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.