ARCANUM — Masonic Lodge #295 occupies a modest collection of third-floor rooms above the Troutwine Insurance Agency in downtown Arcanum, Ohio.
Matthew Brookey, a captain in the Arcanum Rescue and Pitsburg Fire Departments, has been involved in Freemasonry for more than ten years. He serves as District Education Officer for the area encompassing Arcanum and the rest of Darke County, which means, according to Brookey, that it’s his job to keep the members of his lodge up to date on local events, to keep them apprised of what other lodges in the area are doing, and provide them with various educational programs, including lessons on the history of Freemasonry and the meanings of the group’s various rituals and symbols. Brookey said that family connections held the key to why he first became involved with Freemasonry.
“For a lot of people, me included, it’s a family affair,” Brookey said. “My grandpa and my great-grandpa were in the Masons, and I actually got my father involved. You see the men in your family taking part in this, and the question starts to creep in: what are they doing?”
Jason Woerl, a machine designer and builder at Go2 Technologies in Vandalia, Ohio, told a similar story. Woerl works out of the nearby Tippecanoe (Tipp City, Ohio) lodge, serving as their Education Officer. He’s been involved with the Masons for nine years.
“I didn’t know my grandpa was a Mason until after he died. He had a Masonic funeral,” Woerl said. “Which means all the Masons in the area showed up, and they were all dressed to the nines. That got me curious, and later I found out a good buddy at work was a Mason, so I started asking questions.”
The Freemasons began as a guild of stonemasons in England about 300 years ago, according to Brookey. They are not a religious or political organization, and the symbols associated with the group, such as the square and compass, are based on implements used by actual masons. Each tool is considered to have both a physical use and a “speculative,” or metaphorical, meaning: the trowel, for instance, spreads cement, which unites the bricks that make up buildings; while as a Masonic symbol, it represents how the “cement” of brotherly love and affection binds the group’s members together. Members are typically men, at least 19 years of age, who are recommended by an already existing member. A new recruit, called an entered apprentice, undertakes a series of projects to become a master mason, at which point he can become an officer in the lodge he attends. It generally takes about eight years to become master of a single lodge, and even longer to rise higher in the organization.
Despite the group’s reputation as a “secret society,” Woerl and Brookey insisted that their reasons for coming together are not that shadowy or complex.
“We’re a group of like-minded men,” Woerl said. “Like any club or any group. We get together to express our gratitude, and to learn about how bits and pieces of the Bible and these other books can help us improve ourselves and our community.”
Community involvement is a big part of Freemasonry. Members of the Tippecanoe lodge recently raised $4,000 for Pink Ribbon Girls, a local charity benefiting women with breast cancer and their families, as well as donating to battered women’s shelters, sponsoring a Little League baseball team, and helping establish and maintain the Veterans Memorial Park in Tipp City. Another lodge in Troy, Ohio, has established a repair stand on the city’s bike trail, while also donating to Toys 4 Tots. The Gettysburg, Ohio, lodge has helped purchase fire and EMS equipment for the Gettysburg Fire Department. And Ohio lodges as a whole frequently donate to the Ohio Masonic Home — an assisted living community with facilities in Springfield, Medina, and Waterville — and the Special Olympics.
Brookey, meanwhile, spoke about the bonds formed by history and common experience.
“It’s interesting to think I’m doing the same thing my great-grandpa did in nineteen-oh-whatever,” Brookey said. “You come to a meeting, and you know that these guys have all gone through the same ritual and the same process you have. It creates a feeling of camaraderie and respect.”
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