A Freemasons group in Edinburg will celebrate its 150th anniversary on Saturday.
The chapter, Shenandoah Royal Arch Chapter No. 17, will host a dinner at a Mount Jackson restaurant and will feature a talk on Freemasonry by Royal Arch Past District Deputy Officer Dennis Hass.
Edward Tooma, who serves as the chapter’s presiding officer – also called the high priest — said the event is open to members of the chapter, high ranking members of the Masonic order and their families.
“It’s going to be a very relaxed atmosphere,” Tooma said.
While Freemasons have been around since the 1700s, the 17th chapter of the Royal Arch was chartered on Dec. 15, 1868. The chapter’s first high priest was H.H. Riddleberger, a future Virginia senator.
The Masonic order accepts men from all races, religions and backgrounds. To join the order, a prospective member would need recommendations from two master masons, be a man who is 18 years old or older, have a good character, and believe in a god who promotes peace, love and harmony toward all mankind. Tooma said that once someone joins the order, that person would be part of an elite group.
“So many people have been a part of the order, from presidents like George Washington to stars of the stage and screen like John Wayne and Richard Pryor,” Tooma said. “It’s a good order for fellowship.”
The chapter has around 45 members. Tooma, who has been a part of the Freemasons for 50 years in Virginia and Maine, said he was drawn to the fraternity by his grandfather Najib, who was a member, as well as the sense of brotherhood.
“The Freemason motto is, “Better men make the world,” Tooma said. “Masonry is all about fellowship and help(ing t0) make people better.”
Tooma said that in the time the chapter has existed, it has donated money to local law enforcement and fire departments as well as to families in need. The chapter also has donated money to organizations working to cure Alzheimer’s as well as to AbbaCare’s yearly “Walk of Life” in Winchester.
“We love supporting people and the community,” he said.