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Masonic Lodge members open their doors and hearts
"Fifty-years ago, Masonry lived up to its reputation as a secret organization, but now it's gone completely vice-versa," said Bob Clark, Masonic Lodge secretary and foundation chairman.
Freemasonry, or Masonry, is one of the oldest men's fraternal societies. Members used secret words and handshakes - which still exist - to communicate with one another.
"In the age of the Internet, the words aren't so secret today, but they still have meaning," said Phil Castell, a member of the Sequim Masons who also writes a monthly column on Medicare for the Sequim Gazette.
Starting in 2004, the Masons began working to clarify their identity and improve their communications with local communities and to create a new energy in lodges. A stigma had attached itself to Masons that they were involved with conspiracy theories and cults.
"We're trying to dispel any untruths and to be as open as possible," said Donald Williams, worshipful master, the Sequim Masonic Lodge leader.
"Regular people are Masons. A lot of former presidents were too," said Castell.
Recently, the Sequim Lodge was one of 29 in the country to receive the Mark Twain Masonic Awareness Award.
For the Twain Award, Sequim's members gathered information on the services they have performed in the past year, including:
_ Scholarships for graduating seniors
_ Donations to local nonprofits
_ Free health screenings and identification of more than 80 children for Washington State's Children Identification program at the Sequim Public Safety Fair.
The Sequim Masonic Lounge Foundation has given about 500 scholarships valued at $513,000 to Sequim High School seniors in 27 years.
On June 3 at Sequim High School's senior scholarship assembly, the Masons awarded $36,000 in scholarships to 30 students - two four-year $1,000 grants and 28 one-year gifts in the same amount.
Member Lonnie Pollard said that the scholarship money was dispersed among many students because, "we try to spread the wealth so not just the top few recipients receive all the money."
If a student has received more than $7,500 in scholarship money, the Masons will give a scholarship to an another high-scoring student.
The Masons will hold a picnic for graduates on June 21 where they will distribute the money.
The first Masonic Lodge was formed in 1717 in London and came to America in the 1720s.
Sequim Masonic Lodge 213 has 182 members and is part of North Olympic District 11 that includes the Quilcene, Port Angeles, Port Townsend and Forks lodges.
Williams said currently there is a generation gap between members but as the public becomes more aware of the Masons' community involvement, he believes there will be an increase in numbers.
Castell joined five years ago and is one of the younger members at 48.
"I joined because of fellowship," he said.
"I've made wonderful friends here that I never would have come across in
my daily life."
"After World War II a lot of guys joined up and it boomed," Williams said.
"But we're still making new ones all the time. All it takes is the old slogan, 'to be one, ask one,'" Castell said.
Becoming a Mason requires several steps. First, a nonmember must tell a current Mason that he wishes to join and then fill out a basic application form: name, address, occupation and verification that they believe in a superior being or God.
Applications are petitioned in front of current lodge members before continuing. If approved, three members from the lodge interview the candidate, then report to the lodge's members. A unanimous vote is required for induction into the brotherhood.
Masons also have several other groups that fall under its umbrella, including the Shriners and its 22 children's hospitals across the country, the Order of the Eastern Star for women, DeMolay International for boys, and the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls.
Williams said the Masonic Lodge is not a religious organization but has members from all religious beliefs.
Mason members' meetings are private but every Thursday morning at 10 a.m., the public is invited to attend coffee social gatherings.
They also hold a "College of Knowledge" from 7-8 p.m. every third Thursday of the month, led by historian
John Majors. He speaks about the history of the Masons and their role in society now.
The Sequim Masonic Lodge is at 700 S. Fifth Ave. and its office can be reached at 683-4431.
Matthew Nash can be reached mnash@sequim gazette.com.