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299

October 19, 2009 Leave a comment

The number 300 now being associated with half-naked, well-muscled Spartans, I didn’t want to confuse anybody with the approximate number of  Masons who attended the Grand Lodge semi-annual communication in mid-October of this year. Last year I complained a bit about the people who come to these meetings and then leave as soon as possible, so I’m not going to revisit that topic. I was, however, pleased to see that all of the lodges were represented, with only one exception — a marked improvement over the last few years. It might be cynical of me to mention that some lodges may have been motivated this year by one of the items to be voted on: the increase in a monetary fine to those lodges that fail to send any representation from $25 (barely the cast of gasoline and lunch) to $250.

This is Grand Lo-o-o-odge!

I got there about a half hour before the session started, got a coffee (no donut, thanks), and chatted with people I hadn’t seen in a while. When I finally went inside the main room to find a seat, I discovered that the Deputy Grand Master had gone to the hospital the previous night for chest pains (at this point, it seems that he’s fine), and would not be attending. The rest of the officers were in a mild panic because they would have to move up a chair in order to open the Grand Lodge session.  Why is this a problem? Because the nine members come from different lodges, and most of those lodges have peculiar traditions and customs. Since Grand Lodge officers don’t have any rehearsals (ahem), it’s not unusual for somebody to miss a cue. And even for those officers who are familiar with what passes for standard Connecticut ritual, it might have been years since one of them actually sat in that respective chair in a Blue Lodge. What with the rituals for York Rite, Scottish Rite, Eastern Star, Rainbow, the Shrine, etc., in our heads,  it’s a wonder that half the Masons remember as well as they do.

During the break, I twittered “Who certifies Grand Lodges officers, anyway?” This is a reference to my one actual duty as a District Grand Lecturer (as opposed to those duties which I’ve made up for myself), that being to watch a potential Master properly go through the ceremony for opening and closing a lodge.  I meant it to be funny, but after the session when people got home, some of them commented about this  on my Facebook page. Soon, it became  a (yet another!) discussion about the perception that Grand Lodge is perhaps out of touch with what the real needs are in the lodges.

Comments about the ritualistic slip-ups were good natured ribbing, however, one brother brought up some good points on the relatively new practice we have of setting standards (and giving out certifications) for anyone aspiring to be the Master of a lodge.

Brother Frank expressed the general frustration that I’ve heard from others around the state.

“There’s so much emphasis on getting these little certifications these days. Does anyone actually look at a Warden and evaluate whether or not he’d actually BE a decent WM? No. But if he’s good at ritual, and can regurgitate the stuff on the little tests, then he gets the nod of approval. Granted, you need to be a decent ritualist, but that’s only 25% at best of what the job is.”

And he’s right, of course. Being able to memorize a few paragraphs of ritual doesn’t make you qualified to run a lodge. Neither, in fact, does your attendance at a couple of half-day seminars, nor your ability to memorize the various rules and regulations that the Grand Lodge has codified.

Frank sums this up nicely:

“[Grand Lodge] is overly concerned with certifications these days and not concerned enough about whether the Master is making lodge … Read More ENGAGING for this great crop of new Masons we have coming in. We should be concentrating on giving these new guys a great sense of fraternity, and in many lodges that is missing. Passing the WM certification does not guarantee that a WM can LEAD a lodge — and LEADERSHIP is the key.”

Ironically, the Grand Lodge would agree. That’s why in the last couple of years, we have changed the format of our officers seminars from serial lectures to mini-team building exercises. Aspiring Masters and Wardens are arranged in small groups and mentored through various tasks. The exercises are not arbitrary; all of them are based on developing the kinds of programs that have been shown to work well in lodges. Even better, each officer has a chance to talk to the others in his group about possible issues he might face in implementing such programs in his own lodge, and to get input from those in different circumstances.

Does even this type of education guarantee that someone will be a good Master? Of course not. But it’s a step in the right direction, because it makes potential Masters aware that there are various ways to approach developing a program for their year.



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Lecture Circuit

January 23, 2008 Leave a comment

This District Grand Lecturer position is a totally sweet gig. All I’m actually required to do is make sure that the incoming Master of a lodge passes a ritual test, and at rare times, oversee a little written test on the Grand Lodge rules and regulations. In Connecticut, most lodges have their installations from December to January; human nature being what it is, this means that I would be at my most busiest toward the end of the Masonic year as I do the certifications during October and November. The rest of the year I am free to spend on loose cars and fast women, while basking in the fame and glory.

Well, I suppose I could if I really wanted to.

A while back I had a discussion with a brother who insisted that the District Lecturers were unnecessary, and that the simple requirements could easily be done by the District Deputies or their Associate Grand Marshals. And indeed, he’s quite correct; the position as it now stands does not require much work, and carries very little authority. I’ll be the first to admit that almost anyone could handle the minimum requirements. Hell, they asked me, didn’t they?

But why would anyone want only the minimum requirements?

Over the last year, several lodges have asked me to help them polish their ritual proficiency and floorwork, and so I spend most of my time at lodges reviewing degree work, and 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 experienced Past Masters.

Recently, the Master-elect at one of my lodges asked if I would be willing to help out at their degree rehearsals. As it turns out, all of the junior officers are new guys, and the Wardens are not Past Masters. You might think that this would have been a challenge, but in fact, I was thrilled to see that all of the officers put in a lot of work to learn their parts in such a short amount of time. It’s really a good feeling to be around men who take pride in their work and who want to make an impression on the candidates. We spent a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon going over floorwork, coordinating the parts, and rehearsing lines. As it turns out, this was also helpful brush-up for the new Master who hadn’t done an EA degree in 28 years.

The result was a very fine degree two nights later, and a group of very proud officers. They’re so pumped that they’ve scheduled another EA degree for mid-February. Considering that this lodge had been having some difficulties over the past few years, it’s heartening to see that things are turning around for them.

That lodge joins my affiliate lodge in the ranks of those who are making concerted efforts to improve the quality of their ritual and degree work by setting higher expectations for the officers, scheduling one or more rehearsals for each degree, and having back-up plans in case of last-minute emergencies.

Each lodge is responsible for their own degree work. Unfortunately, many junior officers have not seen good degree work modeled for them, and so aren’t able to pass on those good habits when they become senior officers. Connecticut typically runs one ritual seminar per year… at least, they used to. We stopped even that for a few years when the District Grand Lecturer system was put into place, in essence taking away the one opportunity that many officers had to learn. Last year, the Lecturers got together with the Committee on Masonic Education to put on the first ritual seminar in four years – and it attracted over a hundred Masons from around the state, plus another few dozen purple aprons. The feedback was so positive that we’ve scheduled another one, to be held in February.

I think that’s great.

I also think that it’s not enough.

And this bring me back to the point about the necessity of the District Lecturers. Some of us have held “mini-seminars,” inviting the officers around the district to an evening of instruction, held at a particular lodge. I’ve been working with one lodge at a time at rehearsals, believing that it’s better to work with officers in smaller groups. Either way, we all believe that it’s important to address the ritual issues, and having one or two officers in each district dedicated to Masonic education and instruction seems like a better approach than waiting until an officer is ready to be elected to the East.

Many jurisdictions have appointed officers to oversee ritual instruction, but how they handle it varies widely. Some have an appointed person in each lodge, so that there is always one authority on what to do (or not) at every rehearsal. I like that idea because it prevents the multiple cross-feedback loops that new officers get when two or more Past Masters have varying ideas of how things should be done, and spend half the rehearsal arguing over why their way is better or how they never did something that way before.

Anyway, they asked me if I’d be interested in doing this gig again next year.  Of course, I agreed; It’s just too sweet to pass up.

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The District Grand What?

May 2, 2007 Leave a comment

“So Tom, it’s been a month since you went over to the dark side. What have you been doing with your purple apron, besides bullying lodges into giving you free meals and undeserved attention?”

Good question. Since I cut out dairy and wheat, I can’t even extort a free meal; so it looks like I’ve got to come up with a plan to make it look like I’m doing something constructive with all this power.

Actually, I’ve been busy this past month. I think that it’s important that I get out to all of the lodges in my district ASAP, if only to introduce myself and let the members know who I am and what kinds of resources are available. So far I’ve been to half of the eight lodges in my district, and I met up with the WM of another at a recent function.

But the life of a District Grand Lecturer is a lonely and frustrating one; the WMs of two different lodges have overlooked me when making introductions – one of them when I was sitting right between two Past District Deputies. Both apologized for the oversight, and fortunately my feathers aren’t so easily ruffled.

Hopefully they’ll both be prepared for the surprise inspection next month…

Seriously, the problem is that the DGL position is so new. We Masons tend to memorize things according to the rote method, and once certain pathways are laid down in our brains, we’re on autopilot. How many of us have heard our opening ceremony done by an officer that always recites things a certain way, no matter how many times he’s corrected? It’s because he learned it a certain way and just can’t get out of that ritual rut. Similarly, in Connecticut we quickly learn to watch for the purple aprons and to recognize the DDs and Past DDs, and to hopefully remember the Associate Grand Marshals. That done, it’s on to business.

But I’m I’ve made it clear that I do not want to sit on the sidelines with a checklist, so I’ve been offering my services to assist with degree work; specifically to go to rehearsals in order to help the younger officers with ritual and floor work, and if necessary, offer up some tips for floorwork. One lodge took me up on it immediately; unfortunately I’m going to be at another meeting on the night they have their EA degree, so I won’t be there to cheer them on.

I have been asked, though, to take part in several degrees. While I’m happy to show off to assist in degree work, I’m trying to get across the point that lodges need to develop their own resources, either within the ranks of members and Past Masters, or from among other lodges. In fact, when I can work out the details I’m going to present this at the next District meeting. I have an idea that some people could commit to being the “Plan B” for certain parts, available on short notice in case an officer can’t be at the degree. I have to admit that I got this idea while watching the movie version of “Farenheit 451;” at the end of the movie we learn that a number of people have read books and manage to keep the entire contents in their heads, and they travel around and recite them for others.

A couple of weeks ago, Friendship Lodge had an MM degree that was presented by the Caledonian degree team. You could probably guess from the name that this is a group of Scottish enthusiasts, and indeed, they showed up in full dress kilts… with a bagpiper. I’ve seen them in the past, and it’s a rare treat. I got to the meeting a bit late, so the officers were upstairs while the degree team was getting ready. As it happened, the team leader is an old neighbor, so instead of hurrying upstairs, I stopped to renew the acquaintance. While we were chatting, someone else mentioned that the Junior Steward was a no-show, and somehow I ended up pressed into service.

Can you imagine any other circumstance in which my wearing a skirt would not be conspicuous?

Unfortunately, they had no spare kilts – a shame, too, because it was warm. So, no, I still don’t know what’s worn under a Scotsman’s kilt.

The degree team has a little choreographed entrance and exit routine. I tried to follow along, I really did. I think that I got about 3/4 of it right, too. Unfortunately, it was those few mis-steps during the exit that will probably always call into question the wisdom of putting me in charge of any ritual.

I sure hope that those brothers are out of their casts by now.

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