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The Lodge You Deserve

November 3, 2009 Leave a comment

On Sunday, Bro. Euphrates published a post on Freemason Information that reflects the attitudes that many Masons have about their own lodges. He wrote, in part:

Would you really want to explain to a prospective Mason what really goes on at a typical lodge meeting? Let’s imagine how that conversation would play out.

Inquirer: So what do Masons do?

Mason: Well, we have a couple of lodge meetings a month.

Inquirer: What do you do there?

Mason: We read the minutes of the previous meeting and make any necessary corrections to them. Then we pay the bills, read any correspondence, and vote on any new petitioners. Then we proceed to discuss business for about an hour. Like, last week we were discussing how we were going to put on a spaghetti dinner. Our Junior Warden had it all planned out and then one of the older Past Masters told him how he ought to do it. We also discussed how we might go about making the necessary repairs to the building. Then we closed the lodge and went downstairs to eat some generic-brand cookies and drink some coffee before going home.

Inquirer: I thought you had philosophical education.

Mason: We do when we perform the degrees.

Inquirer: How often does that happen?

Mason: Sometimes once a month. Sometimes we will go several months without doing any degrees.

Inquirer: What about the fellowship you were talking about?

Mason: That’s what the coffee and cookies are.

Inquirer: What about the charity?

Mason: Well, that’s why we’re doing the spaghetti dinner, so that we can raise money in order to write a check to the Grand Lodge’s charity.

Inquirer: That sounds kind of boring.

Mason: Want a petition?

Freemasons view the organization in the proper light, but they don’t always run the organization with that same philosophy. Freemasons need to take all of the great things that they have to say about the fraternity and actually accomplish them in lodge.

I was thinking about this when I walked up to my own lodge on Monday night. Outside, I saw a handful of brothers enjoying a quiet smoke after the meal that we generally serve before each meeting. I slipped inside, and tried to pour myself some coffee from the pot that is right near the door, but was somewhat hampered in my efforts by pausing to greet another half a dozen brothers who welcomed me. I looked around, and something compelled me to snap a few shots of the typical gathering before one of our meetings.

Typical Meeting

You can’t tell from the terrible pics of my phone cam, but we had a dozen officers (The spots from WM down to Tyler and Marshal are always filled, and we’ve even needed to create positions of “Associate Stewards” to accommodate the new members who want to help out). We had another dozen members, ranging from Past Masters, 50+year members, down to our newest Master Mason (one of three raised at a Special Communication two Saturdays ago). We had a couple of brothers from other lodges visiting, plus the District Deputy. And, as you can see from the pictures, we had a smattering of wives, girlfriends, and children.

Yes, that’s right. Our families come down for the meetings.

This has been a huge  shock surprise to brothers visiting from other lodges. Once, an older brother arrived and asked me if it was some kind of awards night. Another asked me if it was a Ladies Night. And still others have asked if there was actually a meeting going on at all.

Some of the families have dinner before the meeting, and then leave. Others will stay until we close upstairs. Mothers will take children home, sometimes leaving dads in the fraternal care of a trusted brother who will drop him off later on. They like to stay, of course, because we have coffee and generic cookies afterward. We also have pie — store bought or home made — ice cream, and for those who indulge, a smattering of alcoholic beverages, often consumed in conjunction with cigars, cigarettes, or the occasional pipe. Last night, it was after 11 pm when I finally left; more than two  hours after the actual Stated Communication ended. And I left behind me the District Deputy, the Master, and a couple of officers. A visitor from a neighboring lodge had left only a  half hour before I did.

Yes, this is typical. Sometimes there are more people, sometimes fewer. Sometimes we call it a night earlier, sometimes not. Sometimes more scotch is consumed, sometimes none. But the essential character of Friendship Lodge remains the same.

Why is that?

Simply put, it’s because the members run the lodge.

Yes, I know — of course the members run the lodge. Don’t they?

I’m going to suggest that in most many cases, the members don’t run the lodge at all. Instead it is run by Past Masters and/or Secretaries. I know of some lodges in which the incoming Master has to present the program for his upcoming year for the approval of a board of the Past Masters. While it is certainly helpful to have the advice and support of those more experienced, all too often such approval serves only to make sure that the new Master continues to do what the older members have always done — whether it works or not. Likewise, one should have respect for the Past Masters who stepped up to the Oriental Chair several times during those years in which lodges lost more members that they initiated, but too often those same Past Masters can discourage new members from implementing new ideas.

Sometimes, the reverence for the traditions and history of our Craft work against us; this can be seen in situations in which the lodge becomes so insulated from the surrounding society that it simply loses relevance. Lodge meetings become just one more thing on the ever-filling calendar. When members begin seeing it as a chore, it’s no wonder they stop coming.

A few years ago, Friendship Lodge installed cable television and wifi internet access. After the members have gone upstairs for the meeting, it’s not unusual to see a few women watching a show, doing some hobby or craft, updating their Facebook accounts, doing homework, or just net surfing. The lodge is now an enjoyable activity for them, which makes them less inclined to object when their partner has to come down on a Saturday for a special degree, or to attend another lodge to help out with something. And because the families are there, the lodge seems less insulated, and more relevant to the daily lives of the members.

Who made the decisions that allowed more family participation in the lodge? The members. Some of the members are Past Masters, of course, and personally, I don’t think that anyone envisioned just how successful these changes would be. And yes, a few of the old timers occasionally bemoan the changes, but I suspect that nobody hears them over the noise of the tv and Youtube videos, and of course, the constant chattering of the people-filled meeting hall.

There is an adage that says “People tend to get the kind of government that they deserve.” It’s a cynical perspective, but poignantly accurate. If you found yourself nodding and agreeing with Bro. Euphrates the other day, then maybe it’s time to ask yourself: What kind of lodge do I deserve?



Categories: freemasons, Fun, Lodge, masonry

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.

Animal House Lodge

April 28, 2008 Leave a comment

It has been at least a dozen years since Friendship Lodge hosted its own “Lodge at Table,” and even though the members are regular visitors (and helpers!) at other functions, WM Jim Sinclair decided that this was going to be the year that we would have our own.

WM Jim wanted to have some kind of theme to the dinner. Being proud of his Italian ancestry, he wanted to make that part of the theme, but having Italian food? Gosh, don’t Masons already eat enough macaroni and cheese or ziti with sauce? The answer soon became obvious: A Roman theme! And what better to reinforce the theme idea than to ask guests to dress for dinner… in togas ?

So the past week found a dozen different Masons wrestling with old bedsheets and bits of fabric, while the esteemed WB Richie took care of the menu. Ceasar probably didn’t eat pasta, but it’s quite possible that he ate freshly prepared vegetables, eggs, olives, chicken, lamb, pork, cheese and fruit. Oh, and in veritas, he would have had vino as well.

Roman Table Lodge
Click to see the online photo album

When I got there, the food was cooked, and WB Richie was preparing the dishes in his typical artistic fashion. I found the rest of the officers upstairs trying to get dressed, assisted by several wives and girlfriends who had shown up earlier to help in the kitchen. I’m happy to see that in some ways Friendship is becoming a nice hang-out spot for the brothers, and glad that their partners feel at home when they come down.

I noticed that it seemed to take much longer to dress the officers in sheets than it does to dress them in tuxedos. More ironic, too, because there is a hell of a lot less material in a sheet. On the other hand, most of the brethren managed to be fairly well wrapped. Interestingly, both WB Jim and I dressed alike, the both of us wearing tunics with purple togas draped around it. I didn’t actually use a sheet, my outfit was the result of a half hour at the local fabric store and another few minutes of my wife working up a few stitches on her sewing machine. I was amazed at the number of “toga party” hits I found when web searching, and was able to find quite a few tips on wearing togas – almost none of which worked perfectly.

And let me tell you – it’s dang near impossible to drive in one of those things.

Anyway, visiting brothers from Sequin-Level Lodge showed up to join the festivities, so we closed the doors and opened the lodge for the first of what we hope are many more Table Lodge functions.

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.

Apple Harvest 2007 – Week 2

October 11, 2007 Leave a comment

What a difference a year makes! Last year Friendship Lodge finished up one of the best Apple Harvest fund raisers in recent memory, all the while dodging the rocks and ruts of the construction going on at the front of our building. This year we sold slightly more fried apple wedgies than last year – by 5:30 pm on Sunday we actually sold out of the 1,000 Cortlands that we’d bought. The word it definitely getting around about our delicious, tasty apple treats. We had an impressive number of repeat customers – some of them within a half hour of their first purchase!

Unfortunately, we had quite a bit of chopped steak left over, both cooked and defrosted. Ironically, we think that this is because the weather on Saturday was so nice – as in warm in the mid-80s – that people were too hot to eat regular food, and instead merely snacked on apple treats. Since the meat had already been paid for, some of the brothers on clean-up detail took it home (I’ve got a couple of bags in the freezer, just waiting for me to add it to a nice tomato sauce), and some of it was donated to the soup kitchen that uses our lodge hall during the day. This is the first year that we haven’t donated any healthy apples to them.

Although our profits weren’t as high as they were last year, we’re pleased that our expenses for the year are more under control. We’ve done a lot of repair and maintenance work, both inside and out in the last year, and the little bit that we have to go requires more time and sweat than actual money, so overall we’re in pretty good shape.

 

Apple Harvest 2007

 

Here are some pictures of the 2007 Apple Harvest, along with a nice shot of the completed front of the building.

And once again the thanks go out to the unsung (‘cos I’m not singing) heroes of the annual festival. We’d get nowhere without the usual dozen or so people who come down every morning to open up or stay until late to clean up. Again, great work and I’m sure that all of the members of Friendship Lodge thank you and your wives and/or partners for the hours that you put in. We certainly could not have made it a success without you.

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