Day 1 – GRAND SESSION OF PRINCE HALL ARKANSAS, FEBRUARY 25, 2010
I started my journey to Arkansas at 2:30 AM on Thursday morning, February 25, 2010 and headed Nellybelle up I30 towards Texarkana. After a refueling at IHOP on that border city at 5:00 AM I pushed on, arriving at the Pine Bluff, Arkansas and the Grand Lodge at 8:30 AM. The parking lot was deserted and except for two cleaners the place was unoccupied. Funny, I thought, to be so dead when Grand Lodge is supposed to convene in 30 minutes at 9:00 AM. Not thinking clearly I wandered into the Grand Lodge to ask one of the cleaners for the use of a room to shed my travel clothes and change into my Tux. Once changed I headed back to the lobby whereupon I ran smack dab into Grand Master Cleveland Wilson just coming through the door and who was not in Masonic dress. He said, “Fred you are a bit overdressed this morning.” “Grand Lodge does not convene this morning,” I asked. “No, not until evening”, Grand replied.
That mistake proved to be a blessing in disguise. For then the Grand Master proceeded to take me on a grand tour of the building. Arkansas Grand Lodge is huge and the feature that we old folks appreciate is that it is all on one floor. Its size is deceiving as from curbside it doesn’t seem to be of the magnitude of its actual inside. I took a look at the hall for OES, the hall for Blue Lodge Masons, the banquet hall and the various offices and storage areas of the building. The last stop was the Grand Master’s private office where we both settled in for a two hourtête–à–tête. We conversed at length on life and our first passion, Freemasonry.
The Grand Master told me a few interesting stories and I told the Grand Master a few interesting stories. It was a rare opportunity and one not to be missed, to explore the depths and breadth of personal feelings with a man of the stature of Grand Master Cleveland Wilson.
When the Grand Master’s telephone started ringing off the hook, we broke, I checking into my motel, grabbing some lunch and then a nap, the Grand Master to what I am sure was a busy day of last minute contingencies.
That evening the Grand Lodge opened its Grand Session in the banquet hall with a joint Memorial Service to all the deceased members of OES and Arkansas Master Masons in 2009. It is worth noting that the Grand Lodge would close its Grand Session in similar fashion with a church service.
The Grand Lodge had lost its most illustrious, most erudite and most beloved Past Grand Master, the Honorable Howard L. Woods in 2009 and the mourning was still evident. This man was sorely missed.
The service was an outpouring of celebration and thankfulness. There were three choirs who performed, the OES choir who led off the program with “Bye and Bye” and a short time later with “Oh How I love Jesus,” the PB (Prime Beloved) Men in Black and the Greater Macedonia Choir from the guest preacher’s church. The musical performance was also accompanied by the keyboards and piano, saxophone and drums.
The scripture reading was Psalm 121. When the deceased Master Masons names were read a ship’s bell was rung once for each name, twice for PGM Howard Woods and Bruce Warren, PMEG High Priest –R.A.M. and PEG Commander – K.T.
The sermon was given by guest preacher the Reverend Cleo Nellum of the Greater Macedonia Baptist Church. His sermon was based on the 23rd Psalm. He told us that the Psalm was 118 words long of which 116 words were devoted to explaining the first two words, “The Lord.” “Everybody is always talking about the Sweet Bye and Bye – what about the Nasty Now and Now,” asked the Reverend Nellum? “He was before was ,was – when there was nothing, there was God.”
Quietly and solemnly we departed after the benediction with more than one eye filled with tears. One always needs to remember those who have gone before him before he proceeds to take up the business of the present and the future.