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He grew up listening to stories about how his grandfather, uncle and other relatives helped their community and funded charities through their involvement in Freemasonry.
“I knew they were always real well thought of,” Brent Burkhead said.
With a desire to help those in need and curious to learn more about what masons do, Burkhead petitioned to join Pitman Lodge #124 on his 18th birthday last May. He was initiated as a first-degree mason in August, and by October, he was a third-degree master mason.
In recent years, the Grand Lodge of Kentucky lowered the required age to join from 21 to 18. Shortly after joining Pitman Lodge, Burkhead was nominated to become an officer, making him the youngest officer in the Pitman Lodge’s 171-year history. Burkhead said his Masonic ring, watch and shirts he wears often prompt questions about Freemasonry.
“A lot of people don’t know much about it,” Burkhead said. “They’ll go and do research and they’ll come back with all these conspiracy theories, you know, but you can’t believe everything you hear.
“I tell them a little bit about what we do, things we do for the community.”
Pitman Lodge member Bobby Baker, who is also an assistant grand secretary for the Grand Lodge of Kentucky, said Freemasons support numerous charitable causes, namely Shriners Hospitals for Children Kosair Children’s Hospital.
The lodge also awards a $500 scholarship each year to a graduating senior in the Taylor County and Campbellsville Independent school systems.
“Our key motives are faith, hope and charity,” Burkhead said.
Lodge Master Gregg Williams said masons also devote a lot of attention to widows, orphans and those experiencing traumatic events such as house fires or serious illnesses. “We try to assist them in anyway we can,” Williams said.
According to Williams, masons don’t solicit members. To become a mason, the first step is to ask someone who is already a member of the lodge. Each applicant must have recommendations from two members of the lodge they petition and are then interviewed by investigative committee members.
“If they’re married we talk to their spouse also and then they can ask questions,” Williams said.
Steve Russell, secretary of the Pitman Lodge and an assistant grand secretary for the Grand Lodge of Kentucky, said one of the requirements to become a mason is to believe in a god.
After the investigation, the lodge votes on whether to approve the applicant’s petition. The vote must be unanimous.
Williams said this is an example of how Freemasonry is one of the earliest examples of democracy.
“A lot of the things that are in our society, they base back to how Masonic lodges operated,” Williams said. “A lot of things we see in our society actually function because of the way masonry worked.”
According to the Grand Lodge of Kentucky’s website, Freemasonry is the oldest fraternal organization in the world. Women are not permitted to join the lodge.
“That’s just the way the fraternity was set up a thousand years ago,” Russell said. “There is discussion on possibly changing it to where women can join at some time in the future, but currently they can’t.” However, Russell said there is nothing that goes on in a lodge that a woman wouldn’t enjoy participating in.
“It’s just a good fellowship organization,” he said. Still, questions remain about just what goes on inside the lodge’s monthly meetings, which are closed to nonmembers.
“We’re not necessarily a secret society, we’re more of a society with secrets,” Burkhead said.
He said he was recently asked if masons actually build.
“And I said, ‘Yeah we do, just not buildings.’”
And Williams agrees.
“We build men,” he said.