Monday, May 16, 2011

A Master Builder by Any Other Name

The Grand Lodge of Iowa has something called the Master Builder Program, which encourages new Masons to get involved in their lodges by giving them a checklist of tasks to complete... on successfully achieving these milestones, the new Brother earns the title of Master Builder, and in the process has gotten actively engaged in his lodge instead of disappearing after the 3rd degree.

The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts has a very similar program, which is indeed very effective at getting new Brothers involved even in lodges that don't always do the best job of following through with them. In Massachusetts, though, a Brother who works through the list of requirements earns the title of Masonic Rookie. Which would you rather be called?

Monday, March 7, 2011

On the subject of dues (or, Beating a Dead Horse)

The Petersham Curling Club charges $390 per year, or $32.50 per month, for membership. This for a casual sporting club that does not make any of the lofty claims our Masonic recruiting materials often do... no 'making good men better,' no 'Curlers give $2 million a day to charity,' no 'George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were curlers too!' But clearly, the passion is there because members pay those dues year after year, and take advantage of all of the privileges that their membership affords them.

My mother lodge's dues, in contrast, work out to $7.30 per month, and that's after they were raised a couple of years ago. After dues went up, we got an angry letter from one Brother who now lives in another part of the country, assuming there had to have been a mistake in his dues bill. When told that no, dues had indeed gone up, he immediately asked for a demit, stating flatly that "$88.00 per year is too much for Blue Lodge dues. I pay less than that to belong to the Shrine."

If my lodge's dues jumped to $390 per year, I'd feel a pinch for sure - but I would find a way to pay it because being a Mason, and participating in my lodge, are that valuable to me. Imagine what your lodge would be like if everyone who belonged placed as much value on their membership as curlers do!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Like the Precious Oil Upon on the Head

It was my privilege last week to visit not one but two lodges under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Free & Accepted Masons of New York, both of which meet in the magnificent Grand Lodge building on West 23rd Street in the Flatiron district of Manhattan.

I toured the Grand Lodge building in 2007, while still waiting to take the first degree, and although I had done some reading and knew something about the arrangement and significance of the furniture in each lodge room, I was still very much an outsider.

When I stepped into the anteroom of the Ionic room last night before the meeting of St. John's Lodge No. 1, there was a palpable charge of anticipation about the room that simply wasn't there when I walked around it as a profane tourist 3 1/2 years ago. The pre-ritual ritual of Brothers filing into their lodge and greeting one another warmly is the same whether you're in a dense city or in a remote country lodge, and it's the same whether you're a member or a Brother traveling in a foreign country.

What we do is profoundly special. How many other organizations give you the ability to walk into a room as a complete stranger in a faraway city at the start of the evening and part with bear-hugs at the end of the night? When it's done right, Freemasonry is just an amazing thing. As every Entered Apprentice is told, it conciliates true friendship among those who might otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance, but too often Brothers never set foot outside of their district, or even their own lodge. Even as a dedicated officer or active Brother, it's far too easy to get worn down by the grind of nuts-and-bolts Freemasonry and the petty intrigues of your local Masonic community.

When you travel both literally and Masonically, you experience a fascinating juxtaposition. Physically you find yourself hundreds or thousands of miles from your home, friends, and family. Even if it's a place you've been before, it's not home. You're out of your element, on your own... but if you find a lodge in that foreign place, you will be met with slight guardedness which quickly gives way to sincere fraternal affection once you're duly examined to the Lodge's satisfaction.

Once the lodge is tyled and the meeting starts, you realize that it doesn't matter where you are. A well-governed lodge at work exists out of time and space, and distinctions of geography aren't important. It's an important reminder of the universality of Freemasonry, and a great way to recharge your Masonic batteries.