Teaching Fraternity

Photo of Grand Commander Ronald A. Seale, 33°

My wife and I had the opportunity not long ago to spend several days in rest and recuperation with Sovereign Grand Commander John William McNaughton, 33°, and his lovely lady, Judy, who are our close colleagues in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. In our work environments, our time together is often limited to brief moments of conversation in hotel corridors as we await the introductions required by Masonic protocol at one of the many Masonic events we attend throughout any year. Of course, during the NMJ annual meetings or our Southern Jurisdiction biennial meetings, the schedule is particularly full, not leaving much time for meaningful discourse.

And so it was with a sense of appreciation that Sunny and I looked forward to a few days “down time” with Bill and Judy without the expected interruptions and competing demands for time.
We had a great few days together. The role for Bill and me was to follow our ladies around and to have the credit card at the ready as they prowled the stores on shopping expeditions. Invariably though, the temptation was too great not to “talk shop” and to compare notes, an expected turn of events for those whose jobs are so remarkably similar.

I always enjoy Bill’s McNaughton’s perspective on things. A very dedicated Mason of superior ability and commitment in my view, Bill always seems to maintain a clear focus and direction as he guides the Scottish Rite of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. They’re lucky to have him.

One of the points that I have heard Commander McNaughton emphasize many times, is that above all else we must not lose sight of who and what we are. And Bill is quick to further note that above all else we are a fraternity, a voluntary association of good men who have bound themselves to each other by solemn obligations. (My summary of his words.) And whatever else we do, whatever worthwhile goals we may pursue or identities we may claim, we must not neglect our nature as a fraternity if we are to continue as a viable presence. Again, my words.

From its earliest days, the Craft emerged as a brotherhood, one that concerned itself with its members and their wellbeing, not just economic but spiritual, emotional, and moral as well. It was a place where a man could belong and find acceptance with the knowledge that his brothers would be concerned about him and look after him as he would for them. That’s what it meant to be accepted as a member of the Craft. No detailed esoteric forays into the origins of the Fraternity are needed; just hear the obligations and consider the focus. What do you think were on the minds of the first brothers with whom these solemn vows originated?

The 1991 motion picture Backdraft, comes to mind. It’s the story of two brothers following in the family tradition of working as firefighters in a busy Chicago firehouse. In one gripping scene, a firefighter finds himself trapped in a burning building. Having lost his footing, he is suspended in midair over a fiery abyss saved from certain death only by the strong grip of his fellow firefighter who is holding him by one hand from above. Knowing his certain death is upon him, he pleads with his comrade above, “Let me go!” His companion, though straining every muscle and fiber yet holds firm and exclaims, “You go, we go!” This, my brothers, is the stuff brotherhood is made of and as Commander McNaughton notes, was once the defining character of Freemasonry.

Have we lost it? In America, anyway, where technology has enabled us to be more self-reliant and to perform many of our daily activities in virtual isolation, where is our sense of community, of caring for each other? Do we still take the time to call a lodge member, or a widow, or simply to check on a guy who once attended the meetings but has slipped “off the radar”? It’s not as dramatic as a fire rescue to be sure, but what has become of that sense of fraternity where one brother would tell another, “You go, we go”? We once claimed that spirit of brotherhood as primary in defining ourselves.

The demand for more Masonic education has almost become a mantra these days. Many noteworthy courses have resulted, not the least of which is the Southern Jurisdiction’s Master Craftsman Program. And yet, the most poignant question that Bill McNaughton posed on our recent mini-vacation remains: How do you teach Fraternity? In the midst of our schools of instructions, our ritual practices, our workshops and conferences, how do you teach Fraternity? How do we remind ourselves, daily, to care about each other?
It is important that we learn our lessons well, perhaps this one first and above all else.