First of all, if you're going to take the role, then learn the chair, don't just warm it. In fact, if you take a chair you should already know it. I had a Mason tell me a few years ago after moving up into the next chair he "had a year to learn it." No, that is incorrect. You've got a year to learn the next chair. You should already know the chair you're in if you're in line. Officers shouldn't be learning chairs "on the job" while the lodge is trying to open and close. I've seen that too many times--Past Masters feeding ritual and giving instruction to an officer that has no idea what he's doing during a regular meeting.
It's the responsibility of the officer to learn his chair. Most jurisdictions have regular officer training meetings--take advantage of them. If you want the job, you have to do the work. If you need help, then ask for it. I've spent a lot of time over the years in my garage practicing ritual. I've never been great at ritual, but it's not for a lack of trying. In Freemasonry, when it comes to ritual, we seek perfection in our work, but at the very least if you prove competent, you'll get few complaints as long as you're making the effort.
Second, if you're going to take the chair, come to the meetings. You have accepted responsibilities when you take a chair. If you can't be there, then don't take the chair. Family and work responsibilities should always come before lodge. If your work life, or your family life makes it difficult to attend, then don't take on the additional responsibility of being an officer in your lodge.
When I was elected Master, I had to make a decision about one of our chairs in the lodge Our dais officers and Secretary and Treasurer are elected, and the other officers are appointed by the Master. As the newly elected Master, I took one of our members out of line. He'd only made a couple meetings in the last year, and we had several new Master Masons interested in being more involved in the lodge. It was the right decision to make, and I explained to him why it was the right decision. Fortunately, he wasn't too upset about it.
And how do I feel qualified to talk about this subject? It's because I've been there a few times over the years. I should have been pulled out of line on more than one occasion--I'm guilty of all the same things I've talked about here. I can't seem to say no, I wind up stretched far too thin, and wind up not knowing the work as well as I should and wind up doing a sloppy job at it.
And I'm not the only one that finds themselves in this situation. Many Masons find themselves in over their heads with their Lodge, the York Rite, Shriners, Scottish Rite, Tall Cedars, Research Lodge, etc. I did an interview for a podcast a few weeks ago and joked I had a nice red Shriner's fez in my closet that I've worn exactly once--the day I received it. I have fifteen membership cards in my wallet--I just counted them. I've taken chairs I shouldn't have because I should have known at the time by just looking at my calendar I didn't have the time to dedicate to it. Over the last year, I've been learning to focus my energy a little more narrowly on just one or two things. As Abe Lincoln said, "Whatever you are, be a good one." That's my new rule.
As Masons we have a tendency to get involved in a lot more than we should at times--always with the best possible intentions. It's a big fraternity and for some of us, it offers a lot of irresistible new experiences, and of course we want to sample it all. But there's nothing wrong in being "just a member."
If you're offered a chair, really think about it first. Do have have the time to perform the duties right? Are you able to attend regularly? If you can't, then do everyone a favor and decline. They wouldn't have asked you if they didn't really need somebody to do all aspects of the station well.
Todd E. Creason, is the founder of the Midnight Freemasons blog and continues to be a regular contributor. He is the author of several books and novels, including the Famous American Freemasons series. He is member of Homer Lodge No. 199, and a Past Master of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL). He is a member the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, the York Rite Bodies of Champaign/Urbana (IL), the Ansar Shrine (IL), Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees, and Charter President of the Illini High Twelve in Champaign-Urbana (IL).