'Good men' make up St. Peter's Masonic Lodge
The all-stone church across from the New Milford Historical Society on Aspetuck Avenue is an intriguing structure.
It's known for its striking Gothic design and features. But few people know much about the organization that calls the building home.
Since 1963, members of St. Peter's Masonic Lodge No. 21 -- part of the Connecticut Freemasons -- have met at the former All Saints Church to "embrace the tenets of "friendship, morality and brotherly love," as stated on the lodge's Website at www.stpeterslodge21.org.
Although St. Peter's is housed in a former church, the Masons are not a religious group, a common misconception. Rather, Masons are the oldest fraternal organization in the world.
"Each one of us comes to the lodge to improve ourselves," said Roxbury resident Curtis Temple, worshipful master of St. Peter's, the highest officer in the local lodge.
Mr. Temple said he joined St. Peter's after learning about it because he was interested in "the ideals it practices."
"It has a system of ideals that are practiced in a symbolic way," Mr. Temple said, referring to Masonry's roots dating back to the Middle Ages.
St. Peter's, which was chartered in 1792, is a Blue lodge, meaning it works the first three Masonic degrees.
A Mason must be part of a Blue Lodge in order to become active in other Masonic orders such as the Scottish and York rites.
St. Peter's members, or brothers as the members refer to one another, honor the Masonic organization's history and tradition in many ways, including special ceremonies and oaths.
For special occasions and formal meetings, members will wear tuxedos and aprons. Officers will also wear collars. The master will top off his outfit with a hat. For most general meetings, though, members will wear a coat and tie.
Craig Nelson of Warren, a 30-plus-year Mason, said today some members wear a ring or a belt buckle that identifies them as a Mason.
But, for the most part, the general public may not be able to identify a Mason outside of the lodge.
"The community may not see Masons [or know a particular person is a Mason], but we're involved," Mr. Temple said. "We're always in the background of what is right."
"We are in service of ourselves, we're here to support our community as brothers," Mr. Temple said.
"A Mason is taught to be a good citizen. To be of good character. To care for those less fortunate, and to give back to his community," according to a statement on the lodge's Website.
And that's what St. Peter's Masonic Lodge's some-130 members do.
Among its outreach, the lodge annually presents a music scholarship.
The lodge supports other programs and projects, too, but it is and has always been "very quiet in its giving," said Mr. Nelson, the lodge's secretary.
One of the larger programs in which St. Peter's actively participates is Tabs for Tots. Soda can tabs are collected, sent to a site in Massachusetts and made into scrap metal, then redeemed for money used to buy equipment for Shriners Hospitals.
Being part of a fraternal organization has been a big part of many members' lives.
Among the longest-serving members are Andy Armstrong (58 years), Bob Burden (53 years) and George Pineman (50 years).
Mr. Nelson isn't too far behind the men, having been a member for 30-plus years.
"I joined based on what I had heard and the fact the people I knew in the lodge were all good men," Mr. Nelson said of why he joined the former lodge in Washington, which eventually merged into St. Peter's.
He has remained a member, he said, because he appreciates and enjoys being around other guys with similar goals and working "to make things better."
A member for five years, senior warden Rafael Figueroa Jr. said he sought to get involved with an organization when he moved to town. After looking into several, he became "intrigued" by the Masons' history and petitioned to become a member.
Today, he said he values the "brotherhood" of the fraternity and being connected others in history who were Masons.
For more information about St. Peter's, visit www.stpeterslodge21.org.