The following article comes from the book Alberta Workshop which is a compilation of the theme speeches of the first 25 years of the Masonic Spring Workshop held each April in the Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta. Bro. Tom Jackson (Pennsylvania) called this the best workshop available to rank and file Masons anywhere.
THE RURAL LODGE
Bro. George Wyllie
Brethren: It is indeed a privilege for me to be invited to speak to you this afternoon, on this occasion, the eighth Annual Masonic Spring Workshop. Many of you have been coming here for years; however this is my first experience at the spring workshop. Thus far, I have found it very stimulating, the fellowship has been indeed warm, and the accommodation excellent.
It seems to me that each of you is here for some reason other than the ones just mentioned. Certainly we all enjoy good fellowship, good food and accommodation. We can have a good deal of those things without ever leaving home. What else then can it be that causes men to travel in some cases, great distances, to meet here for three days. I have an idea that we are all searching for answers to some of the problems that beset Masons today. We were reminded yesterday evening that the problems are really not with Masonry, but maybe with Masons. I believe this was a point well made, and personally I must agree with it.
I plan to discuss the smaller rural lodge with you this afternoon. While many of the points I shall touch upon are not peculiar to the rural lodge alone, there will be others that concern the rural lodge most. I have been reminded by Grand Lodge that down through the years there seems to have been a super-sensitivity on the part of rural lodges to criticism. I should point out here, that it is not my intention to spend my time this afternoon levelling criticism at the rural lodge. I intend to present the rural lodge in a way which I hope will be fair and in some cases possibly revealing.
At the outset I should explain that I have lived most of my life in smaller communities. I raised in a small rural lodge, Kitchener No. 95 at Rimbey. During the ten years that I have belonged to this lodge I have had the privilege of going through the various chairs including the Master’s chair. I have seen a number of degrees conferred. I have been present at visitations made by Grand Lodge Officers, and I have had the privilege of visiting several of our neighbouring lodges from time to time during these ten years. I have given this preamble to assure you that I am speaking from first-hand experience as a practising Mason in a small rural lodge.
My presentation today is going to follow along the lines of a rather amusing little joke that I heard some time ago. I’m sure many of you have heard it also. This situation concerns the galley slaves on a Roman warship. The galley master addressed the men one morning something like this. “Men... I have some good news for you and some bad news... but first... the good news. Everyone is to get steak for breakfast.” With those words of course a great shout of approval went up. Then he said, “now the bad news.” “The Captain wants to go water skiing after breakfast.”
There is much good news about the rural lodge, and it is with this that I want to concern ourselves for a while. To begin with, usually the rural lodge has a smaller membership, because this is so there is a much more intimate relationship with one another. Usually they know the wives and children of the other brethren. They concern themselves with their activities in the community and are vitally concerned with their welfare. In some smaller communities where the population does not shift too rapidly, it is not uncommon for a Mason to watch his friend’s family from birth through high school graduation, and even in some cases he is called upon to propose a toast to the bride. How much easier it is to be concerned about “widows and orphans” when we actually know these people personally.
Joint installations are practised by some of the rural lodges and I’m sure by some urban lodges as well. From first-hand experience I can assure you that this is one of the highlights of our Masonic year when Kitchener NO. 95 and Eureka No. 10 have their joint installation. Both of these lodges applied to Grand Lodge to have their installation date changed from january to June in order that all brethren, young and old, could take full advantage of better weather conditions for travel and fellowship.
We are constantly reminded that our activities should be for the good of Masonry; however we should be ever mindful that some things we do should be for the good of the Mason as well. This is very much in evidence in the rural lodge. Because much of the rural area is engaged in agricultural enterprise in one way or another, special lodge functions such as degrees, special visitations, and installations are slated to occur at times that are convenient to the most brethren.
I believe there is a growing concern in all lodges, large and small, over the dwindling membership and the scarcity of prospective candidates. It seems to me in view of the fact that people in smaller communities have much greater interest in one another personally, as I have suggested before, the prospects of interesting men to become Masons should be very good indeed. Certainly many Masons are well known to their non-Masonic friends in the community. If they practice Masonry to any degree at all it surely must create some good impressions. Why then, if this seems to be reasonable are we not attracting more candidates?
Would it be reasonable to suggest that we are simply not conscious of being brethren of the Craft except possibly on the “Second Tuesday of every month”, or “except in case or cases of emergency when every brother shall have due and timely notice”? The hope of the nation and the world lies with our youth, and so it is with Masonry. Young people however simply do not become involved today with any movement unless they understand its purposes. It has become traditional in the Craft that we do not solicit membership and likely for very valid reasons. We are not impressed with numbers alone, and I hope we never shall be; however if we are to successfully interest young men in Masonry, we as Masons must be more conscious of seeking opportunities to discuss the ideals of the Craft.
FreeMasonry has been traditionally a mysterious brotherhood to outsiders. Unfortunately, in many countries of the world, only upper class, privileged men have even been considered as candidates. This hardly seems to agree with one of our basic tenets of equality. How can we “meet upon the level” if we are to allow a hierarchy to exist in our craft? It is evident now more than ever, I believe, that there is a growing awareness on the part of many Masons that we must be more relaxed in our attitude toward revealing information that certainly is not in any way secret. Have we, in our attempts over the years to elevate and hallow the principles of Masonry, succeeded in creating an aura of mystery that will one day be self-defeating? I have heard Masons in high officers in the Craft proclaim that Masonry is not a secret organization.... it is an organization with secrets. Of course, we realize this to be true, but those outside the Craft do not. You will ask, why be concerned about what they feel... these men outside the craft. If we are to keep the principles of Masonry alive and if the Craft is to grow, then we should be seriously considering how we appear to our community and the world.
How many of our smaller lodges are engaged in positive activities such as sponsoring a father and son night at lodge? Surely this is as close to home as we can get when considering young men for the Craft. How many of your sons have the faintest idea of where you go, or what you do, when you leave with your little black satchel and the little blue ritual tucked in your breast pocket? It seems normal to be suspect of any organization of which we have little or no understanding.
Visitation to other lodges is in my opinion one of the finest ways there is to improve our Masonic fellowship. It is especially rewarding to make an effort to attend the conferring of degrees in other lodges. I never cease to be impressed and often amazed at the fine calibre of work done by some of the brethren in the conferring of degrees. While it is impressive to listen to a fine lecture by one of the brethren, it seems that these same brethren too often are given the same lectures over and over again. This is very convenient for the lodge, very beneficial for the candidate, and truly an achievement for the lecturing brother, but what of the many brethren who sit on the side and never participate? Surely it cannot be because they lack the ability to learn the lecture and deliver it. This problem involves the Master as well as the brethren themselves. It is unfair to both the brethren who always do the work and the brethren who never are called upon to do any work. It is easy for the master to call on good old Harry who always does such an admirable job with that charge, or Joe, the real fireball who never refuses. VX that part of it? He never refuses! Do some of you brethren who have never been in the Master’s chair realize how difficult it is for the Master when he asks you to do a job and you refuse? Think for a moment, if you will, about the way the operative Mason behaved in the time of King Solomon when his master gave him a job to do. Can you imagine Grand Master Solomon being refused by a master Mason who was given a task to perform on the temple?
We are to pattern our lives and actions after the great tenets of operative Masonry... yet we become careless and disinterested. With carelessness and a lack of interest in the job today being so common, it is just that much more important that we cling more tenaciously to the teachings of Masonry.
In the smaller rural lodge, often not more than one or two candidates will be raised during a year, offering the officers very little experience during their brief term of office. It has been speculated by some that offices should be held for a two year term in rural lodges in order to give the officers an opportunity to become more proficient in the work. It is not uncommon to hear Masters express disappointment over the fact that their year is over because they had so little time to do the things they wanted to do.
In the smaller rural lodge there is a limited source of manpower on which to draw when selecting officers to fill the chairs. Too often, very little thought is given to this selection, and consequently we hear, as the previous speaker mentioned, candidates being told that there is really not much work involved with that particular office... just one night a month.... you have all heard it. Maybe one or two candidates a year to be raised... and your part is really easy... and that’s all there is to it. What a mistake to belittle the responsibility of any Masonic office. Unless a Mason assumes the responsibility of being Junior Deacon with humility and dedication, he can hardly expect to progress through the chairs, eventually assuming the Master’s gavel. Belittling the responsibilities of a Masonic office leads to incompetence in the work. This in turn creates an air of disinterest among the brethren, and certainly causes a candidate to be bewildered when he is being initiated, passed or raised? The candidate has been led to believe that Masonic work strives for perfection; however difficult this may be. When he is being led around the lodge room by a degree team who are confused themselves what sort of impression is he to be left with?
It has been said, and rightly so, that everyone has the right to state his views, to criticize as he sees fit. However this can only be qualified by presenting an alternative. An incoming Master should start several months before election of officers, to select, contact and secure the best men in the lodge for the offices to be filled. He should not let sentiment or emotion be involved in his decision, for if he does, he is selling his lodge short, and is in no way suited to become Master himself. His year of office leaves him very little time to accomplish his aims. This goal will be achieved much more readily if he has done his homework early, and of course everyone in the lodge will ultimately benefit.
Careless work is being tolerated all too often. It seems that the Worshipful Master is really under fire here today; however in all honesty, we cannot overlook the fact that it is his responsibility to see to the work being done properly. if his Senior Warden is delivering his work in a careless manner the Master should go to him and insist that he improve for the good of the Lodge and Masonry.
We all have visits from our D.D.G.M. from time to time. Their visits are usually a highlight in lodge activity; however, it appears that even they are much too indulgent with Masons who do careless work. It is a wonderful ability to be tactful, to remind a brother in the most tender manner of his failings, to aid his reformation and to vindicate his character when wrongfully traduced. Our D.D.G.M.’s are among the finest men in Masonry, so we have the right to expect the best from them. When a D.D.G.M. witnesses a poor performance by a degree team for instance, why in heaven’s name should he compliment them for doing something that was below standard? I would be much more impressed if he took me aside, and in a tender manner reminded me of my obligation to do the work in a more dedicated manner.
Occasionally when discussing Masonic matters with various brethren, the subject of the ritual comes up. Should we be more interested in doing our work word-perfect, or is the meaning of the work more important? Certainly the meaning of any communication is most important, but how are we to convey anything meaningful if the work is done in a mumbling hesitant manner, with important phrases left out? This sort of performance leaves the brethren irritated instead of impressed, the candidate confused, and the brother who is trying to do the work embarrassed. When we witness a beautifully delivered lecture, we at once become interested in what the brother is saying, and usually give him a hand clap after he has concluded. Everyone knows in a minute that this brother not only spent a good deal of time and effort on his work, but he indicates at once that this is the way he will in fact do everything else in his life. So, we ask, is word perfection important or necessary. I believe the question is self-explanatory.
During discussions with brethren from lodges of all sizes both urban and rural, we tend to hear the same complaints about lack of attendance. As has been pointed out before the number in attendance may not necessarily be a reflection of the quality of the communication; however, it may well be that the Mason needs Masonry more than Masonry needs that Mason. It therefore seems a great pity that so often lodge communications have been allowed to become so dull that the majority of the brethren stay away, or busy themselves with some other activity as an alternative to attending. At times, I can’t help wondering why anyone comes! It so often involves simply the reading of the minutes, passing a few accounts for payment, getting into a lengthy discussion over some small point arising out of the minutes, closing lodge and having a refreshment hour. The highlight of any communication seems to come, when during open lodge, discussion about Masonic matters is provoked and many brethren encouraged to express themselves. I believe a portion of each regular communication could be devoted to some form of Masonic education. For example, the proper method of balloting could be discussed, with the Director of Ceremonies going through the actual movements of this most important activity.
Instruction in protocol should be given in lodge in order that we will understand the proper way of addressing distinguished brethren. Outside of continuing education papers being presented there is little in the average lodge that is educational. I can recall visiting a lodge in our district last year when the Master brought up the subject of presenting a paper to a neighbouring lodge. He called in vain for someone to offer to prepare a paper, and at last reminded the brethren that they simply should get up a paper sometime. “After all, how can we expect to have the other Lodges presenting papers here, time after time, if we never present one at their communications?” Think of the fellowship and education these brethren are overlooking when they refuse to present a paper. You have heard all the excuses that are used for this lack of interest in papers. some brethren plead ignorance, some plead inability to do the job, and some simply refuse with no excuse. There will always be those who can do a better or a poorer job than we; however if you are capable of writing a letter, and reading the daily paper, you are capable of writing an educational paper. Everyone has ideas that his brethren should hear. It need not be lengthy, but should be interesting and informative. Most lodges have a Masonic library on which to draw for information. As in other educational endeavours, the brother who undertakes to write and deliver the paper, learns a good deal more than he imparts.
Masonry has come a long way brethren, since the building of King Solomon’s Temple... Masonry is filled with ageless principles that have not eroded in importance with the passing generations. Mankind is essentially a kind, co-operative creature who becomes unkind and suspicious of his fellow man when there is a lack of communication and understanding. Masonic principles can and do put men of different races, religions and ideologies on a common level of understanding with one another. Each of you here today has come in search of further light in Masonry. I sincerely hope you will find it here during this weekend of fellowship. I would like to think that a true spirit of brotherly love prevails here today. If it does, why don’t we try meeting upon the level, don’t simply say, but really do it! Why don’t you spend the rest of your spare time here meeting brethren whom you have never met before? go up to them, extend your hand... tell them who you are. When that good feeling comes over you, that comes from friendship and brotherly love, try taking it home with you, and practice it there too. What a witness for Masonry this would be.