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Masons at St. John's Lodge #104 in Norwich are leaning toward joining with Delhi and Walsingham

By Jennifer Vandermeer, Norwich Gazette/IngersollTimes

NORWICH - 

While it's still not official, indications are that the Masons of St. John's Lodge #104 in Norwich will amalgamate with the lodges in Delhi and Walsingham within a few months.

Norm Ryder, secretary of St. John's Lodge #104, said there have been votes at each of the three lodges that indicated the memberships are agreeable to moving forward with the process of amalgamation.

“We have proposed the name be The Three Great Lights #104,” Ryder said, adding the new meeting place would be in the Delhi lodge, near the intersection of Highways 59 and 3.

Ryder explained the Grand Lodge, which has jurisdiction over all Masonic lodges in Ontario, has supported the process by allowing the three to form an amalgamation committee to consider all the details and make some of the decisions required for such a step.

“Grand Lodge is interested in us going on, rather than go dark,” he said.

An amalgamation will still require the notification of all lodge members by mail of the final vote to be held in June. If the vote does not receive at least 75 per cent support, the motion will fail.

On June 21, it is expected the Grand Master for Ontario will be at the Delhi lodge location to install a new slate of officers. In the first year of the new lodge, Ryder said each of the three groups will be responsible for filling five of the 15 chairs in the lodge.

Those ornate chairs are the physical indication of a Mason's position in the organization. Each of the officers has a particular seat based on their role, such as treasurer, secretary or Worshipful Master. The ones that will be used in the new Three Great Lights lodge, will come from the Norwich lodge space.

Ryder said since St. John's made the decision to close, its members and volunteers have been carefully packing and cataloging the historic and ceremonial items that have been accumulating since the lodge opened in the building on the northwest corner of Main and Stover Streets. The building was purchased by the lodge in 1962 and while the Masons met upstairs, they rented the ground floor space to various businesses over the years.

The building, Ryder said, is owned by a holding company, comprised of lodge members. Once the contents of the lodge have been relocated, stored or donated, the building will be listed for sale by the holding company, and any proceeds can be distributed within the community.

“It's sort of a deja vu moment,” said Ryder, who has been a Mason for decades, and has held each office at least once. “We haven't stopped being a lodge,” said Ryder. “We decided it's in our best interest to do this process.”

In January this year, it was reported there were fire code-related issues with the lodge building that would be too expensive and time-consuming for the members of the lodge to complete. That, coupled with dwindling membership, were the impetus for the decision to amalgamate.

For many years, Masonic Lodges have offered a strong sense of fellowship and community for their male members and a chance to network, Immediate Past Master Sean McCoy told Postmedia in January. But participation, as with other service clubs and community groups, has decreased significantly over the past two decades – especially for a lot of smaller, rural lodges.

“Lodges aren’t spaces – they’re people,” said McCoy.

 -- with files from Megan Stacey