April 18, 1998, was a Landmark for Freemasons in Illinois. Formally it started in the Fall of 1997 at the Annual Proceedings of the A. F. and A. M. Grand Lodge of Illinois when a resolution was overwhelmingly passed to extend recognition to members of the F. and A. M. Grand Lodge, Prince Hall Affiliation, of Illinois. That was reciprocated in the Spring of 1998 when the F. and A. M. Grand Lodge of Illinois passed an identical resolution. Years ago I attended a banquet given by the then A. F. and A. M. Grand Master at which an honored guest was the F. and A. M. Grand Master. A few months later we were the guests at a similar banquet and reception by the F. and A. M. Grand Master. Since that time many Freemasons of both jurisdictions have worked hard and against odds to make recognition happen.
Thursday night I greeted an Active Past Deputy of Illinois, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite Northern Jurisdiction F. and A. M., as he came for dinner and to sit in Lodge with us at our Reunion. As we ate, he spoke of Freemasonry with a quiet assurance and love that surpassed my own and I recognized that I was truly in the presence of a Master Mason. Saturday the 18th I sat at a table with twelve similar Freemasons as we talked about Freemasonry, Lodge affairs and the event we were celebrating. Each was again a Master Mason with whom I was honored to be associated. At dinner our table was shared by members of both Grand Jurisdictions as we talked of the Craft, current events, our way of doing things and the occasion. A youthful Master sat to my left and reminded me of my own exuberance as a young Mason. No one could have been with us without realizing that here indeed was a group of men with similar ideals, goals, dreams and aspirations.
Recently I finished James Boorstin's book, "The Americans; the Colonial Experience." in which he credits the common language and belief in government of those early colonials in establishing our present American Way of Life. Steven C. Bullock in his book "Revolutionary Brotherhood, Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order 1730-1840", posits that Freemasons were responsible for the social changes that formed our government and way of life.
In those times Prince Hall, a recognized Grand Master was active in Boston as were St. John's (Moderns) and St. Andrews (Ancients) Lodges. In the more than 250 years since then paths separated and each group went its own way. The rift between St. John's and St. Andrew's was healed before 1800 as was a similar rift between the Ancients and the Moderns in the Union in England in the early 1800's. The rift between those joined and united Lodges and Prince Hall remained breached. That breach was healed on the evening of April 18th, at an occasional A. F. and A. M Grand Lodge of Illinois which sat with the F. and A. M Grand Lodge of Illinois and thetwo Grand Masters signed an accord. One Grand Master said that it was up to us to forget the past and work in the present to improve the future.
My emotions were high as I sat in the crowded large preceptory of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of the Valley of Chicago as the accords were signed. Freemasons of both jurisdictions mixed and talked after the accord and gave us hope that a new era was beginning for the craft. Colonial America gave Freemasonry a great thrust forward but the last decades have seen a degeneration of the Craft. I felt as if this evening was bringing powerful forces to the fore and that a new powerful thrust forward was beginning. It has been written that we give thanks to God for the future which gives us a vision of better things to come but, most of all for the present which gives us the opportunity to attain those goals. That evening brought a new exuberance into my own life replacing some of the stoicism and cynicism that had crept in with the other ravages of old age. Certainly the young master I sat next to, and the many Prince Hall Masons I met that night were joining us and bringing a new meaning into our quest to seek a True Brotherhood of Man. In our times men who believe in God, work to create character with high moral standards, love their country and their Brother men are in high demand. My own cynicism had almost convinced me that truth, honesty and fair dealing were rapidly disappearing from the American Way of Life. Our news media are full of such dire news. Yet here in our Halls that evening men with these beliefs have met at last and mutually agreed to put their shoulders to the wheel to continue to work for such an America. This is what Freemasonry is about.
As I sat near the door, awaiting my friend who was driving me home I said my usual "Good night Gentlemen" as participants headed for the parking lot. But one Prince Hall Mason stopped and said "and Good night to you Brother" and I realized the full impact of the evening. We were not just men of good will, believing in God, loving our Brother men, espousing charity and character building, using as symbols the tools of operative Masons, but we were in fact and truly Brothers, working to continue the greatness of America, and I felt great pride and a sense of well being.
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