By Sarah Miller, County Times
HOLLYWOOD, Md. What do George Washington, Paul Revere, Clark Gable and Gerald Ford all have in common? They were all Freemasons.
A lot of people are misguided in that they believe you have to be selected to be a Mason, said James. D. Jay, the Worshipful Master of the Thomas J. Shryock Masonic Lodge in Hollywood. The Hollywood Masonic lodge held its open installation of officers Monday evening. In actuality, all a person has to do is ask how to become a Mason to begin the process of becoming one.
You have to ask one to be one, Jay said.
He described the Masons as the oldest fraternity in the world.
Once a person has asked how to become a Mason, they have to give a reason for wanting to join the Masons. They also have to have a clean criminal record and be of good character and moral stature, Jay said. It is also essential the person believe in a supreme being though they dont necessarily have to be Christians. The god they believe in is at the discretion of the individual.
We dont care whether they are Christian, Judaism, Islamic. It doesnt matter, Jay said. Even at the Masonic lodge in Hollywood, there is a Rabbi who is actively involved in the group.
We take good men and make them better, Jay said.
He likened the Masons to the Boy Scouts. There are organizations for children, like Jobs Daughters for girls and DeMolay for boys. The youth-oriented organizations are for children until the age of their majority, usually 18 or older, and can join the Masons. The majority of Masonic groups are male-only. For women, there is the Order of the Eastern Star and the Order of Amaranth.
Jay said there is a generation gap in the Masons that he has no explanation for. Many of the young men and women who are coming of age and joining Masonic groups had grandparents in who belonged to Masons and Eastern Stars, or other Masonic groups, but no parents.
He said one of the biggest stereotypes he has heard about the Masons is the belief that they are a secret organization bent on world domination. He said hes also seen several television shows about Masonic symbols on the dollar bill and other such things, which have elements of truth but are often far off the mark.
Its people who dont know trying to glean what they dont have, Jay said.
The Masons are not a secret organization. They have secret methods of recognition, which are know only to the members of the group, but as a whole the Masons are open to anyone and try to be active in the community.
Jay said the secret words and signs that allow one Mason to recognize another without attracting others attention has saved the lives of prisoners of war in the past when they have revealed themselves to Masons on the enemys side.
Anything short of giving his life, hes obligated to do, Jay said.
Bill Kugel, a past Worshipful Master from the Masonic Lodge in Prince Fredrick who has been a Mason for 34 years, said the aprons the Masons wear are a symbol of the Masons and an emblem of innocence.
He said the Holy Bible, which sits on an alter in the middle of the room during Masonic ceremonies, is there because an obligation is not binding if a person doesnt believe in a deity. The Bible is a symbol of all deities, whether they are Christian or not.
There are three degrees of masons the first are the Entered Apprentices, the second is the Fellow Craft and the third is the Master Mason. Jay said there are only three degrees, and when people talk about things like Masons of the 32nd degree or something, they are referring to groups like the Scottish Rite and York Rites. Those, among numerous others, are appendage groups that a master mason has the option to join once he has attained the third degree. Jay said the additional degrees are mostly stop at 32nd degreed. The 33rd degree is honorary and conferred upon men for service to Mason craft and the community at large.
Another group Master Masons have the option to join is the Shriners. Jay said the Shriners used to be closed to Master Masons who had not yet attained the 32nd degree in another Masonic appendage, but it is now open to any Master Mason.
The Shriners operate 22 hospitals across the country known as the Shriners Hospitals for Children. The Shrine Circus, which tours to about 120 locations in the United States and 40 in Canada, is a fundraiser for the hospital, which provides free treatment to children with orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries, and cleft lip and palate.
The Shriners are not the only ones who hold fundraisers and try to do good things for children. The Thomas J. Shryock Masonic Lodge provides funds for scholarships in the public schools in the area.
In addition to that, Jay said they have a Child Identification Program (CHIP) computer that they make available to parents during the annual St. Marys County Fair and other events. The program provides identification cards for children and videodiscs with important information about the child, such as their age, height, weight and appearance. He said these come in handy when a child goes missing because the Amber Alert can be released immediately. He also said none of the information is stored in the computers after the disc is made and given to the parents.
Jay said community service is an important cornerstone for all Masonic lodges.
Leonardtown and St. Marys County has a long history of Masonry, Jay said.
The first president of the country was a Mason and one of the oldest documented Mason meetings in the country was held in Leonardtown in 1760. There were Masons in the United States before it was even a country