Fred Milliken is a man who needs little introduction, least wise to anyone who has had an ear to hear the heartbeat of Masonry for more than the last 15 years. With a finger, hand, foot and toe in just about every corner of the digital space, Fred either knows what’s going on or someone who does. Never afraid of tackling the wrongs in the craft, some might say that Brother Fred Milliken is Quixote-esque in his championing of what many see to be the status quo of an immovable force. But unlike Quixote, Fred see’s the challenges before him as opportunities to inspire and inform others rather than tilting insistly at allegoriphical windmills. If one thing can be said, Fred is unafraid of Change. To the contrary, he embraces it as easily as a man takes in a breath of air. If ever there was a valiant knight in shining armor who took on every dragon beset before him, Fred would be that knight. In every instance from which I’ve had the vantage of seeing the results of his work, Fred Milliken has demonstrated that he is the epitome of a just and upright Mason. A brother to me, I find his story fascinating. I think you will too.
Greg Stewart (GS) You’ve been in Masonry for some time; what has your Masonic journey been?
Fred Milliken (FM) Well it really starts with joining DeMolay in Lexington, Massachusetts on an invitation from my lifelong friend. Here I got to see the world of Freemasonry through the eyes of Dad Advisers and through meeting at a Masonic Temple.
I entered the line and became a Master Councilor. One of the really interesting events that my DeMoaly Chapter participated in was the state ritual competition when I was Senior Councilor. Pitted against many other Chapters from all over we made the first cut, the second cut, the third cut, the fourth cut and in the runoff won the coveted state prize of DeMoaly ritual champions for the state of Massachusetts. Those skills I learned were pivotal to my success as a Master in Freemasonry. I learned how to speak before a crowd, how to memorize ritual and how to organize a Lodge.
Much later (30 years later) when I was working in Plymouth, MA, I asked to join Plymouth Lodge. I was appointed to office and went up the line. When I became Master I had five Past Master Councilors and five Past Masters from Simon W. Robinson Lodge in Lexington install me and my officers. As Master, I invited the DeMolay Chapter from Brockton, MA, to perform the DeMolay Degree for us.
It wasn’t long before I joined Paul Revere Lodge in the city in which I lived. Paul Revere was in another Masonic District. I can remember doing the First Degree Master’s ritual on a Monday night for Plymouth Lodge and the next night, Tuesday, doing the Senior Deacon’s Middle Chamber lecture for Paul Revere Lodge. One of the first things I did upon joining Paul Revere Lodge was to become a member of the Paul Revere Colonial Degree Team which performed the Third Degree in Colonial costume attaching a patriotic message at the end of the degree. All of us were required to also adopt the name of a Revolutionary War Mason. When I joined the team all the really famous names were already taken so I researched my own name. After doing some research at Grand Lodge I chose Brother William Munroe from my home town of Lexington, Massachusetts. Lexington was the birthplace of the American Revolution when on April 19, 1775 Paul Revere rode into town hollering, “The British are coming, the British are coming.” There to meet him in the early morning hours was Captain Brother William Munroe of the Lexington Minute Men who was on an all night vigil on the Lexington Common. Years later William Munroe would become the first Master of Lexington’s first Lodge and he would journey to Grand Lodge to get his charter from Grand Master…Paul Revere.
The Paul Revere Colonial Degree Team traveled … everywhere. And we were always well received.
As Master of Plymouth Lodge I brought the Colonial Degree Team to Plymouth Lodge where we performed before five different Masters and three District Deputies, one delegation being from Rhode Island. I had to hire a police officer to control the traffic, parking and the crowd.
In due time I became Master of Paul Revere Lodge and one of the first things I did was to take the Colonial Degree Team to Simon W. Robinson Lodge in Lexington. It wasn’t just a performance of the Degree Team, however. It was also the first Tri Table Lodge in the state. Three Lodges got together with permission from the Grand Master to perform a Table Lodge together. So there were three Junior Wardens in the South, three Senior Wardens in the West and three Masters in the East. We started at 4:00 PM with the degree and finished the Table Lodge at 11:00 PM on a Saturday.
But our biggest trip was one which I started working on as Master and didn’t bring to fruition until I had stepped down from the East. And that was the Paul Revere Colonial Degree Team’s longest and farthest performance to Monroe Lodge in Bloomington, Indiana. On a Friday afternoon we flew 18 Colonial Degree Team members into Indianapolis where we were met by a Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Indiana in a small bus and transported to Bloomington. After a stop at the Shrine Club for a steak dinner and welcome we were transported to the state DeMolay Chalet for billeting. The next morning we were picked up and transported to the Lodge for Breakfast followed by a bus tour of Bloomington. We performed the Degree Saturday night raising one Brother to the sublime degree of Master Mason and flew back to Boston Sunday afternoon.
Now there is a lot more to tell…but there are other questions waiting to be answered.
GS – That’s an incredible early journey, I have to ask does the Masonry you do today match what your ideal of it was before you joined?
FM – Yes and no. It does in my own personal Lodge and Grand Lodge because I have chosen them because they do match that ideal. But in other jurisdictions across the U.S.A. it clearly does not. Today many Grand Lodges are out of control and overstepping their bounds at every turn.
GS – At some point in your Masonic career, you demitted from your, then, ‘regular’ grand lodge to join a Prince Hall system. What motivated you to move over?
FM – When I moved to Texas from Massachusetts I naturally transferred from the Mainstream Grand Lodge of Massachusetts to the Mainstream Grand Lodge of Texas. After joining a Lodge near my house I stated to travel. I love traveling as a Mason, meeting new Brothers and sharing ideas and thoughts. About the third Lodge I visited demonstrated to me a problem in Texas Mainstream Masonry which has been reported to me many times over by Brothers in other Southern jurisdictions. After the meeting we all gathered in the dining room for some fellowship with coffee and cookies. I was having a discussion with a group of Brothers around a large table when one Brother piped up,
Do you know what the difference between Masonry down here in Texas and up where you come from is?
I took the bait and said no.
We don’t allow no niggers in Lodge down here.
Now this wasn’t out in the boondocks somewhere. This was in an affluent suburb of Dallas.
Later, a friend of mine who I had corresponded with on one of the Masonic forums was getting raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason. So I trekked the 40 miles to his small town to help in his raising.
About three months later he got in touch with me all upset.
They are making racial jokes in an open tyled Lodge. I don’t know what to do. I cannot condone this outrage, yet some of these Brothers are my bosses at work, some are in my church and others are leaders in the community. If I make a big stink my life will be hell.
So I told him, keep your mouth shut and stop attending Lodge, if you want. I’ll make the big stink for you.
I wrote to the Grand Lodge of Texas and explained the situation without mentioning names or location, asking them if they would please get back to me with some plan of action to curb this abuse. No reply came.
At the time I was the feature writer on [Stephen] Dafoe’s Masonic Magazine and I wanted to publish the story there. Dafoe said that absolutely no names or locations could be used because of possible legal retaliation, but otherwise the story was a go. So the story went out.
Now somehow, who the article was directed at leaked out – but as it was just a floating rumor and could not be directly placed in our court. Finally a Brother from England wrote the Grand Lodge of Texas and demanded an answer and posted his question and answer he received publicly. Here was the response of a Grand Lodge officer who must, even to this day, remain nameless.
The respected and well known Grand Officer of the Grand Lodge of Texas said, and I paraphrase his remarks
Masons are all about toleration. We as Brothers have learned to tolerate different lifestyles, religions, political affiliations etc. Racism is just another point of view. As Masons we are obligated to tolerate this view even though we may not accept it. That’s what we are all about as Freemasons.
And that is when I demitted from my Texas Mainstream Lodge and applied to Prince Hall. Now you know the rest of the story.
GS – That’s a terrible story, with a conclusion that still seems to be playing out in slow-motion today. But I’m curious, why Prince Hall and not a Co-Masonic Lodge? Were you willing to leave Masonry all together if Prince Hall didn’t offer you up a home?
FM – I chose Prince Hall because even while in Mainstream Masonry I was outspoken for the admittance of African Americans to all American Grand Lodges. And that was what the quarrel with the Grand Lodge of Texas was all about, its treatment of African Americans. So, I thought, what better place to continue the fight than right there with many of them.
If Prince Hall didn’t take me, then I could maintain my Massachusetts affiliation and practice Freemasonry on the Internet only.
GS – Thus far, what’s your experience been like with Prince Hall Masonry? Do you find many differences or more similarities?
FM – The Freemasonry is remarkably similar. The Texas Prince Hall ritual is almost exactly the same as the Massachusetts Mainstream ritual with one word here or there changed and additional ritual added. One would not feel uncomfortable at all, ritual wise, coming into a Prince Hall Lodge from a Mainstream Lodge for the first time.
Style wise you will notice a difference. Prince Hall Freemasonry tends to be a little more religious. Christian Prince Hall Masons are vocal about Christianity and about politics. But don’t be fooled, all views and all religions are readily admitted and none are disparaged. You have to remember the history of African Americans. Back 200-250 years ago Blacks, free or slave, were not allowed to congregate except maybe in New England. There were no Black picnics or BBQs, no club meetings, no horse races and no Black Grange nor sports events. The one exception was the Black church. Here African Americans were permitted to congregate without interference. So to the church came the politicians, Freemasonry and meetings and social events of every kind. Everything operated out of the church because that is the only place Whites were comfortable letting blacks assemble.
Consequently African Americans did not, until recently, recognize a sharp division between church and state. Hence many aspects of Black society intermingled in the same venue producing a giant mixing bowl that seemed to bring all aspects of society together into one big recipe rather than to have separate distinctions.
Thus, until recently, almost every Prince Hall Freemason came out of the church. That is, he was a church member recommended by a Brother. That’s where everything emanated – from the church. African Americans do not hesitate then, when 100% of a Lodge is Christian, to express that Christianity. Who would object? The vast diversity you find in Mainstream Masonry is not prevalent in Prince Hall. But times are changing and that is not so true anymore.
GS – How So? How is it not so true anymore, from your observation?
FM – Well, when I came into Prince Hall Texas in 2006 I was one of a few White men visible in the Fraternity. Today I see many, many more Caucasians. I saw almost no Hispanics in 2006. Today I see a small cadre of Latinos. Same with Asians.
Prince Hall has traditionally been mostly Christian, Protestant and heavily Baptist and AME. Today I can point to a number of Muslims, some Catholics and some spiritual men with no organized religious affiliation.
The other big distinction that I see is that Prince Hall Freemasons meet with their female counterparts. The Heroines of Jericho (HOJ) and the Order of the Eastern Star (OES) meet in Grand Session in the same building and at the same time that Blue Lodge holds its Grand Sessions. The women are included in many local Lodge social and charitable undertakings. Both sexes within the Prince Hall Family work very closely together.
GS – So then, what bodies do you still carry dues cards for?
FM – In Texas PHA, I carry dues cards for all the York Rite Bodies and Blue Lodge. When I was in Massachusetts I was a member of the Scottish Rite and briefly a Shriner. I have not continued these affiliations in Texas because I do not have the time to belong to everything.
GS – So, let’s flash forward to more recent times. You were the appointed director of Phoenix Masonry, the on-line archive of Masonic texts, artifacts, and materials. Where do you see Phoenix Masonry going in 2014 and beyond? Any big plans you can share?
FM – Phoenixmasonry started as a website only, and one that featured mainly the old Masters of literature in the library and Masonic antiques in the museum. Even before I signed on as Executive Director, President, and curator, David Lettelier was posting my articles. The 21st century article section kept expanding after I signed on. Some “newer” books were added. Upon becoming Executive Director I turned Phoenixmasonry on to Social Media.
First it was a Facebook Page, then Twitter and lastly Rebel Mouse. After that I opened a Prince Hall Section to the website. The first thing posted in this new section was the six part YouTube video series of the William H. Upton Unity March & Memorial Dedication conducted by The Grand Lodge of F. & A. M. of Washington State and The Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Washington State. What a great story. If you don’t know it William Upton, Grand Master of Mainstream Masonry in the Grand Lodge of Washington State recognized Prince Hall in 1898. After he stepped down the next Grand Master rescinded the recognition. In his will PGM Upton demanded that no marker be placed on his grave until the two Grand Lodges once again recognized each other and coexisted in peace and harmony. Well it took until 1990 for that recognition to occur. And in 1991 both Grand Lodges met at the cemetery and in a special ceremony installed a headstone on the grave of PM William Upton. The videos show this ceremony.
The years went by, and as we came closer to the present the Museum was transported to Utah and set up in its own special housing. David stepped down from the Presidency portending a gradual turning over of the reins to youth. And that is what the future portends. David and I will gradually fade into the background and new fresh, young blood will take over management. Where they take Phoenixmasonry remains to be seen but it will always be a place of universal Freemasonry.
GS – For as long as I’ve known you, you’ve always had your ear to the Masonic web, how did that happen? Do you have any favorite haunts on the web that you still frequent?
FM – It all started with surfing the web in the late 90s. I came upon a Masonic E-forum called Masonic Light run by Jeff Naylor out of Indiana. Chris Hodapp was one its early members. I became a regular poster and when that kind of petered out I moved over to The LodgeRoom.com run by Stephen Dafoe who was also a regular on Masonic Light.
Over time I became one of the Moderators of the [Lodge Room] site. Theron Dunn and I used to have an ongoing head to head debate. I was the first interviewee on Dafoe’s Radio Free Mason in March of 2005, something I would repeat on Masonic Central a few years later.
I joined the Knights of the North but after about a year left charging that they were all talk and no action. When Stephen Dafoe pulled out of the Lodge Room forum, his moderators took over and renamed it The Three Pillars. I bowed out from that responsibility and stuck around for awhile but ultimately the position of the site [became one] that one could not criticize a Grand Lodge no matter what it did or did not do, leading to a parting of the ways. I switched over to MasterMason.com and became a moderator but ultimately the same problem cropped up and I faded away to use my talents elsewhere.
I formed my own Masonic Blog the Beehive and merged that with Freemason Information upon invitation by Greg Stewart.
I pretty much stick to Freemason Information, MyFreemasonry and Phoenixmasonry as well as The Phylaxis Society where I am a Fellow. Facebook is now a primary Masonic Source. I don’t need to haunt any locations because people are sending me stuff all the time.
GS – So where does eMasonry stand today? Do you have any observations or insight on the pulse of the eMasonic world?
FM – Masonic blogs, forums and Yahoo groups are out. That is, they are passing out of existence.
Outstanding Masonic websites still have a following, such as Freemason Information, MyFreemasonry and Phoenixmasonry. Freemasonry on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are in. It’s an ever evolving change in tastes. Tomorrow it will be something different perhaps in an entirely different form.
GS – Switching gears here, I know that the subject or Prince Hall and mainstream recognition is very close to you. Given your position as having been in both denominations of Masonry, do you still see them as two branches of the same family tree or do you think the two have grown and evolved into their own separate entities?
FM – Both mainstream and Prince Hall practice the same Freemasonry. In this aspect they are two parts of the same tree.
But, at the same time, they are their own separate entities.
Traditions, ways of doing things, Masonic government, and the Masonic approach to society have evolved over the years into just two different ways of doing the same thing. Those on the Mainstream side that call for Prince Hall to merge into Mainstream are too late. They should have welcomed Prince Hall into their ranks when over and over again Prince Hall requested such a merger 200 or more years ago. The two now have grown apart as any society would do after more than 200 years of separation.
They are like two Christian denominations that split apart and went their separate ways. After more than 200 years apart, forcing them back together would be a big mistake.
But they can and will, when allowed, exist side by side in peaceful coexistence. And they have since the first recognition to stick permanently was accomplished in 1989.
GS – You mention the recognition that happened in 1989. Which was that?
FM – 1989 is an important date in the Prince Hall Community. It was the first lasting recognition of Prince Hall Freemasonry that stuck – and stayed – by the Grand Lodge of Connecticut.
There were other recognitions in years past that were short lived and did not last. Today 42 states recognize Prince Hall. Look how far we have come since 1989. I am proud to have taken a teeny weenie part in all that. (You can see a up-to-date list of Prince Hall Masonry Recognition on Paul Bessel’s website)
GS – With that in mind, is recognition still an issue? Was it really ever?
FM – No recognition is no longer an issue as has been proven by 25 years of peaceful coexistence in all but a few states. That Mainstream and Prince Hall Freemasonry can exist side by side in the same state without incident cannot be challenged. The brotherly love and peace & harmony among regular Masons is now an American reality.
Those 9 states that are left who refuse to recognize Prince Hall no longer practice regular Freemasonry. The race issues aside, look at the Grand Lodge of Florida’s attempt at excluding non Christians. No Prince Hall Grand Lodge, no matter how vocal it’s Christian expression, would ever do that. This separation that exists in these 9 states is no longer a recognition issue. It is now an issue over the corruption of Freemasonry into something it was never intended to be. Those 9 Mainstream states no longer practice Freemasonry.
GS – Elaborate on that. What is it you think they practice?
FM – It’s not just the refusal to recognize Prince Hall, although that plays a part. It is also the refusal to admit African Americans. I remember vividly the battle with Victor Marshall and Gate City Lodge No 2 in Atlanta with the Georgia Grand Lodge who were ready to expel a Black man who “accidentally got raised” to be a Georgia Mainstream Master Mason. It was then we learned that the Georgia Constitution had a bylaw that prohibited non Whites. Freemason Information was in the forefront of that push back. We all have testimony that when Black Mainstream Master Masons from New York visited Florida that Masters refused to open Lodge and instead held Masonic educational sessions until said Black Masons left.
It is also the refusal to admit non Christians. Such thinking, long held quietly in the breast of local Masons who black-balled every non Christian who applied, became widely exposed when the Grand Lodge of Florida expelled Corey Bryson and Duke Bass for non Christian religious beliefs. Freemason Information was right there in the midst of this fight reporting all the details.
And the third big damning characteristic of these infamous 9 Grand Lodges is their refusal to follow Masonic convention or even their own Constitutions. The Grand Masters have taken over their Grand Lodges with total totalitarian rule. They expel Masons without a trial and close down Lodges without a reason or explanation. THEY GOVERN WITH FEAR.
In civil society when democracies rig elections and ignore the rule of law, they become Banana Republics, democracies in name only. When these 9 Grand Lodges govern their Grand Lodges in the manner described above, they become rogue Grand Lodges, Freemasonry in name only.
Not only do they give the rest of us in the Masonic community who live by the book a bad name, but they exist only because we have no national Masonic identity, no set of rules that would apply to all Grand Lodges in the United States.
GS – Why do you think the 42 other states still recognize them?
FM – The rest of the 42 states recognize them because of the tradition of standing together and not interfering in another Grand Lodge’s business and because, like politicians, they know if they stand by the indiscretions of their Party members, all the other members will stand by them when they step off the reservation. The problem with this is there is no check on the abuse of power in Freemasonry. In civil society we have The Constitution and the Supreme Court. What do we have in American Freemasonry?
GS – Wouldn’t that be taking it a bit to far? Is it, after all, an “at will” association meaning that we choose to be in and a part of it Given that it’s not a part of our day to day lives, like government, do you think most members are THAT actively engaged as to want to contribute like that?
FM – There must be SOMETHING to hold American Grand Masters responsible and accountable to acceptable Masonic practices. Otherwise Freemasonry in the United States is whatever a Grand Master and a Grand Lodge says it is, and you end up with 51 versions of Freemasonry, and sometimes Freemasonry out of control. There is a difference between differences because of tradition and differences solely for the purpose of an agenda that ends up corrupting the Craft. There is an urgent need in the United States for an American Masonic identity that binds all states and all members of the Craft in one common purpose and outlook.
This need not be some cumbersome bureaucracy added onto American Freemasonry. It could be as simple as a national Constitution and Freemasonry in the United States could be overseen by existing Masonic apparatus – the Conference of Grand Masters and the Masonic Service Association of North America.
Let’s look at an analogy – professional Major League Baseball. In the 20s you had the Black Sox scandal precipitated by abuses of the owners. In addition team owners were doing whatever they wanted with no standardized practices. Finally baseball realized it could not operate this way anymore, that the total freedom and separateness was dooming the national pastime. So the owners got together and appointed a Commissioner of baseball that still exists today. It keeps all the teams operating under the same set of rules and practices thereby eliminating corrupt and hurtful practices.
Like baseball teams, American Grand Lodges should not be able to do whatever they want. Now we perhaps don’t want a Commissioner of Freemasonry but we could continue on with a National Constitution with any administering or adjudication performed by the Council of Grand Masters with the help of the MSANA. This solution is simple, not adding any bureaucracy and keeps the sovereignty of each state Grand Lodge.
GS – You make an interesting point, one I’d like to come back to someday. But, let’s shift gears here and talk about your out of lodge work in the craft. You’ve written quite a bit over the years, about a lot of things, is there any one piece, or collection of pieces (Masonic or otherwise) that stand out in your mind as ground breaking or game changing?
FM – Well, I can think of four pieces that really stand out in my mind. One is a rather obscure piece titled Ballot Reform in which I make the point that we should no longer allow one Brother to hold the entire Lodge hostage to his personal prejudices. The way out of this enigma is something for you to find out by reading it. I will not spoil it just as I wouldn’t tell you who did it before you read a murder mystery nor explain the details of a good movie you have not yet seen.
In Of Revolutions and Reforms I make the point that before you market a product you best be sure the quality is up to snuff. I also say a lot of other stuff you can read about at your leisure.
Then there are the two papers I delivered in Alberta, Canada
First was World Peace through Brotherhood where I make the claim that if the majority of the world were Freemasons there would be no war. Again there is a lot of other stuff in more than 20 pages of point making if you want to look it up.
Lastly there is the intriguing Native American Rituals and The Influence of Freemasonry. Here I point to all Native American rituals that mirror Freemasonry as having been borrowed from the White Man – EXCEPT ONE – for which there is no rational explanation of how it got here (North America) or who designed it or how it happens to resemble a Masonic degree.
GS – So, given your history and experience, what do you see as the future of Masonry? Where do you think its heading?
FM – Take a look at the progression of human communication. First there was mostly hand written letter writing. Then came the telegraph which was more a message medium than a communication one. Soon after came the telephone and we could talk, voice to voice, to one another. Then along comes the Internet and we are all introduced to E-Mail. Not long after texting became the preferred method of communication which is really a personal telegraph in everybody’s hands. And today with venues like Skype and a webcam we can do it all!
So goes Freemasonry. From Lodge meetings attended by large numbers in person we have evolved into eMasonry that is trending now towards virtual Freemasonry. Soon we will have actual degrees being conferred in electronic Lodge rooms where all can gather from their smart phone or computer and see each other in a private (tyled) room. Just as personal communication is becoming more impersonal so is Freemasonry. Lodges are lacking attendance while web Masonry hums!
Look for more of the same. Today people value convenience and the ability to pop in and out just as quickly as a virtue. This is not your grandfather’s world. A 9 to 5 world no longer exists. Because of that Freemasonry will follow wherever technology goes. Already the rising stars in Freemasonry are the Masonic techies!
GS – So then, this leads me to wonder about the elephant in the room – membership has always been this invisible/silent specter for all moralities of the craft. Given your experience in both the Prince Hall world and mainstream world, do you see this is a universal issue between all branches?
FM – Yes, it is a universal issue in all branches of Freemasonry and I place the blame squarely upon Grand Lodges. Membership is the life blood of any organization and the way we replace ourselves. Without new blood we wither and die.
GS – Why do you think that is?
FM – Look at the answer above in the future of Masonry. Grand Lodges are still trying to operate in the modus operandi of yesteryear. They are all still driving model T cars. They can’t understand why people would rather text than write hand written letters. And that has been the problem from the start with Grand Lodges. When the world wide web first exploded across America they refused to participate in it and some even banned their members from becoming involved in it Masonically. It was like pulling teeth to get GLs to create a web page. A masonic forum, where Freemasonry was openly discussed, was considered heresy.
And now, as we are changing even more in our methods of communication, Grand Lodges have failed to come along. They are always lagging one step behind.
If we could find a Grand Lodge that would sell its building and operate out of a movie [theater] one to up to four times per year, with a live broadcast only available to you through your computer by a password protected (tyled) site, we might be getting somewhere. If, on a smaller scale, local Lodges could hold all their meetings in the same manner, then perhaps we would be on top of technology promoting it, instead of lagging behind, discouraging it.
If you can sit home and go to church from the favorite room in your house you ought to be able to do the same with Freemasonry. Personal meetings would then be confined to social affairs like BBQ’s, banquets and taverns.
GS – But, do you think that would change the tone of the lodge experience, or even masonry itself?
FM – While touting E-Degrees and all that modern technology brings us, I’m still old school enough to think that degrees should be done “in the flesh.” And you would want to do banquets and celebrations likewise. But other than that I think that Masonic Lodges meet too often and I compare them to the all news networks on TV. These networks, if they have no new news to report, have to make up the news just to keep broadcasting.
Masonic Lodges that meet often have to make up things to do in order to have their meeting. They do a very bad job at that. Many hurt their cause rather than help it.
My ideal Lodge would meet quarterly and gather for celebrations, trips and banquets as scheduled. Those four Lodge meetings might have a degree; always have a dinner and often a guest speaker. In my mind it is better to do a bang up job once in a while rather than a mediocre job more often.
Does that change the tone of Freemasonry? You bet. It gets rid of boring business meetings where you decide how many rolls of toilet paper to order with bad coffee and stale donuts afterwards. Business can be done online and by an Executive Committee with a quick Lodge sanction.
GS – Over the years, there has been drum beats for everything from a Masonic Congress, a national Grand Lodge, lifting territorial jurisdiction restrictions, break away Masonic lodges and even start-up Grand Lodges. Why do you think they have had only limited success, if any at all?
FM – If an organization is to exist across territorial bounds, if it is to be a movement open to everybody, everywhere, who meet certain basic qualifications, then it must have structure, it must be able to govern itself. Without structure there [would be] chaos.
My problem is that the structure that Freemasonry has chosen for the United States is woefully inadequate. This is no longer 1776. Our nation today has evolved into a centralized federal government of immense power. It long ago gave up the Articles of Confederation and evolved into a Constitutional federalized Republic. But Freemasonry has remained stuck in the 1700s.
This does not suit our modern mobile society. Today, unlike the 1700s, you could grow up in New York, go to college in Illinois, get your first big job in Texas, a promotion in California and then retire to Florida. And everywhere you go Freemasonry would be different. Sometimes radically different. Take it from someone who has experienced this first-hand, both in Northern and Southern Freemasonry.
We have 51 little fiefdoms with 51 variations of American Freemasonry. THERE IS NO AMERICAN IDENTITY TO FREEMASONRY IN THE UNITED STATES. And that’s a shame. People today don’t think of themselves as New Yorkers or Nebraskans or Arizonians. They think of themselves as Americans. But Freemasonry prohibits the adaptation of that concept to the Craft.
GS – So what do you think would remedy that?
FM – For awhile I was for a National Grand Lodge. But some wise Brothers pointed out that if states Grand Lodges are screwed up, think about the politics and control a National Grand Lodge would do. Also Prince Hall tried a National Grand Lodge and it didn’t last.
I am now of the opinion that there needs to be a national Masonic Constitution. This would not interfere with the sovereignty of each state Grand Lodge but would bind each one to some basic, general cornerstones. That would provide a national identity for the Craft in the United States and would eliminate the corruption of Freemasonry that can happen when separate entities remain apart for an extended period of time.
GS – What do you mean by corruption? Do you mean in a tangible way, as in a literal systemic corruption or in an intangible way such as in its ethos of corruption?
FM– No, [I mean] a corruption that alters and changes things. Like the English language as it is spoken.
Contrast the way English is spoken in England, America and Australia. It all started out the same, but separation over time introduced idiosyncrasies and a flavor that distinguished each version from the other. And that is really because they were apart for such a long time.
Now take 51 Grand Lodges and leave them to their own devices, totally separate and apart for a long period of time and you end up with 51 versions of Freemasonry. That’s corrupted Freemasonry. It would not be unexpected within the world, that is English Freemasonry or Australian Freemasonry, to be different. But, within the same country?
In a highly mobile society all you are doing is confusing people. And you end up with innovations like no Blacks allowed, Christian only, the Grand Master is God, cowboy hats and jeans, one year Grand Master terms, three year Grand Master terms, voting in Grand Lodge, no voting in Grand Lodge, a Grand Lodge line, no Grand Lodge line, an appointed Grand Master, five Landmarks, nine Landmarks, 13 Landmarks, no Landmarks at all and on and on and on.
Given enough time and you can find a Masonic Grand Lodge in the USA that is no longer Masonic.
GS – On that somber note, let’s talk about something more tangible. I always like ask what, or who, was your greatest Masonic influence? Who do you look up to in the Masonic world?
FM – There is no doubt in my mind that I owe an enormous debt to Stephen Dafoe.
Dafoe nurtured my writing and taught me how to do it right. He gave me a column in his magazines The Fourth Part of A Circle and Masonic Magazine. He encouraged me to keep at it and when I botched it up he showed me how it would read better.
Dafoe was instrumental in providing an all expenses paid trip to Alberta in 2005 for both me and my wife where I got the royal tour and the chance to address Alberta Lodges with two papers I had written. And a special thank you is due John Hayes who also joined Dafoe in welcoming me to Alberta and who was kind enough to board me and my wife at his house. There is nobody that did more to mentor me than Stephen Dafoe and I am eternally grateful.
And then there is also the encouragement and home for my writings provided me by David Lettelier. David was the one who offered me the post of Executive Director of Phoenixmasonry and I have grown immensely with Lettelier at my side.
GS – You mentioned writing in two places, in addition to the Beehive column, where you have written Masonic articles? Where else have you or do you now write?
FM – I started out by writing posts on Masonic forums in the 90s. When Theron Dunn and I went head to head those posts could be lengthy. That developed into articles for those sites. After Theron died my main antagonist became Grayson Mayfield. It was at this point that Stephen Dafoe took me under his wing and invited me to write articles for “The Fourth Part Of A Circle” and “Masonic Magazine.” After forming my own Blog “The Beehive” I merged it with Freemason Information. I also guest wrote at some other popular Masonic blogs. Then I began writing for Phoenixmasonry. Today I still write for The Beehive but I also write for my Grand Lodge publication “The Texas Prince Hall Freemason” where I am Associate Editor.” And I write for the Phylaxis Magazine where I help with editing and where I hold the office of Visual Archives Director. In March of 2014 I delivered a major paper to the annual session of the Phylaxis Society in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They presented me, as they do with anyone who delivers a paper, the award of the cup of knowledge.
I write in and for other fields of endeavor, owning some other websites, but as I like to keep the different aspects of what I do separate from one another, those shall remain in the dark here.
GS – It might be good to touch on one last thing about you and your Masonic journey, and that is your conversion to Catholicism. How difficult is it to be a Catholic Mason today?
FM – Well first of all for all those judgmental Catholics out there, I was not a Catholic who joined Freemasonry. I was a Mason who joined Catholicism. And I had two close Catholic Brothers in my Lodge who were by my side every step of the way. And my Priest, Father Jack, thought Freemasonry was great. At my first confession he said there is nothing bad about Freemasonry. Come into the church with full sacramental rights. You are most welcome.
The problem is that Father Jack isn’t in every Parish and I don’t always get the same approval. So I don’t push the subject. I don’t avoid it but I don’t go out of my way to mention it either. My conscience is my guide.
There is much acceptance of Freemasonry within the Catholic Church even though its official position is otherwise. It is going to be a long term re-education project. But I don’t intend to miss out on either world because some people have got their facts all wrong.
GS – Since you brought it up, your conversion to the Catholic Church, what was it that led you to that conversion?
FM – A number of things led me to become Catholic. Since my wife has always been a Catholic, I was exposed to it all the time.
After worshiping as a Protestant for many years I came to realize that they were worshiping the Bible. For a Protestant everything is about scripture and scripture answers every question and solves every problem.
I would rather worship Jesus, so I converted to Catholicism.
We often talk about the mysteries of Freemasonry. Well, there are also the mysteries of Catholicism. In practice Catholicism can be quite mystical. Protestantism tries to explain the unexplainable with reason and logic. It is a church of the Word. Catholics have the mystical experience of the Eucharist. It is a church of the Sacraments. The ritualism and pomp and circumstance of Catholicism remind me of Freemasonry.
Given all that it still was a difficult leap to make. What pushed me over the top was this story.
I cannot tell you why, but when I was still a Protestant I began going to a Catholic healing services in a neighboring town in Massachusetts. After communion we would approach the front where there were groups of three – a Priest, a nun and a deacon or lay leader. They would surround you and after asking you what problems you had. They would lay hands on you praying – faster and faster, ending in a great crescendo. Many would collapse on the floor in what we call being slain by the Spirit. I never was.
A friend of mine, we worked together and I brought him into the Lodge, was diagnosed with pancreatic and liver cancer and given six months to live. He was a non practicing Catholic. I recommended he go to one of these healing services. He went, but I could not go with him as I had to work. I asked him how it went and he said well I don’t believe in all that mumbo jumbo, especially the fainting part. So I was surprised when he said he was going into Boston for a healing service led by a Priest who had just come in from Ireland. His report back was quite different this time. He said you won’t believe it, but I passed out for 20 minutes.
Within a month he had to go back to the doctor for a progress examination. His liver and pancreatic tumors were all gone. What was, he had been told, a 98% chance of dying within 6 moths now was a complete cure. That was 15 years ago. My friend is still alive.
GS – That’s an amazing story. I always feel in awe over mystical experiences like that. Before we wrap up, is there any other important piece to the Fred Milliken story that needs to be put on the record?
FM – I can’t leave this interview without mentioning how I became Squire Bentley.
When I first started out on the Internet I used Squire as a pseudonym because I feared censorship by my Grand Lodge. Today I no longer have that fear and have dropped the Squire camouflage in most applications.
I was invited by the Fellowship Players a Masonic drama club from Fellowship Lodge in Bridgewater, MA, to try the part of Squire Bentley in the Carl Claudy play A Rose Upon The Altar. That is a very emotional part and was a challenge I was up for. I can especially remember two performances. The first was before the local Knights of Columbus and their wives. And the second was before a delegation of visiting Masons and their wives from England. That performance was open to the public and members of my family came. Performing in this play was one of my passions in Freemasonry.
And right beside me as I write these words is my Squire Bentley lantern, a present from Stephen Dafoe.
Fred, as always, my respect and appreciation to you for your wisdom and time. I can say, every time I speak or listen to you, I learn something new – both about the fraternity and about you. You can read more from Fred “Squire Bently” Milliken at the Bee Hive.
Editor’s note – Fred has since stepped down and retired from the position of Executive Director at Phoenix Masonry and no longer occupies that position saying of it “It was a great moment in my life and I would not want to ignore it or sweep it under the rug”