True Secrets of Freemasonry

Those who become Freemasons only for the sake of finding out the secret of the order, run a very great risk of growing old under the trowel without ever realizing their purpose. Yet there is a secret, but it is so inviolable that it has never been confided or whispered to anyone. Those who stop at the outward crust of things imagine that the secret consists in words, in signs, or that the main point of it is to be found only in reaching the highest degree. This is a mistaken view: the man who guesses the secret of Freemasonry, and to know it you must guess it, reaches that point only through long attendance in the lodges, through deep thinking, comparison, and deduction.

He would not trust that secret to his best friend in Freemasonry, because he is aware that if his friend has not found it out, he could not make any use of it after it had been whispered in his ear. No, he keeps his peace, and the secret remains a secret.

Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, Memoirs, Volume 2a, Paris, p. 33

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Where Have All the Past Masters Gone?

With apologies to Pete Seeger

Where have all the Past Masters gone?
Long time passing

Where have all the Past Masters gone?

Long time ago

Where have all the Past Masters gone?

Tired and resting, every one.

When will they ever learn?

When will they ever learn?

One thing we have all noticed is that after a year (or two... or three) that the master of a lodge vanishes like a puff of smoke as soon as, or coincidental with, the installation of a replacement... not to be seen for some time, if ever again. What has happened to them?

For those brothers, and non members, who have never had the pleasure/responsibility/duty of sitting in the east and shouldering the burden of leading the work, let me share with you some of the burdens, and joys, of being master of a lodge.The first thing one must consider is that the job is essentially a full time one, in addition to your regular job and your responsibility to your family. On top of that, it is unpaid, volunteer work, sought out for, mostly, the joy of serving your brethren.

Just GETTING to the east is a strict task. As the Junior Warden (one the three principle leaders of the lodge), your provenance is providing the food, snacks, meals, coffee and so on during your year, serving as Acting Master during the conferral of the first degree (including a 20 minute lecture that must be memorized), and serving on various boards and committees in lodge. As Senior Warden, you are the head candidates coach, as often as not on the temple and finance boards, as well as organizing and planning your year in the east, and serving as Acting Master during the conferral of all second degrees and filling in for the master in his (albeit rare) absences.

Then you are invested master of your lodge. The ceremony of installation is fairly impressive, but it is not really until you are asked to swear to abide by a list of about 15 additional duties as master that it really begins to sink in that YOU are the master of the lodge, and it is to YOU that the brethren will be looking for at least the next year. Then they hand you the gavel, and present you to the brethren:

"Worshipful Master, behold your brethren. Brethren, behold your Worshipful Master."

WHAM, oops, you are really the leader now, you are THE WORSHIPFUL MASTER. You worked for this, you memorized the work and fulfilled the expectations of your brethren and have now been elected MASTER, for good or ill, of the lodge. Like most men, at some point you think: Please g-d, don't let me screw up as you step into those shoes, filled by so many brothers before you.

The good news is: Freemasonry is ritual bound, and designed to make it hard to change... or to mess up. As master, YOU are the final word in the lodge, only the Grand Master (and to a certain, lesser extent, the District Deputy Grand Master) can overrule you, and neither will do so unless you REALLY mess it up. You have (if you are really lucky) a cadre of past masters around who will give you advice (just try and stop them) and assist you (and impede you). But, as General MacArthur noted to his command staff, you can't PUSH string, you have to pull it along to get it anywhere.

This applies to the lodge as well. As master, you are the elected leader, and it is your duty to set the tone, give the craft good instructions whereby they may pursue their labors, and in general guide the lodge. To lead, however, you must have the consent and assistance of those you are leading. As Master, you are also the chief confessor, counselor, entertainment coordinator, degree planner, supervisor of the work, whipping boy and chief cook and bottle washer.

As master, you are expected to attend the will of the past masters, the Grand Master, the brethren (and occasionally) their wives. You must attend EVERY SINGLE FUNCTION in your district to "show the flag" for the lodge, even if you are not a member, and of course, fend off all the "suggestions" that you join every appendant and concordant body along the way. That you must attend every meeting of the lodge goes without saying (you CANNOT be sick, you are the master). You must attend every meeting of the "Officer's Association (for my European Brothers, that's a kind of Lodge of Instruction, only more structured), you have to schedule lodge practices (and make and lead those with the Officer's Coach), you must attend all funerals, run the business meetings, attend the building (temple) board and finance committee meetings, oh, and somewhere in all that, maintain your family relationship while earning a living.

Oh, yeah, and one minor irritant you have to put up with are the PMs who DO manage to come to lodge complaining about how "it wasn't done that way when I was master" and suggestions from all sides. By the end of a year, you KNOW you have been master, and will for the rest of your life wear that PM at the end of your name as an appellation indicating that you stood up and counted.

But, by the end of that year, you are bone, dead, stone tired. You need a break, you WANT a break, you DESERVE a break, but the lodge needs you on some committee or in some chair... and of course, your wife and children are asking you who you are when you get home from work... and we wonder why some Master's run away as fast and as far as they can from the lodge for a while, to catch their breath and find themselves!

And here is another reason: its a kind of post traumatic stress disorder. Like the soldiers in Iraq or Viet Nam found out when they came home, one minute in a combat zone and the next home with your family... as Master, one minute, you are the center of the lodge and your phone seemingly won't stop ringing... then you install the new master, and no one so much as calls to so much as see how you are doing because they didn't see you at lodge the other night...

I speak from experience my brothers! I loved my time in the east, despite all the challenges, and when the opportunity presents itself to me again, I will gladly take on the burden of leading my lodge, because the REWARDS of being a past master exceed all the gold in the world, when a brother looks you in the eye and says: Good to meet you, worshipful.

There can be no greater reward in this life.
May the blessings of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us!


Michael Shirley said...

As the Junior Warden (one the three principle leaders of the lodge)... serving as Acting Master during the conferral of the first degree (including a 20 minute lecture that must be memorized).... As Senior Warden, you are ... serving as Acting Master during the conferral of all second degrees

These are local traditions, I think. They're not done where I live.

Theron Dunn said...

Thank you Michael, I had heard that some jurisdictions don't do this, notably UGLE lodges. CA and HI (since they used to be one and the same) do this, to give the upcoming officers a chance to sit in the east and to practice.

I particularly enjoyed being able to initiated new brothers when I was the Junior Warden. Its their first view of the craft, and I always struggled to get it right and solemn.

Son of Light said...

I thank you for your light on the Masters’ work. Again, being new to your lodge and Masonry, I am ignorant in the true dedication the Master makes. I've known he has a great commitment, but was unaware to what extent. All I know is, as a new member of this great Fraternity, I look up to ours with great emulation and admiration. In the short time I have been present, I have seen him fulfill all the requirements you list and then some, always (at least in appearance) with pleasure, alluding that the requests and work he caters too are an honor for him to perform. I guess I just want to say thank you, to you and all the other Past Masters that read this. I can only hope that I can do as good a job as all the Past Masters in the ages before me, when it is my time to serve.
Brother Jon

Dean said...

I agree with Michael. In my jurisdiction we do not have the SW and JW confer any degrees. That is the responsability of the WM. I am a past master with a young family and a young business. I can tell you everything you said is true. I was bone dry at the end and then they asked me to sit a second year. I had to decline. Being Master of the Lodge is a great experience. When you are finished though you still feel like you should be running the lodge. It's odd. Maybe someday I'll head back into the east but for now I help my new lodge by filling every seat that someone fails to fill at each meeting. That caused me endless last minute concern when i was in the east, people failed to make the meeting and didn't give me a heads up. The seats needed to be filled to do a degree or just to ensure smooth running of the lodge. It is a great way for past masters to assist because they typically have been there and know the work.
Good post Theron...

Tubal Cain said...

I always believed that one could do a better job second time around.

It seems that a year flies by so fast in each seat, that by the time it is over, and your ready to progress further, one never feels they "got" all that chair had to offer.

But without time to reflect, you are learning the new chair and new resposibilities. By the time one makes it to the east, depending on ones supporting cast, will determine how smooth it may go. A good core of Past masters around surely should help.

It is a commitment.
It takes volunteering to another level.

It is a sense of accomplishment when it is all over though!

hotc said...

Michael's comment is correct. In Massachusetts some of the traditions on conferral and administration are different.

Nonetheless, Brother, the points are well taken. Past Masters, sometimes justifiably, suffer from burnout after their year (or years) in the East. I was recently pressed into service, promoted from Senior Warden to Acting Master, due to the absence of the Master who was to serve a second time. Though not elected Master last year, it was my fifth time in the East, 22 years in the Craft come next March.

The Past Masters who depart and are not heard from again are difficult to lose, but after considerable experience, I can sympathize. Not emulate, but sympathize.


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