When you are first raised to the Sublime degree of a Master Mason, chances are these days you will be asked to become an officer of the lodge. Although being asked to assume a chair in the lodge room, that seat comes with responsibility. You will soon discover as you advance through those chairs the seats become more comfortable, but the comfort of the chair comes with a price.
In the last few decades many lodges have replaced Masonic education in their stated meetings with a Secretary reading the minutes of the lodge in a quiet monotone voice, and delightful discourse of Past Masters complaining about the cost of doing business in the current year, versus what the cost of running the lodge was when Brother Gerald Ford sat in the White House.
This gives a newly installed Worshipful Master many issues. The poor guy needs to understand how Masonry works, but with no experience he will only discover, “What he did wrong", when, after the close of lodge, several bony fingers of Past Masters begin to harangue the poor guy with a laundry list of mistakes he made during the meeting or degree work (After they thoroughly argued amongst themselves).
The progressive is to those of you who are new or not a Mason is the line of offices in a lodge room. A newly raised Master Mason if he chooses to become an officer will be placed in the office with the least amount of responsibility like memorization and floor work, in most places this is the office of Junior Steward and told to watch how the lodge works while under the supervision of his immediate overseer, the Senior Steward. (In some places like Texas the Stewards are charged with providing the lodge with food.)
Each year, in theory, the man is advanced (or progressed) to the next chair and his education is furthered and the responsibility of that chair continues to grow. Many Brethren (Including myself) aren’t the biggest fans of the progressive line system. Many argue that the progressive line just moves men along, from chair to chair, until they reach the position of Senior Warden and it is expected that the end of his term the brother should automatically be voted by the members of the lodge to advance to the position of Master. In most cases that is fine, but there have been times in every lodge (and if I am honest, Grand lodges, too since they follow the same line.) that a man is elected to the lodge's highest position who isn’t ready for the post. Or perhaps, is so incompetent that he will fail in his work or worse yet, has mercenary motives and shouldn’t be in an office and his attempts to enter should have been stopped before he passed through the West gate.
Sadly, in cases like this the Brethren of the lodge have few good choices. Most of the time it is a choice of desperation, the inoperancy of their current leadership and in almost every case resentment and the loss of attendance.
The progressive line is often the only source for leadership preparation and many officers must train themselves. Grand lodges may offer seminars or courses they consider to be training, but mostly it is just a course in what form to fill out in certain situations or what passage of the law book to read, and rarely has anything to do in regards with actual Freemasonry.
Brethren, until we can reinstate actual Freemasonry and Masonic Education back into our lodges, here, in my opinion, are a few ways we can help educate our officers and put them on the square of success.
Reading- An officers first upright step in his Masonic Education is to start reading Masonic material. Knowing our history and the symbology behind the way we do things never hurts and is always a good place to start.
Speak to experience- You will remember from your charge as an Entered Apprentice “At your leisure hours, that you may improve in Masonic knowledge, you are to converse with well informed brethren who will always be as ready to give, as you will be ready to receive instruction.“
Find a Brother, who can serve you as a mentor. Perhaps a well-educated Past Master, and pick his brain. The possibilities are endless! Discuss with him the books you are reading or ask him questions about his time going through the chairs. Ask him what he would do differently if he had the chance. Any advice a well-informed Brother gives you, will place you on the level of success.
Grand Lodge Sources- Ok earlier I did complain about the content at Grand Lodge seminars. But as part of a well-rounded education, these seminars could help you while governing your lodge. The seminars aren’t perfect but in conjunction with other sources of education these might become a valuable asset.
Watching- From the time you assume your place in lodge, You should begin to watch the way the other Brethren do things within lodge. From watching other men as they do their floor work and they handle their rods to how they stand and address others when they have the floor in lodge, can provide you a good primer in what you should be doing. As you continue to progress you will notice yourself able to square your floor work as well as your older Brothers. If you have questions about the process, ask the mentor we discussed above.
Planning- If you are on a progressive line your eventual destination will be that big chair in the East. One thing you will notice about that seat is you are sitting all by yourself for the first time in lodge. Every eye in the place will be on you and expect you to have all the answers. (Ever hear the old phrase “It’s lonely at the top”?)
This is the point where all the watching, reading and conversing comes into place but there is one more piece of the puzzle: Planning. Successful Worshipful Masters have a plan long before their election. (Planning ahead is the one true bonus about the progressive line.)
Starting the year, you become Junior Warden you should start planning your calendar. Special events (Like Past Master nights, Widows nights…etc) should be placed on the calendar and you should begin thinking about who you would like to chair these events. In many jurisdictions lodges have standing committees. You need to consider who should chair these committees and either let them pick their own members or whether you need to pick the members for them. You will also have to begin to decide who you will choose as your appointed officer line.
Brother, I know it can be tough. You will make mistakes and you will probably have to suffer the occasional wagging finger and rough lounge of a grumpy Past Master but that’s ok, you are tougher than that. Just learn from it and move on. Do your best and strive to make “Your Masonic year” to be the lodges greatest year and while doing so, strengthen your lodge and Freemasonry.
WB Bill Hosler was made a Master Mason in 2002 in Three Rivers Lodge #733 in Indiana. He served as Worshipful Master in 2007 and became a member of the internet committee for Indiana's Grand Lodge. Bill is currently a member of Roff Lodge No. 169 in Roff Oklahoma and Lebanon Lodge No. 837 in Frisco,Texas. Bill is also a member of the Valley of Fort Wayne Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite in Indiana. A typical active Freemason, Bill also served as the High Priest of Fort Wayne's Chapter of the York Rite No. 19 and was commander of of the Fort Wayne Commandery No. 4 of the Knight Templar. During all this he also served as the webmaster and magazine editor for the Mizpah Shrine in Fort Wayne Indiana.