Archive for the ‘masonry’ Category

Back (ward?) to the Future

November 6, 2014 7 comments

Several contentious years of Grand Lodge politics have culminated in an unprecedented (in Connecticut, anyway) upheaval in which the progressive Grand Line officers were voted out and replaced by a new line of elected officers.  The hotly contested elections (reportedly needing four votings to arrive at a majority) ended with the election of two Past Grand Masters and the re-instatement of a former Grand Line officer. The future of the Grand Line officers appointed during the past year is uncertain, as is the standings of the dozen or so Grand Lodge committees.

Edit: At the time of publication, several of the appointed GL officers appear to have resigned, as have several District officers.

In the time-honored tradition of keeping Masonic news as dry as possible, that would almost seem to be the entire story. Indeed, the only thing that would appear to be missing at this point would be a picture of MW Simon LaPlace presenting a gavel to our new Grand Master MW Tom Maxwell as both of them grin into the camera. Unfortunately, that is not the situation.

Leaving aside the rumors of collusion and conspiracy (on all sides) that have strained the patience of Connecticut Masons for the last couple of years, the situation at hand seems to be that a number of members, unsatisfied with the changes (both made and proposed) in Connecticut Masonry, managed to convince enough of their brothers that the changes were damaging to our organization, and that the only remedy would be to remove the current elected officers and to replace them with those who had a different vision.

This, of course, is the purpose of a democratic system, and it’s good to see that Freemasons remembered how it works.  Sometimes the good intentions behind having a “progressive line” in most US states leads to stale, if not undesirable Grand Lodge policies. At a time in which our membership is continuing to decrease and our societal culture moves away from joining groups, the remaining members have often been slow to react or have been unwilling to make changes that would attract or retain new members. In the US, this has led to Grand Masters with little or no vision, or Grand Lodge policies or programs that have little relevance to the needs or desires of the younger members that are joining the ranks. The events last week in Connecticut will hopefully serve as an example to Grand Lodges elsewhere around the US that members of the Craft can – and will – take the necessary steps to get the kind of leadership that they want.

That said, there is something symbolical about the recent overturning of the Grand Line that has many Connecticut Freemasons concerned: Does the election of older Past Grand Masters, who served respectively 18 and 25 years ago, mean that we could not find anyone younger, or more attuned to the needs of the latest generation of Masons? Or does it mean that our vision of Masonry for the state looks more like the 1970s instead of the 2020s, and that our desire for the coming years is actually just a reboot of something from the past?

Personally speaking, I share these concerns. I became a Mason in 2001, just before the DaVinci Code and Nick Cage movies were reigniting an interest in Freemasonry. Back then, many Grand Lodges still did not even have a website, let alone electronic contact information, PDF Trestleboards, or online committee meetings. Connecticut Masons have been fortunate that Grand Lodge officers from the previous several years have been forward-thinking, and willing to adopt new methods. More importantly, some of them have been willing to take on the difficult task of changing the culture of our organization. For example, we have nine Masonic districts in Connecticut, ostensibly to correspond with the train system that was extant in the early 1900s. With nine Grand Lodge officers, we have had a century of a progressive line, one officer from each district, with a new one appointed every nine years from the outgoing Grand Master’s district. The last two years saw a change in the district structure, and with it, a different way of choosing new officers. Changes like this are huge in Masonic terms, and it would be easy to believe that the voting reflects a reactionary attitude from members who object to these and other kinds of alterations (or “innovations,” if you will) in the organization.

A reactionary mindset among the members raises other concerns for the future of our fraternity, mainly that younger or more progressive minded members will no longer desire to work toward improvements, or even to aspire to a Grand Lodge or District position if it means constantly butting heads with the old guard. Ours is a volunteer organization, and most of our members are paid only in the satisfaction of a job well done; feedback in the form of being voted out of office with little or no prior warning would seem to be a disincentive for many of those who would be qualified for those positions.

Again, democracy obviously works — the recent voting was proof of that.  But we should also remember the words of Comte Joseph de Maistre: “Every democracy gets the government that they deserve.” For the sake of Freemasonry in Connecticut, let’s hope that we all have not taken a big step backwards.



In For A Penny…

January 17, 2014 3 comments

Back before I even became a member at my lodge, I can remember wondering which appendant body I should join next. The esoteric Scottish Rite — full of Morals and Dogma, and discussions of symbology, and the seemingly infinite number of degrees? Or the more traditional York Rite, to continue the Masonic lessons in the way that the early speculative Freemasons have done in the past? Oh, sure, older and wiser Masons cautioned me to wait a bit until I had a chance to settle in, but what the hell did they know?And then join the other things!

But you know how things happen. Right after I joined, I got sucked into was asked to join the officer’s line, and that turned into five years just trying to do a decent job, and I figured that after my year in the East, I’d start looking at joining something else again. But no sooner was I shunted off to the old Past Master home, when I found myself with the capacity to aggravate people in an more-or-less official capacity as a District Grand Lecturer. That became three more years of my being out several nights a week, and I really had no desire to add more meeting nights to my plate.  And then I was busy with work, and barely had time to get to Friendship a few times a month, let alone do anything else. And then my daughter was in her last year of high school, and we spent quite a bit of family time together before we would send her off to be indoctrinated college.

And then in the fall, it got too cold (and dark!) to do any bicycling in the evening after work, and I found myself  — somewhat uncharacteristically — with little to do.  So , I again pondered my choices, and after some reading, and some discussion with friends who had been there before me, I asked a brother who frequently stops in at Friendship for a petition. Naturally he had one in the car (Masons, amirite guize?); I filled it out, asked a few friends to sign off for me (fortunately the Past Grand Master just happened to be there), and turned it back in that afternoon. I got lucky, because the next meeting was in two weeks, and as it happened, the Keystone Chapter No. 27  was free enough to confer a Mark Master Mason degree.

After a few back and forth emails, I showed up at the Meriden Masonic Temple on the appointed date, and even somewhat early. We had been having a particularly frigid cold snap, and I found it amusing that the thermometer in my car said 4º when I pulled into the parking lot. I chatted with a few of the guys, and was surprised that I hadn’t actually met any of them before except for RW Bob, who was going to be acting as the RWM that evening.

The brothers are to be commended for putting together a degree on such short notice, especially since several people were sidelined by the weather. I had a surprise at the end of the evening when the Senior Grand Warden revealed that he was originally from Minnesota, and was a good friend — in real life, no less — of one of the few remaining Masonic bloggers.

While most of the guys were anxious to get home, a few of us did hang around afterward, talking about the degree and some of the history behind it. I’m looking forward to doing this again.

Meriden Masonic Temple - in the daylight.

Here’s a picture of the Masonic Temple in Meriden, CT., in which a number of lodges and chapters meet.

Grand Lodge of Connecticut Goes Virtual

April 1, 2013 Leave a comment

Like a lot of my fellow Masons, there are times when I get really busy with work, family stuff, work, personal health care, work, projects around the house, and work. In the last few years, I have often missed lodge meetings because I’m working until 7 or 8 pm, or because I’ve needed to do something with the kids, or because some other matter has cropped up that I can’t take care of at any other time. I’m sure that this happens to other brothers, too.

That’s why I’m thrilled by Maso-Net, the new program that will be introduced by RW Simon LaPlace, the incoming Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Connecticut, that will allow busy Masons to attend their lodge meetings virtually, at their own convenience.  I don’t want to spoil the surprise, which he is expected to announce at his installation as Grand Master during next week’s Grand Lodge Annual Communication, so I’ll just mention some of the highlights of the program.

While there have been online Masonic communities of Masons since the before the internet was available to the general public, they have generally taken the form of text-based message boards. Maso-Net will be completely different in that it will allow lodge members to actually see, and in some cases, attend a lodge meeting in real time.  To accomplish this, Mason-Net will have several components. One will be a Skype-like interface that will connect members directly to a lodge. Participating lodges will be outfitted with a large screen TV on the North wall of the lodge room, with a corresponding webcam positioned in the Northwest and Southwest corners. Maso-Net Members will sign in and be presented with a view of the lodge room that includes the Master’s chair, and the screen will allow the other members to see who has signed in. Maso-Net members, though their own webcams hooked up to their computers, be able to attend the meeting and follow along with the proceedings without missing any of the details. Amplified speakers near the TV screen will allow them to speak during meetings as if they were in attendance.

RW LaPlace initially conceived of this as a way to reach out to older brothers who were unable to attend because of health reasons, but the idea quickly gained ground among the Grand Lodge technorati who, accustomed to live webcam meetings, saw this as a way to keep existing brothers involved. As a Maso-Net member, a brother could work late, and take a dinner break to attend lodge. Users with smartphones (apps for iPhones and Android phones running ICS or better are already being developed) will even be able to attend while on the road, although they will probably need at least a good 3G data connection.

A real advantage to Maso-Net meetings is that a WM will no longer have to worry about a last-minute cancellation on a degree night. A brother assigned to a particular lecture will no longer have to cancel if he’s away on business; the Master of a lodge would even be able to open if he’s out of town. Imagine an older brother delivering the working tools lecture to his grandson from the comfort of his own home — in Florida! Or imagine a District Deputy being able to attend a different lodge meeting every night of the week, and not spending a fortune on gas and car expenses.  This aspect of the program is certainly a way that the Craft can take advantage of new technologies.

Another interesting component to Maso-Net that RW LaPlace is expected to announce will be the ability to sit in on lodge meetings at any time of the day or night by the use of streaming technologies. Participating lodges will begin recording their meetings and using broadband connections, begin uploading those meetings to the cloud. Maso-Net members will then be able to find a lodge meeting and replay it. Members will be able to pause the recorded meeting for a break, or even better, skip through the boring parts.

Still unannounced is just where the video recordings will be stored. The Grand Lodge of Connecticut has its own servers, but as more lodges join the network the data storage itself  would become unmanageable, to say nothing of the capacity for streaming a number of different meetings back to the members. Early reports have suggested Youtube, perhaps a dedicated channel as the perfect storage & replay solution. Obviously, the concern was raised that anybody could view a lodge meeting on Youtube, however, the counterpoint was raised that any non-Mason who viewed one lodge meeting was unlikely to make it a habit of viewing many more. I suspect that talks are underway with Google about the possibility of a private Youtube channel. Another advantage of this would be the ability to upload sections of various degree ceremonies in order for lodges to watch them for the purposes if ritual instruction.

There are other aspects of Maso-Net that will be made public after RW LaPlace takes office. About a dozen lodges will be part of the initial phase, and RW LaPlace will probably announce which ones have been selected after his installation, with more participating every month. Brothers interested in signing up to be a Maso-Net member are encouraged to talk to their District Deputy, who should have the contact information.

As a busy Mason who has been having a hard time getting to lodge meetings lately, I’m happy to see that Connecticut is on the forefront of bringing Freemasonry into the 21st century. Kudos to soon-to-be MW Simon LaPlace, and best wishes for an exciting year in office.

Grand Master & Suite visits Friendship Lodge

April 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Friendship Lodge No. 33 was proud to host a visit from MWGM Gary Arseneau, newly installed Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Southern New England on Monday. This was the Grand Master’s “Homecoming” visit, and naturally he was accorded the highest honors and a warm welcome. MW Gary was accompanied by several other new officers of the GL-SNE, several of whom who were invited to help judge a chili cookoff dinner before lodge opened.

The Grand Master’s schedule is pretty full, so we were fortunate to get him to stop by so soon after his installation. To mark the happy occasion, the officers of the lodge presented the new Grand Master with a bottle of single malt for him to enjoy during the very few quiet moments that he will have during the rest of the year.

The evening was not all pomp and introductions, though. WM Ryan Carlson presented the lodge with a recitation of the infrequently heard third section lectures; otherwise known as the  “Beehive” lectures. WM Ryan recited the entire section from memory for the benefit of five of our newest Master Masons.

The highlight of the evening was the presentation to MW Gary of a bottle of a very old single malt Scotch, presumably for medicinal purposes, as Grand Masters are notoriously prone to headaches.


From MWHMGary

The very full lodge was closed, and the Craft gathered downstairs for refreshment and several hours of friendly discussion. It’s unfortunate that RW Gary probably won’t get many opportunities this year to attend lodge at Friendship, but I’m sure how knows that our best regards attend him no matter where he might be.



The Font of All Wisdom

January 16, 2011 1 comment

We Masons love the idea of learning our ritual and ceremonies in a word-perfect fashion. Well, Past Masters love that idea, especially if it means that some newbie officer should be doing the learning while the Past Master does the  complaining coaching from the sidelines. 

Some jurisdictions in the US have a “mouth to ear” tradition, in which the ritual is taught by a proven instructor to one person, or a small group. Other states have printed copies of the rituals and ceremonies that are passed out to (or sometimes, purchased by)  a member. Some states have such monitors written in plain English, while others might use a shorthand or some other kind of code in order to disguise the words – as if you couldn’t already get them from some website, or purchased in book form.

Connecticut is one of those states that has a ritual monitor in plain English; that is, if you can call the sometimes tortured grammatical constructions and archaic words and phrases “plain.” They have had this plain English version for at least ten years before I became a Masons, which was almost another ten years ago. The English version grew out of an older version that used two books: one being encoded (really, just using abbreviations), and the other a key; that version had been used for quite some time.

Recently, some people have been suggesting that we might want to go back to using the abbreviated word code. I have found that the people suggesting this are either old-timers who learned that way in the first place, or young, new guys who are geeky about Masonry. The old-timers claim that people will learn ritual better, since they will have to work harder, and the young-timers are usually the kind of geeks who would, given the opportunity, have been taking a Klingon class.

I used to pooh-pooh the idea because I learned ritual using the plain English books, and I think I have done rather well, at least, if you don’t count the fact that I often find myself substituting some of the archaic words with synonyms that roll more readily off the tongue. But the way that I learn these passages isn’t necessarily the best way for everybody, so I concede that the coded books might have some merit.

That’s why I found it interesting to see an article on Lifehacker this past week, which revisited a study in which  schoolchildren were given copies of material to learn; some were given good copies, while others were given copies in hard-to-read fonts. Researchers discovered that the children who had to work harder to read the material had the best retention.

From the BBC News Article:

Researchers found that, on average, those given the harder-to-read fonts actually recalled 14% more.

They believe that presenting information in a way that is hard to digest means a person has to concentrate more, and this leads to “deeper processing” and then “better retrieval” afterwards.

It is an example of the positive effects of what scientists call “disfluency”.

“Disfluency is just a subjective feeling of difficulty associated with any mental task,” explained psychology Prof Daniel Oppenheimer, one of the co-authors of the study.

“So if something is hard to see or hear, it feels disfluent… We’d found that disfluency led people to think harder about things.


Students given the harder-to-read materials scored higher in their classroom assessments than those in the control group. This was the case across a range of subjects – from English, to Physics to History.

The lead author of the study Connor Diemand-Yauman told the BBC that psychology is revealing all sorts of “counter-intuitive” results in the field of education.

“Everyday psychologists are showing that seemingly insignificant factors can have big effects on how we process and retain information.”


It’s an interesting idea, and while I’ll concede that there may be some benefit to the idea that learning ritual in code is inherently better, I think that there are too many variables for this to be definitive.  Again, from the article:

“What really matters most when reading is mindfulness… it’s not printing things badly that’s needed, but more thoughtful reading”.


“Obviously, if you can’t read it at all, you can’t learn it. At some point you may get so annoyed that you give up without trying! Different people probably have different thresholds.

And in my opinion, that is what holds so many members back; they simply get annoyed at trying to read something that they just don’t understand. Will presenting it in code make the archaic usages any more attractive?

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