In preparing to be Master of a Lodge for the first time, I met with many a Past Master for advice. But there was one Brother, not a Past Master, but a DSA (Distinguished Services Award recipient), who bent my ear and placed in my lap an inch-thick compilation of ideas and notes. Bro. Marlin had been a Mason for over 60 years, and served as Trustee for some of those. He had no ritual or formal leadership aspirations but is passionate about the Craft. And the stack of papers in front of me was a testament to no small amount of thought given to it.
I met with him earlier this year, and we went over some of the same ideas and thoughts. I had incorporated many of them into my plan the year I was Master, some without success and others with success, but in a way different than he had envisioned. After all, even good ideas need to conform to circumstances, such as Masonic Law or the wishes of the Brethren in general. Over lunch with his wife at their kitchen table, he reiterated these ideas, expressing how, at 94 years old, he seeks assurance that Masonry will be fine in the generations after him. That America will be fine. And the two are intimately connected, as our Country needs fine gentlemen to be among its leaders more than ever.
Sure, everybody thinks they know how a Lodge (and Masonry) is supposed to be run, but I found his sense of organization and methodology impressive and inspiring. He recognizes (as many of us do) that continuity is a big issue. Officers having required requisite duties, passing down project and program binders, and an assistant to the Master in the development of the Trestle Board all make sense, and some Lodges already have these things in some form. It's just hard to turn practices into habits and then traditions if they are not already in place, and being a Lodge merged ten years earlier (and other circumstances since then) such things had still not been firmly established in our Lodge.
But then he said something that summed up the value of Masonry in a way I had never heard before:
Masonry should improve the quality of life of its members and the community.
We can talk about "making good men better" but how do we measure that? Can we say we succeed if it is not reflected in our personal lives and the public sphere? What specific skills or habits can we learn that will make us better husbands and fathers? In what personal way can we impact the community other than charity dollars and hours? His answer may not be the same as mine or yours, and it may or may not apply to your Lodge, but I will share it here.
Amongst the Brethren, we should know what we each do professionally. No, Masonry is not a business networking group. But yes, helping each other professionally can improve our quality of life and that of our families. There is a wise prohibition against pimping ourselves out, but we don't have to hide what we do. And it's part of who we are – a full third of our gauge – that we can share with each other. To that end, a directory of members with such information may be useful.
But why stop there? What if we take our professional talents and extend them into the community in an educative way? Bro. Marlin suggests an occupational showcase where youth and others have a chance to speak with Brothers in various professions.
Why not promote student skills workshops? How about simple lessons in courtesy and etiquette? There are even families that do not have someone there to teach a young man how to have a firm handshake and make eye contact, let alone tie a tie (as archaic as that may be in the not-so-distant future). The possibilities are only limited by the needs and receptiveness of the community. One of Bro. Marlin's favorite ideas is to showcase The Great Courses. We are now flooded with documentaries on YouTube and television, but these courses (DVD and online) are pretty hardcore. Again, results may vary, but why not explore this?
The interesting thing to contemplate is how much these sorts of things take us back to our operative roots. The Guilds and their descendant entities were centers of occupational connections and learning within their communities. They didn't just bring value by the work of their hands, but by their place within the everyday lives of the community.
But how do we ultimately measure quality of life in this context? Maybe the best way is to answer different questions. Would we be no better or worse off if we were not members of our Lodge? Would the community miss us if we were gone? We may not remember the Orders of Architecture, but we will remember those times we have been there for each other as human beings, spiritually, socially, and even professionally. The community may not understand our traditions or rituals, but they ought to feel our presence by our impact, not by fundraisers but by charity, not by bumper stickers and slogans but by scholarships and other things in line with the above.
Quality of Life seems like the perfect way to measure our success, the visible fruits of morality, our virtues, and our principles.
Bro. Ken JP Stuczynski is a member of West Seneca Lodge No.1111 and recently served as Master of Ken-Ton Lodge No.1186. As webmaster for NYMasons.Org he is on the Communications and Technology Committees for the Grand Lodge of the State of New York. He is also a Royal Arch Mason and 32nd Degree Scottish Rite Mason, serving his second term as Sovereign Prince of Palmoni Council in the Valley of Buffalo, NMJ. He also coordinates a Downtown Square Club monthly lunch in Buffalo, NY. He and his wife served as Patron and Matron of Pond Chapter No.853 Order of the Eastern Star and considered himself a “Masonic Feminist”.