A Tale of Two Lodges
It was the best of times, it was the bestest of times. Now and then the english language lets me down. I guess “bestest” will have to do.
In my first week in Stavanger (week 43) I had a busy and rich experience, teaching notwithstanding. I ended up with a remarkably rich social week. For a man that eschews crowds and even most gatherings, I will call this a big deal. I had four events in the first five nights. Three events were planned, two were formal meetings, and one thing I learned was that it is wonderful to meet to new people (but I really like to go to bed by 10 – I can’t have it all I guess).
Monday was a travel day to Stavanger, my first trip to Rogaland. I emailed late Sunday night to the secretary of St. Johanneslogen St. Svithun Lodge of the Norwegian Free Masons that I would like to visit their stated meeting on Monday night. Could I have done that two weeks earlier? Yes. Did I? No. What does that say about my organizational skills? You be the judge.
Tuesday night was the meeting of the Cleng Peerson Lodge of the Sons of Norway. I know what you’re thinking…yes, there are Sons of Norway Lodges in Norway. Many people in American Sons of Norway lodges wonder where their ancestors came from, and a mirror group of people in Norway wonder tom where there distant relatives went. I think both groups are in part looking for something to transcend their everyday existence and make connections across time and space.
I didn’t hear back from the secretary – but I didn’t expect to either. My request was short notice and the probability the secretary being someone young enough to use email on an incessant basis was low. So I went anyway (turns out he was abroad). What was the worst that could happen? Giving myself permission to just do it is infrequent: I like to follow rules, be polite, and be cautious.
This was to by my third visit to a lodge in Norway, I expected rich experiences both aesthetically and fraternally; I was not disappointed. Masonic lodges in the Midwest are humble affairs in contrast to the rich architecture and ritual I have experienced in Norway. I think that is to be understood as a new nation-new traditions versus old nation-old traditions paradigm. At any rate, I introduced myself I was able to prove my legitimacy for attending. After signing the logbook, I was quickly embraced and entrusted into the companionship of Jarle, my convivial guide for the night.
The Cleng Peerson lodge knew I was coming, this I had actually intended to in advance, but I still think I surprised them. After the fact, I learned that many people from the US had “called ahead” over the years but never actually showed. Ha, well it’s nice to score that first! The significance for me first seeking out this Sons of Norway lodge in Norway before others was a connection, a name.
In 1825, Cleng Peerson led the first delegation of migrants from Norway to America. The ship for their travel was called, Restauration, and it left from the port in Stavanger. My lodge in Cedar Rapids is called Restauration in honor of those pioneers. So many people and such a little boat, it is hard to believe.
I took the bus to the community center for the meeting. Ove attended the door where I paid my 70 Kr for the refreshments and then signed my name to the register. It was a friendly and intimate gathering, though the lodge president wielded the gavel like a seasoned parliamentarian. The guest speaker for the night, Engvall Pahr Iversen, regaled the attendees with a gripping tale of the political maneuvering by civic leaders during the early days of Norway’s oil exploration. Following his warmly received talk I was asked to tell a little bit why I had come all this way. I did my best, in my best Norwegian; it was okay, I will accept that.
It was a special night for the lodge of St. Svithun because a young member would be progressing through the ranks of enlightenment, his father was a ranking member and proudly in attendance. The language barrier and details didn’t obscure the general course of the meeting and the significance of the ceremony; they put on quite the show. While enthralling, I don’t see this level of pomp and theatrics being adopted in the states.
An artisanal apple juice in a diminutive glass bridged the meeting and formal dinner. I had the salmon. Norwegians are capable and enthusiastic speech makers and toast givers. This evening was abundant in both categories.
Two lodges. Two late nights. Two full bellies. Two fond memories. Too little sleep. Midwestern troubadour Warren Nelson would quip during his radio show that we will be dead for billions of years – so why not stay up late tonight? Apropos to that. I’ll leave you with this, “Roving in Norway is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it will be a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”