Archive for the ‘District Lecturer’ Category


April 13, 2010 Leave a comment

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.





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.

Four Fellowcrafts and an EA

March 28, 2009 Leave a comment

Sounds like the start of a standup joke, doesn’t it?

Four Fellowcrafts and an Entered Apprentice walk into a bar…

…and so the bartender replied “You know, the jokes were a hell of a lot funnier back in my year.”

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve gone to a couple of degree rehearsals, have seen three Fellowcraft degrees in my district, filled in for my counterpart (who came down with something the night he was supposed to recite the Letter G lecture) down south in the 4th District , and finished up by going to a nicely done Entered Apprentice degree in one of my other lodges, the one that’s not quite up in Massachusetts.


Don’t get me wrong – I really enjoy degree work. I enjoy watching it, and even more, I enjoy doing it.

But why do we shmush them all into the same time period?

Oh, yeah, I remember; because most lodges in Connecticut start their year in January, so they schedule an EA for February, and then follow up a month later with an FC. Then they give themselves a bit of a breather, and sometime in May, the Master Mason degree season will be upon us. Guaranteed there will be one scheduled on my wife’s birthday, too, so not only will my gas bill and dry cleaning bill be up, I’ll need to put aside something for the florist bill.

Anyway, one of the neat things about seeing so many degrees so close together is that I can really compare little details that I might otherwise have forgotten. Most notable among these is the floorwork of the ceremonies; the positions, the walking paths, the stances, and all those other little things that aren’t found in our ritual book.

Yes, it’s true: As I’ve mentioned before, Connecticut does have an “official” ritual manual, which is occasionally even  used by some of our own lodges. Unfortunately, the ritual is, in places, somewhat unclear (some would say “ambiguous”) in the matter of floorwork. Without boring anybody with the details, we take it for granted that at certain times different people will walk from place to place in the lodge in order to do certain things. How they manage to get there, though, is sometimes open to  interpretation. And that is what makes for the interesting differences from lodge to lodge.

It would be easy to suggest that we simply write a floorwork manual, as they use in some other states. That would, of course, necessitate that we rewrite our actual ritual monitor, which would correct the mistakes in our current monitor, which had already been rewritten to correct that mistakes that the previous rewrite was supposed to have done.

Did you get all of that?

I’ve heard this suggested for several years now, and at one time I agreed with the idea. Now, however, I’m of a different mind. There is an old expression that what passes for a lodge tradition is really  a mistake that somebody made, and then the people behind him continued. I admit to finding that amusing, but when you give it some thought, it’s a very cynical way of looking at the variety of fascinating idiosyncrasies displayed by the various lodges around the state. Yes, no doubt that some lodges have a tradition that actually did originate as a result of a mistake or a careless interpretation of a section. But of those lodges that insist that they do things “because that’s the way we’ve always done them,” I’m sure that you can go back in time – in some cases, less than a decade – to discover when it actually did happen. More likely, when somebody in a lodge claims that “we’ve always done it that way,” what he means is that “that’s the way I always remember it being done,” which is really something quite different.

But as to the idea of traditions or customs always arising from  a mistake in the workings, not only is it cynical, it’s also wrong. Lodges perform the workings differently from  each other simply because our own interpretations of the workings are always going to vary over time and distance, especially when those workings leave room for interpretation.But that doesn’t mean – and some of you may be surprised that I’m writing this – that I’m in favor of codifying our floorwork, or even making our ritual so ironclad that it leaves no room for interpretation. To the contrary, I think that the evolution of ritual is a natural and even necessary process.

I’m aware that some jurisdictions are very strict about passing down their workings “from mouth to ear” and that officers are watched very closely for even the smallest transgressions. While I applaud their determination, I often wonder what’s the point? What are they preserving? Our own ritual in Connecticut is one of the many variations of the Preston-Webb workings that were developed and spread thought out the US after the Civil War in the mid-1800s. Those workings are a compilation of ritual that was performed  in England, where there are several other workings which don’t even resemble what is typically done in the US. Even Canada, our neighbor to the north, has a variation of the Preston workings, plus their version of the Emulation workings (which is seen in other parts of the UK) and at least one other set that isn’t quite either one.

I have a copy of the workings from a jurisdiction in Australia, which is a variation on the Emulation workings. I’m calling it a variation because it’s almost, but not quite like the version of Emulation used in parts of Canada, and again, not quite like what is used in parts of England. But it’s defintiely recognizable as Emulation, just as despite the variations from state to state, anyone from the US will recognize workings in any other state.

My point is that ritual – our workings – have evolved  over time and space. At what point did some committee of ritualists decide to pick and choose which version would be the “official” workings? And after that, when and why was it changed? Because there has to be a reason that while we are all Freemasons, we use so many small and fascinating variations on workings that, in actuality, aren’t even all that old?

Now, there’s no question that I like some of those variations better than others. In fact, after watching one of the degrees last week, I was discussing the small differences between that lodge and my own, and I had to ask myself if I was biased in my preference simply because Friendship does something differently. That question, in fact, is something that I ask myself just about every time I help out a lodge at a rehearsal; I want a lodge to do their own variation in the best way possible, but sometimes I have to stop myself from suggesting that they do something differently, simply because it’s what I learned, and not because it’s inherently better.

In the last few years I’ve been to about twenty  different lodges around the state, and no two of them do things alike. I know that this makes some of the purists absolutely crazy, but lately I’ve begun to appreciate the little differences. And I’ll really try to keep that in mind when I do the next round of degrees in another month.

Fixmaster G in da house!

September 24, 2008 Leave a comment

Every lodge has those people who hold the place together. Generally when we say this, we’re talking in the metaphorical sense of the term: people – usually Past Masters –  who are always there to do ritual, investigate candidates, run the Widow’s Night dinner, etc.

Gerry is one of those other types of people who hold the lodge together in the more literal sense of the term. We have an old building (not a big surprise in New England) that frequently needs TLC in the form of repairing a leaky pipe here, a leaky roof there, installing new floor tiles, storage shelves, replacing rotted boards, and the hundred and one other things that it takes to maintain a century-plus old building. Now our Junior Warden, Bro. Gerry combines the skills of Bob Vila with the temperament of Norm Abrams, and has been our own “Mr. Fixit” for the past several years. If there’s something that Gerry can’t fix, then we don’t know what it could be.

Well, perhaps breakfast. I’ve seen him crack open eggs into a pan of boiling oil, then serve this surprisingly tasty treat over an English muffin layered with bacon and cheese. I can feel the grease clogging my arteries just thinking about it… but it wouldn’t surprise me if Gerry had a miniature plumber’s snake to fix that, as well.

Last week was his first time in the East, on a move-up night for an EA degree. I was there in my official capacity to check his proficiency, and it’s no surprise that he did an excellent job – as did the rest of the officers, all of whom moved up a station, as well.

Where can I get a 25 inch Gauge?

September 19, 2008 1 comment

The phone calls always start off the same way.

“Tom, I know that it’s short notice, but. . .”

It’s September, so the next round of Ritual Certifications has begun.

In my slice of Connecticut, it’s typical for a lodge to have a “move up” night in which the Junior Warden takes the East for an EA degree, and the Senior Warden does so for an FC degree. Typically, I see this happening in the Fall, which presumably allows time for the JW to learn the part and get comfortable. I have seen a few lodges in which the JW always does an EA, and the SW does the FC degrees, but that arrangement bothers me. In the last decade, too many officers find themselves in the South after only a few years; they’ve barely committed a charge or a lecture to memory. In my opinion, the EA degree is a new brother’s first introduction to Masonry, and it sets the tone for the rest of his Masonic life. I know that a lot of my brothers like to see impressive MM degrees, but if the EA isn’t awesome, then what is going to motivate your new brother to come back and get involved?

Anyway,  my answer to them is usually the same. Yes, of course I’ll come to your degree and do your ritual certification. Would you like me to come to the degree itself, or are you really nervous and would prefer that we do this at a rehearsal? Would you like me to come for the rehearsal and the degree? I’m happy to oblige; that’s why I get  the  big bucks corn, wine, and oil.

The next question is usually the same, too.

“Umm. . . what is it that I need to know for this?”


Simple. You need to open the lodge in full form, receive a dignitary, go to refreshment, come back to labor, and then close in full form.

“What if I don’t have any dignitary?”

What am I, chopped liv. . . Look, let’s pretend that I’m a dignitary in case a real one doesn’t show up.

“Is it okay if somebody else does the Obligation?”

As long as they do it well. All I need to see is that you can open and close a lodge properly.

“Oh, and by the way. . .”

Yes, I’ll do the charge if your regular guy can’t make it.

Since most lodges are anxious to get back to work after the summer, there are a few EA Degrees in September. I will have seen four or five over the next week or so, which means that communication with my family will be primarily by email, phone calls, and notes taped to the lawn shed, which is where I’ll probably be sleeping by the end of the month.

We had an EA at Friendship on Wednesday, and another on at Sequin-Level on Thursday. Sequin-Level has an abundance of candidates, and they will be having another EA on Friday. Then on Monday, I’m off to Silas Deane, and (finally!) Tuesday I’ll be at Fredrick-Franklin.

Wednesday, I’m taking off to rest up for the rest of the week. No, wait – I can’t.

On Wednesday, Friendship Lodge will start getting ready for the annual Southington Apple Harvest Festival, at which we set up a food booth for our main fundraising event of the year. It takes several days to set up the tents, put down the floor, move the refrigerators and grilltops outside, and get the gas and power hooked up. By Friday evening, we’ll be ready to serve up some Philly steak sandwiches and some tasty fried apple wedgies to the hungry hordes.

On Thursday of that week, we hope to get as many brothers as possible over to Unity 148 in New Britain for our scheduled Blue Lodge Council district meeting, at which we will get to hear one of the great Masonic dummies authors of our times,  Brent Chris Hodapp, who will be telling stories, swapping jokes, and entertaining the Craft, while hopefully selling a few books.

And while Saturday will be the first full day of the Apple Fest, I’ll be down at the Warden’s Seminar in Ashlar Village for the morning, where I’ll be helping to present material about planning one’s year as a WM. We have revamped the entire Master’s Achievement Award to make it more like a yearly calendar, which should help new Masters to organize events and programs for their year.

Sunday the 28th will be the Apple Fest Parade, and you can’t have a parade without the Masons marching by in their tuxedos, smiling and waving at the crowd. Parade day is usually a good day for sandwich and wedgie sales, so we’re all hoping for excellent weather. I will have picked up 600 apples from a popular local orchard, and with any luck, we will be selling out by Sunday evening. Actually, with a real lot of luck, we will sell out on Saturday, and I’ll have to get more.

The next week is a little lighter, with a couple of lodge meetings, and then the Apple Fest madness starts up again on Friday evening. On Saturday morning, I’ll be at the seminar that we run for the incoming Wardens, and then back to help peel more apples and sell more sandwiches. No parade on the next day, but the nice weather will hopefully bring a lot of people out to see the dozens of craft booths that will be lining the streets. Sunday night we will finally break down the equipment and clean the grill for the last time.

If we have planned it right, we have just enough steak left over to make dinner for our Trowel Club meeting on that Monday night. We don’t need much, because by that time, most of us are sick of shaved steak and apples. And since some of us practically live at the lodge during that week, we’ll all be happy to finally have an evening in our own shed home.

District 5 Summer wrap-up

June 24, 2008 Leave a comment

When I was a new Mason, I remember being disappointed to find that most of the lodges closed for the summer. “Close? What? C’mon, man, I’m just getting fired up!”

By the time I was the Worshipful Master of Friendship Lodge, though, I was thrilled to have that summer break. I guess it’s a matter of perspective, huh?

In the last few months, I have seen or participated in almost a dozen degrees, gone to another dozen meetings of various groups, have attended several dinners, awards nights, and other events. June has been particularly eventful, and in the last three weeks I have visited seven out of the eight lodges in my slice of the state. An early heat wave coincided with my need to visit a number of lodges, none of which were air conditioned – an occupational hazard here in New England where many lodges are really just old buildings. Personally, I’ll be glad when the end of June comes because I could use a break. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy what I’ve been doing, and I’m happy to be invited to these events, and I’ve been pleased that nobody boos, hisses or curses when I enter the room. I’m just looking forward to a little time to recharge the mental batteries.

I’ve been to some very nice degrees in my little slice of the Nutmeg State. I’ve seen several lodges with low turnout, where the officers have done particularly nice work. I’ve also been to a few lodges in which I’ve seen new officers who have spent some time learning the work and while it may not have been perfect, it was obvious that they did their best to perform it well for the candidates. From such workmen will the best ashlars be made, and I salute them.

During my travels, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to meet another half a dozen new Masons who came up to me after a degree to mention that they’ve read this blog. Not only does this increase my readership by almost 50%, it indicates that more and more men – mainly the under-40 group – are using the internet to discover more about our fraternity. It also suggests that they are not being frightened off by some of the contentiousness that can be found on blogs and web forums, to the contrary of those who have decried the use of this medium. Being one of those who used the internet heavily in his own research before joining, I still maintain that those people who are so easily swayed in their opinion of the fraternity by the antics of a handful of  anti-Masons Masonophobes – or by a few disgruntled Masons – are probably not the best candidates in the first place.

Speaking of teh internetz, It’s too bad that a large number of the Connecticut lodges do not keep their websites updated. The GL gives each lodge a website with their own domain name (for example, Friendship Lodge in Southington has, and each lodge site is hosted on the GL server, complete with templates and just about everything that they need. Yet most lodges barely mention the officers, let alone post contact information or – unbelievably – update their event calendars.

I know that a few of the lodges in my district will have some things going on over the summer – several are already planning degree work to accommodate the influx of candidates, and there are usually picnics and other get-togethers. But it will be nice to be able to go home after a day at work and just relax on the deck with a cool drink and some munchies, and recharge my batteries before the busy season starts again in the autumn.

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