EL PASO – For most of us childhood memories consist of lives involved with friends, family, school – precious memories we hold dear as we grow old. But what kind of memories do people treasure when their fathers are involved in Freemasonry, one of the oldest fraternal organizations in the world and what effect does it have on their lives?
“Growing up with my father being a Mason was very enjoyable for me,” said Steve Miller, the current Worshipful Master for Fraternity Lodge 1111 and 2012 Potentate for the El Maida Shrine. “It made my days in school shorter. Yes, I had to keep my grades up in order to do what was required to go on the trips that my mom and dad and I used to have to go on.”
But what is Freemasonry? According to their El Paso Masons website, Freemasonry is a way of life and a voluntary association of men within a fraternal society, religious in its character with a system of moral conduct based on a firm belief in the Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of Man, and the Immortality of the Soul, encouraging goodwill towards all mankind that seeks to make good men better by teaching the Golden Rule and morality through symbolism and using rites and ceremonies to instruct its members.
Freemasonry means different things to each individual Freemason. For some, it may mean making new friends and acquaintances while for others it may be about being able to help deserving causes – making a contribution to family and society and for some it may mean the meeting of new friends and acquaintances who are also interested in the concern for mankind, caring for the less fortunate and helping those in need.
Freemasonry is not a social networking club where members can seek advantages for themselves through business or politics or for use as an insurance or benefit society. Matter of fact, if a person wants to seek to increase their business or seek benefits of any kind they would have better luck going to their nearest Chamber of Commerce or Welfare Office. Although Freemasonry does make charity a duty, it is not a charitable organization nor is it organized for profit. In fact, Masons in the United States donate approximately $2 million dollars per day of which a majority goes to charitable organizations and non-Masons.
Finally, Freemasonry is definitely not a secret society. If Freemasonry was a secret society, then it would be one of the worst kept secrets in the world as everyone everywhere already knows about them. Freemasonry can best be described as a society with secrets. Think about it this way, would Microsoft be open about their software programs so that Apple could see it and turn around and use it? How about other companies with their secret sauces and ingredients? Would they be forthcoming about their secrets so that the competition can use it against them? Same thing with Freemasonry, Freemasonry has its secrets because if everybody knew the secrets then anybody would be able to call themselves a Freemason. If “you” belonged to an organization of men who value morals, character, and virtue would you want immoral, characterless, and virtueless men and people misrepresenting you?
When a child’s father is involved in such an organization and their activities what kind of effect would it have on their children? How would a child see all this and what would they learn from it?
“Going on the trips and meeting people throughout the State of Texas,” said Miller, “was just so impressionable on me that I knew that I wanted to advance further in Masonry and become a better person like my father, Norman Miller, has always been.”
Through his father’s involvement in Masonry, Steve Miller became very familiar with a couple of the Masonic buildings in El Paso such as The Scottish Rite Temple and The El Maida Shrine Temple. At the age of six he had even been present at the ground-breaking ceremony in 1967 for the current location of the El Maida Shrine Temple.
With a father active within the El Maida Shrine Temple, Steve Miller became part of an organization whose history started approximately 140 years ago.
The history starts in New York in 1870 where a group of masons met for lunch and talked about starting a new Masonic fraternity centered more on fun and fellowship than on ritual.
Walter M. Fleming, M.D. and William J. “Billy” Florence, an actor, two of the members present took the idea seriously to start such a fraternity. Basing the idea on an Arabian themed party Billy Florence had been invited to while in France Walter Fleming took his knowledge of fraternal ritual and transformed the Arabian Theme into an Order of Nobles which has since come to be known as Shriners International, and on September 26th, 1872 the first meeting of the Mecca Shriners, the first chapter established in the United States, was held.
Shriners since their earliest days became known for their philanthropic efforts, whether it was members of a new shrine and another Masonic Organization working with the sick in Jacksonville, Florida when that city was suffering from an epidemic of yellow fever or aiding flood victims during the Johnston flood in Pennsylvania in 1889.
By 1898 approximately 50,000 Shriners from 71 of 79 shrine temples had become involved with a philanthropic endeavor in one form or another.
As the fraternity was growing quickly in the early 1900s so was the support for establishing an official charity. Neither the assistance of $25,000 sent to help San Francisco after its earthquake in 1906 nor the $10,000 sent for the relief of European war victims satisfied the membership. This included projects of individual temples.
In 1919 Freeland Kendrick brought the idea to establish hospitals for children to the membership after he had visited a Scottish Rite Hospital for Crippled Children in Atlanta, Georgia.
While serving during his tenure as Imperial Potentate from 1919 to 1920 Kendrick visited a majority of the 146 Shrine temples traveling more than 150,000 miles campaigning for an official philanthropy to be established. Then at the 1920 Imperial Session which was held in Portland, Oregon he proposed that a hospital for children be built by the Shriners. The plan received further assistance from Noble Forrest Adair when the prospects of it being approved were fading.
“While we have spent money for songs and spent money for bands, it is time for the Shriners to spend money for humanity,” said Adair during his address to the members present, “I want to see this thing started. Let us get rid of all the technical objections. And if there is a Shriner in North America who objects to having paid the two dollars after he has seen the first crippled child helped, I will give him a check back for it myself.”
In 1922 a little girl with a clubfoot, who had learned to walk on the top of her foot rather than the sole, was the first patient to be admitted to the first Shriners Hospitals for Children which was built in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Since then, through the 22 Shriners Hospitals for Children across the United States, and in Canada and Mexico nearly one million children have been treated.
In 1982 at the age of 21 Steve Miller became a Freemason. Since then he has been elected to the leadership position four times in three Masonic Lodges, elected to serve in leadership positions within The Scottish Rite and was recently elected to serve as Potentate for the El Maida Shrine Temple for 2012. These elected positions are unpaid voluntary positions.
With many philanthropic organizations paying high wages to their leadership how much more can be said of organizations in which the leadership receives no wages, are elected, and are willing to take on the responsibilities knowing in advance the hard work that will be required for zero wages.
More so when you consider that individuals such as Steve Miller are willing to take on the responsibilities and duties of these positions while doing what he can to earn a living.
Especially when you consider he has been doing odd jobs to earn an income for the past three to four years since he became an unemployed post production automotive accessory installer when he was let go by his last employer, a local automotive dealership.
Miller has stated that he has no regrets in regards to his involvement in Freemasonry either as a man or a child and has fond memories from childhood which he will always enjoy.
Such as the time the Oriental Band, a unit within the El Maida Shrine, presented him with a watch for his tenth or eleventh birthday while at a function out of town. A watch he still wears from time to time to this day.
“It was a total surprise,” said Miller, remembering the event fondly, “not even my father knew they were going to do this.”