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President’s Message, October 2020

(Mea culpa from your Secretary-Treasurer — Jay’s column is late because I’m late putting it up! Sorry about that! — Nathan)

We Freemasons like our milestones. From our first entrance into the worshipful lodge, and through the degrees, and, for some, through the chairs, and, for a few, grand rank. Of course we also have our anniversaries: that first formative year as a brother, then the fifth year, and shockingly suddenly it is time for the silver anniversary, then the golden, and maybe more. With this issue of The Journal of the Masonic Society, we mark not an anniversary, but a milestone. An anniversary measures time, and time can be passed without effort, but a milestone is like a target. There’s a reasoned plan, a deliberate exertion, sustained determination, and—hopefully, but not always—the achievement. So here we are at Issue No. 50.

I have a unique vantage point for surveying the Masonic Society’s body of work. By dumb luck, I was invited to join at the start not only as a Founding Fellow, but even as a member of the Board of Directors. It seemed a little crazy to me, because the rest of the leadership team consisted of highly regarded figures on the Masonic scene in America. I was a recent Past Master and currently in the East of my research lodge, but I wasn’t a Past Grand Master, or an author, or a luminary of any kind. I hadn’t even unleashed my blog on the world yet. But I recognized the need for, and believed in the mission of, the Masonic Society—as I do still—and happily signed on with a desire to make a good fraternity better. As my colleagues writing to you here on this subject surely have mentioned, the basic concept of The Journal of the Masonic Society is to be “the Time magazine of Freemasonry.” (For those of you too young to know Time, it was the benchmark general interest magazine of American journalism, accessible to readers from all walks of life, and still around after 97 years.) We aim for a harmonious fusion of scholarly research, speculative thinking, news/current events, opinion/reviews, photography, and more. I believe we do it well, so perhaps in this context, respecting Time actually propels us toward a milestone.

Before our launch in 2008, there had not been such a resource available to the laboring Master Mason since the 1920s, when it was a pretty common thing. From the 1700s to the Great Depression, motivated Masons edited and published independently to satisfy a demand for useful information. The brethren wanted to read about their fraternity during a time before grand lodges and other bodies began supplying official periodicals. When those magazines debuted, the independents drifted away. What happened upon the advent of the Masonic Society was pretty amazing! Before, many existing magazines showed inevitable editorial biases. Grand lodge magazines were weighted in favor of the charitable work, while the publications of multi-state and national bodies seemed to struggle for want of good material. A different Masonic society was given to printing biographies of long deceased Baseball Hall of Famers. The arrival of The Journal of the Masonic Society changed much of that. The fruits of the labors of contemporary writers, showcased in a modern layout and design, and buttressed by the independence brought by paid memberships reminded Freemasons in America that it’s better to have the best. It was thrilling for me to see brethren come to our kiosk at Masonic Week to sign up for membership; to see brethren reading The Journal while relaxing in the hotel lobby. I’ll never forget strolling through the ground floor of Masonic Hall in New York City one night in May 2009 and overhearing a passing group of older Masons talking about us. “There’s a new society,” one said. “It’s alternative. It’s called the Masonic Society, and they publish a very attractive magazine.” And then there was the morning I received a call from the principals of that other Masonic society, offering me the editorship of their magazine (with $9,000 annual pay and a few perks) when they finally decided to plan a future without their longtime editor. That meant infinitely more to me than being coroneted a 33 Mason. I declined as graciously as I could given the shock I felt. I was committed resolutely to the Masonic Society and to building something new that was urgently needed in the Craft. (They wound up hiring away another key Masonic Society figure, and he has been doing a wonderful job with that academic quarterly.)

There is no rule and guide for presiding over a modestly sized non-profit group in the Masonic world. Worshipful Masters have their rituals, lodge bylaws, grand lodge constitutions, and generations of accreted traditions, habits, and preferences. Presidents of the Masonic Society? Not so much. Consequently the Society can differ in conspicuous ways with each new president’s term. It’s safe to say we have staved off chaos, but predictable, comfortable success is elusive too. That’s good though. Keeps us on our toes. Over the years, we have had to cycle through a number of officers and directors, worthy and well qualified Masons all, but who could not give the Masonic Society the sustained professional attention it demands. Our first Executive Editor was Chris Hodapp, probably the best known Freemason in the country thanks to his books, blog, and speaking engagements. He produced this great magazine—words and layout—for its first eighteen issues, even while he fought off cancer. Today he is our Editor Emeritus. Chris was succeeded by author Michael Halleran, Past Grand Master of Kansas, who continued the excellence. In more recent years, we have been lucky to have our second President, Mike Poll, at the helm, bringing his many years of experience as an eminent Mason and indefatigable book publisher to lead us to new heights, to more distant milestones, with Art Director John Bridegroom, graphic designer extraordinaire, crafting the layout.

And life goes on, Freemasonry is a “progressive science,” time waits for no one, and, as you read this fiftieth issue milestone of The Journal, we already are well into production of No. 51. See you then.

Jay Hochberg
President