The Estuary Degree
(From Wikipedia.org: An estuary is a semi-enclosed coastal body of water which has a free connection with the open sea and within which seawater mixes with fresh water. The key feature of an estuary is that it is a mixing place for sea water and a stream or river to supply fresh water.)
First, let me start off by saying that I really, really enjoy degree work. There’s nothing more enjoyable for me than knowing that we are giving the candidate an unforgettable experience, something that they will not only always remember, but will learn to appreciate even more over time. Over the last few years, our lodge has had a lot of feedback on the quality of our degree work, and it’s my opinion that it’s in some small part due to the fact that most of the officers have a little bit of “ham” in them that makes them want to do more in their parts than just a rote recitation of words in a book.
We enjoy it, is what I’m trying to say.
Anyway, in one of those examples of how no good deed (or in this case, a good idea) goes unpunished, we – the officers of Friendship Lodge – took our jewels, aprons, charter, and a candidate to another lodge in order to confer a Master Mason degree, and to show a sister lodge how we do things halfway across the state.
So a few months ago, our Grand Marshal (an active member of Friendship) was talking to the Grand Senior Steward during a table lodge, who mentioned that he really enjoyed seeing the MM degree in our lodge a few months previous, and wished that his own lodge could see it as well. We – as do some other lodges – add a section that’s not in the “official” Conn ritual, but it’s a section that gives the candidates something interesting to contemplate. Probably not all lodges do this because you need over a dozen extra guys to act the parts, and lodges that have trouble getting 9 officers are obviously not going to be able to pull this off.
Anyway, as a result of the fellowship at the table lodge, we all thought it would be a great idea to have our lodge do the MM degree at the Grand SS’s lodge. In fact, we thought it would be even better to involve a particular third lodge which has a “craftsmen team” dedicated to doing this drama. After much nodding and shaking of hands, it was a “go!”
Now, anyone who’s ever had to coordinate a lodge for degree work understands how difficult it is to get everyone together. Suddenly, I realized that I had to coordinate 3, or possibly 4 lodges. The first thing I did was to start making the phone calls. The second thing was to head to the local warehouse store and buy a huge bottle of antacid pills and a large container of headache medicine. Conn does not have a DC – Director of Ceremonies; all degree work is coordinated by the WM, although some lodges do have degree teams that make the job easier. I won’t bore anyone with the report of the dozens of phone calls and idea sessions – anyone who’s done this will already understand 😉 I think I used the expression “herding cats” at some point.
I tried to have this scheduled for a Saturday afternoon, because the host lodge was almost an hour away and I didn’t want to inconvenience too many people. As it happened, that was not to be, and as their lodge met on the same night as our own, we got a dispensation to open both lodges concurrently – a very nice touch, since that meant that our lodge – Friendship – would be able to do the entire meeting, with the other lodge only needing to watch and enjoy. Our plans to open early, so as to not have our guys drive home too late just didn’t work out, either, but the host lodge made a great dinner for us, and provided whatever support they could. It was to be a great night, too, because this would be the last meeting before we closed for the summer, and we all wanted to do something special.
A side note: the host lodge was formed from 3 other lodges that had closed last year, and the building was the home lodge of the father of the master of the lodge that was helping me. When I learned that, I asked him if he would like to take the South chair, and of course he was very happy to do so. Later on, I thought it would be nice if I could give him something even more meaningful, and asked if he’s like to do the working tool lecture. Again, he was very happy to do so.
Okay, now cue up the Twilight Zone music.
When I got there early to practice, their Senior Warden chatted with me for a few minutes, telling me about the history of the lodge, and how he, in fact, had remembered the father of the WM who was helping. He mentioned that it was sad that they never had the opportunity to sit in his, the host lodge, together. Then he looked up and said, “You know, tonight is the first day of summer, and it was exactly 2 years ago tonight that he died, don’t you?” I was floored; I had no idea. For a few moments I even began to wonder if, somewhere in the Grand Architect’s designs, there had been a higher reason that I couldn’t get all of us organized for a Saturday degree.
A few minutes later, my counterpart arrived, bearing a picture of his father, which he placed at the foot of the Junior Warden’s chair. When his time came to do the lecture, he prefaced it by thanking me for the opportunity, and then told us that when he was raised, his own father was called upon to do the same working tool lecture for him. You could almost see the gasps of astonishment as everyone suddenly noted all of the coincidences of the evening.
Overall, it was a great time for everyone. We had a couple of rough moments where we had some confusion – as it happens, the way that our lodge handles the extra material is slightly different than the lodge helping us. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to do a joint rehearsal at which we might have worked it out. But even those couple of moments did not detract because it added to the apparent confusion in the temple, and the candidates had no idea that anything was amiss.
During the second half, we wear costumes for the drama, so I spent a good portion of the night in a heavy purple velvet robe with a crown 2 sizes too small for my head. The two little window air conditioners weren’t enough to cool a small room with 45 or 50 guys, and since neither one was pointed at my chair, the robe became a heat trap. Of course, I’m sure that none of my discomfort was due to nervousness, right? I mean, I’d hate to think that doing degree work in a strange lodge, in front of Grand Lodge officers, Past Grand Masters, and assorted other purple aprons was affecting my Zen. Too much, anyway.
Anyway, the guys from our neighboring lodge did a fantastic job for the tragedy act – they have some passages that are almost choreographed. In fact, it didn’t dawn on me what they were doing until I had seen them in action a few times: at various points they form themselves in lines representing various Masonic tools. Very, very cool. I should add that this lodge is in the next town and has a bunch of younger, active guys like my own. They’re a fantastic bunch, and their degree work is sharp. I’m certainly indebted to them for their help.
And of course, the officers of Friendship did an excellent job. Several people from the host lodge praised our “professionalism” in the degree work itself, which was as nice a compliment as I could imagine. I tell anyone that will listen how lucky I am to have such a fantastic group of officers behind me.
This, BTW, was my first time in the East for that degree, and because our lodge will have a Past Master degree in the fall, I may have the distinction of being the only Master to give the degree in lodge, but not in the building.
I’d also like to say that my own work was flawless… I’d like to say that, but unfortunately, by the end of the night I found myself getting overheated and got stuck on a word in one of my lectures after the raising. But, as I reminded someone later, it’s not so much being perfect, as it is the effort to continually work on ourselves to attain to that state.