The very first article I wrote for the Midnight Freemasons blog was entitled “What to Expect When You’re Expecting: Worshipful Master’s Edition which can be found here: http://www.midnightfreemasons.org/2017/06/what-to-expect-when-youre-expecting.html. I talked about my fears and aspirations as I went into the East at St. Joseph Lodge #970 in St. Joseph, Illinois for the first time. I gave myself a mission statement for the year and five steps to follow to prepare myself for the journey. The mission statement was: “I want to make Saint Joseph Lodge a better place. A place for brothers and their families to spend time, and a better asset to the community. A place that men in my community want to join. I want to educate the brethren not only using traditional education, but also teach some of the esoteric meanings of the ritual as well. Lastly, I want to raise some funds by having fun.” Man, I wish I could back to being that naïve. I remember writing a reply to myself and a charge to the lodge members after my year as Worshipful Master at St. Joseph, you can find that here: http://www.midnightfreemasons.org/2018/07/farewell.html
I am now going through the East a second time at St. Joseph #970. I will be installed as Worshipful Master virtually tomorrow evening (The Grand Lodge of Illinois is allowing for that to occur with slightly modified ritual). I have also between the time I was Worshipful Master at St. Joseph #970, served in the East at Homer Lodge #199 in Homer, Illinois. This is my third time going into the East. I must be a glutton for punishment.
I now understand why Past Masters are so grumpy. It’s not because they were born that way. It’s most likely because they have served multiple time as Master of various lodges they belong to. I think that a certain type of irritability sets in when you’ve done it more than one time. You become irritable because as much as you want your goals to be true, many of us are left wanting. We are left wanting because we are, for lack of a better term, swimming against the current.
You see, I’ve come to realize that Freemasonry means something different to every individual. While I believe that being a Freemason doesn’t end at the door of the lodge room, there are many others that disagree with that idea. While I think that we shouldn’t use social media to voice our political views, it’s mostly because of past personal experience when I have done so it’s almost caused divisions in friendships. I see the same potential for division of us as brethren. While I believe that education should be the cornerstone of one’s lodge experience, many others are perfectly content to argue about roof repairs for an hour and a half. Some want Freemasonry to be a mystery school, others want it to be a social club. I think it can be both.
I’ve also expressed a view that Freemasonry can only be impacted at the local lodge level. I believe this to be wholly true. I also believe that more than yourself must want things to change. The brethren in your lodge must want change as well. This leaves me with a predicament at St. Joseph, because except for a few brothers, I don’t believe that many of the members care enough to want to change. We’ve lost two active members in the past year due to them moving out of the area. They are still on the membership roster; however, I know that they won’t be there to fill the chairs that I need filled this year. We are looking at a roof replacement that will cost somewhere between 30 and 40 thousand dollars, we also have an issue with water coming into the basement every time we get a significant of rain which needs to be addressed. I don’t know when we’ll be able to have our first in person meeting, and more importantly if I’ll have enough of a quorum to hold it. I know that degree work won’t allowed immediately, so it’s quite possible that I won’t be able to replenish the lodge losses. Everything that I wrote about in my "Farewell" article still exists at the lodge. My fear is that my mother lodge is dying.
I jokingly stated to one of my best friends and the secretary of St. Joseph #970, Curt Bolding, that we should just sell the building and merge with Ogden or Homer Lodge which are a few miles down the road. He said that isn’t such a bad idea. I tend to agree. I belong to Ogden and Homer, and they are having similar issues with attendance, but Ogden is at least bringing in new members. I see the writing on the wall. but I’m not going down without a fight.
I am going to implement some ideas I’ve explored in other articles. We’re already handling minutes and the bills/treasure’s report by email. If there are no objections or corrections, we approve them as read. We have been doing education at St. Joe finally after I had pushing for it for a long time. Blaine Pascal famously said: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” All of St. Joseph Lodge #970’s problems stem from our inability to sit together quietly in a lodge room. Yes, I’m being facetious, but my point is that we spend way too much time focusing on the building and other items and not enough time focusing the members of the lodge.
I think we often forget that a lodge isn’t the building or room that you meet in, it is the membership. So instead of arguing about repairs, I’m going to ask the building committee to put together a report about a week prior to the meeting. If there are any questions, they can be addressed in email prior to the meeting. I plan on doing something similar for old and new business. In my mind, about 90 - 95% of our actual business can be handled prior to the meeting. We should only be reviewing, discussing and voting on items that require a vote. If the members can be informed ahead of time and get their questions answered for items requiring a vote, then I believe that is a win. I’m not reinventing the wheel here. At our Illinois Grand Lodge Communications every year, our Grand Lodge does the same thing. They communicate what items are up for a vote and allow for brief discussion. If it’s working for them, then it can work for us.
My idea is simple. Eliminate the business, and just have a meeting of equal men. We can learn about each other again, or learn from each other’s experiences, or learn about Freemasonry. We can go for a walk together, or go for a meal, or go biking, bowling, or do a million different other activities. We just need do something together as brothers, do something together as a lodge. I really believe that men not only in my lodge, but in my community need this male bonding. I believe this is needed now more than ever. If we can’t show them that we can provide it, then why do we bother meeting? Arguing about building repairs is not Freemasonry. Freemasonry to me is the positive influence it has on the community through our charitable works, the enjoyment and investment in each other and the improvement of ourselves. We’re going to start practicing Freemasonry at St. Joseph Lodge #970. I hope you are doing the same at your lodge. If you’re not, I leave you with a lyric from the song “Guerilla Radio” by Rage Against the Machine. I hope that the words will inspire you to start doing so:
It has to start somewhere
It has to start sometime
What better place than here?