The Lodge You Deserve
On Sunday, Bro. Euphrates published a post on Freemason Information that reflects the attitudes that many Masons have about their own lodges. He wrote, in part:
Would you really want to explain to a prospective Mason what really goes on at a typical lodge meeting? Let’s imagine how that conversation would play out.
Inquirer: So what do Masons do?
Mason: Well, we have a couple of lodge meetings a month.
Inquirer: What do you do there?
Mason: We read the minutes of the previous meeting and make any necessary corrections to them. Then we pay the bills, read any correspondence, and vote on any new petitioners. Then we proceed to discuss business for about an hour. Like, last week we were discussing how we were going to put on a spaghetti dinner. Our Junior Warden had it all planned out and then one of the older Past Masters told him how he ought to do it. We also discussed how we might go about making the necessary repairs to the building. Then we closed the lodge and went downstairs to eat some generic-brand cookies and drink some coffee before going home.
Inquirer: I thought you had philosophical education.
Mason: We do when we perform the degrees.
Inquirer: How often does that happen?
Mason: Sometimes once a month. Sometimes we will go several months without doing any degrees.
Inquirer: What about the fellowship you were talking about?
Mason: That’s what the coffee and cookies are.
Inquirer: What about the charity?
Mason: Well, that’s why we’re doing the spaghetti dinner, so that we can raise money in order to write a check to the Grand Lodge’s charity.
Inquirer: That sounds kind of boring.
Mason: Want a petition?
Freemasons view the organization in the proper light, but they don’t always run the organization with that same philosophy. Freemasons need to take all of the great things that they have to say about the fraternity and actually accomplish them in lodge.
I was thinking about this when I walked up to my own lodge on Monday night. Outside, I saw a handful of brothers enjoying a quiet smoke after the meal that we generally serve before each meeting. I slipped inside, and tried to pour myself some coffee from the pot that is right near the door, but was somewhat hampered in my efforts by pausing to greet another half a dozen brothers who welcomed me. I looked around, and something compelled me to snap a few shots of the typical gathering before one of our meetings.
You can’t tell from the terrible pics of my phone cam, but we had a dozen officers (The spots from WM down to Tyler and Marshal are always filled, and we’ve even needed to create positions of “Associate Stewards” to accommodate the new members who want to help out). We had another dozen members, ranging from Past Masters, 50+year members, down to our newest Master Mason (one of three raised at a Special Communication two Saturdays ago). We had a couple of brothers from other lodges visiting, plus the District Deputy. And, as you can see from the pictures, we had a smattering of wives, girlfriends, and children.
Yes, that’s right. Our families come down for the meetings.
This has been a huge shock surprise to brothers visiting from other lodges. Once, an older brother arrived and asked me if it was some kind of awards night. Another asked me if it was a Ladies Night. And still others have asked if there was actually a meeting going on at all.
Some of the families have dinner before the meeting, and then leave. Others will stay until we close upstairs. Mothers will take children home, sometimes leaving dads in the fraternal care of a trusted brother who will drop him off later on. They like to stay, of course, because we have coffee and generic cookies afterward. We also have pie — store bought or home made — ice cream, and for those who indulge, a smattering of alcoholic beverages, often consumed in conjunction with cigars, cigarettes, or the occasional pipe. Last night, it was after 11 pm when I finally left; more than two hours after the actual Stated Communication ended. And I left behind me the District Deputy, the Master, and a couple of officers. A visitor from a neighboring lodge had left only a half hour before I did.
Yes, this is typical. Sometimes there are more people, sometimes fewer. Sometimes we call it a night earlier, sometimes not. Sometimes more scotch is consumed, sometimes none. But the essential character of Friendship Lodge remains the same.
Why is that?
Simply put, it’s because the members run the lodge.
Yes, I know — of course the members run the lodge. Don’t they?
I’m going to suggest that in most many cases, the members don’t run the lodge at all. Instead it is run by Past Masters and/or Secretaries. I know of some lodges in which the incoming Master has to present the program for his upcoming year for the approval of a board of the Past Masters. While it is certainly helpful to have the advice and support of those more experienced, all too often such approval serves only to make sure that the new Master continues to do what the older members have always done — whether it works or not. Likewise, one should have respect for the Past Masters who stepped up to the Oriental Chair several times during those years in which lodges lost more members that they initiated, but too often those same Past Masters can discourage new members from implementing new ideas.
Sometimes, the reverence for the traditions and history of our Craft work against us; this can be seen in situations in which the lodge becomes so insulated from the surrounding society that it simply loses relevance. Lodge meetings become just one more thing on the ever-filling calendar. When members begin seeing it as a chore, it’s no wonder they stop coming.
A few years ago, Friendship Lodge installed cable television and wifi internet access. After the members have gone upstairs for the meeting, it’s not unusual to see a few women watching a show, doing some hobby or craft, updating their Facebook accounts, doing homework, or just net surfing. The lodge is now an enjoyable activity for them, which makes them less inclined to object when their partner has to come down on a Saturday for a special degree, or to attend another lodge to help out with something. And because the families are there, the lodge seems less insulated, and more relevant to the daily lives of the members.
Who made the decisions that allowed more family participation in the lodge? The members. Some of the members are Past Masters, of course, and personally, I don’t think that anyone envisioned just how successful these changes would be. And yes, a few of the old timers occasionally bemoan the changes, but I suspect that nobody hears them over the noise of the tv and Youtube videos, and of course, the constant chattering of the people-filled meeting hall.
There is an adage that says “People tend to get the kind of government that they deserve.” It’s a cynical perspective, but poignantly accurate. If you found yourself nodding and agreeing with Bro. Euphrates the other day, then maybe it’s time to ask yourself: What kind of lodge do I deserve?