The Haitian Degree
On Thursday, November 16th, the brothers from Connecticut’s newest lodge, Universal Fraternity No. 149 treated their brothers of Sequin-Level No. 140 to dinner and a play.
The “play” of course, was a well-performed Master Mason degree, in which the officers of Universal-Fraternity assumed the chairs for the evening. Done in Connecticut form, the brothers added several small touches of Haitian influence, giving the onlookers a new and different perspective on the drama of Hiram. Fascinating as the degree was to watch, the event was even more impressive when one considers that in the last year, our new brothers not only had to learn ritual in Connecticut form, but also to give the degrees in English instead of the French customarily spoken in Haitian lodges.
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Preceding the dinner was a short flag presentation at which the Haitian flag was presented and displayed with the collection of other flags at Sequin-Level. Afterwards, the brothers joined in singing the Haitian National Anthem.
A degree without dinner is like a day without orange juice, and not content with showing off their ritual skills, several of the officers of Universal Fraternity showed up at Sequin-Level early in the afternoon to show off their culinary skills. They prepared several traditional Haitian dishes, and steaming pans of seasoned rice and beans accompanied various trays of chicken, pork and seafood; more than enough to serve the 90 brothers in attendance for the ceremonies.
The evening ended with RWB James McWain Grand Jr. Deacon and MWPGM George Greytak congratulating the members on their degree work. Certainly, it was a fantastic example of how Freemasonry crosses the borders of language and culture.
For those that do not know the backstory, Universal Fraternity Lodge was charted “UD”, or Under Dispensation back in 2005. The brothers were already well-versed in Haitian-style degree work, but in order to be fully chartered by the Grand Lodge of Connecticut, they had to re-learn their degree work in Connecticut form, and in English. The brothers worked hard at this, and at the 2006 Grand Lodge Annual Communication, they were awarded the charter with the lodge number of 149.
I happened to be there – literally at the door – when our Haitian brothers arrived during the 2005 Annual Communication, and also happened to be available on the evening before the 2006 meeting. Actually, it was more like 2 a.m., when several of the nervous brothers popped into the room with an entourage of brothers from other lodges. They had vowed not to sleep until they knew for certain that they would be granted a charter, and had wandered the hotel looking for other Masonic night owls. Several of my officers were still up, so we shared fellowship and hospitality, and compared the differences between Haitian ritual and our own.
Several of the officers of Friendship Lodge came to see the degree work at Sequin-Level, and once again I happened to be in the wrong place at the right time; after assisting to see the four candidates were duly prepared, I was asked to escort one of them during the degree itself (I am an affiliate member of Sequin-Level). Although I was barely able to move after the fantastic dinner, somehow I managed to walk around the lodge room, following their Sr. Deacon (who did a fantastic job during the evening). I should also mention that the Master, WB Daniel did his best to make the degree a particularly memorable evening.
I was pleased to see a large number of brothers staying for the entire degree, and counted several purple aprons in the number of onlookers, including at least one from the MW Prince Hall Grand Lodge. The brothers from Universal have been getting a lot of publicity lately, and personally I think that it is well-deserved. Every time I run into them – an easy thing to do, since they seem to travel all over the state – they are always cheerfully spreading harmony and good fellowship. And when one considers that many lodges in the state – indeed, around the US – are closing their doors, we should celebrate those who so amply demonstrate their dedication and perseverance.
That reminds me: I really need to get the recipe for that paella-like dish; it was delicious!