The Provo Masonic Temple officially opens it doors to the community once a year, but the Freemasons of Utah County strive to improve themselves daily, believing their individual efforts make a difference on a larger scale.
The Freemasons of Utah County held its annual open house on May 6 as part of a statewide event meant to dispel common myths about Freemasonry, as well as invite members of the community to support the Utah Food Bank by bringing canned goods to donate.
“The purpose of the open house is to invite people to come see what we do,” said Ephraim Sng, a BYU alumnus and Freemason of 10 years. “I think there’s a lot of misconceptions about what Masonry is, that we’re secretive or that we’re a cult. This (open house) is to help raise awareness that we are actually part of the community.”
Freemasonry consists of fraternal organizations focused on self-improvement, derived from the fraternities of stonemasons. Each regional unit of Freemasons is called a lodge, and each lodge is governed by the Grand Lodge in Salt Lake City.
The Provo Masonic Temple houses the two groups of Freemasons in Utah County: Story Lodge No. 4 and Damascus Lodge No. 10. There are around 120 Freemasons in Utah County between the two groups, according to Jeff Hamilton, the current secretary and a Past Master — or former president — of Story Lodge.
Both lodges are over a century old, with Story Lodge tracing its charter back to 1872, and Damascus Lodge to 1896.
Hamilton, a Freemason of 25 years, said both lodges have actively supported the community throughout the years.
“We’re here to make our community better. We do just about anything,” Hamilton said. “We have the Utah Masonic Foundation. We give away scholarships statewide. We’ve done Habitat for Humanity, Wounded Warriors, the Food Bank. I don’t think there’s anything we haven’t done.”
Although Freemasons serve the community, Sng said their number-one priority is to improve the individual first, thus improving the community.
Tim Taeger, a Freemason of two years, said what he’s learned as a Freemason has improved different aspects of his life.
“It’s helped me be a better husband, father and work person,” Taeger said. “Masonry takes a good man and it makes him a better man.”
Freemasons were available during the open house to answer questions about Freemasonry and to dispel any myths.
Sng said one of the most common misconceptions is the idea that only invited persons can become Freemasons.
“One must request to join,” Sng said. “We cannot invite, but we want to make people aware of us, and if they find this resonates with them and they (want to) join, then that’s how they can figure out how to ask.”
Sng said another common myth is that Freemasonry is a religion.
Craig Call, a BYU alumnus and Junior Warden of Story Lodge, said although Freemasons cannot be atheists, Freemasonry encourages each man in his search for light, regardless of the religion he identifies with.
“We encourage people to become more active in whatever faith they practice,” Call said. “We’re encouraging the discovery of light and truth.”
Michael H. MacKay, assistant professor of Church history, said there are similarities in LDS temple and Masonic rituals.
“The Masons too are looking back to a Biblical past,” MacKay said.
There are some similar rituals, but the meaning behind the rituals is different, MacKay said.
Attendees shared mixed reactions about their experience at the open house.
BYU alumni Hannah Phair and Nathan Phair said the mix between civic engagement and religious overtones was a little different than what they were expecting.
“It’s like a very normal, fraternal organization for the 21st century with 17th century rituals,” Nathan said. “I feel a little jarred. They don’t match up because we don’t experience this kind of thing in a normal 21st century life.”
Tyler Willardson, a BYU student from Arizona, said he appreciated a first hand experience and said Freemasonry is less mysterious now.
“The biggest thing that I learned was the focus of the Masons is to take good men and make them better, and I think that’s a really important purpose,” Willardson said.
For more information about Freemasonry in Utah, visit the Utah Grand Lodge’s website.