You can’t guard the gate if you’re not watching the door
I’ve mentioned that I am – for reasons best left for another entry – a member of a Grand Lodge committee, specifically the Committee on Masonic Education. Until recently, one of the main functions of the CME was to plan and hold seminars for the purposes of ritual instruction (mainly targeted at new officers) and lodge management (targeted toward Wardens and Masters-to-be).
Like most volunteer organizations, anyone who happens by showing even a passing interest ends up being drafted. Contrary to what H. Ross Perot once said, that “giant sucking sound” is actually the sound of committees looking for unpaid volunteer members, and sad to say, as our lives fill up with career and social and family obligations, Freemasonry is no exception. I’ve had occasion to sit on meetings of half a dozen different committees in the last couple of years, and I’ve noticed that it’s not at all unusual for a person to serve on two or three others. That’s when I came up with the hypothesis that out of the 16,000 Masons in Connecticut, only 1,600 are active enough in the state to keep things going, and only 160 are probably responsible for running the entire fraternity.
Anyway, earlier this year the elder members of the CME – guys with 20 or more years in Masonry – decided that it was time for me to stop observing and to actually do some work. I’m a few months shy of my 5th year as a Mason, and even though I’m serving as the Worshipful Master for Friendship Lodge, I still feel like a newbie. But apparently my co-members thought I could at least give a short – 10 minute – talk for the younger officers. Of course, anyone that knows me would tell you that I’m a quiet guy… until I get warmed up. The biggest problem might then be in limiting me to only ten minutes.
My subject was termed “Lodge Etiquette”, although I need a new name for this, because we aren’t talking about the etiquette while sitting in lodge; you know, the standing and saluting and all that. Rather, I wanted to address how new officers could be better at their jobs and responsibilities, and how they interact with others. I split it up to address some things for the Stewards, and some for the Deacons. While in the course of my speaking to the Deacons, I related an incident that I was recently reminded of.
First, let’s stop kidding ourselves that most lodges have full officer’s lines and that it takes 7 or 8 or 9 years for a new member to go through the line. While Friendship Lodge is very fortunate, we had a few years in which there was a lot of chair jumping – it happened to be when I joined, so I know this first-hand. We’ve been able to recover, but that is not the case with most of the lodges that I know of. In my admittedly limited experience, most lodges – even the ones that have a weak officer’s line – tend to put a new officer (who is usually a new member as well) in a Steward’s chair, although I’ve seen some go right into the Junior Deacon’s spot. One of my co-members likes to say “From a dead level to a living Senior Deacon”, and he’s unfortunately only half joking at times.
But barring those more extreme cases, by the time one is a Deacon, you can expect to have been around the lodge for a year or two and to have met a fair number of the more active members. I have explained to new Deacons that it’s time to stop being shy; stop hiding in the kitchen and start greeting your brothers at the door, run some errands for the Worshipful, and certainly get the names of any visiting brothers – especially the ones with purple aprons, signifying some rank with the Grand Lodge. It may not mean anything to you now, but those guys are your Worshipful Master’s supervisors, and part of your job is to make things a bit easier for him. But beyond that, if you make a point to meet and greet people at the door, then you’ll both get to know more of your brothers from your own lodge and from other lodges, and you’ll make your lodge more friendly to visitors.
I told the following story for the benefit of the new Deacons at a seminar back in February. The room had over a hundred new officers, plus a few dozen of Grand Lodge officers, District Deputies, and other Masonic types.
Back when I was a Junior Warden, I visited another lodge, and I happened to pull into the parking lot at the same time as someone else. I waited until he parked and went over to say hello. I didn’t recognize him, so I introduced myself as we walked to the door. I asked if he was a member there, and he replied that he wasn’t sure, but that after tonight it would have something to do with that. Ah… that explained the “deer in the headlights” look; he was the new Entered Apprentice candidate and it so happened that I stopped by on the degree night. So I told him that he was joining a great lodge, lots of friendly people, that I visit once in a while, and that I’m sure he’ll enjoy his new lodge.
Just as we were walking in the door, a few guys I knew were coming outside for a cigarette. I told the candidate that I would see him later, and he continued inside while I stopped to chat. We only stayed outside until they had finished their cigarettes, perhaps 10 minutes, 15 at the most. We went back into the lodge to get warm, where I was absolutely stunned, no, mortified by what I saw:
The candidate was still standing right inside the doorway.
Immediately, I asked if anyone had come to see him. He shook his head, so I asked him who his sponsor was. I didn’t know the name, but there were about 40 guys in the meeting hall, so I took him right over to a few of the guys that I recognized and made sure that they would take care of him. I was both embarrassed and angry, even though this was not my own lodge.
At this point in my story, the room had fallen dead silent; I think that suddenly just about everyone in the room felt almost as embarrassed for our fraternity as I had been two years before. And while this was a cautionary tale for the new guys, an example as to why a lodge should always have a few guys keeping an eye on the door looking for visitors, I think that everyone should be aware that such a simple oversight will completely negate the ideals of brotherhood that we try to emulate.
I don’t have any cute or witty ending to this tale. I understand that the candidate eventually took all of his degrees, but I have the feeling that he’s probably not an active member of his lodge. It’s too bad that while we bemoan the fact that our membership is dwindling that we’re not more aware of the little things that help “spread the cement” in our own relationships.