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Worshipful “Has-Been”

I once read one of those statistic factoids which said that most blogs run out of steam after about three months. For my part, I’ve been quite fortunate to have lasted double that time period, much to the satisfaction of all of my 42 readers. And I really should not complain that an exceptionally busy end of the year (Masonically and otherwise) has kept me from updating this as often as I would have liked.

But apparently that is about to change.

Despite his best efforts to stall his moment, it appears that Dave, the best SW East of the Pecos, is going to be dragged kicking and screaming installed as the WM of Friendship Lodge. And that means that in two more days, I will become yet another annotation in the records of the archives of the lodge.

Friendship Lodge has a humorous tradition: Each year we have a dinner to honor the outgoing – and to welcome the incoming – Master. We have drinks, and then toasts, and dinner, and more toasts, and some speeches, and all sorts of Masonic camaraderie. And at some point in the evening, the outgoing Master is presented with a Friendship Lodge name badge…

… with the name spot left intentionally blank.

It’s all in good fun, of course, but it signifies an important point. Connecticut does not assign any special privileges to Past Masters – nor, in my opinion, should they have any. I am often astounded at the stories that I’ve heard of lodges elsewhere that seem to be run by Past Masters, leaving little room for change or innovation by new members of the Craft. As much as I plan to sit on the sidelines and say “That’s not how we did it in my year,” personally I’m happy to see that Friendship maintains a full line of officers, with more waiting to enter – and not a recycled PM among them. I would like to believe that this is because we are careful to attend to both the past and to the future.

Allow me to relate a little story.
January, 2004. I was a new Junior Warden, and we were only two or three meetings into the year. One of my best friends – the guy who brought me into my lodge – was the new WM, and the two greatest Stewards were on either side of me. We were about to have an EA degree, which was to be inspected by the District Deputy and the Associate Grand Marshal (AGM).

Now, in Connecticut, the Junior Warden has a great section in the long form of opening and closing ritual. I love this part. I had discovered that I really enjoy ritual, and was constantly challenging myself to do just a little
better each time. Anyway, this is the section (which may be slightly different in other jurisdictions) in which I describe part of the Junior Warden’s duties to the Craft and admonish against turning the “purpose of refreshment into…”

and here I pause for dramatic effect and slowly turn to look at the dour and stern looking brother on my left,

“…intemperance and …”

and here I pause and turn to the smiling and expansive brother on my right,

“…excess.”

I continued on with the lecture, but the attributes of my Stewards fit so well that everyone, including the guys wearing purple aprons, started cracking up. And from that night on, pretty much everyone in the entire district referred to them as Bros. Intemperance and Excess.

Okay, maybe you had to be there.

Anyhow, at the end of that year, the Stewards secretly had name tags made up that resemble the regular officer’s tags… and yes, they had them made up as “Intemperance” and “Excess”.

January, 2005. It’s the officer’s installation, and yours truly is now firmly ensconced in the West. Without getting into the long story, our lodge officers have a tradition: the officers, for at least the last 15 years, wear bright red socks with their tuxedo. Each installation the WM presents the newest officers (usually a Marshall or Steward) with a set of red socks.

But our new WM announced that there would be a new tradition: in addition to handing out the red socks, we had “the passing down of the Stewards badges.” Yes, the the outgoing Senior Steward passed over his “Excess” badge to his successor, who in turn passed his “Intemperance” badge to the incoming Junior Steward. Apparently, he had this all set up with the Stewards in order to rib me a little. It was very cute, and we all had a nice laugh, and the non-Masons present had a laugh as well after we explained it. I hope I’m around in 20 years to see if they’re still doing it, and to see if they understand *why* they’redoing it.

And that brings me to my point: I know that there are some lodges out there – yes, even in Connecticut – that can barely fill the officers line, that have nothing but carping Past Masters sitting on the sidelines, or that need to close because of a lack of interest. I don’t know why this happens; demographics, time, culture change, there are dozens of reasons I suppose. And frankly, I’m not sure why my lodge has been so successful in the camaraderie department. Somehow, we’ve been fortunate to have a great mix of guys, from mid-20s to mid-50s. Most of the Past Masters are active – I don’t mean that they show up, I mean that they’re active. Oh sure, there are a couple who might comment from the sidelines when you screw up, but most of them take you aside to point out a flaw or to give some advice; not because they want to show off their knowledge, but because they want the lodge as a whole to improve.

It saddens me to hear the stories of lodges with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash reserves who serve donuts after a meeting to nine people – on a good night. Or lodges that have 2 hour discussions over minutiae. Yes, I know that if they’re willing to argue for an hour over little points, then it means that they care on some level, but seems to me that it would be better if they used their energies elsewhere.

On a personal level, I’m proud of the men in the line behind me; they’ve found a way to create their own traditions and culture, and maybe these little changes and additions that they create will make the lodge feel more like “home”, and keep them coming back and contributing. Oh sure, I’m a little bit smug that some humor on my part has helped to create a new tradition, but that’s not the important part. I want to come back in 20 years, not to see the “passing of the Stewards badges”, but to see something, hell, anything that tells me that these men are creating their own reasons to keep coming back.

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