My first thought, on hearing about one-day conferrals of all three degrees or the same being done in the various appendant bodies is to groan a little. I don’t like theist all. I am a past master and know the degrees well, but still at the end of the day, I am overwhelmed. Let me go on record and say, once and for all: one-day degree conferrals are a bad idea. Period.
Make that a semi colon.
These festival-style degrees can be useful if done well and in the right situations. For some candidates it makes sense because of their schedules or circumstances. Some guys want to join a lodge but do not have a lot of time to study catechisms, or perhaps do not have the right kind of mind to memorize that much information. My lodge has guys who work night shifts, for example, and cannot regularly come to lodge meetings for degrees. There are also cases where the lodge needs a guy to proceed this way, rather than through more traditional means.
Some lodges have lost their ritual ability to the point that they do not have enough members who can perform all the needed parts. Thus, as they are in the process of rebuilding (hopefully that is part of what they are doing), it makes more sense to go this route. Of course, if they are not working on rebuilding their ritual ability, they will not last long, whether or not they bring in new candidates. That is a different story, though.
However, these one-day festivals necessarily lessen the experience of the candidate, which is the biggest reason I do not like them. Normally the candidate watches someone else go through the degrees instead of going through them himself. This is far less than optimal, as you might guess. There is value in having time between degrees for mentorship so a candidate can ask questions, attend other degrees at his level, and learn more before going on to the next step.
On the other hand, doing the three degrees on separate evenings with time in between does not guarantee that the mentorship that should happen between degrees will be any good or that the degrees will be performed well. Location and timing are less important than the quality of the experience the candidate has. I have certainly been to many degrees that were done poorly, even to the point that the candidates said something about it afterward. If the candidate notices something is amiss, that is bad. If he comments on it to someone, it is really bad. That is not a good experience, even though it took place in the lodge.
Likewise, if a candidate has no mentorship before and after the degrees, it does not matter whether he received them in the finest traditional form or not. Mentorship makes all the difference and is the special sauce that makes a new candidate stay.
We have all heard the arguments for and against these types of events, so I will not make an exhaustive list. I will just say that they can be a useful part of what we do. Given that these are getting more popular, here is a list of ways to make them more successful:
- Spend lots of time with your candidates before and after the events to mentor them. Candidates will need lots of help understanding what happened and the degree day is just the beginning of a lifetime of being a Mason. If you do nothing with your candidates, they will go away and you will have spent your strength for naught.
- Have one mentor per candidate during the degrees to help the candidates through everything that is going on. Most of the time these events are done with exemplars and the other candidates watching, so the observers will need someone to help them with the mechanics of what happens during the degrees themselves.
- Have one mentor per candidate for after the event, as part of your lodge mentorship plan. Ideally this would be the brother who sat with them during the degrees, but it does not have to be. Make sure it is someone who can spend time with his candidate in and out of the lodge.
- Make sure that the mentors are seasoned, senior Masons who can explain things to the candidates, or at least know where to find the answers.
- Have a systematic set of classes for the candidates after the event. These should recapitulate the forms and ceremonies of the degrees, modes of recognition, passwords, etc. The candidates will not remember most of this stuff from the one-day conferral.
- Encourage all candidates to learn and return the three catechisms. some grand jurisdictions require this anyway, but everyone should know these if he is capable of learning them.
- Most important: Do not use the one-day conferral as a substitute for doing the degrees in-house if you are able to do them. In other words, do not do these out of laziness. Only do the one-day conferral when it makes sense for all parties involved. Think about this seriously. Masters, consult your trusty officers and other advisors, who will be more than happy to share their opinions on the subject.