TWO VISIONS, ONE FRATERNITY
Last year marked an exciting chapter in California Masonry’s growth: For the first time since 1958, nine new lodges were created in a single year! Fledgling lodge leaders are adopting innovative approaches towards member engagement, community outreach, and even physical spaces. In Benicia, California, Rev. Bayani D. Rico, master of Carquinez Lodge, U.D. and Arthur Porter, master of Benicia Lodge, U.D. are coming together to breathe new life into the Benicia Masonic Hall – the oldest hall in California and one of the state’s oldest buildings. These two brothers and their lodges have different inclinations for revitalizing local Masonry, but their end goals are the same: a stronger brotherhood and deeper community relationships.
RESURGENCE OF A TREASURED LODGE
For Porter, creating Benicia Lodge, U.D. has been a labor of love. Porter is a two-time past master of Sublime Benicia Lodge No. 5, which lost its charter in 2014. He was heartbroken by the closure of the historic lodge, one that helped found the Grand Lodge of California in 1850, and made a personal vow to ensure its return. “Membership records from the beginning of Benicia Lodge still exist. I couldn’t stand for it to go into oblivion,” he says.
Porter notes the lodge’s important role within the development of California. Benicia Past Master Robert Semple was a founder of the city of Benicia and a tireless advocate for free public education. A school in town still bears his name – and Porter’s grandson is among its students. “I have a lot of personal feelings about the school and the lodge of yesteryear,” he says.
A six-term Grand Lodge officer, Porter brought a heartfelt plea for Benicia Lodge’s future and ideas for its renewal to Past Grand Master M. David Perry and worked closely with the Executive Committee to create a viable plan. His wishes were granted on October 20, 2016, when Benicia Lodge, U.D. held its ceremony of institution. “I’m especially grateful that we were allowed to retain the name ‘Benicia Lodge,’” Porter says. “It is a true honor.”
EXPANDING LOCAL MASONRY
For Rico, master of Carquinez Lodge, U.D., which also meets in the historic Benicia Masonic Hall, creating a new lodge in Benicia has focused on ideals of community and inclusivity. Rico is senior pastor of the Ascension Episcopal Church in Vallejo, a position that has given him insight into the need for greater cross-cultural community ties. Rico, who is Filipino, didn’t want an exclusively Filipino lodge. He purposely invited founding members who would reflect the racial, cultural, and generational diversity of the community.
This sense of inclusiveness was extended to the lodge’s name. “I asked brothers who were working to create the lodge for name suggestions. We chose Carquinez to be reflective of the whole geographic area where we live: American Canyon, Benicia, Pinole, Vallejo, and beyond.” The name references the Carquinez Straight, a narrow waterway connecting Suisun Bay to San Pablo Bay, spanning Solano and Contra Costa counties. As the Sacramento, San Joaquin, and Napa rivers merge into the straight along with the two bays, so does Carquinez Lodge bring together local members to form a united lodge.
REVITALIZING THE HISTORIC TEMPLE
To celebrate the return of Masonry to Benicia, Grand Lodge organized a complete renovation of the historic Benicia Hall. Aged furniture was replaced, walls were repainted, flooring was restored, and a historic exhibit was installed. Today, visitors can trace Benicia’s Masonic history, from Semple’s 1847 founding of the city through the 2016 Carquinez and Benicia dispensations.
The historic space holds deep significance for members. “We are rebuilding Benicia Masonry from the ground up, but meeting in this hall reminds us that Masonry once thrived here and will again,” says Porter.
“It’s amazing to know that you can stand in the same spot where a Benicia master stood in the 1800s. It’s a priceless experience,” Rico says. “And,” he adds, “imagine seeing yourself 25 years from now; looking back and knowing that you had a role in this revival. We’re part of the community’s past and a part of its future – it’s history in the making.”
As they work to rejuvenate Benicia Masonry, both masters are rooted in modern-day realities: In order to thrive, efforts must reach beyond the lodge and into the community itself. Rico looks forward to spreading enthusiasm throughout the Masonic district, which includes Naval Lodge No. 87 in Vallejo. He hopes to plan shared events with the three local lodges in the coming year, perhaps a district-wide celebration with Grand Master Heisner. “I’m very positive about future shared events,” he says. “We have a great capacity to work harmoniously.” He hopes to also organize a booth at Benicia’s annual summer festival with Child ID or another program to increase community visibility.
Benicia Lodge, U.D. is focused on community as well. The current lodge secretary is a retired local public school teacher and when Porter was master of the former Sublime Benicia Lodge, brothers’ school grants were the most generous in the community. He’s eager to get back to supporting schools, while also increasing lodge support of emergency services. A new committee, which includes a retired fire chief, will lead these new efforts. And, the lodge has reserved a booth at the city’s farmers market, every Thursday evening starting this spring.
“We’re serving hot coffee and answering questions,” Porter says. “Community is number one on our list.” His voice hums with pride — a passion for community, history, fraternity, and the future. “We’re here to be seen. We’re a part of Benicia.”