How big ideas come from small conversations
Sometimes it’s the things we say to each other outside of lodge that have the greatest impact within the craft.
History’s mark is evident on every event in Freemasonry. In our first degree we as the candidate, who after months or years of preparation, have finally come to the moment we have longed for; to become a Brother and learn the secrets of the craft. Think back to your EA degree. Do you remember the feeling you had when something was demanded of you? That brief moment creates an impressive lesson in our masonic career that spurs our desire to be a part of something great.
Some of us continue on the path of contributing a worthy accomplishment for the benefit of the craft.
This summer I was fortunate to witness history in New York Masonry. “We haven’t had a Lodge dedication in Monroe County since 1927,” proclaimed Deputy Grand Master of New York Masons, RW Richard J. (RJ) Kessler. “That was around the same time as ‘The Great Gatsby,’ must have been some year!” On Saturday, June 9, 2018 Ecclesia Lodge No. 1189 was officially presented its charter by the Grand Master of New York Masons, MW William M. Sardone and Past Grand Master, MW Jeffrey M. Williamson, along with members of the New York State Grand Line. Our Grand Master, in his address, spoke to the significance of the day’s event. How too often we hear of lodges consolidating or worse, surrendering their charter and closing their door forever.
What made this lodge dedication special was more than the fact that it was the first new lodge chartered in Rochester in 91 years -- it was that the beginning of this lodge started as a conversation in the backseat of the car ride to a masonic event in Buffalo between three Brothers. As Bro. Sam Friedman, the newly installed Junior Warden of Ecclesia Lodge and author of “Millennial Apprentices: The Next Revolution in Freemasonry”, described that moment as, “we were just talking about what we wanted from a lodge.” The ‘we’ here is Bro. Ryan Ramplin, now Secretary of Ecclesia Lodge. “I wanted created a lodge that I was excited to attend,” exclaimed Friedman.
The dedication of a lodge is a grand ceremony, if you have the chance to attend one, I highly recommend it. The experience will leave you with energy from the excitement of joy and pride on the faces of the new lodge members who accomplished years of planning and preparation that led to the day. “We began researching the process of chartering a new lodge,” said Friedman. “The steps are outlined in our constitution but as you know, it has been sometime since the last lodge was dedicated.” For example a lodge under dispensation in New York State must show proficiency in the Standard Work and Lectures. “We had to prove ritual proficiency. Did that mean we needed to display opening and closing of a lodge? Did we have to provide proof of degree work? We were unsure. There were many times we contacted Grand Lodge for answers and direction.”
What made this challenge unique to Ecclesia was that their idea for this new lodge was not typical by any means.
By design business meetings were replaced with discussions as the Lodge meets quarterly on a Saturday afternoon with a fifth meeting exclusively, “For elections, reading petitions to affiliate, balloting, and paying bills,” Friedman commented. Ecclesia offers a “Builders Library” as part of its membership. Included in their dues are the books and reading materials, the subjects of lodge discussions (so far they have provided 6 books to members) as well as the cost of meals.
In December of 2017 I was invited to attend an Ecclesia meeting by a formal invitation sent from Worshipful Master Bill Edwards. I quickly extended the invite to two of my Brothers from the Old 17th District to make the three hour road trip to Rochester. Included in the invite was a letter outlining the assigned reading material as well as “The Rules of Engagement.” Each Brother was expected to contribute to the discussion. When you wanted to request the opportunity to speak, we were instructed to turn on the light of our small candle placed in front of our name card on the table. The subject for discussion was “What Is the Interplay between Punishment and Redemption,” which comes from the lessons in the numerous references in our ritual for breaking masonic obligations. The assigned book title along with a summary of the reading became the main talking point during our car ride to Western New York!
Ecclesia has a unique manner in how their meetings are conducted. Before lodge you enter the Chamber of Reflection to collect your thoughts, meditate, and focus. You can smell the scents from the oils fueling the lights, combined with the aroma from incense and candles burning in the lodge room. The mood is calm and sober. When you enter the lodge room you see three tables set up like a table lodge or festive board, in a U formation. These tables and seats are positioned just south of the altar. The officers sit in their respective stations to start each meeting. After the Opening of Lodge, the Worshipful Master instructs the Brothers attending to take their place at one of the three tables assembled in the center of the room. Once seated the primary officers began the discussion by sharing their thoughts; it wasn’t long until every candle was lit.
When the discussion was ended by the Master, the officers and Brethren returned to their stations and places for Closing of Lodge. Afterwards I looked down at my watch with surprise to see that it had been THREE hours since the meeting began. It felt like 30 minutes! I can’t tell you how many times it has felt the other way around after a typical “business meeting.” Ecclesia then hosts a post-meeting dinner at a restaurant where the conversation continues during the reception along with the usual fellowship we all enjoy at masonic meals. As visitors we felt just as welcome and included as the regular attendees. Our three hour drive back to the Capital Region was filled with highlights from the meeting and a desire to bring this discussion format to our lodges back home.
I realize, this concept, an open dialogue in lodge, is hard to fathom. The idea that every Brother contributes to a discussion may seem impossible. But Ecclesia Lodge has found a way to encourage the conversation flow. After attending their meeting in December, seeing every candle glowing and hearing every Brothers’ voice, an invitation was sent to Sam Friedman to present this format to my mother lodge, St. George’s #6, in Schenectady, New York. His talk was one of the highlights of our year with many members asking follow up questions, wanting to know how we could create a similar experience in a future meeting. He also spoke at our Masters and Officers (District) meeting that winter, again with the same response. Six months later while sitting in Grand Lodge, I smiled proudly when the Grand Master read that Ecclesia’s charter had been approved. At the Grand Master’s dinner that evening I congratulated Ecclesia’s Master, Bill Edwards, on the Lodge’s accomplishment. I was surprised to learn that two and half years had past since Sam and Ryan’s idea was put into action, they were now official!
Instead of accepting the norm, dare to change it.
The work for the members of Ecclesia Lodge #1189 is really just beginning. Now they must band together to sustain this idea, constantly working in harmony to ensure their lodge is relevant to future members and the craft. There is no denying that Masons today are all seeking the education and enlightenment promised to us when we are raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason. Books and recorded history are resources that will continue to be at our disposal in seeking the additional light we are promised. Finding the light is rarely the problem. Finding a place to light our candle, share our knowledge with like-minded Brethren, and improving ourselves --- that is constant challenge that has persisted to exist throughout the detailed history of modern American Freemasonry.
The lesson that we can learn from the Brothers of Ecclesia Lodge #1189 is that history is present to those who dare to make it. If you want to improve your lodge discussions; do it. Become a part of the solution: get involved! Share your ideas with the Brothers of your lodge or district. Tell your Master that you would like to present a program in an upcoming meeting. Be that single source of light that begins small and grows into a chorus of burning passion. As John F. Kennedy once said, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”
To contact Bro. Sam Friedman to learn more about engaging lodge discussions, visit his website at http://millennialapprentices.com