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Address of R.W. Kevin J. Willis, Deputy Grand Master, Acting Grand Master,
at the Cornerstone Re-Dedication of the Norwood Masonic Building
on May 20, 2017

Worshipful Master, Brethren, Ladies and Gentlemen:

The precise day, month, year, or even century when Freemasonry was established is known only to Him from whom no secrets are hid. Historians and scholars generally believe this Great Fraternity evolved over time, most likely originating with the guilds of stone-masons in medieval Europe. Nevertheless, because so many of us desire certainty, we generally point to the year 1717 (300 years ago) as an acceptable start date for modern Freemasonry, since that was the year the Grand Lodge of England was formed after four pre-existing Lodges met to elect a Grand Master from among themselves. The Grand Lodge of Ireland was organized in 1725 followed by the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in 1733. This makes the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts the third oldest Grand Lodge in the world and the oldest duly authorized Grand Lodge in the western hemisphere.

Over the course of the past 284 years, the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts has performed countless dedication ceremonies for public buildings great and small: town halls, libraries, post offices, churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship, even the Massachusetts State House, and of course, literally hundreds of Masonic Buildings such as this great edifice here in Norwood. The proceedings of the Grand Lodge show that when this particular building was originally dedicated in 1916, the Deputy Grand Master, (later Most Worshipful) Frederick W. Hamilton, served as the Acting Grand Master. Bro. Hamilton was an ordained Universalist Minister and Past President of Tufts College before he became Deputy Grand Master. After his year as Deputy Grand Master he served the Grand Lodge as the Grand Secretary for 25 years until his death in 1940. Owing to his many, many years of service to the Craft, he was given the title of Honorary Grand Master and his oil portrait now hangs among the Past Grand Masters in the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in Boston.

Bro. Hamilton was asked to make a few remarks in 1916 when this building in Norwood was dedicated, but the exact text of those remarks have been lost to the four winds of heaven. A few years earlier, Bro. Hamilton made an address at the dedication of the Cambridge Masonic Temple, which was located not too far from the church he attended. Fortunately these remarks were recorded in the Grand Proceedings. Now, given what we know of Bro. Hamilton’s scholarly background, it is unlikely that he simply repeated his Cambridge speech here in Norwood, but perhaps there were echoes of the themes of which he spoke before the gathering in Norwood one hundred years ago. Therefore, please indulge me as I share a few words from Bro. Hamilton’s address:

We have laid the stone in accordance with the ancient customs and usages of the Craft. It has seemed good that some comment be made on the meaning and purpose of the ceremony and of the building which is to rise on this spot.

This service is of interest to the Brethren, and it is of value and importance to us all that there be . . . a proper home for our Order, wherein its teachings may be communicated and its tenets transmitted for generations according to custom.

The Brethren will find within the walls of this Temple satisfaction for one of the great needs of men. Masonry is more than a club; it is more than a means of society and enjoyment; it is more than a medium of good fellowship, and more than an arrangement whereby a man may find friends when traveling away from home. It is all this, and more. It is an opportunity for the satisfaction of one of the deepest needs of humanity, the social instinct which lies at the foundation of all that makes the life of man high, noble and beautiful.

It is the instinct of men to co-operate, and the nature of men to gather together, for man is in a sense a gregarious animal. This instinct lies at the very foundation of civilization and religious institutions. Man cannot live alone or pray alone, and it is satisfying an instinct for men to gather together. Moral and religious culture soon cease to exist among men when they cease to assemble together for their cultivation. The consciousness of a common purpose is needed. We need the institutions of religion to apply our social instincts to the cultivation of the high and noble purposes of life. God is very near at all times and is not very far away at any time, but we seem nearer to God when assembled together than when alone. We need such institutions; so we form associations and we form fraternities.

Wherever men are, there are associations. Men fall into groups whenever and under whatever conditions they meet. Boys and girls fall into groups on the street, which are often known as the gang. In school and college, fraternities spring up for the pursuit of common purposes and instincts. So in maturer years come such fraternities as this, in which we are interested and for which this building is to be erected. Here we may meet together and share each with the other not only of the open purse, but the open heart. Here we may share not only our substance, but our mental, moral and spiritual acquisitions. Whatever gifts we have received from Almighty God may here be shared, each with the other, the richer with the poorer and with those whose opportunities have been less. So in years to come we may here learn the old lessons anew and renew our pleasures and share the hopes and anticipations of the future, not in hired quarters, but in a building built by the Craft and hallowed by its associations.

It is proper to say at this time that what we have done here is an act not only of Masonic significance, but of public significance. It is not only for the advantage of the Craft, but also for the advantage of the community that this Temple should be located here . . . right on this public thoroughfare . . .”

In free government like ours everything depends upon the character of the men [and women] who form the citizenship of each community. Little depends on exterior things. We build big cities and build big buildings, but a community is not great because much wealth is created in it, and is not stable because of great buildings. A community is not just because of equitable laws or because of that legal machinery which, while indispensable to free government, does not constitute free government. A community is great when men and women are great, free-hearted and high-minded. It is stable when their lives are founded on the everlasting rock of righteousness and justice.

More and more the citizens of the United States are taking hold of the work of government, and are realizing the possibilities of free government. The assumption of duties, rights and privileges involves the assumption of great responsibilities.

Men [and women] who are to govern each other must learn to respect and understand each other — to respect each other's interests and to be just and generous. They must learn that it is [disgraceful] for men to take advantage of other men and to rise to power over the misfortunes of others. They must learn that it is [disgraceful] to legislate for themselves and to the disadvantage of others.

Our Fraternity exists for the purpose of teaching those deep lessons so often unfolded before us. May we always remember how important it is for us that we should learn these lessons, and for the community that there should be a large and increasing number of [citizens] in its midst who have learned these lessons and who are striving to reach them. These things lie at the basis of citizenship, at the root of character, and at the foundation of religion. . .

I am glad that the Fraternity is to be properly housed. I am glad for the community that this Temple is to be located here, sending forth the lessons of Masonry among those who may never cross its threshold and who may never have revealed to them the secrets of the Craft.

May the blessings of heaven rest upon the Brethren here assembled.

R. W. Frederick W. Hamilton, June 1910, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Brethren, ladies and gentlemen, Bro. Hamilton’s remarks are no less valid in 2017 as they were when delivered over 100 years ago. It is not hard to imagine how much better our society would be in 2017 if more of us, as citizens, “learned to respect and understand each other – to respect each other’s interests and be just and generous,” as Bro. Hamilton remarked. The Brethren assembled have learned that Freemasonry unites men of every country, sect, and opinion and conciliates true friendship among those who might otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance. We do not discuss religion and politics in the Lodge, and owing to this, we enjoy a general harmony in our meetings and do not suffer the bitter divisions experienced in much of American political life today. This is not to say that any individual Mason among us is not entitled to his opinion, but he keeps it to himself while within the tyled doors of the Lodge. As we have learned, “to no man is given the right to dictate to another in matters of belief and faith. No man is infallible and the sole possessor of truth. A Freemason grants to every person those rights which he claims for himself.” For this reason, I echo Bro. Hamilton: I am glad for Norwood that this Masonic Building is located here, “sending forth the lessons of Masonry among those who may never cross its threshold.”

Worshipful Master, Brethren, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining with us to day to re-dedicate this building for the benefit of Freemasonry and may Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth ever prevail among those who cross its threshold. Thank you.

Distinguished Brothers