“The High Church” By Wor. David Riley

· Reading Time: 4 minutes

The following was written for Episode 7 of Three Distinct Knocks. That episode can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUPMlwDn-WA

I think a part of the problem is that I spent a part of the formative years of my life as a member of a fairly “high church” Episcopal parish. Let me explain. The “high church” or Anglo-Catholic wing of the Anglican communion has a deeply incarnational theology which informs the praxis of the liturgy. In other words, they seek to involve the whole person in the rituals of the church. We experience the faith through what we hear, what we see, what we smell, what we taste and what we touch. Every sense brings us a message and, ideally, that message tells us we are in a sacred space and approaching the Divine.

As a result, when I attend lodge, I am, perhaps, more sensitive than some to the messages
being sent by the surroundings. When the ritual is performed as if the goal is to get the words out as quickly as possible, it sends a message. When our lodge rooms are dusty and filled with broken chairs, it sends a message. When we decorate our lodge rooms like a basement rec room from the 1950s, it sends a message. When we rush through mediocre meals served on paper plates with plastic forks, we send a message.

Before I am accused of elitism, let me say that I’m not saying you have to spend money on
expensive china or build a multimillion-dollar building to house your lodge. I’m just saying that you have to look like you care.

I once asked a priest in a church I was attending why they went through the trouble of baking bread for communion instead of using communion wafers like everyone else. She paused, thought for a moment and then said, “It is difficult enough to discern that the bread is the body of Christ without first having to struggle to discern that it is bread.”

Strip away all the extras from Freemasonry and what you have, I believe, at its core is an
initiatory experience intended to convey to a man an understanding of mature masculinity and that provides an opportunity for a mystical experience that cannot be had elsewhere. Behind the titles, under the costumes, hiding beneath the piles of minutes and motions to pay the bills, that’s who we are. It is difficult enough to discern the importance of Freemasonry without first having to discern that Freemasons believe it to be important.

I will never forget the first time that I, as Master of the Lodge, made a Mason. Mystical
experiences are, according to some, by definition ineffable. Despite knowing this, I will attempt to give you a sense of what I experienced. At the moment when that man was becoming a brother, I had a strong sense of stepping out of time and space. It was as if I could feel the one hundred and thirty-four Masters of my lodge that had gone before me in the lodge room with me, along with all those brothers whose tie to me, as a Mason, stretches back through time immemorial. The experience of that moment, that sense of timelessness and connection, that feeling of being a small part of something vast and significant, is burned into my consciousness — it stands out from other experiences like that moment when the movie version of the Wizard of Oz switches from the black and white of Kansas to the technicolor of Oz.

Every Mason should be afforded the opportunity to have his own experience of that sort. That experience can be had in the most humble of lodge rooms. I like our grand temples. I like the tuxedos and silver jewels hanging from impressive collars. I like organ music. But none of that is essential — what is essential is care. We have to offer our best, give generously of ourselves in time and effort, do our best to make the sensory experience of lodge live up to the promise of the ritual.

Freemasonry teaches us that we are immortal souls occupying, for a time, flesh and blood and bone. But I know of no means of touching a man’s soul save through his senses: seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting. These are the messengers we must use to carry the lessons of our fraternity into the minds and hearts of our candidates, our members, and our officers.

Take a breath and deliver the ritual with feeling and meaning. Take a look at the lodge room and clean it, paint it, repair it, care for it. Make an effort to show that the intent of your lodge is serious, that your purpose is solemn. Consider the message you deliver by your surroundings, the manner in which you perform the ritual, the meal you serve, the jokes you tell, and the care you give the furnishings of the lodge.

And then, perhaps, I will see even more of my brethren standing, with me, outside time and space and marveling at the wonders before us.