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The Builder’s Degree

I love it when a plan comes together. But I love it even more when a half-baked idea manages to become a plan that comes together.

A few months ago, Worshipful Marshal Dave was bemoaning the fact that we had either too many candidates or not enough degrees planned. See, in Connecticut, we can bring in up to five candidates at a time. This makes sense when you consider the small size of some of those old lodge rooms. I thought that Friendship Lodge was on the small side, but I have visited lodges in which even three candidates would be a tight squeeze.

But “too many” candidates? Not literally so, but from the last couple of months of my year until this posting, we’ve had a fantastic number of inquiries; if I recall correctly we have between fifteen and twenty men who have petitioned or have received one or more degree. I would like to say that it is because they’ve all researched Masonry on the internet, found my blog and decided that they simply had to join Friendship lodge.

I would like to say that. However, the truth is more like they stumbled across The Tao of Masonry after they contacted our lodge and I bribed, shamed, or coerced them into reading. But hey, it all adds to my hit count

Anyway, a few months ago, after listening to the moaning of WM Dave, a few of the old has-beens Past Masters thought that it would be a great idea to put on a show have a degree in which the regular officers could take a break, while the PMs and other egomaniacs older members take over the degree work. WM Dave, grasping at straws taking advantage of the opportunity asked WB. Richie to handle it. Richie immediately contacted a slew of other egomaniacs PMs (yours truly included) and spread the word. Richie and I are affiliate members of Sequin-Level Lodge (where he is also a PM), and he also tried to get some of the members of that lodge involved. We scheduled the degree for Saturday, May 19th; we wanted to start in the late morning so we could have a picnic lunch and then go back to the second part of the degree, the Hiramic drama.

It takes a lot of manpower to properly do the Hiramic drama, and in this neck of the woods the call usually goes out to a few other lodges to see if any bodies are available. But the other option is to call the guys at Frederick-Franklin lodge, because they have an actual “team” that specializes in doing the Craftsmen/Workers/Ruffian parts. In fact, I asked them myself last year; it’s a treat to watch their work, which is almost choreographed. The team has a nice set of costumes, and they rehearse the parts well.

They were also doing their own degree on that same Saturday morning.

If Friendship hadn’t already five candidates, we would probably have combined the degrees, but as Frederick-Franklin had two of their own, there was no way that could happen. After a bit of brainstorming, though, somebody came up with the idea of Friendship doing the first part of the degree, and then bringing the candidates up to Plainville for the last part. Frederick-Franklin uses an exemplar in the extended version of the drama, so the new brothers would not have to actually participate; this seemed to work around the five maximum rule, and more importantly, it would allow the new brothers to see some inspiring degree work. This required three weeks of missed phone calls and misunderstood emails in order to coordinate brothers of four different lodges in the Fifth District, and I only mention this for the benefit of non-Masons who still believe that we are secretly controlling the international banking cartels. But somehow we managed to get our collective acts together; the brothers at Frederick-Franklin were happy to accommodate us, and we agreed to bring some refreshments along.

May 19th was a wonderful late spring day in New England, and except for the Junior Warden, I don’t think any of the the officer’s chairs were filled by the regular crew. We obligated five Master Masons in a solemn ceremony that took us until just after noon, and several of the sitting officers carpooled up to the lodge in Plainville, while I stayed behind to close up. Everyone had sandwiches and chips – not exciting, but quite appropriate for the picnic theme. I got there just as the second part of the degree was starting, and sat in the northeast corner with WB Richie and the rest of the candidates.

It seems that no degree would be complete if at least one thing didn’t come off as planned, and in this case it seemed that Frederick-Franklin was lacking the regular Stewards to do the first section lectures (In Connecticut, these are often nicknamed the Steward’s Lecture). Fortunately, we had two brothers – literally – able to step up to the challenge. Bro. Eric is our Junior Warden, and his younger brother Kyle is currently out Junior Steward. They took a few minutes to refresh their memories, and despite the fact that Kyle had never done this part for an MM degree, it came off nearly flawless.

The Hiramic drama has been a part of the MM degree since the mid-1700s, and every jurisdiction has their own twist on it. In Connecticut, our ritual has a bare-bones drama that is required, but some lodges augment their MM degree with an extended version that resembles a play. It contains some background which helps the new MM to understand the morals and teaching of the degree. Both Friendship and Frederick-Franklin lodges utilize such extended versions, but last year, Frederick-Franklin added yet another section, called “The Builder’s Lodge” which gives even more background, and a great understanding to the legend of Hiram Abiff. This was the first time I had seen it in full costume, and I have to admit that I was impressed almost to the point of being awed. One of the brothers – a ritual junkie like yours truly – found an old version that they reworked for their lodge. Without giving too many details, it shows a meeting called by King Solomon, King Hyram of Tyre, and Hiram Abiff (the last such meeting that they will have together) and what transpired so as to motivate Hiram Abiff to act the way he does.

The seven candidates were almost as awed as I was, and watched with fascination as the drama unfolded. All had been through the short version, and could now see the degree exemplified, which gave meaning to what they had undergone earlier. After the well-deserved congratulations on all sides, we closed the meeting and went back downstairs to finish the sandwiches and chips. I would urge any brother from Connecticut to check the Frederick-Franklin calendar to see when their next MM degree is held so they can also see this new addition, and experience some of the finest degree work in the state.

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