In the first installment of this series I shared Olive Branch Lodge No. 38’s statement on Masonic Education and established that generally Freemasonry had lost its focus. In the second installment I talked about my and other’s experience with establishing mission, vision, and goals statements for a lodge and how I hoped the Lodge would come to the conclusions I already had. In this last installment we will see how what has happened and why I am excited about the course the Lodge has decided to follow.
By the time late July rolled around I realized we would not have adequate time to have these discussions during the “Masonic Education” portion of our meetings, so I moved that all interested brethren meet at the restaurant down the street two hours before our first stated meeting in August to begin our discussions. On Tuesday August 1st a dozen Masons met at that restaurant to start the process. I reiterated to them what I wanted to eventually accomplish—to deliberately and intentionally establish mission, vision, and goal statements that would guide our future Lodge experience. I told them we were beginning an experiment to see if an existing lodge, one with long-standing traditions, could do that—to see if its members can reflect on and exam themselves and their Lodge and define the mission and purposes they want to pursue- to deliberately define their culture and the changes needed to realize that culture.
I told them to begin the experiment we need to answer two questions. What is each of our purposes or missions as individual Masons? And, in light of our purposes as individuals, what is the Lodge’s purpose or mission and what should the Lodge experience be in order to accomplish it? I thought I already knew the answers to these questions and, though I intentionally didn’t share this with the brethren, I thought the lodge would in short order come to the same conclusions I did. I was mistaken. We had great participation that night with many brethren talking about what they liked and didn’t like about being a Freemason. They mentioned family traditions and being part of something bigger. They mentioned charity and fellowship with moral men. They mentioned history. But these comments weren’t my answer—that by studying the meaning of the ritual, symbolism, and philosophy of Freemasonry we can truly subdue our passions and improve ourselves in Masonry, we can lift ourselves up morally and especially spiritually—and I was initially a bit disappointed. I thought this, leading the brethren to my conclusions, will take longer than I thought. Two really significant things did come out of that evening though, an enthusiasm among the brethren to continue the discussions and a suggestion by one of the brethren that we devote time, at least forty five minutes, at the beginning of the next stated meeting to the discussion. This suggestion led to a motion later that evening that we devote time at the beginning of every second stated meeting of the month to continuing these discussions, still with the goal of documenting mission and vision statements.
In preparation for the next meeting I asked the brethren to think more about what being a Freemason meant to each of them and we would continue our discussions in that vein. Something else happened though as well. I began to think at how I arrived at my conclusions as to what Freemasonry is and ought to be and I realized that it took me twenty-two years to arrive at where I am right now and truthfully I am still evolving. My experiences and studies in that twenty-two years are not the same as that of my Brethren. Their experiences and conclusions are the product of their experiences and studies and are as valid to them as mine are to me. When we arrived at the next stated meeting we started our discussions and the comments were already on a different level than the last meeting. The brethren talked about their feelings; how following in their uncles’ footsteps made them feel; how they felt about meeting and talking with brethren of different generations (I found out I am not in the younger generation anymore); how just being with each other made them feel. I began to re-think my emphasis on everyone agreeing to the same mission and vision. I began to think this was the important part—the brethren of the Lodge devoting themselves to learning and sharing with each other without worrying necessarily where that would lead. I began to think a better idea would be for us to just study and discuss and learn together and see where that led. So, I suggested to the Lodge that we continue to dedicate time at the beginning of each second stated meeting for discussion and study. I said that I would draft a statement for the Lodge to approve at our next stated meeting describing our commitment and suggested we begin our new program with study and discussion of the Grand Lodge of Illinois Intender program which is designed to teach the fundamentals of Freemasonry.
I formulated the statement and then something happened that confirmed to me the correctness of my new perspective on the way our lodge would execute Masonic Education. I was at another Lodge’s degree conferral one night when I noticed their business meeting agenda taped to the Master’s pedestal. It was dated from 1973, forty-five years ago. I had seen the same agenda in nearly every lodge I have been in. Nowhere on that agenda was anything about Masonic Education. Nowhere was there anything about studying Masonic symbolism or philosophy. Nowhere was there any indication of how Freemasonry was to go about making good men better. I realized that an existing lodge will not easily turn a corner quickly, nor should it be expected to. Will we ever document our mission, vision, and goals? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe those are not necessary. Maybe they would be the sort of static ideas that would still be taped to a pedestal forty-five years from now. But dedicating ourselves to devoting time to studying and discussing Masonic ritual, symbolism, and philosophy does change the experience in the Lodge. It does and will continue to change its culture. Dedicating ourselves to this does offer to each of us the opportunity to subdue our passions and improve ourselves in Masonry. It offers the members of the Lodge the opportunity to always reflect on what the Lodge is and what they it should be. That is the important thing and all you have to do is make time for it. The subjects a lodge might study are endless. We chose a readily available program already provided by the Grand Lodge to give everyone a good basic knowledge and understanding of Freemasonry. The important thing is we chose. We approved the statement and we began our studies and discussions September 18th. If you are in Danville, Illinois on the third Tuesday of the month, stop by and see how we are doing.