Masonic temples and Freemasons may be the subject of conspiracy theories and adventure movies, but for the members of the Ionic Lodge 145 in Reisterstown, doing charitable works and being involved in their community has been their calling for almost a century and a half.
Chartered in 1869, the current Ionic temple has been at 85 Main St. in Reisterstown since 1927. The lodge, named after the Ionic columns in front, underwent a recent refurbishment for its upcoming 150th anniversary in 2019.
The repairs wrapped up at the end of October, allowing the masons to plan a November open house — no date has been set yet — to celebrate with members and their families, and to welcome the community to see what they are about.
Although their meetings may seem shrouded in secrecy, Tom Foster, 55, current worshipful master, said they are actually steeped in tradition. Even the title of worshipful master is an old English term that basically means leader.
At the formal meetings, the worshipful master dons his tuxedo and hat, and members must dress in a suit and tie. Then there are meetings where construction workers, lawyers, police officers and retirees rub elbows with one another at sit-down dinners. According to Foster, a friendly competition among members crops up as to who can plan and cook the best meal. He does point out that it is the job of the two youngest officers to be the cleanup crew.
"One of the primary tenets of Freemasonry," explained Foster, "is that we believe in equality, like the founding fathers" (Ben Franklin, George Washington, and Paul Revere were Freemasons). There are plenty of theories about the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence being framed by men like Franklin, that they carried over some of their masonic beliefs. We are always proud of the history."
Still, the Freemasons have had to deal with a plethora of conspiracy theories over the years — perhaps because of their medieval roots. Among the theories, the Freemasons control the world; the Freemasons worship Satan; and the Freemasons faked the moon landing.
On a more mundane level, the masons are not known for bragging about their community service, and they do not actively recruit members; that's because the tenets of the Freemasons forbid soliciting or recruiting members. But they are happy to talk to anyone who is curious about an organization that traces its roots to Europe's medieval stonemasons guilds. "It's why masons wear pins and masonic rings and have things on their car," Foster said.
And although they are not a religion, a belief in God — not Satan — is a requirement for membership. "You cannot be an atheist," Foster noted.
"We do our work behind the scenes," he said. "We're not looking for the accolades, we're helping out in the community; it's just the right thing to do."
Freemasonry is not a charity but a fraternal organization "with charity on its mind," Foster explained.
The Freemasons have had a longstanding relationship with their neighbor, the community crisis center in Reisterstown. "Anything we've needed they've been more than happy to provide," said Jason Kenlaw, president of the board of Community Crises Center Inc. "They are always willing to pitch in."
With an active membership of just under 200, the Ionic Lodge has members from their early 20s to 90 years old. "We would never turn away anyone, even in their 90s, if they wanted to become a mason in the twilight of their life," Foster said.
What is unique about the masons is the bringing together of multiple generations. Foster said when he talks to millennials they seem to be disenfranchised from modern life. He finds them to be a conscientious generation, socially aware, and wanting to be a part of the community. In fact, the lodge has 24 millenial members and "three of them are in our line of officers," Foster said.
"They keep us all young," he said. "We have some very energetic members."
Foster has been a member for seven years and was motivated to join because he wanted to become more involved in the community and to get to know people better. "I was missing the social part," he said. "I've made true friends that have enriched my life."
Each June, the Ionic Lodge holds a golf tournament at the Oakmont Greens in Carroll County that typically raises about $5,000 for the community. The money goes to local schools for scholarships and to needy families and other community organizations that help those in need.
Jessica Chisholm, who is the guidance counselor at Reisterstown Elementary School, said that for the past nine years the Ionic Lodge has sponsored a family at Christmas.
"The families are very appreciative for the help with food and presents," she said. The lodge has also donated money to assist children who cannot afford the full price of field trips, and has provided lunch money.
"It's been a big help," Chisholm said.
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And yes, through it all, the lodge members do have a special handshake.