Disappointment, Burnout, and Knowing When to Walk Away

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Erik Geehern

This past Wednesday, as I read WB Lahner's “Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes” post, it resonated with me on so many levels.  Specifically, this; “However, the job of being the Blog's editor is time-consuming, thankless, and sometimes frustrating.”

Two months into my year in the East I sat down and wrote down my thoughts, mostly as a way for me to vent.  I was frustrated and disappointed in the participation levels in my Lodge at the time. As a new Master, I was trying to invigorate our small country Lodge and do things differently than they had been done before. In my eagerness to revitalize our Lodge, I might have set my expectations too high, hoping to see a surge of engagement and renewed enthusiasm.  

I ended that written rant with this; “It may be time to humbly admit that my expectations might have been overly ambitious, and I am dedicated to working alongside all my Brothers to create an atmosphere of unity and purpose within our Lodge.”

It is now about seven months later, and sadly nothing has really changed.  We all know Masonry is a volunteer organization, one that takes a back seat to family, faith, or work commitments.  I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment and have put things ahead of my attending a meeting or rehearsal many times myself.  Still, I must admit that I find myself feeling disappointed in some of my Brothers.  

Recently I called for a meeting to discuss our Lodges finances as well as a few other items I think could use a revision in our bylaws.  It snowed the morning of the meeting and several Brothers reached out stating we should cancel due to the weather and the road conditions, even though the snow had stopped by 1 pm and the roads were perfectly clear well before our 6:30 pm meeting.  In the interest of ensuring we had maximum participation, I postponed the meeting. 

Several Brothers then reached out complaining about the postponement… To ensure we didn’t have a repeat I decided we would make the meeting virtual, that way if the weather interfered again, it would not be an issue.  Not surprisingly several Brothers reached out to complain they are incapable of joining virtually.  So, I made the meeting hybrid, I would meet at the Lodge and set it up on our big screen, everyone can come in person or attend online, whatever works for them. Including myself, seven Brothers participated. One of the Brothers who reached out to me three times to complain in one fashion or another about this meeting did not come.

Seven months ago, I wrote about how we had a toy drive to benefit the Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia.  This is something that our Lodge has done for about three years now. We have one toy drive in July for the Centurion “Christmas in July” event and another in December for the holidays.  We have one Brother who takes all our donations down personally each year and supplies us with pictures for our newsletter.  I’m not sure if it is even worth including in our next issue, we had two or three Brothers contribute, and that’s it.  In total those few Brothers donated about ten full grocery bags filled with toys, so we should be proud that we were able to contribute to a very worthy cause.  Our December toy drive fared even worse.  I just can’t shake the knowledge that we could have and should have, done much more.

We had three worthy Entered Apprentices we were preparing a Fellow Craft Degree for.  In our Lodge, the Senior Warden leads that effort and sits in the East for the Degree.  We had about six rehearsals in total, no more than three or four Brothers were able to attend any given rehearsal night for various reasons.  Pretty hard to rehearse for a degree without the officers that have important roles.  Eventually, we made a difficult decision to have our Brothers be passed in a Fellow Craft Degree at a neighboring Lodge, as we felt it was unfair to hold these Brothers back in their Masonic progress.  We still have one EA we need to prepare a Degree for as he was unable to attend.  I think it looks likely we will be asking for another Lodge’s assistance once again.

In my usual vocation, I have managed small and large teams.  I have had up to ninety direct reports and at one time was responsible for approximately seven hundred employees.  I understand the struggles of motivation in the workforce.  My usual tactics will not work in the Lodge, it's not like I can increase wages for increased performance or offer bonuses to top-performing units.  Every member of our Lodge joined for the same core reasons, to be a part of something bigger than themselves, to become better men, to learn and grow.  Why then is every Brother not giving it his all and holding himself to higher expectations?

But as I reflect on this, I am compelled to question whether my expectations are indeed too high. After all, Freemasonry is built upon the foundation of unity, friendship, and mutual support, and each Brother contributes according to his abilities and circumstances.

I remember early in my career being so frustrated with some of my employees and the condition in which they would leave the store at night.  I would come in and have to re-sweep and mop the floors, clean the glass, empty trash, etc.  Eventually, I learned it was completely unrealistic to expect some team members to care as much about the store as I did.  I was a salaried manager, there fifty-plus hours a week, and ultimately, I was responsible for every aspect of the store.  Why would a high school student, making minimum wage work ten or fifteen hours a week because he needs gas money care as much as I do about the condition of the store?  On average, they won’t, and I really can’t blame them.

I guess Masonry has some of the same dichotomies.  Not every Mason is willing or able to make Masonry a full-time commitment.  My two children are a bit older and largely can take care of themselves.  I highly doubt if I had an infant or a toddler, I would be able to participate at the level I do now.  I’m sure when I am older and have grandchildren if I get a last-minute call on a meeting night to come watch the kids I would jump at that opportunity.  I am sure some Brothers are in very different financial positions than I am, and simply may not be able to contribute to the myriad of fundraisers and donation requests that are put forth throughout the year.  

I have no doubt that anyone who has sat in the East can relate to the feeling of frustration when you put so much effort into something and those efforts simply are not reciprocated, or even appreciated.  I often discuss with one very close Brother, who participates in everything our Lodge does, the ongoing frustration I feel.  Sometimes just being able to vent helps.  Maybe it’s a bit of seasonal affective disorder, but I have thought maybe it is time to affiliate with a more active Lodge and move on.  My Masonic District has thirteen Lodges.  Most are in similar situations as my own, some better, some worse.  A few stand out as active, growing in membership, and generally on the rise.  However, our small Lodge is in a position where the loss of even one active Brother would be devastating. There is no way I can allow our Lodge which has existed and served our community for almost 170 years to fail. 

If seven Brothers could start this Lodge in 1855, surely seven can help get it back on track in 2024.  So, am I disappointed? Yes.  Am I burnt out? A little.  Am I ready to walk away? Not a chance.


Bro. Erik M. Geehern is currently Master of Goshen Masonic Lodge #365 in Goshen, NY under the Grand Lodge of New York. He was raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason in October of 2019 and since then has served in various progressive chairs along the road to the east. He writes and curates a newsletter for his Lodge quarterly which disseminates education, history, and esoterics. He is also a member of the Grand College of Rites, the American Lodge of Research, and the Kansas Lodge of Research. He works in restaurant operations & consulting, and when not engaged in his usual vocation, or laboring in the Craft, he loves spending time with his wife and two children.

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