The Masonic Meat Grinder
by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners
I recently got into a discussion with my secretary about pushing a younger member into the progressive officer line. He felt that we needed to push this member who is currently serving as our Chaplain into the officer line, and encourage him to sit in the Junior Deacon's chair. I argued against it. Unfortunately, Brother Secretaries' belief seems to be a pervasive one that I have encountered not only in Blue Lodge but in appendant bodies as well. We need to stop forcing choices upon our members, especially when it comes to becoming an officer. I call this sending them to the Masonic Meat Grinder. I use this term because in forcing someone that has no desire to become an officer, we are essentially giving them the same choice that cattle have when lined up to go into the abattoir. While we are not killing that member, essentially if they are not willing to serve as an officer, in forcing that upon them you will most likely never see that member again, and you will be lucky if that member continues to pay dues.
While I believe that one of the many lessons that Freemasonry can teach you is leadership, not everyone is cut out to be a leader nor wants to be one. I understand that if you're an average lodge, maybe you're struggling to make a quorum, and therefore you feel that everyone needs to be in a chair. In Illinois, a quorum is made up of seven members who are as our ritual explains: "The Worshipful Master, Senior and Junior Wardens, Treasurer, Secretary, Senior and Junior Deacons". In my mind, those are the only chairs that need to be filled to conduct a stated business meeting. Everything else is superfluous.
It's always puzzled me why we get a new member into the lodge and automatically assume he needs to go into the progressive officer line and put him into the Junior Wardens chair. I believe that being a Junior Deacon is a lot of responsibility for someone new to the Craft. I feel that that chair requires not only ritual memorization but learning a lot of floor and rod work, which can be a bit overwhelming for a new brother. Then after a brief explanation of what he needs to do (when I say brief...in my experience, it's lucky if the new brother gets more than 2-3 minutes of "On the Job Training"). Then inevitably another brother or maybe the same one, usually an older past master but not always, takes it upon himself to explain to this new brother everything he did wrong during the meeting. If that brother shows up to another meeting, it's a miracle. I was the rare exception to that rule. Even though it angered me on so many levels, I decided early on that I wasn't going to let the grumpy past masters get the best of me.
While many will argue that having a progressive line is detrimental to Freemasonry, as it allows men to serve as Worshipful Master that has no business in the chair, I point out that at least in my jurisdiction, the three main officers, as well as Treasurer and Secretary, are elected positions. Unfortunately in our failure to properly guard the West Gate, we are also failing to guard the East. We need to stop promoting members into positions that they are ill-suited for. The unpopular opinion that I am going to throw out here is that if you feel that the current officer is not ready to take on the responsibilities of his next position that you either have a discussion with this brother to see how he feels about staying in their current chair another year; or if that conversation is going to be impossible, that you find an alternative candidate and suggest that person for the office they will be moving into instead. In doing so, you are forcing every member to the ballot box; and there maybe other members that feel the same way as you do. Yes, it's probably going to cause disharmony in your lodge, but ultimately it might be saving your lodge from a potential disaster. Nothing can damage a lodge faster than an elected officer that has no business being in that position, especially if that position is Worshipful Master, Treasurer or Secretary. Let's stop promoting officers by nature progression and start electing them by their merits. As much as I hate having to recycle officers, I feel that it's better than repairing the damage that can be caused by having the wrong man in a position of leadership.
I think that such disharmony can be avoided by mentoring the officers behind you in the line. Case in point, at St. Joseph Lodge #970 in 2019, we had our Senior Warden leave due to health problems. This would have put moved our Junior Warden into the Senior Warden's chair, and into the Master's Chair a few months after that. He was not ready for that responsibility. I was serving as Junior Deacon at the time, and the secretary made an observation to the current master that he felt that the Junior Warden wasn't ready to move up and become Master in such a short time. They had a honest discussion, and the Junior Warden agreed he wasn't ready to be Master, and would want to serve as Senior Warden for at least one year prior to becoming Master. I was approached to sit in the Senior Warden chair for the remainder of the 2019 masonic year (Our year is from June to June at Saint Joseph #970), which would make Worshipful Master again in June of 2020. Due to the pandemic, I made lodge history by becoming the only Worshipful Master of St. Joseph Lodge to be installed virtually. Let's hope that I continue to hold that distinction. Of course this only works if the officers behind you are willing to be mentored or need mentoring.
One of the main things I have been doing as Master is making sure that my Senior Warden is prepared for the East. It will be his time serving as Worshipful Master. I have been mentoring him this past year. The culmination of this preparedness was realized at our last stated meeting where had agreed that my Senior Warden would run the meeting. I sat in the West, and he sat in the east. I prepared the meeting agenda for him, but he did the opening, ran the meeting and handled the closing. He did a fantastic job. In allowing him to do this, I allowed him to have the confidence going into his year as Master because I gave him the opportunity to experience that position prior to being officially placed in it. It is something that I wish would have happened to me when I was Senior Warden in 2016, prior to going into the East in June of 2017.
Returning to my original argument, not every member wants to be in the progressive officer line. It's our duty as those that are in that line to not force them into the line before they are ready. I would much rather have that member continue to show up at the stated meeting than to have him made to feel uncomfortable or even embarrassed by pressuring him into a chair that he has no desire to occupy for one meeting and see him never return. While I understand that for a lodge on the verge of closing, this is a difficult thing to do and in some cases it might be an impossibility, but if you're in such dire straits you should be having a conversation regarding merging with another lodge. A lodge should have enough members showing up to make quorum at their meetings that want to be in the progressive officer line to support those that do not. While we also need to make sure that we are giving members a reason to show up for stated meetings by adding Masonic education and/or activities or opportunities for fellowship in the form of lodge dinners or festive boards; we need to make sure we are not forcing them to stay away by forcing an officer position upon them that they have no desire to hold.
WB Darin A. Lahners is our co-managing Editor. He is a Past Master of and Worshipful Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph. He is also a plural member of Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL), where he is also a Past Master. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282 and is the current Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign – Urbana (IL). You can reach him by email at email@example.com.