SHORT TALK BULLETIN

Vol. XXXIV No. 3 — March 1956

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THREE CHAPLAINS

The Chaplain of a lodge can be to that body much what the Pastor of a church is to his flock. Or he can be just a lodge officer, concerned only with ritualistic prayers at opening and closing. It depends, of course, upon the brother, his sense of responsibility and his ability to cause his brethren to look up to him as a source of spiritual comfort.

The Altars of their churches are to many those sacred places before which they may confess sins and offer prayers for forgiveness. The same may be true of the Masonic Altar. To some men, who have not found for themselves, or been raised in, a church home, the Altar of a Masonic lodge is the only one they know, and the Chaplain of their lodge their only Mediator.

Lucky the brother of that lodge which has a Man of God for a Chaplain who is steeped both in Freemasonry and ministry...

Dr. Blair had been Pastor of St. John's Church for forty years and Chaplain of Adelphia Lodge for thirty summers and winters.

Dr. Blair sat in his study reading a letter. The letter was unsigned, but, unlike most anonymous letters, the recipient knew well from whom it had come and was glad.

The letter read:

"Do you remember the wedding, a quarter of a century ago, when only the bride and groom and you were in your church? Oh, please remember! My daughter was married today and I gave her a photograph of my marriage lines for a wedding present..."

Dr. Blair remembered very well. The tiny wedding party was dear in his mind; the girl with the frightened face; the boy whose lips trembled.

The boy was Joe. Joe had been raised in Adelphia Lodge two years before; he was twenty-three when Dr. Blair married them. Joe was an orphan and had been brought up in an asylum, but his father had been a Mason. Almost the first money Joe earned after he was a man was laid aside to become the fee for the degrees.

It was shortly after the first World War. Older people remember the "letting down the bars" — the wildness of people, the looseness of morals, the great prosperity, the unusual spending; prohibition and its evils — a time when laws were easily broken and morality seemed to have been forgotten.

It was a winter night when Joe knocked on Dr. Blair's door. Dr. Blair made him welcome in his study and waited patiently for Joe to speak. Joe had great difficulty in saying what he had come to say — what had to be said. But at long last it was said.

Dr. Blair was not surprised, nor particularly shocked. He was a wise man even then, when he was much younger.

"This — this is on the square, sir — no one must know!" begged Joe. "But what — WHAT are we to do?"

"What do you want to do?" asked Dr. Blair.

"Marry her, of course!" answered Joe, passionately. "I love her. She loves me. We — we didn't mean any harm — we planned to marry. But -but. . ."

"Yes?" asked Dr. Blair.

"Her folks-up in New England" cried Joe. "They are — very straight-laced. They — they wouldn't have anything to do with her ... with a six month baby. They'd throw her out ... they'd ...."

"Bring her to me!" commanded Dr. Blair, gently.

Joe brought her. Dr. Blair talked to her. It was the old, old story — youth and ardent bodies; love and little background; desire and no well-formed character. They had not meant harm; they were much in love and very young.. .

So the next day there was the tiny wedding in the empty church.

Dr. Blair made out the church wedding certificate with his own hands. Even then his writing was a little shaky, but it was plain.

He "forgot" to date the certificate.

Six months after the baby was born, Joe and his wife went back to New England. The wife's family accepted the certificate at face value. If bride or groom had written in an earlier date than the fact, Dr. Blair did not know it ... he may have guessed!

That is why this lodge Chaplain cherishes the anonymous letter which tells him that the baby who was legitimate in the eyes of its family was married — with a photograph of her mother's marriage lines as a wedding present ...

The reader knows now that Dr. Blair's name and the name of his lodge are not the real names, for of course this was "on the square".

The Reverend Dr. Fortescue has a church; is Chaplain of his lodge, and conducts services once a month in the State Penitentiary. Dr. Fortescue is a man rather on the jolly side; he is stout, almost fat, and laughs often. If he cries often, it is in secret. He hears many a sad tale from prisoners in the Penitentiary. Few men know more of the miseries of men to whom convictions of crimes have been far more terrible than their worst imaginations had envisioned.

Jim was — is now — a trusted employee of the Cherrington Wire Works. Jim is an adopted child, and, almost fanatically grateful to his foster parents. There is now only one of these left; Father George died when Jim was eighteen; Mother Anna was left a widow when really too frail to bear up under such a strain. But she managed, somehow. She managed so well that Jim became a member of the local lodge as soon as he was twentyone — Father George had been a Past Master and Jim thought anything Father George did was perfect.

Then Mother Anna became more and more frail. Help was needed in the house. Jim worked at all the overtime jobs he could get to make more money. But the bills piled up. And then the dread day when the doctor said Mother Anna must go to the city hospital, to have an operation.

Mother Anna was sent.

Mother Anna lived through it and was home again, better. She would probably get well. But there was a shadow on Jim's face and in his life.

Then he went to Dr. Fortescue. "I have to tell you", he began. "It is on the square. But I don't suppose you can keep it so.... I stole three hundred dollars from the Wire Works. I'm a bookkeeper, you know. I stole it to send Mother Anna to the hospital. I'd — I'd rather go to jail than have her die. But — but I thought, before it came out — before the auditor comes, day after tomorrow and finds it out ... I thought you ought to know. I'm not really a thief ... I mean, I wouldn't steal for myself ... I ... the lodge will try me and expel me, I know. But — I wanted you to know . . .

The Reverend Dr. Fortescue knew Mr. Cherrington, owner of the wire works, very well. He went to see him.

"Cherrington, will you lend me three hundred dollars?"

"Why, of course. What for?" asked Mr. Cherrington.

"To keep a man out of jail."

"Story?"

"Can't tell it to you. Not my business to tell stories!" cried the Chaplain of Acacia Lodge. "But if you lend it to me, it makes it a very good story!" he laughed again. Dr. Fortescue thought that borrowing the money from the man who had been robbed, for the robber to pay back to the robbed employer, made an excellent story.

"Am I lending it to you or you?" asked Mr. Cherrington.

"I know you are lending it to me. I think I am lending it to the Great Architect" answered Dr. Fortescue.

"Oh, lodge business?"

"I did not say so . . . "

Mr. Cherrington made out his check.

Dr. Fortescue had it cashed.

When the auditors came to the Cherrington Wire Works there was no shortage.

Dr. Fortescue paid Mr. Cherrington back ten dollars a week for thirty-two weeks as Jim paid Dr. Fortescue ten dollars a week for thirty-two weeks.

Jim never goes to bed without a silent prayer for the welfare of the Chaplain of Acacia Lodge, which isn't its name.

It was twenty-nine minutes past eleven A.M. when Mrs. Allen finished telling her story to Brother Charles Swormstead, Chaplain of her husband's lodge, Doric.

"I know I have no business coming to you," she ended. "I am not a church member — I suppose I ought to be. But, Mr. Swormstead, what I tell you is the truth."

"Have you prayed?" asked Dr. Swormstead.

"No. God can't help me." said Mrs. Allen. "George has always been very jealous of me. He studied medicine before he was drafted and went away . . . and . . . "

Yes?"

"He says he can prove my baby is a bastard and he won't have a faithless wife and a bastard son . . . you see, the baby was born ten months after George was drafted ...

"Did you ever read the Bible?" asked Dr. Swormstead.

"I — not very much . . .

"You both might read St. John, Chapter 8" mused Dr. Swormstead. Then: "Of a woman taken in adultery, One said `Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more . . ."

"But — but I didn't sin!" cried Mrs. Allen. "Our baby is his child!"

"There are many kinds of prayers" said Dr. Swormstead. "Silent prayers; prayers on one's knees; prayers from one's lips only; prayers from one's heart . . .

"Prayer cannot help me or George. Only a change of heart in George can help — unless you can make him believe . . ."

"I? I can do little. But George believes in a Great Architect. Suppose you try my way. I want you to sit here quietly for half an hour. Just pretend that God can help you. Think it all through and then get on your knees and ask him. Ask him aloud; prayers we say aloud are often plainer than those we just think . . .

He did not wait for her answer but went to another room and used the telephone. Then perhaps he prayed.

It was ten minutes of twelve when he telephoned, and a quarter after twelve when the Master of Doric Lodge arrived at the parsonage. Dr. Swormstead welcomed him gravely and ushered him into his living room, not his study.

"I'm not sure I'm not being Jesuitical" said Dr. Swormstead to himself. "No. I am not doing evil that good may come — I am just hoping that good may come from good . . ."

Then he talked to the Master of Doric Lodge. It was a good Masonic talk and a plain one, but it left the Master cold. Not only cold, but indignant.

"I don't care what she told you!" he cried. "One baby in ten thousand may be a ten month's baby. I'm accepting no such odds. I won't have an adulteress for a wife and I won't raise a bastard as my son and all the Freemasonry you want to talk at me won't make me change my mind."

"Did you ever read the Great Light?" asked Dr. Swormstead.

"What has the Great Light got to do with it?"

"I was thinking of One who said `go and sin no more'. He did not condemn . . ."

"That's two thousand years ago and it wasn't my wife!" snapped the Master of the lodge. "I tell you, ."

"Hush!" Dr. Swormstead has keen ears. He laid his fingers on his lips and pushed the door from the living room to his study open an inch. "Hush, man . . ."

From the study came a small and agonized voice. It was saying a prayer. It was a pitiful, broken prayer and there were sobs in it. It told a story which sounded like a true story. It was barely audible — but the Master of Doric Lodge could hear it.

"Oh, God, make him believe ... the baby is an honest baby . . . I am not — not — an adulteress . . . my baby is — is not a bastard -George is his father . . . Oh, God, make him believe, I love them so. . . ."

Dr. Swormstead closed the door to his study. "I tell you on the square. She doesn't know you are here" he said, simply, to the Master of Doric Lodge. "I told her to think it all over for half an hour and then to pray."

Dr. Swormstead then left the Master of Doric Lodge alone. Obviously, it was out of his hands.

Fifteen minutes later, watching from an upstairs window, the Chaplain of Doric Lodge watched its Worshipful Master escort his wife down the parsonage steps.

The Masonic Service Association of the United States of America