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The District FC Degree

April 6, 2008 Leave a comment

Well, we pulled it off.

On Saturday, March 29, a dozen and half officers from the eight different lodges of District 5 managed to put together a very nice FC degree in the auditorium of the Masonic Health Care Center in Wallingford.

Anyone who has ever seen the bedlam which accompanies a normal degree rehearsal can only imagine what our single rehearsal was like the week before the degree. Well, that’s not fair – since half the people didn’t show up, the confusion in the temple wasn’t anything like it could have been, I’m sure.

On Saturday morning, several of the brothers met at Friendship and piled the officer’s stations, jewels, aprons, and the movable set of stairs into RWB Gary Arseneau’s and Senior Steward Kyle Charette’s pickup trucks. WB Ted Hasty, the poor guy who coordinated this event was already at the auditorium, moving the chairs and rearranging the room. By 10:45 am, everything was in position.

Which was perfect timing for my arrival at 10:55.

Apparently, WB Ted was a bit antsy about the event, and got there very early just to make sure that things were going to work out. He’s obviously my Bizarro world twin: he shows up as early as I tend to show up late. Oh, and I think that Ted has a reaction to the red kryptonite.

After the room was set up we were treated to lunch in the MHA cafeteria. I declined, owing to a traumatic lunchroom incident in my childhood involving spaghetti, soy meatloaf, and canned wildebeest – the details of which are best left to the imagination. But shortly afterwards, several of us took a small tour of the Ashlar Village facility, just up the hill from the hospital. Ashlar Village is a small community having a mixture of independent and assisted living buildings. We took a look into the newly remodeled main building. “Newly remodeled” is perhaps not the best term, and for the last several years it seems to be under a new plan called “constant remodeling.” I think that the facility changes every month. One of the highlights, though, was the small lodge room that has been built on one of the basement areas. It hasn’t been used for any official purpose, however as you can see from the pictures it’s had some unofficial uses.

By the time we got back, other people started showing up: officers from other lodges, several interested onlookers, and eventually, a few brothers from the hospital itself. Personally, I was a little disappointed at the turnout – only eight brothers from the hospital and nearby Ashlar Village ended up visiting. But that disappointment was mitigated by learning that one brother had not been to a lodge in over 40 years, and another had been hoping to see a degree for several years, but had no way to travel. Four of our guests were in wheelchairs, one had a walker, and another had a cane. One brother happened to pass by me heading down the hall and called out “What part are you doing, sonny?” I slowed down to talk to him and keep him company on the walk down. After assuring him that I really did not need to borrow his ritual book (why do some of the old timers read the books while following the degree? Self-appointed quality control inspectors?) he told me not to walk with him because he was shuffling along rather slowly and he didn’t want to hold me up. “I’m pretty sure I’ll make it by one-thirty!” he called after me as he inched along the hallway.

Click here to see the rest of the photos

The degree itself was a pleasant affair, made interesting because we had one candidate from Sequin-Level and one from Unity. Being a Fellowcraft degree, Friendship brought along their stairs. Yes, we have a set of spiral stairs that appear to have been built in the 50s; they disassemble for storage, so we were able to fit them into the back of a pickup and haul them down. Some of the visitors who had never been to Friendship spent some time testing them for strength; but we’ve never had a problem. I fear, however, that we’ll need to make some minor repairs, simply because age and knocking around in a closet every few months is taking it’s toll on them.

The officers performed admirably and the candidates had a very nice degree, made even more memorable by the fact that parts were done by officers from eight different lodges. Even the “Staircase Lecture” was broken up into several parts to allow the lodges to take a more active role.

On the way home, most of us wondered why we didn’t do this kind of thing every year. By the time several of us had driven back to Friendship to help unload the furniture, we’d resolved to have another District degree for the residents of the hospital for next year.

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Past Master’s Degree 2007

December 14, 2007 2 comments

Every year, the next-to-junior Past Master of Friendship Lodge gets the the unenviable task of gathering together a large group of his predecessors for the purpose of putting on a Master Mason degree. We typically hold two sets of degrees, one in early spring and one in the fall, and the Past Master’s degree is performed at the Master’s discretion. Some choose to do it early to give them more time to study for their own degree.

If you’re having deja vu, it’s because I first wrote that last year. Once again, I’m amazed that I’ve been blogging for a year and a half.

Last year, I sat in the East because the PM in charge of the degree wanted to slack off see it done properly didn’t have the time to prepare over the summer. This year, the degree was again held in November, and WB George, PM from 2005, followed suit by taking the JD position and asking WB Richie to take the East. Yours truly ended up in the West, although not exactly riding off into the sunset.

Because of the various schedules of the PMs involved, plus a large benefit dinner that involved most of the officers the previous weekend, there were no rehearsals for this degree. Now, in theory this should not make a difference; we’re all experienced ritualists, and being Past Masters, we’ve all had some degree of practice.

You know what they say: In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice.

Amazingly, however, most of the PMs did a great job, even though it’s been years since they’ve sat in the big chair. WB Bob reprised his role as SD and this year managed to leave by the correct door, and RWB Bob and his Past AGM Dick came out to give a great Q&A lecture. Our lodge has an extra part of the GMHA drama that takes the form of a prelude (and postlude) to the official ritual, and our RW Gary, the GSD took on the part of Hiram with his usual aplomb. We called upon a few of the regular officers to fill in other parts of the Craft, and managed to put on a great Master Mason degree… despite the fact that for some reason my brain was geared to an Entered Apprentice degree.

How embarrassing.

A day or two previously I was at another lodge in order to certify their SW in the ritual. We usually do this on the EA degree, and because he did not ask any other officers to help out, I played the roles of the other places and stations in order to give the ritual a better “flow.” When he was finished, another officer popped in and even though he wasn’t prepared to do his certification, we ran through it anyway. The result was that I ended up with the EA degree stuck in my head, much in the same way that a song or TV commercial plays and replays itself over and over until it’s cleansed by a few single malts or if it’s one of the more pernicious forms of earworm, perhaps a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster.

So, WM Richie opens the lodge, and when he comes to my station, asks how many anciently composed a lodge of Master Masons.

My answer was immediate: “Seven or more.”

Richie is a pro. “When composed of only three, who were they?”

*ahem*

It didn’t stop there, of course. Signs? I was on the wrong degree half the time and it was a never ending source of amusement to watch me correct myself half a second after my brain kicked in. In fact, a visitor from another lodge came up to me later and said “You know, I’m a member of York Rite and Scottish rite, and I don’t believe I recognize that sign you gave at the end there. Was that one of those mystery degrees?”

Wise guy.

In an interesting twist on how a man will often bring in a younger family member, one of the men we were raising was watched by his son-in-law who came up from New York City to see the degree. This particular batch of candidates have already made themselves useful in the lodge, coming down to help for various events since the summer. That’s great because often new brothers feel at a loss because they don’t know anyone or how things work. I’ve found that more than meeting nights, helping out at events – dinners, blood drives, food drives, etc., are a much better way to get to know your new brothers because it’s a much less formal setting, and doing actual, physical work give everyone – even the new guys – an opportunity to feel useful. I’m sure that they will all be great additions to our small but active group of brothers.

I managed to redeem myself in the second half, in which, saving the best for last, I gave the charge. It was the best damned EA charge ever heard in a MM degree, too.

Afterwards, RWB Gary said, “Well, Very Worshipful, that was a rather interesting degree. Certainly an interesting mix of ritual in there, wouldn’t you say?”

“Sure,” I agreed, “and some of that ritual was even from Connecticut.”

Obviously, the purpose of appointing me as District Grand Lecturer was to illustrate the point that W.C. Fields once said, “No man is totally useless; he can always serve as a bad example.”

Twinkle, twinkle, Evening Star

November 1, 2007 2 comments

I am often out to lodges both in and out of my district, and as a result I get to see a lot of different ways to have a degree ceremony. Unfortunately, sometimes I see lodges that – and I’m going to put this as tactfully as I can – really do not seem to be putting as much effort as possible into initiating our new brothers into the mysteries of the Order. That is why it’s a pleasure to watch a lodge perform a well-crafted degree.

The other night I stopped to see an Entered Apprentice degree at Evening Star Lodge. Evening Star No. 101 is what I think of when I imagine a rural lodge; it’s in one of the older lodge buildings in District 5, a small building near the center of the village, with little room for parking cars (although at one time I’m sure they had room for a lot of horses). The lodge meeting hall is on the second story of a narrow building, and the lodge room itself is on the third floor. No elevators, Stairmasters, but at least you don’t have to rappel off the side of a cliff to get down. I’ve been to Evening Star several times, but never for a degree.

I got there about fifteen minutes before lodge started and was greeted by WB Gerhard, the Master from last year, now the Chaplain. He explained that it was a move-up night, and that the Junior Warden was heading up the degree. I said hello to a few other guys that I knew, and went upstairs. It was a little strange to see RW Sivert, my predecessor, in a plain white apron. I greeted him, and looked around the lodge. It’s about the size of Friendship, maybe a bit thinner and a bit longer. I introduced myself to the JW, and headed to the East to chat with the Past District Deputy and a few other guys. At some point right before the degree started there was the usual few moments of panic as they realized that one of the Stewards failed to show; likewise the Marshal, who was slated to give the EA charge, was out sick. A member who showed up at the last minute was drafted to be a Steward (in Connecticut, the First Section lecture – sometimes called the ‘Catechism Lecture’ – is generally given by the Stewards). Just when they thought someone might have to read the EA Charge, I heard what was happening and volunteered to recite it. The JW accepted, and asked me to take the Marshal’s seat. I had been looking forward to one of the more padded chairs, but since my butt is cushioned all day in my office, I graciously accepted.

Anyone that’s been active in the lodge for a few years knows that the two bits of ritual that always need last-minute replacements are the First Section lectures and the Charges. When I became the District Grand Lecturer, I made a point to remember the Charges; a few years ago, I was in a lodge in which nobody was present to do the charge, and the WM asked me to read it. Despite the fact that I had no beforehand knowledge, I was still embarrassed. So, I figured that if I was going to need to look over the ritual proficiency of the lodges, I should at least bring something useful to the party.

The replacement Steward grabbed a book and ran over the section for a few minutes, while I grabbed my Palm and did the same. A few of the guys were amused to see that I had it on my PDA, but truthfully, it’s been a huge help for me. I don’t often carry my ritual book around, but I’ve always got my Palm Tungsten handy. Since I had just done the charge several times in the last couple of months, I just wanted a quick reality check – mainly to make sure that what I remembered was the EA charge and not, say, the Master Mason charge (which I’ll be giving in a few weeks). My greatest ritual fear is not that I’ll forget a line, it’s that I’ll suddenly recite a line from another degree.

Despite the last minutes changeups, the degree started off well. I was surprised to see RW Sivert filling in for the other Steward – apparently both of them were out that night. Solemn and serious, the Stewards and Senior Deacon did their jobs well. I was pleased to see how seamlessly the officers integrated the Koran – the candidate’s Volume of Sacred Law – into the ceremony, as if they’d done it dozens of times in the past.

After taking his obligation, the candidate was presented with his apron, together with a “long form” lecture from another brother. I’d seen this done before – two Friendship brothers use the long form all the time – but this brother also had a bit of an introduction or preamble, which was rather nice. I don’t know if he made it up, or found it somewhere else, but it was a nice touch.

Some lodges take a long break after the candidate new brother is sent back out to change, but Evening Star simply waited five minutes or so, and got right back into the ceremonies. I watched the Secretary present the working tools, and the replacement Steward and the JD present the First Section lecture. About halfway through the lecture, it occurred to me that while most of the officers – indeed, most of the men present – had been around the block a few times. There were several Past Masters in the officer’s seats, but they had not developed that bored, disinterested attitude that I’ve seen in a few other lodges. Every one of them presented their parts with calm, practiced voices and mannerisms that were a pleasure to observe. Despite having only a few minutes to look over his lines, the fill-in Steward spoke naturally, as if he’d been rehearsing all week. The brother giving the Apron Lecture was also natural in manner, and the Secretary had explained the Working Tools as if the candidate had just stopped by his garage.

Afterwards, I talked with several of the officers for a bit. We congratulated each other on fine degree work and had some coffee and pie. It turned out that one of them – the brother giving the Apron lecture – was a member on the committee that oversees ritual and ceremonies. We had an interesting conversation about the rumor that the next version of the Connecticut ritual would be written in some kind of code. A lot of people seem to think that code makes it easier to memorize, because you have to work at learning the words. While I agree that working at breaking the code could help, he mentioned that another good thing is that the new brothers that need help now have a reason to sit with a mentor for a while, getting to know them and feeling more comfortable. Interestingly, he and I both learned the work from a plain English book, and don’t feel it’s affected our quality of ritual; obviously so, as he had one of the more “natural” speaking qualities that I’ve seen.

Admittedly, I’m accustomed to the snap and sizzle of the new officers at Friendship; we haven’t recycled a Past Master in 30 years, so every officer is a “new” officer. The good thing is that our lodge has a lot of vitality, however, it makes us forget that there are other ways to be good at degree work. As I drove home, I was hungry, so naturally a food analogy came to mind: ritual work at Friendship made me think of sushi, while Evening Star was more of a comfort food, like beef stew.

Yeah, the analogy leaves a little to be desired, but I had not had a chance to go home for dinner first, okay?

Seriously, though, even though we’re all brother Masons, individual lodges develop their own culture. It was nice to visit a lodge in which everyone seemed relaxed and comfortable. I’m sure that the new brother will find himself right at home.

To whence go I?

September 27, 2007 1 comment

September is when lodges in Connecticut come back from their summer break, and frequently have candidates from late spring to be initiated. It’s common to see the busier lodges schedule a set of degrees in the spring and then another in the fall. As we approach the end of the month, most of the lodges in the 5th District have now had a fall EA degree. Over the last week, I’ve attended four of them, and participated in three in some capacity. One of the occupational hazards of being a District officer – indeed, of being any kind of officer who’s name and phone number can be remembered or easily looked up – is being asked, generally on short notice, to take a small part in a degree when a regular member is suddenly indisposed. My not passing up an opportunity to show off help out means that I often get asked to do some small part. In fact, when I became the District Grand Lecturer, I made a point of brushing up on some of those parts that are often the cause of frantic last minute phone calls by overworked Masters; I have all three Charges on my Palm so I can refresh my memory on short notice, in addition to my favorite piece of ritual, the Letter G lecture.

 

Good thing, too, because as I was attending one EA on Monday, I got a call from the ritual team captain of another lodge asking if I could do the EA charge on the next night. Having just rehearsed it at two lodges the previous week, I was naturally agreeable for another chance to display my enormous ego help one of the lodges in my district.

 

I well understand that many lodges do things differently from each other, but I’m often surprised at the large differences between lodges that are barely ten miles from each other. In Friendship Lodge, the chaplain offers up prayers from his place in the East, next to the Master. Several other lodges, however, escort the chaplain to the altar – a nice touch. Some have the Senior Deacon carry the American Flag to a position in the lodge prior to the brethren reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, others leave the flag in the stand. In the opening and closing ceremony, in some lodges the Junior and Senior Wardens acknowledge being addressed by the WM or another officer, others simply skip any acknowledgment and get right on with the words in the book.

 

Oh, and speaking of the words in the book…

 

Connecticut has a printed ritual monitor. For the last ten years or so, new officers who were given a copy of the ritual monitor turned to the front of the book and started learning the ritual. First, right at the very front, are a couple of pages on going to refreshment and coming back to labor. Then comes the (shortened) EA opening and ceremony, followed by the rest of the degree. Then comes the (also shortened) FC opening ceremony, followed by the rest of the degree, including the (also shortened) Middle Chamber lecture (sometimes known elsewhere as the “Staircase” lecture). Then comes the (yes, shortened) MM opening, followed by the rest of the degree. Then comes a section on decoding the few portions in mnemonics, and finally, all the way at the very end comes the correct, full-form opening ceremonies. In the section known, for what it’s worth, as the “Appendix.”

 

Yes, I typed that correctly. The official opening ceremonies are in the very back of the book.

 

At one time I understand that the book was in code (“mnemonics” they called it), then it went to English with only certain parts in code. At some point – obviously before I came along to explain things to them – the Grand Lodge authorized an edition that had, for reasons still unclear to me, a shortened version of our opening ritual right at the front of the book. The shortened version (so they explained to me) was to be used as a courtesy for when non-Masonic guests were waiting without, perhaps to come in to address the lodge as part of some evening program. Since a properly done opening ceremony takes less than ten minutes – five minutes if your officers are young and spry (and yes, I’ve timed it) – I fail to see what shaving three minutes off of that time actually accomplished… that is, what it was supposed to accomplish.

 

I can, however, tell you what the Jurassic Park-like unintended consequences have been.

 

For the last ten years, new officers have been reading the front of the book and learning the shortened opening ceremonies. As they became older, more experienced officers, they modeled those ceremonies for the next crop of new officers, and so on, until after several years, most lodges “forgot” how to do full form openings – unless there happened to be a Past Master who, for once, would have been correct in stating “That’s not the way we used to do it in my year.”

 

Even worse, since the closing ceremonies mirror the opening, some (by which I mean “most”) lodges that substituted short openings soon mutated the short opening into a short closing. And since the “labor and refreshment” sections draw on the opening, is it any surprise that some (that is, “most” in my experience) lodges now have mutated that section, as well?

 

In my opinion we’ve had too many years of not modeling the best ritual that we can do, and I think that this has been damaging to not merely the officers, but also to the candidates. What must a new candidate think after he goes through the interview process, hears the stories from the older members, and reads the list of the famous Masons that we love to trot out to impress the new guys, only to walk around a chilly room, blindfolded and half naked, and hearing sniggers, a multitude of prompts, “Ooops, sorry, heh heh” and other whispered asides? Personally, I imagine that I’d feel cheated out of a potentially great and moving experience if my first introduction to Masonry was conducted by a group of brothers who didn’t seem to take the ceremonies seriously enough to rehearse them beforehand. What, after months of anticipation, could possibly induce me to come back?

To reiterate, the short form was supposed to be used only to expedite the opening of a lodge in order to get right to important business. In my district there are eight lodges, and I know that several use the shortened forms regularly – including on degree nights. I’ve also seen a few of those use the (incorrect) mutated shortened closing ritual. One of them just got out of that habit a couple of years ago, and in the last year has gone to full form for all meetings, and once they got into the habit, nobody complained that it “took too long” to open lodge.

 

I’m not blaming this all on the book, however. A few years ago the Grand Lodge made a few corrections and reprinted the book, but it’s essentially the same as the previous one. Rumor has it that plans are underway for a complete overhaul, but even if it came out next week, it will take several years to undo the damage bad habits that have been learned from watching the bad habits of the previous generation of officers. Why? Because simply giving somebody a book to read does not make them proficient in ritual. Good Masonic ritual is learned by reading and understanding the words and phrases, coupled with seeing it properly modeled by those who are proficient – that is, comfortable utilizing gestures and inflection, and in using the antique turns of phrase. The words and directions are already in our ritual monitors; brothers who are interested enough to read the thing – even to casually skip around – can certainly figure it out. The question that we need to ask ourselves is why they don’t do it more often.

 

 

District 5 Update

September 16, 2007 Leave a comment

Anyone in the 5th District might want to check out the updates to my District Lecturer Google Calendar.
Lodges that would like to have their degrees and other important events
listed should email me or send me a copy of their trestleboard.I’m
listing the degree rehearsal nights for lodges, because several of them
have asked me to attend. I’m going to one later this week for a ritual
certification; some officers might want to do this because it would be
one less thing to worry about during an actual degree or business
meeting. Please feel free to contact me if you’d like me to do the
certification at your own rehearsal night.

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Back to School Lodge

August 31, 2007 Leave a comment

Ah yes, it’s the end of August, Labor Day weekend is here, and families and friends are rushing to get those last few holiday cookouts in before we kiss summer goodbye and settle in for the fall.

Where did the time go?

This means that it’s also time for me to get back to my new Masonic duties, to wit: keeping an eye on the ritual proficiency of the officers in the 5th District.

The Senior Warden at Friendship actually made his last year, and Eric, the Junior Warden made his last month. I know that a few other lodges in District 5 are covered, but I think that a few potential Worshipful Masters still need to be certified. That’s why I’m posting this message, so that my Connecticut readers – all 23 of them – will be ready to get together soon.

If my experience with the Ritual Day at Friendship last month is any indication, it will probably take about a half hour per officer. I’m hoping that any officer who needs certification would prefer to do this on a degree rehearsal night (usually Sunday evenings), that way we also have a chance to clarify any other points that might come up. Besides, as anyone who has sat in the East for a degree knows, you already have enough on your mind, you certainly don’t need the distraction of a purple apron sitting next to you, taking notes.

Although I’ve discussed Ritual Certification several times, I’m going to reiterate what is expected.

“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

That’s it.

Well, okay, there’s more. We expect you to do this without (or at least, with very minimal) prompting. And getting most of the words correct and in order would be preferred.

Sorry, I don’t mean to sound flippant, it’s just that compared to some jurisdictions in which officers are tested on word-for-word accuracy, what we’re asking seems almost embarrassingly simple. Yet, several of the lodges in which I’ve sat (not necessarily in District 5) have shown a surprising lack of consistency. I’m not talking about “off nights” because, GAOTU knows, we’ve all had them; I’m talking about Worshipful Masters who have made it to the Oriental Chair who seem to have “off” nights more often than “on” nights.

At the risk of blowing my reputation as a nice, easy-going guy, I’m going to repeat what I’ve written elsewhere: While I appreciate 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 as Worshipful Master of a lodge, 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.

I mean, c’mon brothers: if you can memorize 20 years of sports statistics, or repeat word-for-word the dialog for Monty Python sketches you saw in college, then you really don’t have an excuse to not get at least most of the opening and closing ceremonies.

All right, all right. I’m off the soapbox.

For now.

While I’m on the subject of Grand Lodge requirements, though, I want to remind everyone that there are some additional (although very easy) requirements that went into effect this year. I’m copying from the Grand Lodge website:

Wardens should heed MW Greene’s requirements for 2008 Worshipful Masters. Certificates of successful completion will be necessary before installation as Master of a lodge:

  1. Be certified to open and close a lodge and receive dignitaries. Contact the District Lecturer for certification.
  2. Perform at least one of the following:
  • Attend the Masters Seminar, October 6, at Ashlar Village, Wallingford, 8:00 a.m. registration. Attendance to be verified by the Committee on Masonic Education.
  • Attend the Wardens Seminar, November 3, at Ashlar Village, Wallingford, 8:00 a.m. registration. Attendance to be verified by the Committee on Masonic Education.
  • Successfully complete the Masonic Education Course. Contact RW Dwight Mertens
  • Pass the 50 Question Quiz prepared by Grand Lodge. Contact the District Lecturer for certification.

I want to point out that our Grand Lodge could make things easier by listing the contact information for RW. Brother Dwight Mertens, not to mention the various District Grand Lecturers. Any of you l33t GL w3b d00ds reading this?

Well, that’s enough for me today. I have to rest up tonight so I can hit the picnics this weekend.

The Builder’s Degree

June 8, 2007 Leave a comment

I love it when a plan comes together. But I love it even more when a half-baked idea manages to become a plan that comes together.

A few months ago, Worshipful Marshal Dave was bemoaning the fact that we had either too many candidates or not enough degrees planned. See, in Connecticut, we can bring in up to five candidates at a time. This makes sense when you consider the small size of some of those old lodge rooms. I thought that Friendship Lodge was on the small side, but I have visited lodges in which even three candidates would be a tight squeeze.

But “too many” candidates? Not literally so, but from the last couple of months of my year until this posting, we’ve had a fantastic number of inquiries; if I recall correctly we have between fifteen and twenty men who have petitioned or have received one or more degree. I would like to say that it is because they’ve all researched Masonry on the internet, found my blog and decided that they simply had to join Friendship lodge.

I would like to say that. However, the truth is more like they stumbled across The Tao of Masonry after they contacted our lodge and I bribed, shamed, or coerced them into reading. But hey, it all adds to my hit count

Anyway, a few months ago, after listening to the moaning of WM Dave, a few of the old has-beens Past Masters thought that it would be a great idea to put on a show have a degree in which the regular officers could take a break, while the PMs and other egomaniacs older members take over the degree work. WM Dave, grasping at straws taking advantage of the opportunity asked WB. Richie to handle it. Richie immediately contacted a slew of other egomaniacs PMs (yours truly included) and spread the word. Richie and I are affiliate members of Sequin-Level Lodge (where he is also a PM), and he also tried to get some of the members of that lodge involved. We scheduled the degree for Saturday, May 19th; we wanted to start in the late morning so we could have a picnic lunch and then go back to the second part of the degree, the Hiramic drama.

It takes a lot of manpower to properly do the Hiramic drama, and in this neck of the woods the call usually goes out to a few other lodges to see if any bodies are available. But the other option is to call the guys at Frederick-Franklin lodge, because they have an actual “team” that specializes in doing the Craftsmen/Workers/Ruffian parts. In fact, I asked them myself last year; it’s a treat to watch their work, which is almost choreographed. The team has a nice set of costumes, and they rehearse the parts well.

They were also doing their own degree on that same Saturday morning.

If Friendship hadn’t already five candidates, we would probably have combined the degrees, but as Frederick-Franklin had two of their own, there was no way that could happen. After a bit of brainstorming, though, somebody came up with the idea of Friendship doing the first part of the degree, and then bringing the candidates up to Plainville for the last part. Frederick-Franklin uses an exemplar in the extended version of the drama, so the new brothers would not have to actually participate; this seemed to work around the five maximum rule, and more importantly, it would allow the new brothers to see some inspiring degree work. This required three weeks of missed phone calls and misunderstood emails in order to coordinate brothers of four different lodges in the Fifth District, and I only mention this for the benefit of non-Masons who still believe that we are secretly controlling the international banking cartels. But somehow we managed to get our collective acts together; the brothers at Frederick-Franklin were happy to accommodate us, and we agreed to bring some refreshments along.

May 19th was a wonderful late spring day in New England, and except for the Junior Warden, I don’t think any of the the officer’s chairs were filled by the regular crew. We obligated five Master Masons in a solemn ceremony that took us until just after noon, and several of the sitting officers carpooled up to the lodge in Plainville, while I stayed behind to close up. Everyone had sandwiches and chips – not exciting, but quite appropriate for the picnic theme. I got there just as the second part of the degree was starting, and sat in the northeast corner with WB Richie and the rest of the candidates.

It seems that no degree would be complete if at least one thing didn’t come off as planned, and in this case it seemed that Frederick-Franklin was lacking the regular Stewards to do the first section lectures (In Connecticut, these are often nicknamed the Steward’s Lecture). Fortunately, we had two brothers – literally – able to step up to the challenge. Bro. Eric is our Junior Warden, and his younger brother Kyle is currently out Junior Steward. They took a few minutes to refresh their memories, and despite the fact that Kyle had never done this part for an MM degree, it came off nearly flawless.

The Hiramic drama has been a part of the MM degree since the mid-1700s, and every jurisdiction has their own twist on it. In Connecticut, our ritual has a bare-bones drama that is required, but some lodges augment their MM degree with an extended version that resembles a play. It contains some background which helps the new MM to understand the morals and teaching of the degree. Both Friendship and Frederick-Franklin lodges utilize such extended versions, but last year, Frederick-Franklin added yet another section, called “The Builder’s Lodge” which gives even more background, and a great understanding to the legend of Hiram Abiff. This was the first time I had seen it in full costume, and I have to admit that I was impressed almost to the point of being awed. One of the brothers – a ritual junkie like yours truly – found an old version that they reworked for their lodge. Without giving too many details, it shows a meeting called by King Solomon, King Hyram of Tyre, and Hiram Abiff (the last such meeting that they will have together) and what transpired so as to motivate Hiram Abiff to act the way he does.

The seven candidates were almost as awed as I was, and watched with fascination as the drama unfolded. All had been through the short version, and could now see the degree exemplified, which gave meaning to what they had undergone earlier. After the well-deserved congratulations on all sides, we closed the meeting and went back downstairs to finish the sandwiches and chips. I would urge any brother from Connecticut to check the Frederick-Franklin calendar to see when their next MM degree is held so they can also see this new addition, and experience some of the finest degree work in the state.

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