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Past Master’s MM Degree – 2008

June 4, 2008 Leave a comment

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 two years ago, and again last year. This is obviously a sign that I’ve been blogging too long.

Last year, we did this degree in the Fall. This year, we did it in the spring because the WM has slacked off needs more time to prepare before he can do it well. I understand; the MM degree is long, and Friendship Lodge adds another dramatic section to the Connecticut version of the Hiramic Legend, which adds to the memory work. In our state, some lodges choose to add sections to the degree that give more background, which helps the candidates to better appreciate the lessons of the story. A number of them add the same section that we do, and one of my lodges, Frederick-Franklin 14, adds yet another section which serves to give even more insight into the character of Hiram Abiff.

Anyone who has run an event comprised of all Past Masters can well understand the metaphor “like herding cats.” Some check their email daily, some weekly, some never. Some were going to be gone for the scheduled week, probably because it was close to the Memorial Day holiday. Some wanted minor parts, some weren’t going to make it for dinner, some wanted parts, but weren’t sure if they were going to be there at all.

Of course, it didn’t help matters when, not for the first time, I scheduled a rehearsal on Mother’s Day.

Lucky for me, I had just done this degree at my other lodge, so unlike last year, it was still fresh in my memory. One of my occupational hazards is that I’m often seeing, coaching, or participating in different degrees each week, and sometimes one degree will get stuck in my head and remain there for a couple of days. This becomes a problem when in the middle of a lecture or charge, I suddenly blank out and forget which degree I’m on. Fortunately, it wasn’t a problem for me this year, and I somehow managed to get through the degree without any mental infarctions.

The junior officers put on a huge meal: a very tasty surf & turf dinner that was heavy on the cholesterol, for which they made no apologies. It didn’t seem to faze the dinner guests, and when I walked in I saw wall-to-wall smiling faces. How we all managed to stay awake after such a lavish feast is beyond my ken.

I took the East for the first section of the degree, and WB Richie took the West. We traded seats for the dramatic portion, and at the end of the evening had raised three new Master Masons. Those of you who are reading this, hoping for one of my little humorous tales of something gone wrong, are going to be disappointed, I’m afraid. We had an excellent crew of Past Masters, and by all accounts the evening was a success.

It was, however, the first year that I actually felt like a Past Master, myself. Last year the whole PM thing was still new for me, and I was still getting the hang of being the District Grand Lecturer. This year, though, I had more of a sense of how removed I am from the Oriental Chair. I’m not sad or melancholy, quite the opposite: I’ve had a long time now to look back and to think about what I liked, and what I might have done differently. The weekly phone calls from the current Master Worshipful Jim serve to remind me that my opinion and advice are still valuable, and I have come to appreciate that.

Past Masters need not devolve into moss-backed old turtles once they leave the chair.

Revenge of When Bloggers Collide

May 2, 2008 Leave a comment

“[. . .] whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons, that must have remained at a perpetual distance.”

There is supposedly an old Chinese saying (are there ever any new Chinese sayings?) that runs something like: “If you save somebody’s life, you are responsible for them forever.” I left my friend 3M of Northeastern Corner in the fraternal care of Bros. Eric, Kevin and Kyle some concerned brothers of Friendship Lodge who wish to remain anonymous, on the night before the Grand Lodge Annual Communication. While his life was not in danger, his reputation certainly skated on some thin ice as a result of several incidents involving car batteries, kitchen utensils, a visiting dwarf-tossing team, and a large luggage rack. I was informed of this the next morning by Bro. Kyle, who, with the aid of a cattle prod and the aforementioned luggage cart, was able to minister to the needs of our brother who was led astray. For valor above and beyond all reasonable expectations, not to mention courage in the face of violations of several safety reglations, Bro. Kyle not only wins the Mason of the Month award, but now would seem to be responsible for 3M’s reputation for quite some time to come.

Proving that he did not learn to leave well enough alone, 3M invited us halfway across the state, down to St. John’s No. 6 in New Jersey Norwalk on Thursday, May 1st, where he would be sitting in the East for the first time to confer an EA degree. So, Thursday night saw Bros. Kyle, Eric and Kevin the anonymous brothers barreling down the Merritt Parkway in their officer’s tuxedos, as Kevin and Kyle had offered to sit in as Stewards. Yours truly followed up about 20 minutes later, having come right from work. The photo of 3M and I shows that while I was smart enough to remember to bring my tuxedo with me, I had forgotten the black bow tie, so I wore a festive blue one that I’d had in my pocket. I had also forgotten my apron case, which my traveling brothers graciously picked up for me.

Worshipful Du Jour

More embarrassingly, though, was that I had forgotten to bring a white shirt. I probably could have gotten away with wearing the grey work shirt if I’d remembered the black bow tie. Fortunately, it’s not as if I have an important position where people would notice that kind of thing about me.

3M assumed the East with only a few minor newbie fluffs, and my counterpart in District 1, VW Bro. Lem and I commented several times on how well he was doing. Most of the other chairs were filled by PMs of St. John’s, and the several younger officers that filled in the Junior officers chairs did admirable work. They initiated three candidates, all younger men (which, from my perspective, is anyone under 45). 3M graciously allowed Bro. Kyle to deliver the long-form apron presentation lecture, and Bros. Eric and Kevin to perform the first section lecture in the Friendship Lodge “walk around” style. Afterwards, we were treated to a rarely seen second section lecture by WB Paul Chapin from Federal 17. I was able to sit on the sidelines and simply observe, which is a rare occurrence for me lately. It also assured 3M that I would not spoil his EA degree by accidentally delivering something from an MM or FC degree.

Owing to the long drive ahead, we didn’t hang around long after the meeting . . . much. A few cold refreshments and cigars did manage to make the rounds, though, and a few of us had a great time ribbing – and congratulating – 3M as we developed an impromptu tailgate party.

More to the point, though, is this: A month ago, except for me, nobody in Friendship Lodge knew 3M. A month later, he now has several friends and acquaintances – some of whom were willing to give up a night in which they could have been doing almost anything else, to drive halfway across the state just to cheer him on. As I walked to my car, I watched half a dozen younger officers and new Masons chatting away, trading stories and jokes, and making promises to get together again soon.

And that is one of the beautiful things about our fraternity: the ability to remove that “perpetual distance” which separates men.


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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.

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.

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