The Rough Ashlar

Thoughts from a Traveling Man

The Rough Ashlar - Thoughts from a Traveling Man

Annual Dues Bill for Life Membership

It may seem strange to send an annual bill to someone who is a life member, but I get one each year from the Scottish Rite. Note the blank spots for me to add my own donation to a few funds they have. That is the value of sending seemingly redundant dues notices.

Will I make a contribution? Perhaps. Maybe not. But I am a whole lot more likely to than if I got nothing but a new dues card each fall. I wonder how many opportunities my local lodge is missing by not doing this.

Life Membership Plans – Are They Worth it?

LifeMembershipDifferent jurisdictions have different plans in place for life membership in lodges and the appendant bodies. In Virginia, where I am, the plan makes a lot of sense to take advantage of and I opted to do that a while back. Here we have not just a life membership plan but it is actually life membership in perpetuity, meaning that my lodge will get money on my behalf from the plan even after my demise.

The way dues work in any of our organizations is pretty simple. We pay our yearly lodge dues and the lodge is assessed a certain amount for our membership by the grand lodge. What this means is that the lodge only keeps a percentage of what we give it each year. Under my grand lodge’s Life Membership in Perpetuity Plan, the lodge will get that portion of my dues that it would normally retain from the grand lodge, in return for my having given the grand lodge a large lump sum that is invested in an endowment.
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Why I Demitted from the Shriners

I requested a demit from the Shriners at the end of last year. I had waited until it was time for dues payments to be sent in because it was not an easy decision for me to make.

I loved being a Shriner. I was first sold by the mission of helping children in need. It does not get much better than that. Then the excitement of getting my fez made me feel like a real members of the organization. It was pricey, but it was worth it. Then I started a homebrewing club and felt good about growing the body of my Shriners temple.

Then something happened. I won’t go into specifics because I have already discussed this with the temple administration and they indicated that they did not want to change their tack on a few issues that I thought were important – things that would encourage membership growth and retention. They weren’t interested. Fair enough, I guess. That is their choice, I suppose.
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Masonic Veteran’s Award from the GL of Maine

MedalI had the privilege this morning of presenting a Masonic Veteran’s Service Medal to a brother from Portland, Maine, who resides within my Masonic district. This is one of the singular joys of being in my role and this one event is a highlight of the Masonic year so far.

The Masonic Veteran’s award is a special recognition for our members who reach 50 years as Masons. Something that interests me about this type of recognition is that different grand lodges do things differently. Maine apparently gives a breast jewel and lapel pin (seen attached to the ribbon). In Virginia there is a lapel pin, certificate and life membership card, which absolves a person from having to pay dues anymore. I guess Virginia has figure that if they got 50 years of dues, that should be enough.

Fun stuff. I look forward to doing this a few more times before the year is up.

The Lodge is not the Temple

UglyLodgeI wrote before about the difference between lodges and temples. To review, the lodge is not the building. It is the group of members. Okay. Glad we got that behind us and we are on the same page now.

All the same, the temple matters, as does its appearance. I was thinking of this recently when President Obama commented on the health reform website by saying that the plan was not broken just because the website was. Note: This is not political commentary. I am not commenting on the plan itself and do not care for most people’s opinions at this point on either side of the discussion. However, to say that a plan like this can be cleanly separated from how it is accessed, and have the two dimensions evaluated separately, is crazy. “Sure, the website doesn’t work and few people can sign up, but that does not reflect on the plan itself.” I call shenanigans. Continue reading

When to Join an Appendant Body

 

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I am a big fan of the appendant and concordant bodies, as you can tell if you have been reading along thus far. However, they are not for everyone and often not appropriate for the new members. Too often the night a brother becomes a Master Mason he is encouraged to join an appendant organization. Somebody approaches him with a petition with the promise of even more light as a Mason, and the new brother signs up. in my opinion, this is bad for all three parties – the new brother, the symbolic lodge, and the appendant body.

The brother loses because now he has another organization to compete for his time, as well as another to pay dues to. He is inexperienced as a craftsman and thus does not yet have a clear idea what Masonry is about. the best place for him is his lodge, not another organization.

The symbolic lodge loses because it has just spent its valuable resources bringing a brother to the highest degree and is now at risk of losing his attention, even if it gets his dues. Dues are important but more important is a brother's involvement. Without the brothers' involvement, even if that means just attending meetings, the lodge will wither and die.

The appendant bodies lose because they are recruiting someone who is inexperienced and perhaps does not know what groups he will want to join. This can be a great way to boost membership rolls but is not a great way to get brothers who will be lifelong members.

When I joined my lodge, my brother, who is a Mason in North Carolina, advised me to not join any appendant body until I had been going to regular meetings for at least one year. It was great advice. Having a good foundation of how a lodge works and what it means to be a Mason is crucial in deciding what one's Masonic future might be. In other words, before you can build the temple, you first need a solid foundation.

I remember a few guys who joined my lodge around the time I did wanted to join the Scottish Rite together. They were more interested in the outward appearance of the organization, though, rather than through any investigation of its substance. One of the guys said a few times, "You get a ring when you join."

Great, I thought. I can buy a ring on my own, and likely for less money. What more do I get for my dues and initiation fee? I did not feel the need to join something whose main draw was a ring and a funny hat. I mean no disrespect here. They are funny hats if you know nothing about the order. What I wanted was something meaningful, not a ring and a hat. Unfortunately, none of my cohort at the time could tell me more about it, so I did not join for a few years.

The bottom line is that if you want to be able to find meaning in Masonry, your best bet is to wait a while and learn more about what you joined before taking the next step and seeking out another organization to write a check to.

Struggles with Bureaucracy

Square and CompassesOkay, let’s get one thing straight. This is life and nobody said it was going to be easy as pie. The Masonic world is sometimes a difficult one to navigate because there are extra levels of bureaucracy at every turn. For instance, I have a gentleman from Maryland petitioning my lodge. The process is that we get his petition, send a letter to the Grand Lodge of Virginia, which sends a letter to the Grand Lodge of Maryland, which contacts the lodges near where my friend lives for their permission, and hopefully they say it is okay for us to accept his petition. This is common practice and everyone knows how it works and tries to speed it along, but in the past this type of thing has taken two to three months. Laborious, yes, but effective. Plus, that’s how it has always been done. Tradition is the rule as much in Freemasonry as in Tevye’s world in Fiddler on the Roof.

So now I have another hurdle to overcome. I recently met a man who was a Mason in a lodge holden under the American-Canadian Grand Lodge, which is holden under the United Grand Lodges of Germany.  This fellow was raised 40 years ago in a lodge that  no longer exists. So of course I agreed to help him figure out all this and get him a demit from that grand lodge so he can affiliate with a lodge where he currently resides and thus sit in lodge with his son, who is about to start his degree process. At least that grand lodge is an English-speaking one. I can’t imagine what we would do if he said it was the Grand Lodge of Slovakia or something.

At any rate, I emailed the grand secretary to see how we should proceed. Hopefully he will be affiliated and a regular dues-paying member somewhere before long and he can see his son get raised. That’s the hope, anyway.

Scheduling Degrees

Masonic Jewels laid out before installation IMGP0015

One of my roles as the junior warden  is to schedule degrees. If you have never had this task, you are in for a treat someday. I get to call the local Masonic elite and ask them to help me out by delivering lectures and playing some sort of part in these ceremonies. The degree nights are likely some of the most memorable the candidates will have in their whole adult life and it takes a lot of guys to put them on.

So far I have found that the process of arranging everything is kind of a pain in the butt but when it all comes together it is worth it. The step-limiting factor in arranging degrees is getting a lecturer. These members are few and far between due to the difficulty of memorizing such long speeches. It’s a tough prospect to learn a lecture but one that every lodge should aspire to foster in the members, as the lecture is something that cannot be dispensed with.

Once the lecturer is booked, I feel pretty good scheduling the date. Everything else seems to fall into place pretty easily. Our members are well-versed enough in the ritual that we can pull together a good team to confer the degrees.

At Cherrydale Lodge I just scheduled two degree nights (FC & MM) coming up next month and hope to have a third one (EA) stuck in there somewhere as well. Traveling through Arlington, VA? Let me know. We would love to have you visit, either for a stated communication (1st and 3rd Thursdays) or for a called communication (7 & 27 April, so far).

Disappearing Lodges

A trend that has been going on for a while is that lodges are losing their buildings for various reasons. My guess is that the decline in interest in Freemasonry over the years has hurt the fraternity to the point that majestic buildings, like this one in downtown Toronto, are closing up shop, merging together or else jointly renting one space that can be shared among several lodges. This last option is what happened in Toronto.

MTV Masonic Temple

Many Masons regard this trend as a negative and very sad thing. However, I see problems like this as opportunities for the future. On one hand, yes, it is sad to lose the building we called home, which is imbued with such history stretching back many years before our own. On the other hand, the problem of declining memberships and thus declining income is real. If several lodges can band together and help each other by renting a space together or else merging, that is the ultimate demonstration of Masonic relief.

In the case of this lodge building in Toronto, MTV recognized that it is an important city landmark and thus kept part of its identity. I would love to see inside the building to see if any of the fixtures and part of its old character are still there.

My lodge is lucky. We have a retail space on the first floor and have had a tenant there – same tenant, mind you – for quite a number of years. If I am not mistake, the hardware store has been there since the building was completed. I am not sure about that claim but can check.

As such, we have a constant stream of income and have been able to save over the years. We have a nice little nest egg with which to do building improvements and support the various events and charitable works we do, not to mention covering regular expenses. If we had to go on dues alone we would be in deep trouble.

With about 225 members and dues recently raised to $75 per year, we have an income of $16,875. That does not account for those of us who have already purchased lifetime memberships and thus no longer pay yearly dues. That also does not account for brethren who have fallen on hard times and are not current, or else owe back dues. but even if we did have that whole amount in dues, we surely would be scraping the bottom of the barrel to make ends meet. Mind you, we are talking about the Washington, DC area, which is one of the most expensive places to live in the country. That money would go much farther in many other places.

At some point it makes sense to merge or else find space to share. Sure, it’s a bit sad but I would rather be sad than see the fraternity disappear.

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