A Newbie Goes to Washington

Photo collage from 2009 Biennial Session

May-June 2010

By Ion Lazar, 32°, KCCH

Left to right: Attendees of the Opening Session of the Supreme Council, 33°, on Monday, October 5, 2009; SGC Seale delivers his Allocution to the Supreme Council; the Supreme Council hosted a welcome reception and tea on Sunday at the St. Regis Hotel; the Grand Standard of the Supreme Council, 33°, S.J., U.S.A. (Photos, l. to r.: Photos: (l. to r.) Christopher Crosbie; Bro. Jim Busby, 32°, KCCH, Valley of Charleston, W. Va.; Jeri Walker, Office of Development; Christopher Crosbie)

I am a young Scottish Rite Mason, a member of the oldest active Valley in the world—New Orleans—for a little less than a decade. This makes me pretty much a child among my more knowledgeable and well-seasoned friends. Many of my Brothers have devoted their lifetimes to deciphering and teaching the deeper mysteries of the Scottish Rite. Over these past few years, I have filled shelf after shelf with old and new tomes in a bookworm’s attempt to build a good quality Masonic library to at least gain a peek behind the veil that guards our mysteries and symbols.

I suppose I’d better come clean: after years of study, what I still do not know about the Scottish Rite could fill a book—okay, maybe two or three, and surely they would be large folio-sized ones. I’m also pretty sure there are many other graduates of the Master Craftsman Program who feel the same way. The profundity of Scottish Rite philosophy and the depth of its rich history have always kept me intensely aware that I was merely scratching the surface.

Little did I know just how readily those massive doors to the Inner Sanctum would open to reveal the hospitality of a calm oasis to a Scottish Rite Brother traveling from afar … actually, to about 600 of us, but you will see shortly why I still felt this to be an intensely personal experience.

It was in the early days of 2009’s torturously hot summer in New Orleans when I heard the buzz around the Valley. It started with our General Secretary, Ill. Lloyd A. Hebert, 33°. He’s got this habit of motivating newer brothers to “reach for the sky” in the Scottish Rite and to use their best talents for the benefit of the Valley. To this end Bro. Lloyd constantly keeps us “in the loop,” be it by email or by phone, regarding new programs and upcoming events. The “buzz” about attending the Biennial Session in Washington, D.C., had spread like wildfire by the time I got to the stated meeting.

I remember sitting and listening with rapt attention to stories about meeting world-famous Masonic researchers and other notable personalities at past sessions. I thought to myself: “I must go there, too. I simply can’t miss this! Where do I sign up?” As it turned out, the “signing up” part was only a high-tech preview of what was to come later; the web site of our Supreme Council (www.scottishrite.org) handled it all in just a few minutes, from my registration form to tickets for all of the events and banquets. Simply impressive!

The pleasant surprises kept coming. As a session newbie, I felt a little nervous about not knowing what to expect regarding the timeline of so many interesting events. All my worries evaporated as I received a personalized, detailed email from our SGIG, Ill. William J. Mollere 33°, who took the time to walk me through the entire line-up of official events in sequence and in considerable detail.

What really makes a world-class Masonic event a great success? Which aspect or feature of a grand-scale, international gathering like our Biennial Session can ultimately account for those few days leaving an indelible mark upon the memories of attendees, both new and old? Well, I’m certainly not an expert in these matters—I’m a newbie, remember? But I’ve traveled to my fair share of Masonic meetings, so I’ll venture an opinion: the one factor that can radically shape perceptions is the hosts’ ability to make the attendees feel welcome and to genuinely project the “vibe” that everyone is an integral part of the proceedings. This is precisely where the 2009 Session hit the bull’s-eye.

Every big event like this holds the potential for at least one moment of sheer panic for a first-timer. You know what I mean—that moment when the magnitude of the occasion suddenly descends upon you as you’re looking over hundreds of seemingly unknown faces. You can’t help but wonder, “What did I get myself into this time?” Then, if you are fortunate like I was, something wonderful happens—Freemasonry happens! I wouldn’t dare attempt to capture in words the essence of this sublime experience, but I can describe the details of my “moment.”

I was dressed in my tux, clutching my KCCH cap and trying my best not to look nervous while standing at the bottom of the imposing double-staircase leading to the Grand Ballroom. This “room” (or indoor stadium?) had hosted a function for the U. S. Supreme Court Justices days before and was tonight the venue for our Grand Commander’s Banquet and Ball. Then Freemasonry happened. I looked up and at the top of the stairs was the Grand Master of Masons in Louisiana, MW Bro. Jules F. “Jeff” Webb, 33°, and his delegation who recognized me and called me up. I felt instantly at ease and welcome. Within minutes I was surrounded by friends and brothers, and they in turn introduced me to new Masonic friends. I knew and felt that this was Freemasonry at its best, the intangible and ineffable social alchemy that begins with being prepared “in your heart.” To top it all off, the Gala Banquet was exquisite and the impeccable service was by liveried staff wearing white gloves. Our Grand Commander and his Lady Sunny stopped by our Orient’s table and greeted everyone by name! You cannot imagine how welcome and how special he made us all feel!

Years from now people will still be talking about the many unique events at this Session. There was the moving vesper service at the historic St. John Church where so many U.S. presidents have bowed their heads in prayer. This Biennial Session was attended by many 32° Brothers who clearly occupied positions of leadership on the Supreme Council Staff as well as within their Valleys. I was particularly impressed by the helpful and ubiquitous presence of so many Knights of St. Andrew dressed in their traditional uniforms.

There were other special events. SGC Seale and his Lady Sunny hosted a wonderful reception at the St. Regis Hotel. As a Baby Researcher and Honorary Resident Bookworm in my Valley, I have, of course, saved my favorite event for last: the annual meeting, luncheon, and lecture of the Scottish Rite Research Society. I don’t think that any first-timer would have even dreamed it possible, but imagine my excitement when I found I was seated between two veritable giants of Masonic research: Ill. S. Brent Morris, 33°, a world-renowned Masonic scholar, and Bro. Christopher Hodapp, 32°, editor of the Journal of The Masonic Society. I owe both of these very patient brothers my apologies for talking their ears off throughout the luncheon.

I returned home to New Orleans with a renewed sense of purpose and, I hope, with a better understanding of the value of my Scottish Rite membership. Not many people get such a golden opportunity to be a small part of something larger than themselves. We as Masons receive this opportunity, and yet too often we file it away on a shelf amidst our many to-do lists and unfulfilled promises and broken dreams. We must dare to dream again so that we may awaken to a clearer vision of our role in our beloved fraternity.

To my Brothers who may have long believed that the doors leading to our Inner Sanctum require a special pass-key, I offer this article as a challenge. The next Biennial Session is less than two years away; will you be there with me? I hope to see you there. Remember, don’t look for the “First-Timer Section” or for the “Newbie Section”, you won’t find one; we meet upon the level. And the only passwords you will hear as those massive doors swing open will be, “Salve Frater!”