A Lodge Talks Itself To Masonic Education: Part 2 Regaining What Was Lost

by Midnight Freemasons Guest Contibutor
Brian L. Pettice, 33°

Part 2 Regaining What Was Lost: The Mission 

In the previous installment of our three part series I shared Olive Branch Lodge No. 38’s commitment to a different kind of Masonic Education and discussed lost focus as a theme that resonated for me and others. This time I will talk about some of the things I thought we should do about it.

I think the tide is turning regarding Freemasonry’s lost focus though both for me and for Freemasonry in general. My own personal opinions of the purposes of Freemasonry have changed over the years and I am more comfortable in asserting them. I think more and more brethren are becoming convinced of the need to ignore activity for activity's sake, to ignore the scorecard of membership numbers, and to focus on activities the members are interested in, specifically education. For a number of lodges that has meant an acknowledgement, if not full embrace, of the need for Masonic education. In a lot of cases, that has meant brethren making presentations in lodge about some aspect of Masonry or the other.

Reading Chapter One a second time, though, I began to think that the presentation method of Masonic education may not be enough. It can be too static and doesn’t always offer brethren the opportunity to actively learn—to engage in the give and take that can be a more enjoyable way of learning. I, personally, always enjoy a good discussion of masonic symbolism, philosophy, history, or even just the issues facing us as Brethren today. I believe we need to find room and time to move beyond the presentation method alone and facilitate discussion of these ideas-- we need to offer everyone the opportunity to be actively involved rather than just passively observing.

Continuing to reflect on how a lodge might make this type of education a part of its experience, I remembered my own experience with Admiration Chapter No. 282, a fairly new Royal Arch Chapter of which I had the pleasure of working with a talented and driven group of Brothers and Companions to Charter. This Chapter began its existence by discussions among its founding members about what they wanted the experience and culture of that Chapter to be. This led to them laying out mission, vision, and goals statements describing what they wanted the Chapter to be and to do. Admiration Chapter is foremost devoted to education. Among its most successful educational endeavors have been lively discussions of Masonic values, discussions that have spurred nearly all in attendance to participate.

So I began to think, could these ideas also be applied to an existing lodge? Would a lodge, especially one that may have lost its focus, be able to have a conversation about the mission and vision for the lodge—to answer some of these questions? What do the members want the lodge to be? What kind of activities do they want to undertake? What kind of experiences do they want to be had there? What kind of values and qualities do they want to nurture in their members and communities? How do they plan to achieve what they agree to? What expectations do they have of their members? If the lodge members could agree to a couple of brief statements defining the lodge's mission and vision statements, wouldn’t that help it regain and retain its focus?

As these ideas were bouncing around in my mind, I attended an Illinois Lodge of Research symposium in Homer on March 24th-- the third occurrence that would shape the idea I would ultimately take to the lodge. At this event two of the speakers, Ben Wallace who had been instrumental in starting North Carolina’s first Traditional Observance Lodge and Ainslie Heilich who was key in starting a new Odd Fellows lodge in Tuscola Illinois, related their experiences in starting new lodges. In both of their cases a small group of people who had a clear idea of what they wanted their lodges to be and to do, the lodge mission and vision, set out to deliberately and intentionally create it. They described in detail how they created the experience and culture in their lodges. This confirmed to me that this is what would need to be done—a lodge would need to engage in a process where its members would decide what its mission and vision would be and what goals would be set to achieve it. It would need to document these and then work towards implementation.

In my mind I knew what I thought that mission and vision should be, but how to lead a long existing lodge to come to my conclusion was the question. Progress would only be made in spurts as the business of the lodge would last until time was too short to discuss my ideas in much detail for most of the subsequent stated meetings. I was able to outline the idea for the lodge members a couple of times. I told them of my thoughts on the first chapter of Poll’s book and the study group, of my experience with Admiration Chapter, and of what I learned at the Lodge of Research symposium. I told them that I wanted us, the members of the lodge, to be deliberate about what we wanted the lodge experience to be, especially what part education would play in that experience. I said that I wanted the lodge to begin holding discussions to try to build a consensus of what we think the mission each of us should have as individual Freemasons- what is each of us trying to accomplish by being a Mason. I said that once we have discovered and documented our consensus as to what we think our mission and purpose for being is as individual Masons, I would like this to lead to further discussions about the mission and purpose for the lodge and eventually to mission, vision, and goal statements for the lodge, so that the members are deliberately choosing what we want that experience to be. In order to help begin our discussions about our mission and purpose as individuals, I shared a few items with them. I encouraged them to read and think about the ritual when looking for their mission. I asked them to ask themselves a few questions. Is what you are doing as a Mason now what you expected to be doing? Has your experience been what you expected? What changes would you make? What wouldn’t you change? What do you think you or others are missing? I hoped that thinking about Lodge mission and vision and these questions would guide our discussions, once we began them, and eventually lead the lodge members, my brethren, to the conclusions I had already made. Next time we find out how that worked out.

Tune in for the final installment where I will discuss what has happened, and why I am excited about the course Olive Branch No. 38 has decided to take.

~BLP


Brian L. Pettice, 33° is a Past Master of Anchor Lodge No. 980 and plural member of Olive Branch Lodge No. 38 in Danville, IL and an Honorary Member of a couple of others.    He is also an active member of both the York and Scottish Rites.  He cherishes the Brothers that have become Friends over the years and is thankful for the opportunities Freemasonry gives and has given him to examine and improve himself, to meet people he might not otherwise have had chance to meet, and to do things he might not otherwise have had chance to do.  He is employed as an electrician at the University of Illinois and lives near Alvin, IL with his wife Janet and their son Aidan.  He looks forward to sharing the joy the fraternity brings him with others.  His email address is aasrmason@gmail.com.
 


The Power of a Name

by Midnight Freemason Emeritus Contributor
Bro. Aaron R. Gardner
Guest Editor
WB Robert E. Jackson


The lost word in Freemasonry is a legend taught from the very moment that an initiate must learn the time he passes and is “brought to light”. This lost word, we are taught is the name of God. As you go through the first three degrees, you learn the word is lost, never to be spoken again. Alas, the newly made Mason feels like all is lost, and the point of going through the degrees is moot. However, we learn of yet another word that is to replace the lost word. Unfortunately, that word is not the word that any new Mason is looking for. After all, it is not what we came for. We feel cheated from the remaining story, as Shakespeare points out in Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” So, we go on…

Some choose to find even further light in the different rites. In the Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction, we are promised the ineffable name. In which it is displayed. Alas, yet again, it cannot be said, for the term ineffable literally means “too great to be expressed in words”. So, there is, yet again, lost pronunciation in the word we look for.

This same search for the name of God has been demonstrated for centuries before. It has caused division amongst God’s people since the dawn of time. The Abrahamic traditions have created such division. There is a book that expresses these divisions and how they began titled: “Abraham, One God, Three Wives, Five Religions”.

In Judaism, the only person capable of pronouncing this ineffable name of God is the High Priest. Rooted in the belief that the whole world would be struck dumb if the word is spoken aloud. Instead, the Jewish traditions offer 72 different names in which to address God throughout the Torah. The most notable of those names are Abba or Father, Jehovah, and I AM. In which Christianity adopts these names when the religion adopted the Torah as the Old Testament. But, they are not the only Abrahamic tradition that recognizes a different name other than what is spoken for God.

Islam too, has adopted multiple names for the same deity. 99 different names to be exact. 99 names outside of the one Great Name, which cannot be spoken.

As you can see, these traditions are very like the traditions of Freemasonry, in which the great name for the almighty creator cannot be spoken in public. But, Freemasonry and these different forms of religion are not the only times that the power behind a name is demonstrated. Egyptian practices have offered up other names for the great creator, as well as fables and folklore. The tale of a gnome that weaves wheat into gold is a prime example of how knowing the name of Rumpelstiltskin has power over the creature. Even if that tale is still too old for anyone to relate, modern stories in pop culture offer the significance behind a name in Harry Potter. Just to speak the name of “He who shall name be named” causes wizards and witches alike to shake in their cloaks. The only exception are the wizards and witches that are not afraid of Voldemort.

These examples show the significance of a name. How a name can have such power over the world in which it is used. In this world, we are searching for the name of God, because to know the name of God is to know God, the goal of every God-fearing soul on Earth—to know God and to love God with all our might.

Just to say that Freemasonry is searching for the powerful name of God incites reasoning to believe that Freemasonry is a religion. However, it is not. It is a tool. It provides a drama, much like the stories given above in Rumpelstiltskin or Harry Potter. It provides a method of coming to know one’s own God, while in the reverence of others with the same goal, on different paths. It provides a method of God’s creation to unite as one and not allow the different paths to create division amongst one another.

It is true, what is being done in a Masonic lodge can be conducted in your choice of worship place. It is not just encouraged, but desired by Freemasons for you to practice your own faith and beliefs in whatever religious place of worship you call home. But, it is encouraged to join others of differing faiths on the same quest, so that you and they may come to know that we are all but one body of our Creator, regardless of the name you call it. We are all in this together, and we refuse to allow our differences to divide God’s creatures from knowing Him.

So, rather you call a sweet-smelling flower a rose, or call it an airtafae, Freemasonry offers the ability to know they are different versions of a flower, but defined the same.

~ARG

Charged with Charity

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Michael Arce


Freemasons take a series of obligations that appeal to charity, relief, and support. We obligate ourselves, willfully, to care for our fellow Brothers, their families, but also to the world around us. In an era where the shadow of social discourse has cast shade on how we interact socially, in person and online; Freemasons are charged to be compassionate and kind. It is expected that we stand above the fray of extremism and partisanship, as an example of being a well-mannered gentleman and citizen.

We say these words that bind us to serve others, without expecting anything in return. Furthermore, these commands and obligations are always given with the caveat of our discretion. That point isn't viewed as "an out." The discretion is prefaced by our ability to act. Sometimes life has a funny way of interfering, we have families, jobs, and other demands we must meet. I have found that the greatest challenge I've faced when considering reaching out to help someone is answering the, "are they worthy" question.

When I asked my mentor why we were given room to make these decisions, what almost seemed like a loophole to me at the time, he explained that, "as a Master Mason, you need to act as the Master of yourself first before you can help others." At the time, his answered satisfied my query. Over time it has only opened a much larger internal discussion, on the idea that we as Freemasons are charged to walk uprightly, be charitable and kind, but only to those who we deem qualified to receive our aid or assistance.

But what does this mean? Anyone can choose to "do the right thing" and stop to help someone on the side of the road, volunteer for a cause, or throw a couple bucks in a collection cup. What is the difference between giving and charity?

The Masonic Way is to give without remembering and to receive without forgetting


I heard a line at a fundraising event a few years back that has stuck with me ever since, "giving time is just as important as giving money." From its earliest days, Freemasonry has been concerned with the care of orphans, the sick, and the elderly. This work continues today. Our Brethren regularly volunteer their time to community service events, fundraisers, parades, children and family events.

One example of giving without remembering is an event that my mother Lodge (St. George's #6) participates in every December. We meet at a local supermarket early on a Saturday morning. There is usually snow on the ground and it's cold enough to see your breath. Gathered in the bakery is a group of 10-15 Brothers, who pair up that morning to deliver fruit baskets to our elderly members and widows. I'll never forget the first year I volunteered to help, I was still an Entered Apprentice and was welcomed into the home of a Brother who hadn't been to Lodge in 20 years. I pulled up to his home while he was out stacking wood that morning. I thought, for sure, I was at the wrong house!

He ended up inviting me into his home where he shared the story of how he and his friends had all decided to petition to join Lodge together. This was decades before I even considered Masonry, so many of the names he mentioned I did not know, but there was one constant theme from his generation to mine --- the traditions and work of our Lodge. The following year, I partnered with a Brother who had affiliated with our Lodge from England. He had served as Master of his Lodge in England and had the goal of moving through the chairs in our Lodge to serve in America as well. Sadly, the following year, we delivered a fruit basket to his widow when lost his battle with cancer.

Every December I look forward to that one Saturday afternoon because what I receive from these Brothers and Widows, their time and warmth, is something I carry with me without forgetting.

Charity is the brightest jewel in the Masonic crown


Much has been written about the amount of money Freemasons raise to help people in need, every day. Masonic relief has come in so many forms over the years from fires and floods, to flu shots and child ID programs, to responding to terrorist attacks. Charity is at the core of Freemasonry. When there is financial need, I've seen the hat passed around a Lodge room to return full of generous dollars.

But charity doesn't always involve cash or a check. For most of the $2.6 million raised by Freemasons everyday, you won't find mention online or in the media. Matter of fact, you hardly EVER hear about Masonic efforts on your local news. As Masons, we are taught that charity is a private act, performed sometimes without the recipient having knowledge of their anonymous benefactor.

The Greeks called it "charisma," meaning a gift. In Latin, the word is "carus," meaning dear (love). Over time these words blended to form "grace," meaning free (an act done as one wishes). By the time craft masonry had evolved to Freemasonry, charity was an act done freely, without prompt, out of friendship. Masons are driven to be charitable from our bond of spreading Brotherly Love and not because charity is viewed as a civic duty.

A historical example of this is found in Dorothy Ann Lipson's book, "Freemasonry in Federalist Connecticut, 1789-1835," where she describes how a Lodge purchased, "a cow for the use of a widow and her children, and the cow was carried on its books for several years as a Lodge asset, presumably to spare the family the embarrassment of accepting charity." This simple act was impactful because these Brothers recognized a need, provided as they could, and did so anonymously.

Giving and Charity are virtues that are in the core values of all Freemasons.

As we are an organization of individuals who are free thinkers, open minded, and accepting of others' faiths and backgrounds, Freemasons are unique, in that, in each of us is a capacity to care for others. And we do this by either giving our time or performing charitable acts. We take an obligation to help others, but that merely reinforces the internal drive to act where others ignore or disregard. We aren't going to let that family struggle. We won't allow someone to be alone in a time of need. We will find a way to make the impossible, possible. And we do, everyday.

I want to leave you with this thought from Bro. Albert Mackey. "If a sorrow you have lightened or a tear wipe‚ away, if of poverty's load you have taken a share from some weary burdened soul, if you have lifted a cup of cold water to the lips of a famishing mortal, then to far have you illustrated the divine teachings of Masonry, then in so far have you done as the Master commanded."

~MA

Brother Michael Arce is the Junior Warden of St. George’s #6, Schenectady and a member of Mt. Zion #311, Troy New York. When not in Lodge, Bro. Arce is the Marketing Manager for Capital Cardiology Associates in Albany, New York. He enjoys meeting new Brothers and hearing how the Craft has enriched their lives. He can be reached at: michael.arce@me.com

A Lodge Talks Itself To Masonic Education: Part 1 Lost Focus

by Midnight Freemasons Guest Contibutor
Brian L. Pettice, 33°

Stained glass detail over the door of the Danville Masonic Temple (IL) home of Olive Branch No. 38 (photo by Gregory J. Knott)
At its stated meeting Tuesday September 4th Olive Branch Lodge No. 38 approved the following statement regarding Masonic Education:
“We the Brethren of Olive Branch Lodge No. 38 declare that, in order to increase the bonds of brotherhood and the quality of fellowship among our members and assist each of us in improving ourselves in Masonry, the study and especially the discussion of the meaning of the ritual, symbolism, philosophies, and purposes of Freemasonry shall be a principal part of our Lodge experience. To that end, we shall dedicate a minimum of the first thirty minutes after the Lodge is opened on each second stated meeting of the month to the study and discussion of such subjects.”
The Lodge is choosing to move beyond the usual and obligatory Masonic Education practice of a brother delivering a short, usually very short, talk at the end of a tired business meeting. The Lodge has decided to attempt the type of education experience that will give all of the brethren better opportunities to actively engage; the type of experience that allows each brother to really think about a topic, to share his thoughts, to hear the thoughts of his brethren, and to internalize what he has learned; the type of experience that may just change the culture of the Lodge and it has dedicated time to do that. My part in how this Lodge arrived at this decision is a story I hope can help other Freemasons who want their Lodges to follow a similar course. What follows is part one of a three part series telling that story.

Part 1: Lost Focus 

Since becoming a plural member a couple years back, I had informally been giving most of the lodge education talks at Olive Branch. The talks I had been giving were usually short—maybe my thoughts on what a particular piece of ritual meant or a bit of Masonic history—and they were usually delivered at the end of the meeting when most brethren, myself included, were ready to go home. I vaguely felt like we were just checking masonic education off on a list of tasks to complete. It was like taking a daily vitamin—you sort of felt better for having done it, but its real value was questionable. It certainly wasn’t as important as the “real” business of the lodge and if we rushed through it or even skipped it, it wasn’t a big deal.

Ron Vadeboncoeur was elected Worshipful Master of the Lodge this past December and asked me to be the official lodge Masonic Education Guy this year. Shortly after Christmas, Ron loaned me Michael Poll’s Measured Expectations, a book he had received as a gift. Ron asked me to read the book and base my masonic education pieces on the chapters of Poll’s book. Receiving that book would be the first of three occurrences, happening over a fairly brief time span, which would convince me that we needed to change our Lodge experience, especially the masonic education part of that experience.

I decided I would read Poll’s book through and then go back to develop something I could present about each of the chapters. I soon got off this track. I like to read at night when I go to bed. In my younger days, when sleep was optional, I could finish a book that caught my attention overnight and still function reasonably well that day. Now that I have gotten older, I rarely finish a book in a single setting. It usually requires several nights and I usually have to re-read the last couple of chapters that I finished the previous night because I wasn’t really awake when I was reading them. Anyway I was about halfway through the book when a friend of mine, Greg Knott, began a Facebook discussion group for the book—it was apparently a popular Christmas gift. Participating in this group would be the second of the three occurrences I mentioned that prodded me to seek to change our lodge’s focus on masonic education.

The group decided to discuss the book by chapter, so I went back and re-read Chapter One, “A young Man Joins a Masonic Lodge.” This chapter is one man’s story of becoming a Mason and being disappointed in what he found—a Masonic lodge whose meetings seemed to serve no Masonic purpose. Most of the discussion group shared an experience similar to that of the man portrayed in the book. Freemasonry had lost its focus--its Lodges and Members no longer knew its reason for existence. My thoughts began to crystalize around this general theme of lost focus, what that focus should be, and what might be done about the situation as I remembered my own experiences in lodge. Like the young man in the book and the members of the study group, I too found Freemasonry to be an organization whose members did not know its reason for existence. The “glory” days were gone when I entered a little over twenty years ago. There were some talented and dedicated brethren, but most seemed tired. Too few men were trying to perform the activities the lodge had always performed because the lodge had always performed them. The purpose or effectiveness of the activities wasn't questioned. The stated meetings were chores to be dispatched with as quickly as possible. The degrees lacked for participants. The organization seemed desperate to regain something it had lost, but did not seem to know what that something was. Having said all of that, I would confess that I was through the chairs before I really realized the situation. Like those before me, I got on the treadwheel and ran. Five years after joining the lodge I was elected Worshipful Master. I presided over quick and efficient “busyness” meetings and my Lodge performed the same activities it always had. I lamented the lack of attendance and participation at the lodge, but didn’t really have any idea why the situation was the way it was—what was missing.

Tune in for the next edition in our series when I discuss what I think was missing and what I thought we should do about it.

~BLP


Brian L. Pettice, 33° is a Past Master of Anchor Lodge No. 980 and plural member of Olive Branch Lodge No. 38 in Danville, IL and an Honorary Member of a couple of others.    He is also an active member of both the York and Scottish Rites.  He cherishes the Brothers that have become Friends over the years and is thankful for the opportunities Freemasonry gives and has given him to examine and improve himself, to meet people he might not otherwise have had chance to meet, and to do things he might not otherwise have had chance to do.  He is employed as an electrician at the University of Illinois and lives near Alvin, IL with his wife Janet and their son Aidan.  He looks forward to sharing the joy the fraternity brings him with others.  His email address is aasrmason@gmail.com.