Q: How many Past Masters does it take to change a light bulb?
A1: The lights never went out in my year!
A2: Hey, my grandfather donated that light bulb!
A3: Why should we change it? It always worked before.
A4: Light bulb? In my year, all we had were candles.
Once a year, on the second Tuesday of December, the Past Masters of Friendship Lodge No. 33, along with the Past Masters of Harmony No. 20 of New Britain (which merged with Friendship back in the 1990s), and any other Past Master that happens to be within asking range gather together for an evening of
complaining conviviality and story-telling, and of course, eating and drinking.
Past Master’s Dinner 2008
Like many new Masons, I figured that all lodges were like Friendship, and I had some eye-opening moments when I started visiting and really watching what happens in some other lodges. In Friendship Lodge, those “old Past Masters” do not sit around the lodge hemming and harrumphing, complaining about the state of ritual or how things were done “back in my year.” And we are very fortunate in that we only “repeat” a Past Master through the chairs about once every 25 or 30 years – a fact to which I can attest, having checked the dates once.
Oh, there’s no question that some of our PMs are active. Sometimes one will stay on as a Chaplain, and we always have them serving as a Treasurer and Secretary. Our PMs run the Trowel Club picnics and several other functions. The most recent PM is usually the Trowel Club President, and will take charge of the Past Master degree (usually a MM degree held in the fall). And the next to last PM gets stuck running the annual Past Master’s Dinner.
Because our lodge is active, we do like to joke that the PMs are no longer needed; at each annual dinner, we award the outgoing WM with a new name tag which he is to wear after the next WM is installed. It symbolizes the esteem in which he will be held as a new PM.
It’s a Friendship Lodge badge, with the name section left blank. His new title becomes “Worshipful Nobody.”
Yes, of course it’s a joke – but there is a certain poignancy to this. For one thing, it takes several months just to get used to people addressing you as “Worshipful;” whenever I heard that title, I kept looking around for somebody else. For another thing, many of us who have served as the WM of a lodge – especially an active lodge like ours – you have a very full year, what with all the programs, meetings, visiting, degrees, dinners, and the constant phone calls and emails from people who need to check in, ask an opinion, get permission, or ask questions. You are the center of attention, most of it good, for an entire year – generally starting about 10 minutes after your installation ceremony. People look to you and look up to you for twelve solid, non-stop months.
And then, suddenly, it all stops.
I can well understand that some PMs may try to recapture a bit of that sense of importance by nitpicking ritual, or by reminding people of the customs and traditions which they, the PMs observed. In lodges that do not have a constant inflow of new officers, PMs always have an opportunity to fill in a chair, but in active lodges, I wonder how many PMs simply drop out of sight after a few years, from feeling as if they they have nothing further to contribute?