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Where can I get a 25 inch Gauge?

September 19, 2008 Leave a 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?”

::headdesk::

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.

because sometimes it just needs to be said

July 29, 2008 1 comment

Greg “Masonic Traveler” Stewart wrote something very nice the other day:

Prior to that, we had the pleasure to talk to Tom Accuosti of the Tao of Masonry. One of the things that I realized in talking to him was that he was a busy guy. Not only has Tom been the master of his lodge in Connecticut, but he’s taken on responsibilities in his GL’s Education and Communication Committee, as well as having become the local District Grand Lecturer. All this in a mere 6 years of being a Freemason! Its no wonder he lays claim to being the Exalted Keeper of the Secrets of Freemasonarianism, and a part of the Team Osiris Obelisk Sitting and Surveying. Besides the tongue in cheek, It was a great conversation with Tom as he’s a very articulate brother with some good wisdom and a great deal of wit!

If you haven’t listened to this episode with Tom you can find it at the Masonic Central website, or by clicking the links below:

Download Tom from ITunes!

Listen to Tom on-line.

Reading that, it sounds like I do a hell of a lot of work around here, so I want to set the record straight.

Compared to the rest of the men that I work with, I barely do anything; I just ride around from lodge to lodge and look pretty. I’ve got this routine where I just nod my head, look pensive, nod my head again and then say “That’s a great idea, guys. You should totally go with it! Let me know how it turns out.” Then I grab a coffee and go home for a nap.

Connecticut has about 12,000 Masons. I have this theory that only about 1,200 of them show up at lodge on a regular basis, and only 120 are actually running the organization. But those 120 are some of the best men in the entire state.

In the (almost) seven years since I’ve joined this organization, I have found that the overwhelming majority of Grand Lodge officers and committee members to be hard-working and dedicated men who are always thinking about the improvement of the fraternity, and how to make it a better place for their brothers. Yes, we’ve had seemingly good ideas that didn’t work out, and yes, we’ve had some bad ideas implemented. In that respect, we are exactly like every other organization, from multi-national conglomerates to local co-ops. Most of the officers have gotten behind each idea and worked at making the best out of each and every one, just like they’ve been doing for the last umpteen years. Those are the men who have helped to hold the fraternity together long before I happened by, and while most of them are too modest to take any  credit, they all deserve our thanks and appreciation.

The Grand Lodge Line officers have put in countless hours of work on projects, some of which are never implemented, but all of which require attention to detail. Our District Deputies typically take on statewide projects running charities or coordinating Child ID (CTCHIPS) events; this is after the hours they put in overseeing and assisting lodges in their areas. Associate Grand Marshals (AGMs) not only assist the DDs, many of them take on their own projects, and some of them double as District Lecturers.

Our Grand Lodge has over a dozen permanent committees that cover such responsibilities as Jurisprudence and Legal Matters, Education, Publications and Communication, Fraternal Relations, Awards, and Rituals and Ceremonies. All of these committees are staffed by Masons, most of whom are long on experience and patience. These men give up time from their week to get together and discuss, plan, and implement the various programs that keep the fraternity going. A lot of them are (or have been) wearers of the purple, but many of them have not.

Over the last couple of years that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve seen a handful of Masons from other states complain about the quality of both Masons and GL officers in their areas. Sometimes those complaints are justified, sometimes (more often, I suspect) not. Unfortunately, I rarely see appreciation for those who actually do the hard work of running the organization, so I’m going to take this opportunity to do just that.

Thanks for keeping the light on for me, brothers. I hope to do the same for those who come in after me.

There are two types of people…

June 11, 2008 Leave a comment

Watching an old movie the other day reminded me of a discussion I had a while back with someone who intimated that I did not take my duties – or Masonry, for that matter – seriously. Predictably, he went on to mention some of the things that he, himself would do if he were me; including, not unsurprisingly, making sure that people who didn’t abide by the rules would be “dealt with.”

It became apparent that my well-meaning brother was under the a mistaken assumption in which he was confusing the tools that I use in my duties (“levity” and “a relaxed approach”) with my underlying attitude and approach toward them. Obviously, this brother and I hold fundamentally different philosophies as to how the structure of our fraternity works: he seemed to think that just telling people what to do is sufficient, and considered what I do as a District Grand Lecturer something akin to a traveling minstrel show.

See, as the District Grand Lecturer, my duties as assigned are actually pretty light: I just have to administer a test to make sure that the incoming Master is prepared, ritual-wise. However, several lodges have asked me to help them polish their ritual proficiency and floorwork, and so I spend most of my time at rehearsals, giving tips, making suggestions, and (hopefully) inspiring new officers to be better by coaching them along. Not surprisingly, this is exactly how I was taught in my own lodge by some experienced Past Masters. In theory, I could simply read the book to them and say “Okay, that’s what you’re supposed to know. I’ll be back next week to grade you.” In practice, I tend to be light-hearted and jokey (where have I heard that before ?), simply because that was the kind of style that inspired me. I figure that if I’m going to join a half-dozen guys walking around a cold lodge room on a rainy evening, then I want to at least make it enjoyable for myself. If the other people get something out of it, then so much the better.

In the aforementioned discussion, I found myself rather surprised to hear the suggestion that lodge officers should be given the ritual book, and have it explained to them that the rules of our Grand Lodge say that they need to follow the instructions. Their testing, as it were, could then be done by some other officer, thereby obviating the need for District Lecturers. I was surprised because, indeed, this is exactly the case as it has been for the past fifty or more years. Connecticut has a published ritual monitor, and it’s relatively clear what the Master and officers should be doing. The problem is, some people haven’t been doing it. In fact, by my estimation, a hell of a lot of people haven’t been doing it properly for quite some years, and many lodges have had several generations of officers pass without seeing proper ritual work modeled for the younger officers, who would then model it for the officers after them.

This is where I come in. I see that there is a disconnect between what the officers should be doing and what they are doing. So, in my light-hearted and jokey way, I’ve been giving ritual coaching. While I agree that the officers should be doing things a certain way, I don’t believe that throwing a rule book at them will make them change their behavior. My counterpart believes that it doesn’t matter – they knew what the expectations were when they signed up; or at least, they should have done so, because they agreed to it.

So, which one of us is correct?

Actually, he is.

Unfortunately, being right doesn’t always fix the problem.

This is a common situation for people in organizations because of the nature of the various types of people who are in – indeed, who are needed – to run an organization.

Freemasonry, like every other organization, is comprised of people who take on various roles. Most organizations have people who have a command of every rule and regulation, down to the sub-articles and clauses. It needs to be stressed that these people are very important to the organization because without rules, you have no organization! During any discussion in which group members want to “hurry up and do something”, it’s easy to dismiss the comments of the rule-keeper when what the members are proposing run a little out of bounds. “Oh, you’re just being fussy” or “Rules were made to be broken” are typical responses to those who strive to keep order. In our rush to be post-modern action heroes, we often fail to think our actions through to the possible consequences. Organizations in which the members do not follow rules soon devolve into anarchy. Those who keep track of the rules help to keep the structure of the organization intact.

Large organizations typically also have members who understand that the underlying purpose of those rules is to have a better organization, one that is more effective, more enjoyable, or more satisfying to the members. They also understand, however, that sometimes the rules – or the imposition of new rules – have unintended consequences which affect the performance of the organization. To these people fall the unenviable task of trying to achieve long-term goals while working within the scope – if possible – of the existing structure. If they are successful, the rules are usually modified in order to accommodate the new strategies. Masons – indeed, members of any organization – need to realize that both types of people are essential to the health and longevity of the organization, and neither is more important than the other. As Entered Apprentices, we are taught the importance of a proper, true and square foundation to our temples. Those rules and regulations are the foundation of our organization, and it is essential that we understand their importance. Yet, we also understand that we are all human beings, and as such are all different in terms of abilities, skills, and talents with the tools at our disposal.

Friendly competition between the left-brain and right-brain people is necessary for the continued health of the Fraternity; indeed, this is the root of that “noble contention of who best can work and best agree;” but I think that many of us are prone to forget this when we get caught up in overseeing our own very small piece of work that we contribute.

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Picture: The Fairly Odd Parents

Legislating (Masonic) Morality

November 7, 2007 Leave a comment

At the time of this writing, there are a dozen US states in which the AF&AM Grand Lodges do not recognize, or extend amity to the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodges located within those same states. All of those states are in the part of the US that is generally called “the South,” as they correspond to the states that seceded from the Union during our Civil War back in the 1800s. It seems that every week I read a diatribe from a (usually anonymous) commenter on a blog or web group that the Grand Lodges in those Southern states are “racist” for not recognizing their Prince Hall counterparts, and that they should move with the times, and come into the 21st Century.

And truly, while there is no room for racism in our Craft, it certainly seems that there must be a lot of room for intolerance, impatience, and arrogance; because I see those characteristics displayed quite frequently by the brethren who demand that these Grand Lodges fall in line with the other 38 states. More recently, I’ve even seen a new blogger who has drafted legislation – purely as a thought experiment or conversation point (I hope) – calling for the other states to drop recognition of at least one of these recalcitrant Grand Lodges. I must say that while I applaud the spirit of my brothers who would like to see recognition across all the Grand Lodges in the US, I am astounded and appalled at the behavior that I’ve seen them display toward that end.

Personally, I have no knowledge as to why the last dozen Grand Lodges have not yet extended recognition, nor do I know if indeed, talks are already in the works. I do know that recognition is a highly politically charged issue, not only for the AF&AM Grand Lodges, but also for the MWPH Grand Lodges as well; and it occurs to me that the demands and threats from the sidelines can’t possibly make things happen more smoothly. I’m going to leave aside the ethical considerations of threatening our sister Grand Lodges with the withdrawal of recognition, and focus on a point that I have not seen discussed elsewhere.

If the Grand Lodge of any of those states suddenly recognized the MWPH Grand Lodge of that state, what, I ask you, would actually happen? Would Prince Hall Masons – assuming, of course, that they reciprocate the recognition – suddenly stampede to sit in AF&AM lodges? That seems unlikely to me, and why would they? For the benefit of watching an AF&AM lodge pay some bills and plan the next fish fry? Perhaps for all of you to pat each other on the back after a speech about how great it is to sit in lodge together… and then to perhaps do it all over again in six months or a year? What’s the point of that? Most Masons don’t want to sit in their own lodges if all they’re going to do is argue about the phone bill and have some coffee and donuts afterward.

I’m going to be blunt here: the underlying issue isn’t the recognition itself; there are dozens of unrecognized jurisdictions around the US, mainly groups that have splintered off from a mainstream Grand Lodge. The underlying issue is that the people on the sidelines see the recognition issue as a factor of racism and discrimination. Prince Hall Grand Lodges tend to have mainly (but not exclusively) black members, while AF&AM tend to have mainly (but not exclusively) white members.

Without some insight into the politics and workings of these Grand Lodges, it’s impossible to determine if this is true, even in part. But even so, what do those clamoring from the sidelines expect that immediate recognition of the MWPH Grand Lodges would accomplish? Do they think that a stroke of a pen will end racism in their states? Isn’t that akin to legislating morality?

The real issue is that we sometimes expect our Grand Lodges to “fix” some problem that in actuality should be dealt with at the Blue lodge level – or sometimes even at the individual level.

For the brothers who have been demanding recognition, how many of you have had joint fellowship nights with your Prince Hall brethren? Obviously you can’t sit in lodge together, but that shouldn’t stop you from having dinner together. How many of you have planned a joint event, like a picnic, or a friendly barbecue and horseshoe match? And why stop at dinner? Masonry being about working, how many of you have held joint community service events in your area? Perhaps a joint Child ID event, or a blood drive hosted by two lodges? Here’s an idea: a Masonic weekend in which handy members of the local PH and AF&AM lodges lend their talents and energy to a Habitat for Humanity project?

Any of those have got to be better for jurisdictional relations than sitting in a stuffy lodge room.

The bonds of trust and friendship are not forged by the signatures of Grand Masters on some pile of papers; they are formed by getting together, face to face, side by side, and working at something useful. They are formed by meeting on the level, and by doing things that you both have an interest in doing.

Too often, when faced with a problem in the Fraternity we look at our Grand Lodge as if it were an adversarial organization. We demand that “they” should do something – when we aren’t demanding that “they” should stop doing something. We forget that we, ourselves, are the Grand Lodge, and that the Grand Lodge officers take their cues from what the members of the Craft say and do. If your Grand Lodge officers don’t hear or see any interest at the Blue lodge level, they certainly aren’t going to have any motivation to move the issue along at the Grand Lodge level.

This doesn’t mean that I think those clamoring from the sidelines should stop raising the issue; change moves with the glacial speed in Masonry, and sometimes we need people to help us keep track of our progress (or lack thereof). But instead of expending so much energy in anonymous rantings, perhaps we would all be better served if they put those energies toward promoting true brotherhood in a more constructive manner.

Who’s Certifiable?

August 24, 2007 2 comments

Who’s Certifiable?
Well, for starters, Eric and Ryan

On Sunday, August 12th, the Friendship Lodge officers set aside the afternoon to take a shot at testing their proficiency as Worshipful Master. “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

Having talked to people from other jurisdictions, I’m almost embarrassed at how little we require of our officers, both in the way of ritual proficiency and proficiency in the bylaws and regulations of the their lodge and Grand Lodge. While I agree 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, 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.

But that’s a rant that I’m going to save for another day. Right now I’d like to introduce you to Eric and Ryan.

Eric is the Junior Warden at Friendship, and he’s been at my right hand ever since he joined the lodge. I escorted him around the lodge when he was an EA (not an easy job – Eric is easily six feet, and at the time was of a rather husky build), and when I went into the South, asked him to be my Senior Steward. Despite the fact that he could barely boil water, Eric toughed it out and proved himself to be dependable and conscientious. He stayed at my right hand to become the Junior Deacon, and then Senior Deacon when I was Master last year. Eric is now the Chairman of the Friendship Lodge Website Committee, and requested that I be on that committee – probably so he now has the opportunity to boss me around count on my support.

Being the most senior officer, Eric was on trial first. I explained that while it might not seem fair, that I was going to hold him to a higher standard for ritual than I might otherwise do for someone else. Friendship has a well-deserved reputation for good ritual work – not for just memorizing the words, but for good delivery; we believe that the candidates should have the best degree possible, and sometimes that means not just dead-on memorization, but a “drama show” that emphasizes the points.

I hope it goes without saying that Eric did an exemplary job, and that we can all be proud of him.

Ryan was a member before I joined; a former DeMolay with a head for memorizing ritual, I didn’t see him much for the first couple of years while he was in college, but after school he joined the officer’s line – not a surprise because he was very active in the Marcus Holcomb DeMolay chapter that is sponsored by our lodge.

Back in November, Ryan was the Senior Steward that jumped into the Senior Warden’s chair for that meeting when all the top officers were missing. He did miss one line in the opening then, but he did a great job in the East; better, in fact, than some twice-termed Masters that I’ve seen.

Naturally, I’m proud of both Eric and Ryan, but I also want to give props to Kevin and Kyle. Kevin is the Senior Steward, and Kyle (Eric’s actual brother) is the Junior Steward. Both of them made an attempt to open and close a lodge, and considering the short amount of time that they have been officers, I think that they really deserve some kind of honorable mention. Both needed prompting, but both of them were able to get through the ritual. They had the words in their minds, they just needed some help getting them in order. My guess is that next year they’d be able to qualify.

I did, however, want to mention one more thing. Although Eric, Ryan, Keven and Kyle are all young enough to be my sons, I try to always think of them (and I hope I’ve succeeded) as brothers. I’ve seen Eric go from a nervous, hesitant young man to being more self-confident, and more willing to take on leadership tasks. In the last few years, I’ve seen Ryan graduate college, look for jobs in his academic field, get married, and more recently, have a baby. I’ve known Kevin since he was a young teenager, and I’ve now had the opportunity to see him become more mature and become more active in the lodge. Kyle, the youngest of this group, has always distinguished himself as being ready, willing and able to pitch in whenever there was work to be done.

Why do I mention this in a post about Ritual Certification?

There is much more to running a successful lodge than being proficient in ritual, as I discovered first-hand last year. The Master of a lodge must be able to depend upon his officers for help, but too often I hear of Masters who do not call upon some of the younger lodge members, except, maybe, to help move something heavy. I think that this is a mistake on their part. Good officers – good Masters – are made not just from moving stones in the quarry, but from being shown where to place them. Too often, younger members are not given tasks that carry a lot of responsibility or visibility. They are overlooked so that more experienced members can run a program or plan an event. Let’s not forget, however, that experience comes from being given such responsibilities. New members, especially younger members, do not want to join an organization in which they’re expected to stand aside – many of them probably get enough of that at work.

Good Masters will understand that it’s part of their job to help develop the younger officers so that they can become good Masters one day. Sit with them. Get their ideas. Let them come up with a program and run with it, even if you’re not crazy about it yourself. The worst that could happen is that it might not come off perfectly (and what does?), but the best thing that could happen is that you’ll all be able to sit down and process the event, and that they can learn from it.

As a Worshipful Master, it’s your year. But that doesn’t mean that the year is all about you.

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