In the small town of Long Pine, Nebraska (population 326), there exists a Masonic lodge that is truly on the upswing. Long Pine is in an area that I am very familiar with and I have many fond memories of the beautiful Sandhills region of Nebraska. However, anyone who lives there will tell you that it is sparsely populated and would probably be considered by most Masons as a region where it would be difficult, if not impossible, to operate a dynamic and growing Masonic lodge. Despite living in this sparsely populated area, Long Pine Masonic Lodge has found ways to make itself a thriving organization of which its members are very proud.
Long Pine has about 37 members, a quarter of which live outside of Long Pine and the lodge members have an average age of 55. Typically, 10 or 11 people attend meetings which is an impressive percentage of its members since many lodges have less than 10 percent of members attend meetings. There are no other Masonic organizations in Long Pine, the Eastern Star and York Rite organizations that used to exist there have disbanded and closed their doors. Faced with the burdens of a dilapidated building and an uninspired organization only a few years ago, the Brothers of Long Pine decided it was time to take matters into their own hands.
The lodge’s web master Alvin Benemerito, a Past Master, says that the organization “Had a resurgence of pride in membership in the lodge” in 2007. The lodge members decided to renovate their facilities themselves rather than hire expensive contractors. The roof was leaking badly and the lodge needed a new heater among other problems. The lodge members donated materials to the renovation and offered their craftsmanship. They replaced the ceiling and Brothers donated refrigerators, ovens, and a pellet stove along with pellets for heat. “We keep telling our members that this is our house,” said Alvin Benemerito. To cover the expenses of renovating the lodge building and maintaining their refinished quarters, the Brothers created a budget and mailed it to all members showing how much they needed to raise dues in order to keep their lodge open. Their straightforward approach worked and the lodge raised its dues from $30 a year to $75 a year. The lodge also rents out part of its facilities to a Brother’s business for $200 a month to cover expenses. The lodge does not do any fund raising. But Long Pine Lodge realizes that it isn’t only the facility which makes the organization successful, but the experience it provides to its members.
With the permission of Nebraska’s Grand Lodge, Long Pine began using the Chamber of Reflection as part of its Entered Apprentice degree conferral. This ceremony requires that a candidate sits alone in a small room prior to his degree where he is asked to write down responses to questions such as “Why do you want to join the fraternity” and “What do you expect from the lodge?” in order to remind him of the reason that he petitioned the lodge. The candidate is given the questions prior to his admission into the chamber of reflection so that he may prepare his answers and the responses are read openly in lodge prior to the degree conferral. This capitalizes a very thorough admission process which involves a formal meeting with candidates to clearly explain the obligations to the lodge that they will assume as a Mason. The lodge also requires that candidates complete the full form proficiency and prefers to not send candidates to any one-day degree conferrals because the lodge wants the work. “We don’t care if it takes them a year to be a Master Mason,” says Brother Benemerito. The lodge also opens in the Entered Apprentice or Fellowcraft degree whenever it must in order to keep all of its members engaged in the lodge’s activities as soon as they become a Mason.
The lodge’s members also wear special attire. “We wear dark suits, dress aprons, and white gloves,” says Alvin Benemerito. The aprons are UGLE style dress aprons and the dress instills their members with a sense of pride. Brother Benemerito says that the members have come to regard the lodge meeting as a special occasion. He says that “we come to lodge because we enjoy each others company. We don’t come to lodge to say let’s hurry up, we’ve got to go somewhere.” The lodge recognizes that some Brothers may not have or be able to afford a dark suit so they have acquired a number of suits from Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and other sources which are stored in the lodge building in order to be given to a Brother in need. “It becomes a culture, it becomes a custom of the lodge,” says Brother Benemerito. The lodge publishes all of its degree conferrals and events in the local newspaper. Fathers will often see their sons who have just received their degree surrounded by men in suits and purchase a suit for their son to wear when they go to lodge.
The lodge has one stated meeting and conducts a lodge of instruction every month. They have regularly featured educational sessions during which a Masonic paper may be read. However, many of the meetings are consumed with the busy work of restoring the lodge. After every lodge meeting, the Brethren of Long Pine Lodge have a light meal or snack along with a wine tasting. “We’re learning to be wine connoisseurs,” laughs Benemerito before he adds, “They all taste the same to me!” This provides the lodge with fellowship time and the Brethren are very careful to ensure that they do not convert the means of refreshment into intemperance or excess.
The Brothers also participate in a number of activities to enrich the community. They display and retire the flags for the Long Pine cemetery for Memorial Day. The members conduct a Lodge of Military Tribute that they have performed at lodges throughout the state and their travels together have built strong bonds of Brotherhood between them. They have also put on an event for the Child Identification Program, but Alvin Benemerito was very adamant when he said “We do what we enjoy doing, not because we have to do it.” This attitude defines the lodge which operates in order to meet the needs and desires of its members. A number of awards are available for lodges through the Grand Lodge of Nebraska, but Long Pine Lodge does not take the time to worry about submitting the paper work necessary to receive an award.
Brother Benemerito operates the lodge’s website which has two noticeable features. The first is a number of high quality pictures of the lodge which show its impressive regalia, beautifully remodeled facilities, and smiling Brothers. “Pictures paint thousands of words, you can visually see what the lodge is doing,” says Benemerito, who takes pictures at every lodge function and publishes them on-line. The other excellent function of the lodge’s website is a yellow pages section for all of the lodge members’ businesses. These yellow pages help lodge members stay connected with each others’ business services and has been a good incentive for lodge members to remain active.
The lodge members exhibit a great amount of pride in their lodge and do not view Long Pine Lodge as a gateway to other Masonic organizations. “It’s hard to sell something you don’t believe in,” says Brother Benemerito, “We would like to give a special Masonic experience in the Sandhills of Nebraska.”
You can find out more about Long Pine Masonic Lodge and view their numerous photographs at their website.
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