Saturday, May 16, 2009

Military Lodges (or the lack thereof)

Finding myself again deployed to a war zone, I have been reflecting upon the concept of military Lodges, or more precisely why there is such a lack thereof. Military Lodges have played an important part in American Masonic history. Indeed, some of the earliest Masonic activity on our continent was due to military Lodges, but sadly, it seems for the most part, they are no longer prominent on the American Masonic landscape. So what is a Masonic soldier to do while he's off fighting for his country?
In my opinion, when a Brother Mason is at war, this may be one of the most vital times during his life to be reminded of the tenets of our gentle Craft. But without the welcoming hand of Masonic fellowship with like minded Brethren, this can be difficult. Imagine trying to live for a year or more, under the most trying of circumstances, far from the comforts of home. Even the most dedicated of Brethren might have difficulties living up to the principles of our Fraternity. Our military Brothers deserve to have the opportunity to practice the Craft together as part of an organized Lodge. Why, then, are they being denied this opportunity?
Besides demographic reasons, I think a great deal of the problem has to do with jurisdictional issues. Over the last couple of years I have followed the blog of Brother Charles Martin and his efforts to establish a military Lodge in Iraq. Unfortunately, due to various circumstances this has not happened. This is the only attempt I have encountered by a "mainstream" Grand Lodge to attempt to revive the tradition of the traveling military Lodge. There are however some options if an eager Brother looks outside of the "mainstream". The most notable of these is the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Oklahoma, which has established military Lodges throughout the world, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course, many will not be able to seek the fellowship of these Lodges due to petty jurisdictional issues. In fact, I had a disheartening experience in this area last year when I was in Iraq. I happened to meet a young (in the Masonic sense) Entered Apprentice who was eager to expand his Masonic knowledge. I mentioned the presence of a Lodge on base and he expressed a desire to fellowship with these Brethren. When he checked with his coach back home, however, he was strongly warned to not associate with the Lodge because it was a Prince Hall Lodge, and of course there were recognition issues. He was clearly disappointed and didn't understand why he should be denied the opportunity to advance in his Masonic knowledge.
Personally, I believe that unless the "mainstream" grand Lodges step up to the plate and start establishing military Lodges, at the very least they should "look the other way" and tacitly allow military Masons overseas to seek Light where they can find it. It is a great disservice to our Brethren who are in harm's way to deny them the opportunity to practice the Craft because of meaningless recognition issues. By breaking down these jurisdictional barriers, our military Brothers will be given a greater opportunity to advance in their Masonic journey, even when they are far from home. So mote it be!