|Stained glass detail over the door of the Danville Masonic Temple (IL) home of Olive Branch No. 38 (photo by Gregory J. Knott)|
“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.