Dis-positioned

The Grand Lodge Annual Communication was Monday of this week. In Connecticut, they generally follow a pattern: a disjointed opening (because we all know that Grand Lodge officers can’t do ritual), three hours of introductions, another hour of Masonicare presentations, and then an hour break for lunch (after which there seem to be a lot of empty seats). After lunch, we have a few items of business, some remarks from the outgoing Grand Master, a few rounds of applause, and then a disjointed closing. Although I complain about them all the time, I generally try to make time to participate. Connecticut is a fairly small state, so it’s not that much of an inconvenience, unlike some other states which require an 8 hour drive. However, as it happens, several people at work are out this week, so I probably won’t get out of the office early enough to make the session, or even the installation of the new officers later on.

Not that anybody will miss me, of course, seeing that after today, I will have been stripped of my position as the District Grand Lecturer.
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No, it wasn’t because of my latest April Fool’s prank. It’s simply that they have decided to eliminate the position entirely.

I’m still so not the drama, remember ?

My travels over the last three years have given me a few things to think about with regard to the ritual and ceremonies of the lodges in and around my district.

After the District Lecturer position was created, there were still issues as to what the officers should do and how they should do it. Initially, it was expected that they would help the lodges to improve in their ritual skills, but there were never any definite plans as to how they were supposed to go about doing so. Not surprisingly, some Lecturers did little, for fear of over-stepping some boundary. Others tried things such as helping at rehearsals, or having Q&A sessions on lodge nights, or sponsoring practice sessions. However, without any authority to compel the officers of under-performing lodges to participate, you can imagine that the people most often seen at the practice sessions were those who needed the least amount of help. And again, not surprisingly, some people complained that ritual wasn’t getting any better.

There’s an old joke about how many psychologists it takes to change a lightbulb. The answer is none; the lightbulb has to want to change.

Back in 2005, Connecticut tried to implement some small steps to improve the ritual work. They required that all incoming Masters for 2006 be certified in the ability to open and close a lodge. I was in that first class of Masters, and it was witnessed by the District Lecturer, two District Deputies, and their Associate Grand Marshals. A few years later, the certification job was given to the District Lecturers. I’ve complained a few times that often Senior Wardens would wait until the very end of the year before calling me, meaning that October and November would see me visiting several lodges a week.

It didn’t really help, though.

One of the the point that everybody missed is that some lodges have a very strong internal culture that values good ritual work. Those lodges pass these expectations on to new members in various ways; perhaps by showcasing certain good ritual performers, or by asking new officers to start memorizing lectures as soon as possible, or by holding not just one, but a number of rehearsals for degree work. What usually happens in those cases is that new officers will take up the challenge — especially if they are praised for their good work, instead of being carped at for missing a word or two. Yes, some old-timers have told me that they developed good ritual skills because the old-timers before them were harsh task-masters, but times have changed. Nobody wants to be humiliated into not doing a bad job, they prefer to be coaxed into doing a god job.

What I have noticed is that the men from these lodges have consistently better degrees because they enjoy doing it. And they enjoy doing it because they know that their brothers have encouraged them along. More interesting is that even those who consider themselves to be “poor” performers (compared to their peers) are often much better than the average performers at other lodges.

Lodges like that do not need District Lecturers, except, perhaps, to address some of the finer points of ritual and floor work.

Another point that was missed is that the lodges that really need the most improvement tend to be full of officers who don’t believe that they need any help. Connecticut is very liberal in ritual; we have a printed monitor, but several lodges follow rituals that pre-date the Grand Lodge itself. A few others have somehow managed to create their own, but have been doing so for so long that nobody bothers trying to correct them. To accommodate such differences, the Grand Lodge has a policy, which is summed up as “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty.” So, in the absence of regulation, some lodges have managed to develop “traditions,” i.e., customs that make their work markedly different from that of other lodges.

But a large number of lodges differ simply because they are doing something not just markedly different, but remarkably wrong. When questioned, they simply claim that it’s “lodge tradition,” and expect to be given a pass. Generally, the “tradition’ was an error on the part of one member that was inadvertently passed down to succeeding officers, most of whom learned ritual not from reading the monitor, but from trying to emulate the other officers, and who ended up copying the mistakes as well as the important things.

Connecticut has always had a problem with defining the essentials from the non-essentials, but I think that the overall view of the Grand Lodge itself is to let those lodges alone that are doing good ritual, even if that ritual is not exactly what is in the book. I know that this view drives some of my brothers in other, more rigidly defined states into looking for the smelling salts, but they, themselves forget, that ritual was always fluid and changing, especially in the educational lectures, which often varied from lodge to lodge. It’s a common misconception that the ritual we hear today is the same thing that has been passed down the generations; personally, I believe that this fluidity is one of the most interesting aspects of ritual practice, and should be one of our incentives to travel to other lodges.

Anyway, it’s probably pointless to discuss this any further. As the only official duties of the District Lecturers (certifying that potential Masters can open and close a lodge) were brief, those will now be assigned to the Associate Grand Marshals; the ones in my district are eminently qualified, and they are excellent brothers, as well.

For my part, I’ve been appreciative not only for the support that most of the lodges in my district have shown me, but also for the several lodges that actually asked for my help. It gave me a great opportunity to work with some fine new officers, and hopefully I’ve been able to pass along something useful to them. I wish them all the best in the future.

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