Monday, November 14, 2011

Stamford Freemasons Open Their Doors

Courtesy of the Stamford Connecticut Patch - October 20, 2011

Last weekend, Stamford’s Union Lodge No. 5 joined lodges around the state of Connecticut to host open houses to help educate the community about freemasonry and offer potential new members a chance to come in and ask questions. On Saturday, Masonic Lodges around Connecticut hosted community open houses. At Stamford’s Union Lodge No. 5 located near the Glenbrook Station, Shriners’ miniature cars were parked out front, clowns visited with children, and the grill was going strong.

“The Connecticut Grand Lodge asked us to do this,” Jon Ringel, Master of Union Lodge No. 5, told Patch. “It's to increase interest, just let people know we’re here.”
By noon, they had already seen greater turnout than expected, people wandering through to ask a question or see what they were about. With an open house comes a certain tightrope walk. The Freemasons historically do not “recruit” new members, but view the open house as simply a chance to invite the community inside — perhaps demystifying the lodge a bit for some people.
“They want to know “What’s it about?” “What do you people do?”” Ringel said.
Of course, it’s tough to have an open house without inviting questions — after all, if you’ve ever sat through a History Channel special, you surely have a laundry list of them.
“We have our secrets, but we’re not a secret organization — 95% of what we do is not secret.” Ringel explained. “We’re in the phone book!”
“People think it’s a secret because it’s old,” Thomas Burke said.
Old indeed, while no one knows just when Freemasonry in general originated, Stamford’s Union Lodge No. 5 was founded in 1763 — that’s 25 years before Connecticut became a state.
“We’re here every Wednesday — the first and third Wednesdays are meetings, but we have dinner at 6:30 beforehand. In between, we’re here and it’s open to the public,” Ringel said. “There are people that hang around for awhile before meetings — there was one who was coming to the lodge for a long time and finally asked, “So what do I have to do to join you guys?” and I was like, “That’s all you had to do!””
“There was a commuter from New Canaan who had gone past here on the train for years — one day he got off the train and walked up here,” Odell added. “He’s been a member ever since.”
It’s hard to imagine an organization as steeped in tradition as the Freemasons keeping pace with the times, but they are constantly evolving new ways of keeping their traditions intact. For example, 90-95% of their membership inquiries now begin on the internet. Open houses like the ones held over the weekend across Connecticut are another way of opening the doors to let the community know that it’s okay to come on in and ask.
For the people asking "What do you do?" there's plenty to talk about. Stamford’s Freemasons participate in a variety of charitable activities throughout the year, from blood drives to fundraisers and a scholarship for a Stamford High School student.
“It’s sometimes referred to as a silent fraternity — we do it, get it done, don’t make a lot of noise about it,” Digger Odell, Past Master at Union Lodge No. 5, said.
One of their main philanthropic events is the CTCHIP program (Connecticut Child Indentification Program) and the very next day, Union Lodge No. 5 was headed to Stamford Museum & Nature Center's Harvest Festival for an event. CTCHIP is recognized by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as one of the most comprehensive child identification programs available free to families. CTCHIP creates a kit for parents including their child’s vital information, voice recordings, dental information, current photos, and other identifying information — providing an important resource if their child ever goes missing.
“All that information goes to the parent, hopefully they never need to use it,” Odell said.
While taking steps to raise their profile in the community, what remains a secret? Only the details of the meetings and the ways that Freemasons identify each other.
“That goes back to the masons — the actual stone masons. They would travel around and say you had a project, you had to be able to identify one, be able to know if he had the skills, if he knew his trade,” Odell said.
Union Lodge No. 5 recently gave out fifty year veteran pins to some of their members and every brother has a story of how he first came to the lodge and what it has meant to him in his life. The answers are at once poignant and simple.
“It gives you an avenue, an easy way to help the community,” Ringel said “The fellowship,” Odell replied almost instantly. “An opportunity to become a better man.”
About this column: "About Town" records the neighborhood chatter of Stamford. Let us know if you've heard anything that should be included. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of Patch or its editors.

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