The number 300 now being associated with half-naked, well-muscled Spartans, I didn’t want to confuse anybody with the approximate number of Masons who attended the Grand Lodge semi-annual communication in mid-October of this year. Last year I complained a bit about the people who come to these meetings and then leave as soon as possible, so I’m not going to revisit that topic. I was, however, pleased to see that all of the lodges were represented, with only one exception — a marked improvement over the last few years. It might be cynical of me to mention that some lodges may have been motivated this year by one of the items to be voted on: the increase in a monetary fine to those lodges that fail to send any representation from $25 (barely the cast of gasoline and lunch) to $250.
I got there about a half hour before the session started, got a coffee (no donut, thanks), and chatted with people I hadn’t seen in a while. When I finally went inside the main room to find a seat, I discovered that the Deputy Grand Master had gone to the hospital the previous night for chest pains (at this point, it seems that he’s fine), and would not be attending. The rest of the officers were in a mild panic because they would have to move up a chair in order to open the Grand Lodge session. Why is this a problem? Because the nine members come from different lodges, and most of those lodges have peculiar traditions and customs. Since Grand Lodge officers don’t have any rehearsals (ahem), it’s not unusual for somebody to miss a cue. And even for those officers who are familiar with what passes for standard Connecticut ritual, it might have been years since one of them actually sat in that respective chair in a Blue Lodge. What with the rituals for York Rite, Scottish Rite, Eastern Star, Rainbow, the Shrine, etc., in our heads, it’s a wonder that half the Masons remember as well as they do.
During the break, I twittered “Who certifies Grand Lodges officers, anyway?” This is a reference to my one actual duty as a District Grand Lecturer (as opposed to those duties which I’ve made up for myself), that being to watch a potential Master properly go through the ceremony for opening and closing a lodge. I meant it to be funny, but after the session when people got home, some of them commented about this on my Facebook page. Soon, it became a (yet another!) discussion about the perception that Grand Lodge is perhaps out of touch with what the real needs are in the lodges.
Comments about the ritualistic slip-ups were good natured ribbing, however, one brother brought up some good points on the relatively new practice we have of setting standards (and giving out certifications) for anyone aspiring to be the Master of a lodge.
Brother Frank expressed the general frustration that I’ve heard from others around the state.
“There’s so much emphasis on getting these little certifications these days. Does anyone actually look at a Warden and evaluate whether or not he’d actually BE a decent WM? No. But if he’s good at ritual, and can regurgitate the stuff on the little tests, then he gets the nod of approval. Granted, you need to be a decent ritualist, but that’s only 25% at best of what the job is.”
And he’s right, of course. Being able to memorize a few paragraphs of ritual doesn’t make you qualified to run a lodge. Neither, in fact, does your attendance at a couple of half-day seminars, nor your ability to memorize the various rules and regulations that the Grand Lodge has codified.
Frank sums this up nicely:
“[Grand Lodge] is overly concerned with certifications these days and not concerned enough about whether the Master is making lodge … Read More ENGAGING for this great crop of new Masons we have coming in. We should be concentrating on giving these new guys a great sense of fraternity, and in many lodges that is missing. Passing the WM certification does not guarantee that a WM can LEAD a lodge — and LEADERSHIP is the key.”
Ironically, the Grand Lodge would agree. That’s why in the last couple of years, we have changed the format of our officers seminars from serial lectures to mini-team building exercises. Aspiring Masters and Wardens are arranged in small groups and mentored through various tasks. The exercises are not arbitrary; all of them are based on developing the kinds of programs that have been shown to work well in lodges. Even better, each officer has a chance to talk to the others in his group about possible issues he might face in implementing such programs in his own lodge, and to get input from those in different circumstances.
Does even this type of education guarantee that someone will be a good Master? Of course not. But it’s a step in the right direction, because it makes potential Masters aware that there are various ways to approach developing a program for their year.