LITCHFIELD — It took nearly one hundred years, but what might seem to be an unusual pairing between a Methodist church and the 11th oldest freemason’s lodge, both just a short walk from each other, is a serendipitous sharing of beliefs, symbols and buildings.
St. Paul’s Masonic Lodge on Meadow Street, a short walk from the Litchfield green, was built in 1837 as the first Methodist Church. In 1920 the Methodist Society built a new church on West Street and their former building became the Masonic Hall of St. Paul’s Lodge No. 11.
Past Master and Secretary of the Lodge for ten years Phillip Birkett, of Morris, said, “My grandfather and Great Uncle were Masons — there definitely is a family connection. The Litchfield Methodist church and the Masons here have a long-shared history. When the new Methodist church was designed and built in 1920, Masonic symbols were incorporated into the exterior.”
Birkett noted that the Masons were also instrumental in creating the Grange organization in the late 1800s, whose mission was to advance methods of agriculture and support the social needs of farmers throughout New England. Remarkably for the times, the Grange also welcomed female members and encouraged children to participate.
Two of the prominent early members of Lodge No. 11 were Weston Granniss, who endowed the lodge in 1909 to ensure the Masons would endure in Litchfield, and Ephraim Kirby, whose forebears emigrated from Warwickshire to Connecticut in the early seventeenth century.
Educated at Yale University, he left without a degree, then served in the cavalry during the Revolutionary War. After being wounded thirteen times during this rough conflict, Yale bestowed an honorary Master of Arts degree for the war hero. He began practicing law in Litchfield, and in 1789 he compiled the first volume of law reports in America — those of the Connecticut Superior Court. Kirby also joined others who donated books to the Lodge’s impressive library.
Although Paul Revere’s signature is on the original 1781 charter, now faded to virtual oblivion, it is only a coincidence that the lodge is known as St. Paul’s since a number of Masonic lodges were named for saints.
Chaplain Mark Dzurnak said, “One of our founding tenets is to take care of each other and those in need in our community, which we quietly do.”
Birkett and Dzurnak shared that theirs is not a secret society, but rather an unbroken tradition dating back 500 years when guilds of freemasons were among the only ones allowed to freely travel throughout Europe to lay stones of the great Gothic cathedrals. The Masonic Lodge in Litchfield shares the values of the nation’s founding fathers — George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and Paul Revere — all Masons who lived by the principles of loyalty, patriotism, liberty, courage and faith.
The Lodge has recently invited members of the United Methodist Church of Litchfield to “return to their roots” by allowing them to hold church services in their building since the small congregation can no longer afford the cost of maintaining their historic church and has been forced to sell it.
For more information about st. Paul’s Masonic Lodge Number 11, visit www.lodge011.ctfree