Vol. XVI No. 11 — November 1938

Well Balanced

Grand Master Realf Ottesen, of Iowa, has just sent to his lodges a leaflet descriptive of “A well-balanced lodge program.” It lists nine important points, as follows:

  1. Proficient and effective ritualistic work
  2. An inspiring educational program
  3. Ample opportunities for Fraternal Fellowship
  4. Co-operation in inter-lodge activities
  5. Active participation in grand lodge activities
  6. Adequate provision for Masonic charity
  7. A well organized system of lodge administration
  8. Careful handling of lodge finances
  9. A proper regard for the dignity of Masonry in the community served

This splendid summation of what a lodge should do is worthy of elaboration.

“Proficient and effective ritualistic work.” Any good officer can be proficient in the ritual if he will. If he cannot — he has no business being an officer. Good ritualistic work is the very foundation stone of successful lodge life. To put on a degree with halting ritual, with the words ill-learned, with lapses and omissions, is actually to work an injury to the candidate and to the lodge. Proficiency can only be secured by labor, but the Freemason who is not willing to work — what sort of a Freemason is he?

Quite different from proficiency, but equally as important, is effective ritualistic work. A phonograph might repeat the words perfectly; even a parrot might be taught to say them. Effective ritual is that which carries the message to the ears which listen, both of the candidate and the brethren upon the benches. Effective ritual makes its hearers forget that they are listening to that which has been “learned by heart” and is “repeated by rote.” They hear not words, but truths: they listen not to phrases, but to philosophy, doctrine, the eternal verities. Proficient ritual but reaches the brain; effective ritual reaches the heart. And he who has it in his heart can learn to say it effectively — the most tongue-tied man can be moving in his speech when he tells his friend, his wife, his child, his God, that there is love in his heart. The most tongue-tied Mason, who has Masonry deep within him, can learn to say the dear old words so that they sink deep within the hearts of those who hear.

“An inspiring educational program.” With memories of school days uppermost, many men shrink from anything labeled “educational.” But we have no other, or better, word. An educational program for a lodge can be inspiring without the expenditure of any money; materials can he had from libraries; this Assoclation has materials in quantity; many, if not most, grand lodges have committees on Masonic education which supply educational material of value and interest. Poor, indeed, that lodge who has no brother or brethren willing to dig and delve a bit into the great Masonic books that they may enlighten their brethren; poverty struck that lodge which has no wise brethren who will give of their wisdom to make the lodge know better — and so better appreciate — what Masonry really is. All that is needed is an enthusiastic master to back up an enthusiastic chairman. Time and again it has been demonstrated that the brethren are hungry for Masonic light — the lodge which gives it is alive, growing, and successful!

“Ample opportunities for Fraternal Fellowship:” He who likes milk, or coffee, or pie, or any other viand, knows that “ample” is “enough,” and that “too much” produces a decidedly uncomfortable inner man! Without “ample opportunities for fraternal fellowship” which means time out in meetings to fraternize, an occasional “knife and fork degree” after lodge is closed, perhaps a ladies night, a picnic, a smoker, or other “get together” without degree work — a lodge goes hungry for fellowship. But there are lodges so lax in all other parts of the Masonic program that lodge life consists only of “ample opportunities” with the result much like that of overeating; an uncomfortable feeling of “more than enough is just too much!”

“Cooperation in inter-lodge activities.” Pity the lodge which has no fraternal relations with a sister lodge, or lodges. Not for it the fun and fellowship of visiting in a body; not for it is the joy of playing host when the host becomes the visitor. Such a lodge never knows the happiness of cooperating with one or more sister lodges to stage a reception to a visiting Grand Lodge officer, or a speaker which neither might be able to hear alone; the pleasures of new friendships, new faces, new voices in the dear old surroundings. A lodge which lives to itself alone is like a hermit living beyond human voice or sight — inevitably it must become self-centered, lose perspective, live but half a life.

“Active participation in grand lodge activities.” Too often grand lodge is thought of by the brethren as a mysterious “they” who legislate, impose assessments, pass laws, command obedience. Nothing could be further from the truth. Grand lodge is not “they,” but “we.” Grand lodge is made up of masters, wardens, in some grand jurisdictions past masters. It is a truly representative and democratic body. The individual Mason has his voice in its affairs, through the representatives he elects. Grand lodge pronouncements are but the expression of the wisdom and the will of the whole Craft. How vitally important, then, that every brother inform himself of what grand lodge does; what its objectives are; what its hopes and aspirations; what its plans. Never the grand lodge which did not labor hard and well for the protection, advancement, success of its Craft. Never the grand lodge which could not have done more, done it better, done it oftener, had the Craft as a whole been fully informed as to what was needed and why. But a grand lodge can provide the water and lead the horse to it — it cannot make him drink! Grand lodges publish Proceedings; their committees make reports; many grand lodges publish circulars or a Bulletin to the Craft — all grand lodges desire and some legislate to the effect that delegates must report grand lodge affairs to their lodges. If the brethren stay away from meetings in which grand lodge is discussed, they do not have “active participation in grand lodge affairs” and the whole Craft suffers.

“Adequate provision for Masonic charity." Note the word “adequate.” It may be translated in a dozen different shades of meaning; what is “adequate” for one lodge would be too great or too small for another. “Adequate” provision must consider both the needs and the calls, the resources of the lodge, the brotherly hearts of brethren. One so-called “silk stocking” lodge with high membership fees and high dues, has a roster of men none of whom make less than five thousand dollars a year. Seldom called on for charity to its members, this lodge nevertheless has a charity fund, from which handsome offerings are made to the charity of the jurisdiction as a whole — “adequate provision.” In a little lodge with an empty treasury, one member had his farm house burn to the ground. His purse, too, was empty. He asked his lodge to help. One member said “but we have no money.” Said the master: “we have no money, but we have arms and strength and tools — if we have the brotherly hearts, we will take two days off, each of us, and rebuild that home. . . .” And this was done; forty-two brethren laboring with ax and saw, on lumber donated by the lodge’s one well-off member. This “adequate charity” so enthused the lodge that new petitions came in, new interest was manifest, new fife begun . . . bread cast upon the waters returned many fold.

Some lodges have, some others should have, a special charity fund. Others find it sufficient to take charity from the general fund. “Adequate provision” means some means of answering the call of distress; of being willing to sacrifice, if need be, to aid the brother in hard luck; of having, in other words, complete faith in the reality of the answer to the question, “where were you first prepared to be made a Mason?”

“A well organized system of lodge administration." A lodge may be considered under many different classifications; fraternal organization, fellowship club, charitable foundation, etc. In its practical aspects a lodge is a business. A business succeeds when it is well-conducted; it fails when its managers do not do their job. A lodge has income and outgo. It has obligations and commitments. It has purposes and policies. Without a well-organized system to carry out these objectives, a lodge either fails or just barely “gets along.”

A well-organized system, means, first, a modern, up-to-date, simple but complete system of keeping records; no business is better than its records. It means, next, complete safeguards for its money, its resources, its property. A thousand times it has been demonstrated that the secretary or the treasurer who keeps lodge funds in his own bank account, eventually runs his lodge into difficulty. Many times it has been shown that all officers of all businesses, (lodges no exception) who handle money, should be adequately bonded. As lodge funds are wholly trust funds — funds contributed by the many to be managed by the few for the benefit of the many — to fail adequately to guard such funds from carelessness, slovenly book-keeping and human frailty, is to fail in that most sacred of all business obligations, the trust fund.

Good administration means also a master who will not only take, but seek, advice, either from past masters, his wardens, an executive committee, or some other group. One head, no matter how wise, is rarely as sensible as several. As the responsibility is the master’s, so must the decisions be, but to “do it alone” is to magnify the power and minimize the wisdom which should be in the Oriental Chair.

That lodge is “well organized” which has its charity, its auditing, its ritual works, its entertainment, its fraternal relations committee — not necessarily called by these names, but some groups, representing some aims, ambitions or plans of the lodge, that many may have a part in deciding that which concerns all.

"Careful handling of lodge finances” has to some extent been covered in the above, but the matter is of importance enough to stress again. Every lodge has a brother whose heart runs away with his head; who wants to spend more than fair proportion of income on pleasure, dinners, outings, charity, a building, etc. Those lodge finances are "carefully handled” which proceed first on a budget — a statement at the beginning of each year of the probable income, and its allocation among various classes of expenditure. No lodge need make its budget mandatory — few, if any, for instance, can state with exactness the sum to be spent on charity. But dividing the income between rent, heat, light, entertainment, printing, charity, sinking fund, etc., etc., provides a line to which to hew; if the budget must be exceeded in one item, the excess can be made up in another.

“Careful handling” too, means the reference of any proposed expenditure of any size to a committee to consider and report. A lodge with five hundred dollars in its treasury heard a motion to expend four hundred dollars to send an ill brother to a distant clinic. Charity would make all members vote "aye.” But common sense referred the matter to a committee. The committee did some real work, other organizations in which the brother was a member were called upon, and as a result, he received the needed funds, but the lodge spent only eighty dollars as its just proportion. Without the committee, the lodge would have been the poorer, and the ill brother no better off.

“Careful handling” does NOT mean stinginess, penury, miserliness, in a lodge, any more than in personal finances. To be “careful” means only to be wise. Wisdom spends slowly, thinks well, plans ahead. Nothing more is needed for “careful handling of lodge finances.”

Finally “A proper regard for the dignity of Masonry in the community served.” Under this heading come many items, but three are of paramount importance; the character of men chosen for initiation, the behavior of members, and the public appearances of the lodge.

There is strength in numbers — sometimes. But many brethren do not necessarily make a better lodge than a few. That lodge which thinks only of quality and never of quantity — which would rather do no “work” in a year than confer the degrees upon one not really fit to be a Mason — that is the successful lodge. The blackball is for a purpose; used ill, it damages both lodge and community — used well, it makes for a strong, dignified, successful lodge. There is more than one lodge in the nation in which membership in their communities is regarded as veritable badge of distinction. To pass the scrutiny of these and become a member is to wear the insignia of character. That was once true of all lodges, in a nation which had few, and they, small. Masonry has to some extent “let down the bars,” and perhaps she is justified in thinking that even if a man have little to give to the Fraternity, she has much to give him; thus her blessings should not be denied him because of his poverty of intellect and education, any more than because of an ill-filled purse. But there is a middle ground. The dignity of the Fraternity before the public adds to the power of the order to do good. Hence, real wisdom in the presentation of petitions and in balloting is a bulwark against an undignified Craft.

It is hardly necessary to elaborate on the need of decorum of Masons in public. But a little story bears retelling, of the rather blatant brother, arrested for some offense, who twirled a large Masonic charm on the end of his watch chain before a Judge he knew to be a member of the Craft.

Said the Judge "I see you are a Mason!”

“Yes, my brother!” answered the arrested one, confident that he had “a friend at court.”

“Then I shall impose as severe a sentence as the law allows!” said the Judge sternly. “For an ignorant man, I might have been more lenient. But you have been better taught and are, consequently, morally more guilty!”

Because Masons have been “better taught” than many not members, their conduct should always be the most exemplary; the dignity of the Fraternity is best served by brethren who carry their Masonic teachings always with them, in secular and profane life as well as in the life Masonic.

As for the public appearance of a lodge — at a cornerstone laying, a funeral, or divine service — it goes without saying that decorum and proper dress, quiet dignity and impressive bearing, are essential. Particularly is this so at funerals, when the Craft says to the world “we mourn — we grieve for our brother — we would comfort you, his relative and friends.” For that is what a Masonic funeral is intended to do. How can it do so, if the ritual is ill read, if the words are mouthed and mumbled, if the brethren are pitifully few in number, and those few dressed in anything but the dark and dignified clothing which in themselves express sympathy and grief?

Happy the lodge whose master looks on a Masonic funeral not only as an opportunity to comfort the sorrowing and express the love of his brethren for one but gone before, but as a chance to make a good impression before a public which understands but little of Masonry and consequently, judges by what it sees.

Most Worshipful Brother Realf Otteson’s “well balanced lodge program” should be an inspiration to all lodges. If all who read it will consider each of his nine topics and elaborate upon them even more than space here permits, they will serve themselves, their brethren, and most important, serve the Ancient Craft of which they are a part.

The Masonic Service Association of North America