|Photo credit: W:. Michael G. Koshgarian|
The case for providing the best experience for candidates and members
Stop me if you've experienced this... your lodge is hosting a degree and the only thing secured is the candidate's name. Your scrambling to fill the chairs. One Brother with an important role only knows half of his part, really, he just started learning it after having weeks to prepare. It's degree night and another Brother, the who only seems to show up on degree night (we all know that guy), is asking out loud, "What's for dinner? Who is doing the prompting?" Forget about practice or rehearsals, you can barely get a team assembled for degree night. Does this sound familiar?
Many years ago, my district floated the idea of creating a database of Brothers who can perform parts of our ritual. While there are lodges who have members who can fill every degree role, some feature a bench so deep with alternates and backups - just in case. For many lodges that need help filling open parts and positions, the thought was, if we compiled a list of "specialists" who could be contacted in advance, this resource would help the lodge coordinating the degree. Bringing in help is one way of pulling a degree together. However, the other idea also provides the best experience for the candidates and members of the lodge. A joint degree showcases the Masonic principle of how the best work is done together, in harmony.
A Joint Degree
I had the pleasure and honor of attending and participating in a Joint Degree featuring SIX candidates from THREE Lodges in TWO districts: Van Rensselaer #87, Clinton Lodge #140, and On Da Wa #820. Clinton Lodge hosted the degree. When I spoke with their WM Larry Rivenburg about the work in bringing this degree together, he said, "there was a lot of paperwork." I volunteered that evening to assist the Brothers in the preparation room who would be taking their Fellowcraft Degree that night. I also served as a conductor to one of the Brothers, in a line that just barely fit in the area needed for the floor work.
While in the Lodge room, that's when it hit me; I'm a member of two Lodges in this district, guiding a Brother from another Lodge in a room FULL of members. That point was shared when I spoke with the Senior and Junior Deacons after the degree, they both were excited performing a degree in a room with 40 Masons versus the handful who typically attend their meetings. Looking around the room there were the purple aprons of Right Worshipfuls, an Assistant Grand Lecturer in the Marshall's chair, and the DDGM of a neighboring district (Saratoga-Warren-Washington) delivered the Middle Chamber Lecture, with a level of proficiency and comfort that connected and engaged all listening to his voice. Excellent job, RW!
Sure, there were the usual pauses and prompts that come with any degree. But overall, this was the first degree I have attended where, as a someone on the sidelines, I got something out of the evening's performance. I witnessed Brothers representing many lodges come together and work as one for the benefit of the Craft. It didn't really sink in until my drive home that magnitude of what had happened that evening, how different the experience for the candidates would have been if their mother lodge had attempted to confer the degree on their own.
After the degree, another first - every Fellowcraft shook the hand and thanked every Brother in attendance that evening. Without knowing the work that goes into conferring a degree, the recognized and appreciated the efforts of those who made this experience possible. There were smiles, exchanges of invitations to visit each other's meetings, and fond farewells. This is what Freemasonry is about. This is the impression our degree nights should be leaving, that reminder that we work best - together.
I was happy to see the text message on my phone the next morning in my lodge group chat, the Master of Clinton Lodge had expressed interest in doing a joint degree with my lodge in April. A smile warmed my face as I recalled the words from Psalm 133, "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!"
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: firstname.lastname@example.org