Visiting Harmonie Lodge No. 699 in Buffalo
In one single night I succeeded to see and hear all the three obligations used in New York state – more exactly, in one of their lodges, Harmonie Lodge No. 699. It is not a typo how the name is spelled since this lodge was started by German-speaking Masons in 1869. Until recently, I didn’t know about their existence and here is how I came to visit the lodge last night:
Being a member in a Traditional Observance (TO) lodge (Templum Lucis No. 747) I was browsing on the Masonic Restoration Foundation’s website. The Foundation was and is one of the best resources regarding the Masonic renewal movement in North America and they provide many good resources. The site also has a list with lodges that are considered “Traditional Observant”. When looking at the geographical proximity, I noticed the Harmonie Lodge No. 699 in Amherst, practically – on Google maps and in the GPS – in Buffalo, NY.Of course, first I clicked on a link and read (almost) everything on their website. I am quite familiar with our two TO lodges in Ontario’s jurisdiction and they both started as new lodges with the strong intent to create this new type of lodge. However, there are lodges on this continent with a long history and rich heritage… which are turning slowly toward the Observant model and renewing the way they work. Fittingly, on the Harmonie’s website they call it the Janusian model, after the Roman god Janus [IANVS] – the two-faced god of beginning and transitions (!). They named their model of restoration “Janusian” because they look forward into the future and back to recognize the ‘illustrious past’.
Unlike my lodges in Canada, they have a winter break, so during the summer, when our lodges are in recess, they meet every second and fourth Wednesday. I contacted them because I wanted to learn more about what they do. So I ended up last night at their lodge to witness a very interesting event:
a Masonic Rededication of our Obligations. This wonderful ceremony allows us to not only reaffirm our commitment to Freemasonry but will allow us to discuss our obligations role in everyday life.
While standing in a circle around the altar all three obligations were recited and then a short comment has been provided by the secretary, RW Bro Dan Di Natale. I would have liked to have there or later after the closing of the lodge some more discussion… maybe it happened after I left or maybe it will happen some other time. Even so, it was a powerful moment, as the three Masonic oaths were presented one after the other, and it definitely prompted me to analyze our obligations in a different light. On the long drive back (note to myself: avoid the Lewiston border crossing late evening toward Canada: it is full of trucks and the waiting can be hour-long) I had the chance to contemplate about the many differences in the ritual at my mother lodge in Budapest, Hungary, where I saw the light, in my present “foster” mother lodges in Hamilton and Stratford and at Harmonie Lodge, practicing the “American” work, as some in Canada call it… although it should be named correctly after Preston and Webb, as scholars mention this ritual.
As the program promised,
“The Master will also be going over his thoughts for the year and a deeper return to our Observant Masonic practice.”
And there was the Janusian concept ‘in vivo’ – among the candlelight and the excellent musical component, suddenly the Master of the lodge, W Bro William B. Chapin II, had a PowerPoint presentation projected on a screen while explaining his plans for the coming year. (He was installed just a few weeks earlier).
Lots of good ideas and great plans – as it should be when a young brother gets to the helm of a lodge. However, there was one point where I almost jumped up to run and shake his hands. He brought up the “sacrilegious” idea of getting rid of the automatic progression(?) of elected officers! Even allowing worthy members to jump into the line, which also means allowing others to leave the line if things don’t work out. It seems that NY lodges created the same problem for themselves as we have it here in Ontario: once a brother started to “go through the chairs” there is almost no way to stop him to get into the King Solomon’s chair. Regardless of his leadership abilities or readiness and knowledge to lead. I really wish them to be able to promote only the best officers!
The meeting was preceded by a nice festive board and followed by cocktails. The festive board wasn’t as formal as in my TO lodge – and this was a conscious decision of the lodge leaders. It suits better their membership and traditions. It was a great opportunity to chat with a few brethren around the table and to exchange ideas and stories.
I promised I will be back and bringing with me brothers from my lodge(s). It was a great Masonic night.