The South-East Degree
Everyone who serves as Master of his lodge probably has a favorite part of the many duties that a Master tends to during the course of his year. Some men probably enjoy planning or organizing the activities, some enjoy the extra visitations, or perhaps just being the center of attention.
I enjoy the degree work.
Amazingly, I enjoy the degree work even though (or perhaps because) I came into the fraternity in my 40s, never having been exposed to anything like it. I was not in the high school play, I never had much opportunity for public speaking, and as anyone that works for me can tell you, I have a memory like a steel sieve. But for some odd reason, I found that I enjoy and seem to do well at this one little aspect of our fraternity. During degree work, I get into a completely different mindset; I’m a 17th century protestant passing along light in an old farmhouse, as a couple of people tyle and watch out for the agents of the Church of Rome. I’m an 18th century inventor and the candidates are nervous young merchants from the local town. You get the idea – I want a little bit of drama as befitting initiation into the oldest fraternal order in the world. Which is why the end of my year is going to be so bittersweet. You see, for degree work, my job is pretty much over.
In the fall we allow our Wardens to practice for their year, so in September the JW will take the helm for an EA degree, and in October, the SW will do the same for an FC degree. In November, the Past Masters will do a MM degree. And in December, we’re caught up with voting and Annual Meetings and reports, and planning the Installation for the incoming WM, and in the beginning of January I’ll hand over the gavel and watch as the newer, younger Masons do the degree work.
Of course, being a Past Master, I’ll have the enjoyment of grunting and rolling my eyes at the mistakes that nobody made “in my year,” but it’s just not the same. I know that some PMs subscribe to the “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, criticize” school, but that’s not me. In fact, we’re pretty fortunate here at Friendship Lodge, because most of the PMs do stay fairly active, and even the couple that do make an occasional comment really aren’t all that difficult to take. Or ignore.
But it’s far too soon for me to get maudlin and start writing my retrospectives, especially when I wanted to write about the fantastic EA degree that we just had last week!
The Fall degrees are typically “move up” nights in which all of the officers, not just the Wardens, take the next chair. We’d had 2 practice runs (this is typical for us because we have a bunch of ritual fanatics at Friendship), which is never enough to quell the butterflies in the stomach. Jim took the wheel, and I was proud to see that he opted to give the obligation, in addition to the other parts he needed to attend. I know that some lodges have members who “own” certain parts of degree work, but we encourage the officers to learn their parts. I think it’s a good idea because it helps to teach responsibility, and it also feeds that sense of accomplishment when one walks away knowing that they’ve done a good job.
Jim is part of a group of younger members at Friendship. We have an odd demographic curve: half of the active members are in their 50s, and the other half are in their 20s, several of which are recent DeMolay members. Most of the younger guys are also “gamers,” which may explain the stunt that they planned for Jim’s first time in the East. Before he actually needed to open the lodge, they wanted to get him to walk into lodge accompanied by the Star Wars “Imperial March” theme music (for you old-timers, think “Darth Vader”). When I got wind of this, naturally I discouraged any such tomfoolery. Masonry is serious business, and there would be no way that I’d allow any such displays in my lodge.
Unless, that is, I were part of it. I mean, hey – what’s tomfoolery without the “Tom”, right?
I explained to Jim that as the elected Master, I was obligated to congregate the lodge, and since it was his first time in the East, that I wanted to have him brought in and formally introduced. Just for the experience, you understand. So our SD escorted him out, our Secretary cued up the music, and we brought Jim in to the altar. He took about two steps into the lodge, and the familiar strains pealed throughout the room. But like (an Imperial) trooper, though, Jim allowed himself to be escorted right to the East.
Too bad the Wookie costume was at the cleaners.
Jim, now realizing that this would be the most embarrassment that he would suffer for the evening, was able to open lodge and conduct a fine degree. Last year, Connecticut started a “Certification” program for Wardens, and the new District Lecturer was on hand to see James work. He really didn’t need to be certified until next year, but no harm in getting it out of the way sooner. Our Grand Marshal was on hand, and sat at James side, displacing me into the less comfortable seat. Except for the SW, all of the officers moved up one chair, and they all did a fantastic job. We initiated four candidates, three from our lodge and one for a sister lodge in the next town.
The Working Tools are normally delivered by one of the new officers, but in this case we asked Doug. Why? Because his son, Coulson, was being initiated. Coulson is the first inititate since Connecticut changed the entry requirements in April to allow 18 year old members. He is the current Master Councilor in the Friendship-sponsored Marcus Holcomb DeMolay chapter, and if his DeMolay career is any indication, then I’m sure that we’ll have a fine Mason joining our own officer’s line some day.
As I mentioned last time, Wednesday evenings finds some kind of music playing on the Southington town green, right next to our lodge building. I warned Jim that it’s hard enough remembering how a degree is supposed to run, but when the music is pumping you have to put extra concentration into remembering who does what and when. Fortunately, the band that night was playing a little more softly than we’ve heard others in the past. The previous week our DeMolay chapter found themselves almost unable to hear each other over the polka music.
The person that Jim had asked to do the EA Charge backed out, so I did get to do a piece of ritual work after all. I had memorized this three years ago, but never got to deliver it because at the last minute an older member gave it to his grandson. It was a small treat for me, and I thank Jim for allowing me one of the few remaining opportunities that I’ll have this year.