The History of Sophia Lodge
The idea of a Traditional Observance style lodge first came to my attention in 2009 when I read an article by W.B. Cliff Porter entitled, 'Fast Food Freemasonry'. I contacted W.B. Porter, and a friendship developed. W.B. Porter was a founding member and the sitting Worshipful Master of Enlightenment Lodge #198 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I arranged for him to be a guest speaker for Wilkerson College Lodge in (I believe) 2010. This meeting of Wilkerson College Lodge was held at the Masonic Home for Children in Oxford, NC. Over the course of the weekend he was here for that speaking engagement, we had much discourse on the idea of the Traditional Observance style lodge.
This further developed into Wilkerson College Lodge having W.B. Robert Herd as a guest speaker in 2011. This meeting was held at James B. Greene Lodge #735 in Raleigh, NC. He is also a founding member of Enlightenment Lodge #198. The discussions from that weekend further developed my interest in the Traditional Observance style lodge.
The friendship with Cliff and Rob continued, and in September of 2012, I visited Enlightenment Lodge #198. This was the most profound experience of my Masonic career, and solidified my belief in the Traditional Observance approach to Freemasonry.
Independent of this, in 2010, W.B. Andrew Hammer wrote a book entitled, “Observing the Craft”. This book is a treatise on the state of the craft and makes the case for an Observant style of Freemasonry. I was quite taken with this book, and secured W.B. Hammer to lecture at Wilkerson College Lodge. This meeting was at Bula Lodge #409 in Burlington, NC. Prior to his visit, a group from Statesville Lodge #27 chose this book for their book study group. Included in this group were W.B. Kevin Combs and R.W.B. Doug Caudle (then the Senior Grand Warden of the Grand Lodge of North Carolina). They were both members of Wilkerson College Lodge and were present when W.B. Hammer visited. W.B. Hammer’s presentation was powerful and exceptionally well received. Following this meeting, a group from Wilkerson College Lodge had dinner at The Italian Table in Burlington.
As this dinner was wrapping up, R.W.B. Caudle approached me and asked my thoughts on North Carolina having its own Traditional Observance style lodge. Having been a disciple of this idea for some time, I jumped at the opportunity. We decided to take a few days to think it over and departed. A few days later, I sent an email suggesting several options. These included taking over a failing lodge, flipping an existing lodge like Wilkerson College Lodge, or starting a new lodge from scratch. R.W.B. Caudle was in favor of starting from scratch, and I agreed. We arranged a meeting to discuss this in person. This meeting included R.W.B. Doug Caudle, W.B. Kevin Combs, W.B. Larry Thompson, and myself. This meeting was held at W.B. Thompson’s residence in Concord on or around May 2, 2013.
The goal of this meeting was to see if we had enough common ground to begin the process of starting our own lodge. We discussed many topics in general terms. These included, but were not limited to:
The use of music, candles, and incense.
The idea of Marshaling the membership into the Lodge.
The idea of the focus of degree work being wholly on the candidate.
The necessity of a dress code, and that it should be tuxedos.
A rough dues structure.
A declaration so new members know the unique nature of this lodge.
A Chamber of Reflection.
A membership cap.
A location to meet.
If there was general support of the idea within the Grand Lodge Line.
This meeting resulted in more general consensus than I expected. There was actually very little we did not agree on, and so the decision was made to move forward. We set the next meeting for May 13, 2013. Everyone was assigned duties to perform and report on at the next meeting. One of R.W.B. Caudle’s duties was to talk to Grand Master Dewey Preslar about this proposition. G.M. Preslar was both in favor of the idea, and suggested we use the Masonic building in Salisbury for our location. This is the same building used by Andrew Jackson #576, which is his home lodge. This was one of the locations we had discussed at the first meeting, and so this is where we elected to hold the second meeting..
We brought several other brethren onto the steering committee. These were all solid men with the reputation of getting things done. One of the most important additions was W.B. Mack Sigmon. W.B. Sigmon is both the Secretary of the Grand Lodge Board of Custodians, and our Senior Grand Steward. Mack was our ritualistic expert. We knew that we could not deviate from the ritual as outlined in the Official Standard of Work. But we also knew that we were going to push it to its very limits by incorporating the Traditional Observant style opening. Mack both kept us within bounds, and gave us legitimacy by having a board member overseeing our every move. It allowed us to feel comfortable about our ritual both by knowing that we were following the rules, and that we would not have to endure questioning of our approach because we had developed everything under the watchful care of the committee who enforces the rules. In this way, we probably were able to do some things that were close to the line, and which we would have been afraid to try otherwise. In this case, “forgiveness is easier than permission” was not the way to win the battle.
Following many meetings of the steering committee, we were ready to share our vision with the brethren of North Carolina. We scheduled an “open house” style of meeting for all interested potential charter members. We knew that we had a good plan, and we felt that there was a hunger for this style of lodge. Yet, the dues structure is $365 per year, and this is not what brothers are used to seeing in this part of the country. We were hopeful that we would have the twenty brothers required to petition for a dispensation. The steering committee made a professional, yet personal presentation and we were thrilled when thirty-two brothers wrote checks and filled out petitions. WB Larry Thompson was elected our leader and we were officially on our way.
The weeks that followed were filled with paperwork, practices, plans, and prayers. Sophia Lodge has a Musician, a Marshal, and a Thurifer in addition to the normal officers. We count among our members the sitting Grand Master of Masons in North Carolina, the Deputy Grand Master-Elect, the sitting Grand Lecturer, and three other Grand Line officers. I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to offer my profound thanks and admiration for these men. The Grand Line officers do not, by their mere presence, make this lodge better than any other. But their commitment to this new and unique concept demonstrates a proactiveness that many Grand Jurisdictions should aspire to. All across the nation leaders are worried about how we will handle our shrinking numbers. In North Carolina we are doing something about it, and with the full cooperation of our leadership. Without their support Sophia Lodge would not be a reality, so I thank them and applaud their governance.
The dispensation ceremony was successful beyond our wildest expectations. Our members and guests, in black tie tuxedos or dark suits, were marshaled under the Sign of Fidelity and to the music of Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copeland. The smell of Frankincense permeated the room, and candlelight set the scene. Next the officers entered. All dressed in white tie tuxedos, they were escorted to their stations. The Grand Master performed the Ceremony of Dispensation. Most business was done by consent agenda, and the balance was dispensed with as quickly as possible.
I had the honor of providing the first Masonic Education program, and delivered a speech on our new lodge. After a short history of how we evolved, I reminded the brethren that the beauty they were participating in was wonderful, but it was only the outer shell. The real nature of our character was not in how we outwardly looked, but what we were made of. I shared with them the true meaning of the allegory that their degrees alluded to, as written by W.L. Wilmshurst, J.S.M. Ward, and Albert Pike. I implored them to make it Sophia’s legacy to both, understand the meaning of allegorical lessons alluded to in our degrees, and to practice them on our personal path.
Following this, we observed a five minute period of silence and contemplation while our musician chimed our Tibetan Singing Bowl. We concluded by being marshaled in what started as a square, then transitioned to a circle, and finished in a Chain of Union.
W.B. Ben Wallace