The Rough Ashlar

Thoughts from a Traveling Man

The Rough Ashlar - Thoughts from a Traveling Man

Ritual is not a Competition

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I am in a tough spot. As the district instructor of work, I am supposed to teach the ritual, help lodges become self-sufficient, encourage brothers to learn the catechisms and the regular work, and more. I like doing all this. It gives me a sense of generativity, that I am passing something on to others who perhaps would not have had it otherwise, and hopefully making a positive difference in the fraternity.

The downside to all this is the ritual schools I have to attend, which I do not particularly enjoy. Continue reading

Why I Love and Hate One-Day Conferrals

Goat herd in Yara, MustangMy 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. Continue reading

What it Means to be a Past Master

Past Master's JewelSince I wrote a post about what it means to be master of a lodge, I figured I would follow up with my thoughts on being a past master.

I thought the hard part was over when I stepped down and gave the keys to the next master. I never thought it would be a challenge to be on the sidelines with the esteemed past masters who came before me. I thought it would be easy to be among the crowd of revered elders who sat in lodge, stoic and unflinching as the proceedings unfolded. After years of expanding responsibilities and then a year running the show, however, it is hard to simply let go and not be part of everything. Unfortunately, that is how it is designed to be.

Continue reading

Masters and Wardens Association

We have an organization in my Masonic district called the Masters and Wardens Association. In fact, I just finished my year as president of the association. It sounds a whole lot more prestigious than it really is, I assure you. The purpose of the organization is to gather the lodge leadership together to help support our DDGM and other various district activities, as well as to communicate what the different lodges are doing so we can support those activities or at least not do something that is in conflict with them.

This can be a very powerful forum to transmit ideas, get new ideas, and develop best practices for how to run our lodges. We have six lodges in our district, so if we had great attendance we might have 18 wardens and the district officers, so something like low 20s for attendance.

Unfortunately, we do not have that many attending. Some of the lodges seem to like working in their own silos, it seems, or possibly have leaders who have repeated as Master and are tired of propping up the organizations on their own and do not want to go to yet another meeting. I can certainly understand that, but the way to get out from under that sort of problem is to confer with other leaders and empower the subordinate lodge officers by encouraging them to attend this sort of meeting.

There is another problem in attendance. The name implies that the membership consists of the masters and wardens of the district, when it actually goes further. The deacons are also members, as are the past masters. In addition, all Master Masons are welcome and encouraged to attend. By virtue of the name of the organization, we are automatically disenfranchising some of the members who should be at the meetings.

I recently tried to get the organization to change its name to be more inclusive of the full body of members, but to no avail. Some of the suggested names that were discussed were in the vein of The Masonic Leadership Association. I do not recall all the names listed offhand, but the idea was to not enumerate only part of the membership in the name, because that keeps some members away.

This led to a discussion of who should be participating and attending the meeting. The meeting went long and I lost interest and left at 9:00 with the discussion still pretty active. I wanted to get home to my beautiful fiancee, who was waiting for me. However, before I left some of the discussion turned toward who should be speaking at the meetings and a few brothers said that it was a group for the masters and wardens, as the name said, and that if deacons attended, as junior officers they should not take part in the discussion.

I was dismayed by this line of thinking and have a few conclusions and thoughts on this topic and the general idea of the name change:

  • If we want to increase attendance, having the name seem more exclusive than the group is will not attract more people to come.
  • If we want more participation, asking some of the members to remain quiet during discussion will not achieve that.
  • Perhaps the majority of this group does not want greater attendance or participation. Maybe I am the one who is crazy.
  • My experience as a manager has shown me that not all the good ideas come from the corner office. We need others' input to make better decisions.
  • Silencing some of the officers outside of the lodge will make them more silent inside the lodge. That is the opposite of what we need.

So I am stymied a little. As a district officer, I sort of have to show up. Not all of them do, but I feel like it is a requirement, so I will definitely be there because of that. However, I do not like the way this organization is heading. It seems to be the way many lodges are heading: toward dwindling membership and attendance.

The Importance of Past Masters Night

EmblemMy lodge had a Past Masters Night program this year and I was honored to be in the East for the evening. Last year, when I was master of the lodge, Past Masters Night was the most fun night of the year for me. It was an opportunity to coordinate with my lodge's elders, sit on the sidelines, and have a night off while watching masters of years past run the show. Some of them I did not know very well, and many I had never seen sit in a chair. It was a delight to get to know these brothers better. The ritual is rarely great on Past Masters Night, but that is not the point. It is a celebration of the lodge's history, not an exemplification of ritual. Everyone has a good time.

This year, our Past Masters Night program featured a brother who had served as Master in 1965 and then as Grand Master in 1974. He spoke on the importance of remaining connected to our Masonic heritage. He was not referring to the continued deification of George Washington that you see in so many areas, but connecting with your own lodge's history.

I have thought that before as well and started thinking about it last year when I sat on the sidelines and gave the gavel to a past master. These men, all of whom are very accomplished Masons, had the same experiences that I did, in that they went through the degrees and had an eastward progression until their years as Master. They sat in the same chairs I did and walked the same floor I did. It is interesting to think that, in the 90 years of my lodge's history, each master did the same things, had the same joys, and labored for the same causes that I did. That gives a real sense of continuity – being tied with the past, as well as the future.

What my good brother was referring to is not forgetting whence you came. Our families' lineage is important to know because the past influences the future, and sometimes dictates it to some extent. The patterns in our families, whether good or bad, continue through the generations, and seeing those patterns enables us to consciously continue or abandon various elements of them. Knowing our Masonic lineage serves the same purpose. Who are our forebears in this lodge? What did they do during their years as master? What patterns do we want to change? Which ones are important to keep? What are we doing now that was started by someone else? Why do we do it?

I cannot stress enough the importance of reaching back to your lodge's past. One of the most important parts of this type of program is letting your older brothers know that they are still in your thoughts, and that you have not forgotten them, despite the years that have come between you. Even if they cannot attend the program, they will be grateful for your call and know you are thinking of them. To me, that is the best part of Freemasonry – the personal connections and bonds that get made. That is the glue of our fraternity.

Emblem by Timothy Valentine.

Ascending to the Oriental Chair, Building Effective Committees, and Increasing Member Retention

Masonic Cake by Rothrock CakesI was recently installed as Worshipful Master of my lodge. Wow – what an exciting day that was! Wow – what a lot of work I have ahead of me! I get to write the monthly trestleboard; take phone calls from our brethren who have various issues such as illness, death, lack of transportation, and need of personal and fraternal advice; visit other lodges for various important events; improve our mentorship program; continue to teach a weekly ritual school; and arrange programs for 21 meetings this year, not to mention preside over many degree nights, at least ten of which I have already outlined as wanting to do before July. That’s a lot to bite off. Have you ever scheduled degrees? That’s a lot of work by itself!

Thank goodness I don’t have to do all this on my own. Our Junior Warden is scheduling degrees, our deacons are helping me teach the catechisms, our immediate Past Master is running the mentorship program and the secretary is going to take care of a lot of stuff I either don’t know what to do with or don’t have time for. And he will stay on my butt about writing the trestleboard. He hounded me until I wrote a brief bio for the website and is on top of stuff enough to not let me forget to do anything. Then what am I doing? I am hoping to have things farmed out enough that I mostly just have to answer the phone and show up to meetings.

I am able to do this by forming committees. We have a culture in my lodge of not liking committees, but that’s what we have. Everyone groans when someone mentions a committee, so what I have done is asked certain brothers to take on certain responsibilities and most have been willing to do so. Leadership established! Then I invited these brothers to pull in one or two extra guys to help them get the work done. Committee established! And look – I didn’t use the word committee in my requests at all. Instead of asking for committee reports, I just ask Bro. Bob how our widows are doing and what he has planned for them.

That’s what I am doing in my lodge. Whatever you are doing in yours, be sure not to do it all yourself. Bring in other brothers to help you out and give them something to do. Not only will this reduce your workload, but you will find that you have better member retention if you ask someone to take on a task or lead a committee. It gives a sense of ownership and also allows the bonds of brotherly love to grow organically as that brother finds others to work with him. Everybody wins and the Master just has to show up and be the overseer. In theory, anyway. We will see how it all works out.

EA Degree – Better the Second Time Around

Just last Friday, I conferred the Entered Apprentice degree on three worthy candidates. This was my second time getting to do this and I am really enjoying it. I would be telling a lie if I claimed to have gotten all the words right but at least I know where I messed up. If you have never committed a long string of words to memory before, I can tell you with all certainty that it is a difficult thing to do.

Actually, committing them to memory is not even the hard part. The hard part is speaking them and trying to get them exactly right in front of an audience. I can recite the words and get them just right when practicing in the shower or in the car to and from work, but it’s a different thing to get them just right in front of people – past masters, past district deputy grand masters, new brethren you want to set a good example for – and feel comfortable doing it.

Our treasurer, also a PDDGM, asked me how I thought it went at the end of the evening. “Better than last time,” I said. “Well, progress is a good sign,” he answered. “That’s what you want.”

The elder members of the lodge (elder in terms of experience and time in the fraternity) have been extremely supportive and have given me the encouragement I have needed to feel more comfortable delivering these speeches. I am now working on learning the FC and MM obligations and really appreciate this support.

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