Cheney Free Press -

By JOHN McCALLUM
Editor 

All you need to do, is ask

Somewhat secretive by design, Cheney's Freemasons are still here, serving and looking for new members to join them

 

February 15, 2018

John McCallum

The signs announcing the location of Cheney's Masonic Temple Lodge No. 42 are hard to miss on College Avenue, yet many people have.

Cheney Freemasons Greg Ammons and Rob Steiner want the community to know that local Masonic Temple Lodge No. 42 is alive, doing well and looking for new members.

The latter is a situation many community organizations find themselves facing. At one time, many Americans rushed to become members of local service organizations such as the Lions Club, Rotary and even the Boy Scouts.

In recent years, that kind of volunteerism has dropped significantly, and Ammons said the Masons are no exception. At their zenith several years ago, the Masons counted over 72,000 members in Washington.

"We just heard that we're at around 11,000 in the state," Ammons said.

Founded in 1883, Cheney Temple Lodge membership reached a high point of 131 members in 1927, according to the 1983 Lodge booklet, "A Century of Masonry." Today, active membership is around 55.

The biggest challenge for the Masons when it comes to recruiting is that they can't actually recruit. Ammons - who is the Lodge's 2018 "Worshipful Master," essentially president elected by members - said it's their goal to attract men of good quality to join.

"If they don't know we're here, it's hard to find them," Steiner, who is a former Worshipful Master and current Senior Warden, said. "We can't just walk up and say, 'hey, do you want to be a Mason?' We'd be gone (out of the Lodge)."

What Masons can do, and do a lot of, is quietly help out in the community.

Quietly charitable

Steiner said Masons have a lot of organizations they perform charitable acts for. It's probably another reason Masons are seen as somewhat secretive - they don't identify with just one prominent charitable cause.

According to information from the Lodge, Cheney Masons are involved in at least eight areas of community support. Over the past 16 years they have raised almost $28,500 in the Spokane Guild School's annual penny drive, and over the last 10 years $18,700 for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life.

The Lodge has collected 57 bikes and helmets, dollar value around $10,137, for Bikes for Books over the past 17 years, and in 10 years of doing local highway cleanup have collected enough litter to fill 947 bags. Masons hand out water during Rodeo Days at their College Avenue building, and have donated 3,656 items to the Cheney Food Bank since 2010.

They also support Spokane's Second Harvest Food Bank turkey drive, Eastern Washington University Athletic's scholarship fund and other youth groups.

Ammons said they are able to provide all this support not only through individual collections, but also through member dues and the unique fact that they own their own building. The Lodge made an initial purchase of property at the south corner of First and E streets (now College Avenue) in 1910, and expanded it by purchasing an adjacent lot a few years later.

In 1924, the Lodge paid contractor Meyers and Telander of Spokane $12,574 to build a two-story building on the property, abutting the Security National Bank of Cheney on the west and behind to the south of two buildings facing First Street. Today, that building is home to Imperial Styling, Sweet Pea Boutique, the Cheney Historical Museum and West Plains Karate School, all paying rents to the Masons whose meeting space sits above them.

"We are very, very fortunate here," Steiner said of the arrangement. "When we want to do a project, we can say, 'yeah, let's do it.'"

No secrets, sort of

Those projects often go unnoticed by the community due to the Masons somewhat secretive nature. Steiner relates a story about going across First Street one day to do some financial transactions at the bank, only to have the teller inform him she didn't know there was a Cheney Masonic Lodge and asked him where they were located.

Both Ammons and Steiner say the Masons have no secrets, however, and are open to anyone who wants to stop by the Lodge and inquire about membership. The Lodge meets the first Thursday of each month, beginning with dinner at 6:30 p.m. and meeting at 7:30 p.m.

The Lodge holds tours and an open house during Rodeo Days each year, and if asked, members are able to answer most any question.

But there is a certain degree of secrecy when it comes to what happens during meetings, which can only be attended by members. There are secret handshakes, code words and words written in a script only members know.

There is study to help with personal growth that goes with being a member, study whose subject areas are also not revealed, but revolve around practicing tenets associated with the tools of the original Mason guilds of the 18th century when the organization was founded: the square, compass, level, trowel and plum line

The symbolic meaning of these, Mason and author W. Bruce Pruitt writes in the booklet "The Truth About Anti-Masonry" are "published in plain language for all to see."

Pruitt, Ammons and Steiner all agree the secrecy is designed to create an impression upon a man when he joins the organization. The reasoning is similar to why you would wrap a gift - if you hand a person the item it makes less of a lasting impression than if you wrapped it in pretty paper, put a bow on it and even hid it until it's time.

"Masonic ceremonies are designed to teach moral lessons," Pruitt writes. "They accomplish that purpose by providing an experience that is somewhat surprising and so impressive that the participant has those lessons imbedded in his mind in the strongest manner possible."

Improving,

not fixing

Ammons and Steiner said those lessons aren't about creating good men, but by making already good men better.

"We don't fix, we improve," Steiner added.

Greg Ammons

Cheney Masonic Lodge Master Greg Ammons (center with gavel) and Senior Warden Rob Steiner (front row left) pose with the rest of the Lodge's 2018 officers.

Ammons said there is a lack of good men of strong moral character in communities these days. It's another reason the organization doesn't actively recruit and instead, waits for men with developed moral traits to seek them out and ask to join.

Improving men's moral character includes creating an atmosphere where that development can take place through peace and harmony, and Steiner said the Masons learned long ago the best way to do that was to forbid the discussion of religion and politics at meetings. Masonic membership requires devotion to study of the organization's central tenets and their meanings, while practicing what they learn in the community, partly through charitable works.

It's something the duo said Masons have done in the past, and intend to continue doing in the future.

"We're going to be around for a lot of years to come," Ammons said. "To be a Mason, you have to ask one to be one."

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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