I am often out to lodges both in and out of my district, and as a result I get to see a lot of different ways to have a degree ceremony. Unfortunately, sometimes I see lodges that – and I’m going to put this as tactfully as I can – really do not seem to be putting as much effort as possible into initiating our new brothers into the mysteries of the Order. That is why it’s a pleasure to watch a lodge perform a well-crafted degree.
The other night I stopped to see an Entered Apprentice degree at Evening Star Lodge. Evening Star No. 101 is what I think of when I imagine a rural lodge; it’s in one of the older lodge buildings in District 5, a small building near the center of the village, with little room for parking cars (although at one time I’m sure they had room for a lot of horses). The lodge meeting hall is on the second story of a narrow building, and the lodge room itself is on the third floor. No elevators, Stairmasters, but at least you don’t have to rappel off the side of a cliff to get down. I’ve been to Evening Star several times, but never for a degree.
I got there about fifteen minutes before lodge started and was greeted by WB Gerhard, the Master from last year, now the Chaplain. He explained that it was a move-up night, and that the Junior Warden was heading up the degree. I said hello to a few other guys that I knew, and went upstairs. It was a little strange to see RW Sivert, my predecessor, in a plain white apron. I greeted him, and looked around the lodge. It’s about the size of Friendship, maybe a bit thinner and a bit longer. I introduced myself to the JW, and headed to the East to chat with the Past District Deputy and a few other guys. At some point right before the degree started there was the usual few moments of panic as they realized that one of the Stewards failed to show; likewise the Marshal, who was slated to give the EA charge, was out sick. A member who showed up at the last minute was drafted to be a Steward (in Connecticut, the First Section lecture – sometimes called the ‘Catechism Lecture’ – is generally given by the Stewards). Just when they thought someone might have to read the EA Charge, I heard what was happening and volunteered to recite it. The JW accepted, and asked me to take the Marshal’s seat. I had been looking forward to one of the more padded chairs, but since my butt is cushioned all day in my office, I graciously accepted.
Anyone that’s been active in the lodge for a few years knows that the two bits of ritual that always need last-minute replacements are the First Section lectures and the Charges. When I became the District Grand Lecturer, I made a point to remember the Charges; a few years ago, I was in a lodge in which nobody was present to do the charge, and the WM asked me to read it. Despite the fact that I had no beforehand knowledge, I was still embarrassed. So, I figured that if I was going to need to look over the ritual proficiency of the lodges, I should at least bring something useful to the party.
The replacement Steward grabbed a book and ran over the section for a few minutes, while I grabbed my Palm and did the same. A few of the guys were amused to see that I had it on my PDA, but truthfully, it’s been a huge help for me. I don’t often carry my ritual book around, but I’ve always got my Palm Tungsten handy. Since I had just done the charge several times in the last couple of months, I just wanted a quick reality check – mainly to make sure that what I remembered was the EA charge and not, say, the Master Mason charge (which I’ll be giving in a few weeks). My greatest ritual fear is not that I’ll forget a line, it’s that I’ll suddenly recite a line from another degree.
Despite the last minutes changeups, the degree started off well. I was surprised to see RW Sivert filling in for the other Steward – apparently both of them were out that night. Solemn and serious, the Stewards and Senior Deacon did their jobs well. I was pleased to see how seamlessly the officers integrated the Koran – the candidate’s Volume of Sacred Law – into the ceremony, as if they’d done it dozens of times in the past.
After taking his obligation, the candidate was presented with his apron, together with a “long form” lecture from another brother. I’d seen this done before – two Friendship brothers use the long form all the time – but this brother also had a bit of an introduction or preamble, which was rather nice. I don’t know if he made it up, or found it somewhere else, but it was a nice touch.
Some lodges take a long break after the
candidate new brother is sent back out to change, but Evening Star simply waited five minutes or so, and got right back into the ceremonies. I watched the Secretary present the working tools, and the replacement Steward and the JD present the First Section lecture. About halfway through the lecture, it occurred to me that while most of the officers – indeed, most of the men present – had been around the block a few times. There were several Past Masters in the officer’s seats, but they had not developed that bored, disinterested attitude that I’ve seen in a few other lodges. Every one of them presented their parts with calm, practiced voices and mannerisms that were a pleasure to observe. Despite having only a few minutes to look over his lines, the fill-in Steward spoke naturally, as if he’d been rehearsing all week. The brother giving the Apron Lecture was also natural in manner, and the Secretary had explained the Working Tools as if the candidate had just stopped by his garage.
Afterwards, I talked with several of the officers for a bit. We congratulated each other on fine degree work and had some coffee and pie. It turned out that one of them – the brother giving the Apron lecture – was a member on the committee that oversees ritual and ceremonies. We had an interesting conversation about the rumor that the next version of the Connecticut ritual would be written in some kind of code. A lot of people seem to think that code makes it easier to memorize, because you have to work at learning the words. While I agree that working at breaking the code could help, he mentioned that another good thing is that the new brothers that need help now have a reason to sit with a mentor for a while, getting to know them and feeling more comfortable. Interestingly, he and I both learned the work from a plain English book, and don’t feel it’s affected our quality of ritual; obviously so, as he had one of the more “natural” speaking qualities that I’ve seen.
Admittedly, I’m accustomed to the snap and sizzle of the new officers at Friendship; we haven’t recycled a Past Master in 30 years, so every officer is a “new” officer. The good thing is that our lodge has a lot of vitality, however, it makes us forget that there are other ways to be good at degree work. As I drove home, I was hungry, so naturally a food analogy came to mind: ritual work at Friendship made me think of sushi, while Evening Star was more of a comfort food, like beef stew.
Yeah, the analogy leaves a little to be desired, but I had not had a chance to go home for dinner first, okay?
Seriously, though, even though we’re all brother Masons, individual lodges develop their own culture. It was nice to visit a lodge in which everyone seemed relaxed and comfortable. I’m sure that the new brother will find himself right at home.
Tao of Masonry | Freemasonry | Masonry