A resurgence in brothers wanting to learn the Masonic ritual, whether to sit in a chair, return a catechism, deliver a lecture, or simply just for their personal edification, is a good thing. That is where we, as an organization, want to head. However, it is not always easy to manage. It can be a bit like herding sheep, trying to keep them going in the same direction and making sure they do not stray too far off course but also making sure none of them gets left behind. Overall, though, this is a great problem to have.
I can only speak from my own observations and experiences on this topic. When I joined my lodge, we seemed to be at a low point in terms of ritual proficiency among the line officers. What I observed was that the officer positions changed frequently and that those who sat in for the officers seemed to struggle quite a bit with what to say and do. Our senior wardens for two years in a row did not advance to the East and did not receive their certificate of competency that would allow them to preside as masters of the lodge.
Becoming master or even an officer was not one of my desires when I first joined, nor at all in the first two years I was a member. However, after seeing the lodge struggle, officers disappear, and finally realizing that there was a serious organizational problem in the ranks, I spoke to the master and expressed a desire to help.
The first part of the problem was that just a handful of people knew the work well and most of the people who expressed a desire to learn did not follow through on their education. I think part of this was because, even though everyone said you had to become competent in the ritual to hold an office, what was demonstrated was quite the opposite. Being an officer had become an undertaking almost anyone could do, regardless of ritualistic ability or level of commitment. It was very disheartening.
At some point things changed.
I set out to learn the catechisms and return them in lodge. This is pretty standard fare for most lodges, but it had been quite some time since anyone did this at my lodge. I also talked to the worshipful master and suggested that we start pushing the catechisms again to our candidates. There was some pushback from members who thought that the old ways – teaching the catechisms – was the wrong way to go. However, they had no interest in supporting any other sort of member education or retention activity, so I was not particularly concerned with what they thought. Something I have learned over the years is that people are quick to tell you all about the problems but are struck dumb when it comes to voicing solutions.
We started holding the members – especially the newer ones – to a higher standard. They had to earn their degrees through learning catechisms and other bits of important information. We had a member retention program that got enacted when the members were new. I have written before about how ritual learning serves to promote retention. This is very much a true story of what happened. We got the new guys involved and they stayed around and kept coming back.
Managing this kind of change, especially in a volunteer organization, is not easy. Currently at my mother lodge we now have about five or six guys who are qualified to teach the catechisms, but we are all busy. What we need is to double that number so we properly handle the amount of candidates coming in. Unfortunately, if we set out to do that, it will be a solid year of work before we can make things happen. We have to carry on the normal work and build capacity at the same time. It is a tough row to hoe.