only learning how to be better people through the moral lessons, but to contribute to the betterment of humankind," says Baker City's Bob Richmond, deputy grand master of the Masonic Lodge of Oregon.

According to the Masonic Grand Lodge of Oregon Web site (www.masonic-oregon.com), the group has roots in the craft guilds of stonemasons who built cathedrals and other structures during the Middle Ages. The work of these men was so highly regarded that they were allowed to travel from country to country, and from this freedom came the label of "Freemasons."

By the 1600s, however, membership in those guilds began to decline, and the organizations began admitting men who were not craftsmen or stone masons.

The first lodge meeting in Oregon was held in 1849, and the charter "came in a little trunk on the Oregon Trail," Richmond said.

The Masonic Lodge in Baker City began in 1871. The lodge is at 2193 Main St., and the members meet upstairs.

Back in the time of the guilds, the Freemasons developed secret greetings and rituals to recognize each other — traditions that continue today.

"They were very protective of ability, and formed up handshakes and ways of recognizing each other," Richmond said.

Though the Masons don't build cathedrals or other towering stone structures these days, the terms and tools of Freemasonry are still very much a part of the traditions, such as the three degrees of Masonry: apprentice, fellow craft and master mason.

But first comes acceptance into the organization. After overcoming the hurdle of asking how to become a Mason, any man seeking membership must sign a petition and be voted into the Lodge by the other members.

All Masons much have a belief in the existence of a supreme being, and believe in life after death.

The Baker Lodge is now called Blue Mountain Lodge No. 34 and has absorbed the lodges and members from North Powder, Halfway and Canyon City. The lodge has more than 150 members, and continues to grow.

Freemasonry is built upon these tenets: Brotherly Love, which means practice of the Golden Rule); Relief, or charity for all mankind; and Truth.

After joining, Masons advance through the first three degrees — apprentice, fellow craft and master mason — by taking part in moral lessons that are taught during ceremonies with allegory and symbolism using the traditional tools of stone masons: gavel, gauge, square, level, plumb and trowel.

"Really what it is is a system of morality," Richmond says.

After completing the three degrees, members have the opportunity to advance through other branches of Masonry: Scottish Rite (all denominations); York Rite (nondenominational but definitely Christian); and Shrine.

Though they have their own meetings and traditions that aren't open to the general public, the Masons and Shriners definitely don't keep to themselves.

They raise money — lots of money — to provide scholarships for students with Masonic ties and support medical research.

And this weekend's game will raise between $65,000 and $80,000 to support the 22 Shriners Hospitals and burn centers, which provide specialized care for youth age 18 and older who suffer from orthopaedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries and cleft lip and palate.

All treatments at Shriners Hospitals are provided at no cost to patients.

Want to know more about the Masons or the Shriners?

Just ask.