Masons open doors to public

Discussion in 'General Freemasonry Discussion' started by Blake Bowden, Nov 17, 2009.

  1. Blake Bowden

    Blake Bowden Administrator Staff Member

    By Tom Caprood
    The Record

    Click to enlarge
    EAST GREENBUSH — People often think of “secret societies†when they hear about Freemasons, but in reality, most of the work done by Masons is for the families of their members and the communities in which they live.

    Five Masonic temples across the Capital District opened their doors to the public Saturday in an effort to answer any questions and correct any misconceptions that people may have of the organization based on reading Dan Brown’s highly popular books, “The Da Vinci Code†and “The Lost Symbol.â€

    Freemasonry is recognized as the world’s oldest fraternal organization and some of the local lodges, including the Albany Masonic Temple, predate the American Revolution.

    Dennis Helmes, master of the Van Rensselaer Lodge No. 87, located at 710 Columbia Turnpike, said that he and other Masons were trying to make people more aware of what they do and felt that the best way to do that was to open their doors and let everyone in.

    Helmes said that Masons first wanted to clear up the misconception that everything they do is top secret.

    “Freemasons give a lot back to the community and often act as philanthropists. We’re very active, not only in our community but in the surrounding areas as well,†said Helmes. “How secret can we be if we’re listed in the phone book and we’ve got a big sign that’s lit up outside of the building?â€

    One thing that does remain a secret known only to members of the fraternal organization is what their Masonic rituals entail, although Helmes noted that media outlets like the History and Discovery channels have been hard after that information for quite some time.

    However, to become a member one simply has to ask a Mason about joining the brotherhood, fill out a petition and, once accepted, complete three “degrees,†or steps, to become what is known as a master Mason.

    While there was no word on the rituals Masons practice and their Masonic bibles kept shut, members of the public were invited upstairs in the lodges to tour the members-only meeting rooms where they would not normally be allowed.

    The room itself was quite large with groups of chairs, benches, and thrones around the outer edge, all surrounding a central altar on which the Masonic bible sat. Above the altar shone images of the starry night sky while the seats of officers were decorated with the ceremonial jewels and aprons that distinguished their offices.

    The staircase leading up to the room was decorated extensively with images of George Washington, a prominent well-known member of the Masons, dressed in his own ceremonial garb.

    According to Helmes, one of the most important duties of Mason is to look after their brothers and to ensure that they and their families are taken care of, even after a fellow-Mason has passed away.

    “We’re a very close-knit bunch of men,†said Helmes. “We get into this for that reason, and a lot of people don’t realize that.â€

    The local lodge has a membership of about 180 men with about 30 of them attending regular meetings twice a month. Many of the members live out of state or the immediate area, but Helmes noted that they all are still active where they live and make it down when they can.

    Overall, the number of Masons across the country has declined in recent years, which Helmes attributed to the fact that people don’t know enough about the organization.

    He hoped that, with open houses like the one offered this weekend, more individuals would learn about their purpose and want to become part of the brotherhood of Freemasonry.

    “There isn’t a mason that you cannot trust,†said Helmes. “You could take a mitt full of money, throw it on table, go upstairs for an hour and come back down and you wouldn’t have a bill touched. That’s how much you trust your fellow man.â€

    The Van Rensselaer lodge holds its regular meetings for members on the second and fourth Thursdays of every month.

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