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Charity, brotherhood shape Masonic Lodge’s first 100 years

Holly Nelms • May 27, 2017 at 3:00 PM

KINGSPORT — Over its 100-year history, the Masonic Lodge of Kingsport has served thousands of people throughout the region while also instilling the values of morality, civility and friendship in its members.

“Charity is a key element to the value that masonry instills,” said Bart Rowlett, current worshipful master of the Kingsport Lodge. “We all consider ourselves brothers in this fraternity.”

In 1917, the first members of what would later become the Kingsport Lodge were granted a dispensation, which allowed them to begin forming a lodge before receiving a formal charter from the state’s Grand Lodge in Nashville.

A year later, the Kingsport Lodge was officially chartered, with 79 members joining by the end of that year. It continued to grow until the 1980s, when it reached its peak membership of 1,200.

Now, the Kingsport Lodge has around 370 members. To become a member, a man must fill out a petition and submit it to the lodge, where it will be voted on by current members.

If the petition is approved, the man must work his way up through three degrees: entered apprentice, fellow craft and master mason. Individuals are not considered full members until they become a master mason.

Once they become a master mason, members can choose to be part one of the lodge’s appendant bodies, which are offshoots of the main lodge. These groups support a variety of charities, both locally and nationally.

The Shrine

One of the most visible parts of the Masonic Fraternity, Shriners International was established in the 1870s, and the local Jericho Shrine was chartered in 1976. The Shrine is known for its 22 Shriners Hospitals for Children, which specialize in orthopedic and burn care.

Tom Wallace, a member of Jericho Shrine, said the local Shrine donates an average of $180,000 to three Shriners Hospitals. The Jericho Shrine also supports an average of 925 children in this area with a portion of those funds.

The York Rite

The York Rite is comprised of three bodies: the Chapter of Royal Arch Masons, the Grand Council of Cryptic Masons and the Commandery of Knights Templar.

John Cantrell, York Rite member, said the three bodies support different charities. The Royal Arch Masons support Autism, Assistance, Aid, also known as A.A.A; the Grand Council supports the Cryptic Masonic Medical Research Foundation, which funds vascular research; and the Knights Templar supports the Knights Templar Eye Foundation.

The Scottish Rite

The Kingsport chapter of the Scottish Rite was formed in 1960 as a charitable organization. It began with a shoe program for needy children and later expanded to include a medical equipment program, a speech and hearing program for children and a scholarship fund.

Since its inception, the shoe program has provided thousands of shoes to children throughout the region, and Allen Fields, past master of the Kingsport Lodge, said the impact has been measurable.

“We were giving out shoes and socks to a child, and the child asked for two pairs of socks,” Fields said. “He said, ‘If I wear two pairs of socks when I go to bed at night, the mice won’t chew on my toes.’ Kids need what we give.”

The Kingsport Lodge also supports a welfare fund, which provides financial assistance to wives and children of members who have died, and the TN CHIP program, which assists with missing child identification.

In January, the Kingsport Lodge held its first 100th birthday celebration, during which all former masters and 50-year members were recognized. Another celebration will be held in January 2018 to celebrate the official charter date.

Growth and charity will remain two of the top priorities as members of the Kingsport Lodge look toward the future.

“The charity work is extremely important, and it’s one of the things that draws somebody to Masonry, so obviously we want to be able to continue the charitable programs,” Rowlett said. “We would also like to see our membership grow into the numbers that we once had.”