Making a Lodge Meeting Interesting
Can a Stated Communication be Interesting and Fun?
Rod Larson, PGM Minnesota
What an outrageous idea, having fun and doing interesting things at a stated meeting! The stated is a business meeting and the agenda given in the Minnesota Code is very specific. You have to do the opening, read the minutes, read investigating reports, vote on petitions, review old business, talk about new business, read the letters, pay the bills and close the meeting. This doesn't show any place where you are supposed to do something fun or interesting! Besides, having fun is for the Shriners, it must be un-Masonic to have fun in a Blue Lodge.
(Author's Note: Before going further I want to point out that the last paragraph is intended to be humorous. I say this because there are Masons in Minnesota who believe that the things said above are true. There are many other Masons who know that those statements are not true, but that is just the way things are done. And then there are those who are not quite sure, but who want to stay on the safe side - so they do as they were told the code says and no more.)
Point number 1. There is nothing in the Masonic Code that prohibits fun and interesting activities at a stated meeting!
Ted: "True, but there is nothing in the code that says you must make the meetings interesting. And we have our traditions; our meetings have never been fun or interesting!"
Ned: "Also there is nothing that tells how to make a meeting fun or interesting."
Fred: "Besides, no one comes to the meetings anyway. Why bother trying to make them interesting?"
Ed: "Hey guys, maybe someone would show up if they thought they could have a good time!"
Jed: "Oh yeah, look at that agenda. How could anyone enjoy going through that?"
Point number 2. The agenda listed in the Masonic Code is "suggested." Items can be moved around, added or even deleted if the Worshipful Master thinks it is appropriate to do so.
Let's consider a typical meeting "done according to code." After the opening (including pledge of allegiance and greeting visitors) the W.M. and Sec. have a dialog that could last an hour. The minutes are read, petitions are read, investigating reports are read, the ballot box is passed, communications are read, bills are read and paid. After this the officers of the Lodge stand up one at a time and discuss the items of old and new business that concern them. This involves long discussions about whether to buy a new hook for the outhouse door or try to straighten the old one, who should be in charge of replacing the light bulb in the kitchen, etc. - all very important matters for keeping the Lodge running, but not very exciting.
What can be done to get a little excitement into this meeting? Well, for starters, the officers (including the W.M. and the Sec.) can hold an officers' meeting before the stated and get the routine things out of the way. Then when the meeting is ready to open, start looking for ways to break the routine.
The W.M. can invite a Past Master or a visitor or even a side-liner to take the Master's chair or any other chair. Someone might write a special prayer, or one can be taken from an old Masonic book. There are even prayers that have been set to music (Burns, Morris, Kipling, etc.). If you can't find a soloist, try having everyone join together to sing or recite the prayer.
On special occasions (flag day, the 4th, veterans day, etc) you may get a special color guard to present the flag. If the color guard is composed of non-Masons, the W.M. can "Declare the Lodge at recess for the purpose of public presentation." like we do for a public installation or Memorial Service (Masonic Manual page 140). In fact, the Lodge can be left at recess for nearly everything else that is on the normal agenda. (This will be discussed later.) After the visitors have left the W.M. can "Call the Lodge from recess." and the meeting can continue.
To make the introductions different: Have Past Masters stand and announce their name and the year they were Junior Deacon. Have members announce the date they were initiated or raised. Have visitors tell how many miles they traveled. Give an apple (or a banana, or a prune!) to the oldest (calendar or Masonic age) person present. Sing Happy Birthday to the person whose birthday is nearest to the meeting date. Everyone enjoys being recognized - use your imagination to find reasons for calling attention to the sideliners. Give them a chance to talk too. If the sideliners have so much to say that you have to drop some of the routine business - hurrah.
(Author's Note: Wouldn't it be great to have a stated meeting where there was so much happening among the members and visitors that you never got around to reading the minutes and they had to be carried over to the next meeting?)
(Another Note from the Author: To properly talk about putting some variety into the rest of the agenda, let's agree on some abbreviations. First, most of the remaining items on the agenda are routine, ordinary, Standard Old Business items - let's call them "SOB's". What we want to do is introduce some Interesting Variety - let's call those things "IVs". Now, back to the meeting.)
The Lodge is open and introductions have been done. What next? Consider all of the SOB's that have to be taken care of - minutes, petitions, reports, votes, bills. Try this rule: Put an IV in behind every SOB!
For example. Have the secretary read the minutes of the last stated communication (an SOB). Then have the Senior Warden read that note from brother Zed down in Texas (an IV). Then the secretary can read the minutes of the Master Mason Degree (an SOB) and the new Master Masons can be introduced, giving each one a chance to tell where he works, how many kids he has, where he likes to fish, etc. (an IV). Next, let's suppose there is one petition (an SOB). Have the top signer read it (a small IV) and then (since the petition says so little about the man) have the top signer tell the Lodge about the man he is sponsoring (a big IV). Next there is an investigating committee report (this may be an IV in some Lodges) and the balloting. If there is only one person to be voted on, the balloting is a piece of variety, but when there are four or five then they get pretty repetitious and something has to be done in between ballots. Suppose we have voted on two candidates. Neither one is an SOB, but it is time for an IV. The Education Committee Chairman stands up and reads parts of the latest MSA bulletin (every Lodge in Minnesota gets this publication). Next the Lodge votes on two more candidates and then the Lodge Historian stands up and reads parts of the Lodge minutes from 50 years ago tonight. One more ballot, on a brother who wants to affiliate, and the W.M declares the Lodge at recess for a public ceremony. The DeMolay Chapter Dad brings in the members of the Chapter and members of the Mother's Club (they were told when to be there and you did not keep them waiting). He introduces them, and the boys proceed to put on part of their degree work. The W.M. presents the DeMolay Chapter with a $50 donation from the Lodge, to be used for Annual Conclave expenses. The DeMolays and mothers are then invited to take seats on the sidelines and observe what goes on at a Masonic meeting!
(One More Author's Note: What is this stuff about women and boys being at a Masonic Meeting? Please note that the Lodge is at recess, like it is at a public installation or a memorial service. As long as no item of "Masonic business" is discussed and the signs and knocks are not used, it is permissible for non-secret and public business to be conducted in the presence of non-Masons.)
(Author's Note cont.: What is "Masonic business" and how is it different from "public business"? Masonic business is anything relating to the "secrets" of Masonry - signs, passwords, obligations, the form of the degrees, the Legend of the Third Degree, the ballot and items of Masonic confidentiality between a man and the Lodge. Under the last item are included petitions, un-Masonic conduct charges, reprimands, Masonic trials, charity to a needy brother, etc.)
(Conclusion of Author's Note: At our hypothetical meeting the new petitions and the balloting have been finished and I am assuming that the rest of the business is of the public variety, so the guests can be in the Lodge. The W.M. should warn the brothers not to salute while the guests are there and he should be careful not to use his gavel!)
The next item of business is a report from the Trustees (SOB). Then the W.M. presents a certificate of recognition to brother Ted for being the most enthusiastic member of the Lodge during the past six months (IV).
(Another Author's Note: INVENT reasons to recognize and reward brothers! In a volunteer organization this is the only pay that a person gets.)
The Membership Committee then reports on their plans for the Friendship Night program (SOB), followed by the District Representative awarding a 20-year certificate to brother Fred (IV).
(One More Author's Note: You can buy blank certificates for anything you want!)
The Building Committee report (SOB) is followed by a report from the DeMolay Mother's Club (IV). Under new business there is a discussion of a request for a glucose monitor followed by a show of hands vote to approve the purchase (IV). The W.M. then leads a discussion on a proposal by the Program Chairman to hold a family camping weekend in June (IV). Someone notices that the W.M. has removed his top hat and is wearing a fishing hat (IV). He explains that he wore that hat at the family outing last year and he hoped it would help people remember the good time we had.
(Final Author's Note: If you don't have enough SOB's to fit between all the IVs - don't worry. Just be sure to get the IVs in!) The W.M. puts his top hat back on and finally lets the Sec. read the bills (SOB). The vote is taken with raised hands but no gavel (IV?). The Sec. is then allowed to read any interesting communications (excluding Masonic business of course). The W.M. thanks the guests for attending and requests that the Stewards conduct them to the fellowship room for refreshments, indicating to the guests that the Lodge is going to be closed and the Masons will join them in five minutes (tell the truth!). After the guests have departed the W.M. declares the Lodge called from recess and proceeds to close.
A point to keep in mind when using IVs - they should be "interesting variations" from the routine. If something is done too often as an IV it will become routine in itself. The officers should hold brain storming sessions to think up new ways to make the meetings fun and interesting. The ideas used above are only a starter kit. Each Lodge should build a file of ideas. Maybe even put in a suggestion box for the brothers to use.
IVs can be small (like wearing a different hat), medium sized (giving an award, special flag presentation, singing the prayer), large (a ten-minute program on a Masonic topic, a special film, one of the many Masonic skits available from Grand Lodge), extra large (an annual memorial service with relatives invited, "Finn" night - or Norsk, Svensk, etc. - when the work or business is conducted in a different language), and even SUPER (hold the whole meeting in Table Lodge format with meal, have a family pot luck supper with special entertainment and the men go up for a 1/2 hour business meeting during the show or during a break).
The challenge in using IVs is not in thinking them up, since we all know how to have fun. The challenge is in figuring out how to use them in the Lodge. As Masons we have a long tradition that tells us we should hold boring meetings - we have to change this bad habit. When speculative Masonry began the meetings were all held at the "festive board" and the purpose of the meetings was to enjoy the fellowship that Masonry offered. Business was done only to the extent that it made the fellowship possible. We still proclaim the same purpose but we tend to take the easy way and we substitute form for purpose, ritual for fellowship, tradition for happiness, and we have suffered from the change. If we bring the fun, friendship and fellowship back into the Lodge, we will find members, old and new, following behind.
IV Starter Kit
- RULE: The size of an IV depends on how many people are involved in doing it.
- Having someone different read the prayer or give the "Charge at Closing"
- Having a past master or guest or sideliner do the opening
- Having someone other than the secretary read the minutes, communications, etc.
- Have a new member tell about himself then have an old member tell about himself
- Have someone tell a Masonic joke
- Have top line signer read the petition and tell the Lodge about the person he is sponsoring
- Five minute reading from an MSA bulletin
- Read from the Lodge minutes from 50 years ago
- Giving an award Special flag presentation
- Singing the prayer at opening or closing
- Have someone read a Masonic poem
- "Introductions" by year of raising.
- Introduce past masters and have them give year they were a J.D. have visitors tell mileage to Lodge
- Give an apple to the oldest Mason
- Sing Happy Birthday
- A Masonic educational skit (the Grand Secretary has them) a special film a ten-minute program on some Masonic topic
- Have everyone shake hands with everyone in the Lodge room
- Part of DeMolay or Job's work done in Lodge
- Presenting, in the Lodge, a scholarship or cash award to a person or group
- Have a representative from another fraternal group (masonic or non-masonic) come to the meeting and give a talk
- Special recognition for all the Masons who were raised this month
Extra Large IVs
- Annual memorial service
- Finn night (Norsk, Svensk, Railroad, Telephone, etc.)
- Having non-masonic guests in for part of the meeting
SUPER Size IVs
- Table Lodge format for a stated
- Family potluck with the stated "slipped in"
- Special entertainment night for the family