Who’s Certifiable?

Who’s Certifiable?
Well, for starters, Eric and Ryan

On Sunday, August 12th, the Friendship Lodge officers set aside the afternoon to take a shot at testing their proficiency as Worshipful Master. “Proficiency” in Connecticut is actually very simple; unlike some other US states in which entire passages of ritual need to be recited and judged for exactness and conformity to some standard, we only ask for five things.

– Open the lodge in full form
– Receive a Masonic dignitary (A District Deputy or Grand Master, for example)
– Go to refreshment (some people refer to this as “calling off”)
– Come back to labor
– Close the lodge in full form

Having talked to people from other jurisdictions, I’m almost embarrassed at how little we require of our officers, both in the way of ritual proficiency and proficiency in the bylaws and regulations of the their lodge and Grand Lodge. While I agree that we are all volunteers, and have limited time in which to memorize ritual and to study obscure bylaws, the fact remains that in volunteering for the job, we gave an implied promise that we would do everything possible to be up to the task at hand. If all you need to do is know how to open and close a lodge, and to remember, or at least know where to look up an appropriate rule, then complaints about a lack of time begin to smack of a lack of effort.

But that’s a rant that I’m going to save for another day. Right now I’d like to introduce you to Eric and Ryan.

Eric is the Junior Warden at Friendship, and he’s been at my right hand ever since he joined the lodge. I escorted him around the lodge when he was an EA (not an easy job – Eric is easily six feet, and at the time was of a rather husky build), and when I went into the South, asked him to be my Senior Steward. Despite the fact that he could barely boil water, Eric toughed it out and proved himself to be dependable and conscientious. He stayed at my right hand to become the Junior Deacon, and then Senior Deacon when I was Master last year. Eric is now the Chairman of the Friendship Lodge Website Committee, and requested that I be on that committee – probably so he now has the opportunity to boss me around count on my support.

Being the most senior officer, Eric was on trial first. I explained that while it might not seem fair, that I was going to hold him to a higher standard for ritual than I might otherwise do for someone else. Friendship has a well-deserved reputation for good ritual work – not for just memorizing the words, but for good delivery; we believe that the candidates should have the best degree possible, and sometimes that means not just dead-on memorization, but a “drama show” that emphasizes the points.

I hope it goes without saying that Eric did an exemplary job, and that we can all be proud of him.

Ryan was a member before I joined; a former DeMolay with a head for memorizing ritual, I didn’t see him much for the first couple of years while he was in college, but after school he joined the officer’s line – not a surprise because he was very active in the Marcus Holcomb DeMolay chapter that is sponsored by our lodge.

Back in November, Ryan was the Senior Steward that jumped into the Senior Warden’s chair for that meeting when all the top officers were missing. He did miss one line in the opening then, but he did a great job in the East; better, in fact, than some twice-termed Masters that I’ve seen.

Naturally, I’m proud of both Eric and Ryan, but I also want to give props to Kevin and Kyle. Kevin is the Senior Steward, and Kyle (Eric’s actual brother) is the Junior Steward. Both of them made an attempt to open and close a lodge, and considering the short amount of time that they have been officers, I think that they really deserve some kind of honorable mention. Both needed prompting, but both of them were able to get through the ritual. They had the words in their minds, they just needed some help getting them in order. My guess is that next year they’d be able to qualify.

I did, however, want to mention one more thing. Although Eric, Ryan, Keven and Kyle are all young enough to be my sons, I try to always think of them (and I hope I’ve succeeded) as brothers. I’ve seen Eric go from a nervous, hesitant young man to being more self-confident, and more willing to take on leadership tasks. In the last few years, I’ve seen Ryan graduate college, look for jobs in his academic field, get married, and more recently, have a baby. I’ve known Kevin since he was a young teenager, and I’ve now had the opportunity to see him become more mature and become more active in the lodge. Kyle, the youngest of this group, has always distinguished himself as being ready, willing and able to pitch in whenever there was work to be done.

Why do I mention this in a post about Ritual Certification?

There is much more to running a successful lodge than being proficient in ritual, as I discovered first-hand last year. The Master of a lodge must be able to depend upon his officers for help, but too often I hear of Masters who do not call upon some of the younger lodge members, except, maybe, to help move something heavy. I think that this is a mistake on their part. Good officers – good Masters – are made not just from moving stones in the quarry, but from being shown where to place them. Too often, younger members are not given tasks that carry a lot of responsibility or visibility. They are overlooked so that more experienced members can run a program or plan an event. Let’s not forget, however, that experience comes from being given such responsibilities. New members, especially younger members, do not want to join an organization in which they’re expected to stand aside – many of them probably get enough of that at work.

Good Masters will understand that it’s part of their job to help develop the younger officers so that they can become good Masters one day. Sit with them. Get their ideas. Let them come up with a program and run with it, even if you’re not crazy about it yourself. The worst that could happen is that it might not come off perfectly (and what does?), but the best thing that could happen is that you’ll all be able to sit down and process the event, and that they can learn from it.

As a Worshipful Master, it’s your year. But that doesn’t mean that the year is all about you.

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  1. Jay
    September 10, 2007 at 3:34 am

    You keep making disparaging comments about how little CT requires from its officers. Just be glad you’re not Louisiana- we don’t have any proficiency requirements for officers, or for anyone else for that matter. Every lodge is allowed to do more or less what it wants. I like it better with looser requirements, it encourages men who simply don’t have the mental capacity to memorize large amounts of ritual to still seek positions they’re otherwise qualified for. We wouldn’t have had the WM we’ve had for the past two years if we were strict about ritual- the man hasn’t made it through an opening correctly yet, but we’d have been utterly lost without him.

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  2. September 10, 2007 at 9:47 am

    Jay, I’m not sure what to say about this. I do agree that some Masters simply aren’t great at ritual. They can’t memorize, and what little they manage to remember they can’t deliver. But they are great managers and organizers, and inspire the rest of the lodge to do some great things. Certainly it would be a shame if such brothers could not contribute according to their strengths.

    But that said, come on – we’re Masons. We have a long tradition of ritualized initiation, and if you allow one WM who can’t do ritual, then what’s to stop a lodge from installing ten more like him? Eventually, none of the younger officers will have seen good ritual, and there won’t be anything for those who can do the work to emulate.

    So, perhaps some minimum standards are the answer. Open a lodge. Receive a District Deputy. Go to refreshment. Close properly. None of these are brain surgery or rocket science, and really don’t require much in the way of memorization skills. For degree work, one can open a lodge, then ask a good ritualist to step up and take over the degree work – and personally, I’m fine with this.

    Understand, too, that it’s not that I speak disparagingly of how little Conn requires, it’s that I’ve seen some pretty poor degree work and I feel badly for the candidates who must wonder after it’s all over “Was that it?”

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