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New Model Lodge - USA

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Much is made these days of holding business meetings and other meetings on the first degree. This has been forwarded as a cure for alienation and loss of interest in our newly initiated brethren. Several grand lodges in the U.S. have already considered this proposal. However, even if your grand lodge has approved business meetings on the first degree, there are other ways to maintain interest and participation without opening all of our meetings to all degrees of our brethren.

Have the Entered Apprentices and Fellow Crafts understand as a part in their introduction before initiation that they are expected to attend lodge for all meetings, of whatever degree to work in the kitchen, to serve the meals, and to assist in setting up and cleaning the lodge. This is not just a way to get menial chores done. This is a way for the EAs and FCs to become familiar with the workings of the lodge, to be active in the real activities of the lodge and to meet and form bonds of friendship with all of the active brothers of the lodge.

These active brothers will be a good influence of the new masons and show them the example of participation that will keep them coming back, and the experience of serving will let them know what is expected of the officers of the lodge, starting with the stewards and tiler.

Also, whenever the lodge holds a service project or dinner outside of the normal schedule the EAs and FCs must know that their attendance is required to help, not just to bring their families or themselves. This inclusion is the key to these new masons feeling that they are a vital part of the lodge and that their active support is directly contributing to all of the lodge activities.

It will be only a short step for an new Master Mason who has this kind of experience to step into the stewards chairs or to begin in a committee. He is already helping the lodge to run while learning his new degree work. If the meals are prepared in advance or catered, as suggested elsewhere on this site, the meetings where the EAs and FCs cannot attend can be time well spent with a coach learning their memory work. By the time they are ready to become lodge officers, the idea of learning the work of the lodge and serving the lodge at the same time will be ingrained as a part of freemasonry.

Bro J. R. Martin, MPS, Houston, Texas

Here is an excellent further suggestion from Leon Zeldis, FPS, 33° Israel:

I concur...with an addition: in those meetings where EAs and FCs are excluded, have them conduct an instruction session with an experienced brother. Not only going over the lectures, but rather explaining the structure of the lodge, of the Grand Lodge, how Freemasonry started, how your own lodge was started and what it has done in the past, the proper conduct within the lodge, the importance of attending regularly to meetings, recommended reading (see what books you have available in the nearest Masonic library), the meaning of the lodge furnishings and symbols, why we have rituals, etc. In other words, make these sessions interesting, incentivate the EAs and FCs to ask questions, and if the instructor doesn't know the answer, let him be honest, and find the answer later from a more knowledgable brother or from the literature, to convey it at the next session. That's what I wuld do in such a situation.

Of course, I still think that it is preferable to have all lodge meetings (except passing and raising) in the First Degree.

And from Jim May, PGM AZ

I am pleased to see you called "business meetings on the first degree" "a cure" and not THE cure.

Speaking as one from a GL which has allowed this for several years, I can tell you it does help the EAs and FCs maintain contact with the Lodge. That's something the old system could have done, but most often didn't -- with consequences all too depressing and too frequent.

Your other suggestions are right on target. One of my friends reminds me quite frequently that "it does no good to bring live Masons into dead Lodges." Finding something meaningful for new members to do (and reminding them to speak up if they see or hear of something they'd like to help with) ought to be given priority. The old paradigm of "sit on the sidelines and be quiet for a year or two" is a disaster.

Here are some great, practical ideas from Milo Daily of Concord Lodge No. 13, Watertown, SD USA

"And for what it's worth, I'm a new District Master (called "District Deputy Grand Master" in some jurisdictions), PM of my Lodge and past warden of two Lodges; Life Member and hopefully soon Past Master of the S.D. Lodge of Masonic Research (Opinions due to illness of my good friend, Brother and SW; founding SW of the new uniquely dual GL chartered Frontier Army Lodge of Masonic Research #1875 (Reenactor) AF&AM; Philalethes Soc.; Scottish Rite (SJ) 32nd, SRSJ Research Society; Yelduz Shrine and PR area representative; Chairman SD Grand Lodge Public Awareness Committee and editor/writer of Masonic Model Student Assistance Training Program state public awareness tabloid distributed statewide through daily and weekly newspaper inserts.

"I probably forgot something above, but it still takes a buck most places to buy coffee..."(Maybe in South Dakota! Ed.)

As one Mason serving an area where several rural Lodges in changing demographic circumstances are considering turning in their charters even with 35-75 paying Brethren, I'd like to add some observations to Bro Martin's analysis of the condition of Masonry in year 2000 C.E.:

1. I've discovered many Brethren, including some of those most able at ritual -- far beyond my own honestly feeble ability -- aren't aware of the basic concept that if there's no Grand Lodge constitutional restriction, they have actually incredible latitude in what they choose to do for the required monthly communications. This single fact may be a major block to small community Lodges everywhere finding appropriate programs beyond the ritual opening, closing and business reports. In my own jurisdiction they could do darned near anything they might choose -- and opening Lodge monthly or more frequently "in due form" is not even required.... Okay, so we're largely "cowboys" out here...

2. Younger Brethren, seeing little or nothing of relevance to themselves unless they're from a Masonic family (and often not then), even if they join a Lodge, are immediately presented with little of the reality of Masonry. They see a only their senior brothers's scenario of forced memorization of such volumes of ritual that it's inconceivable they might ever succeed.

It's small wonder so many disappear so rapidly regardless of longstanding relationships outside Lodge with many senior Brethren. Nobody ever tells them the ritual is nothing but an outward and visible sign of an inward grace and external true Brotherhood of tolerant and usually supportive men of all ages who meet honestly on a level plane.

3. Teaching today is a significantly different craft perceived far differently than by previous generations. For one thing, many "under 30" men have no experience whatsoever of memory work. Further, their entire education and most their life expereince has been under a "positive reenforcement" style of learning to the point many have never engaged in competitive (winner and loser) types of endeavor. As a result, they simply can't relate to traditional styles of memory work regardless of intellectual capacity.

4. Number 3 means Brethren over age 45 who aren't professional instructors must learn new ways of teaching the ritual and other lessons of Masonry in a more interactive manner marked by positive reenforcement. Changing style is far easier said than done. Don't ever forget Masonry has lost more than an entire generation in North America starting with those who entered culture as a pubescent "adult" in the 1960s.

5. Current "Yes" responses for adults in year 2000 information age culture come from videos, restaurant meeting room dinners for couples, Internet accessibility of schedules, programs and paperwork, "readers theater" ritual, buildings that don't look and smell like Grandpa, free-wheeling discussion of issues of the day (within the usual Masonic restrictions), the opportunity to express personal feelings as well as opinions ... and as ever in living Masonry, friendship in a "current setting"....

Look at number 5, consider it's roughly the pattern of successful Masonry during each of its major growth periods in any national ethos. Then consider what can correct things in Grand Lodges today rather than attempting to resurrect 1870s North American Masonry which died in 1965 when "Tradition" stopped being a motivating factor for any active participation in society for young adults.

Remember also Shrine in the US would not have been successful as a cultural artifact had it not answered a great need of couples' and family enjoyment of a fraternal setting after US Masonry generally sealed the wine bottles in the Craft Lodge building.

Michael J. Kastle, MPS, Concord #307, Vienna, VA, USA "and others" cites a great example:

The American Canadian Grand Lodge (ACGL) part of the German Grand Lodge Association (VGL) always opens, conducts all business and closes in the 1st degree. Many lodges appoint the two newest EAs as the Lodge Jr & Sr Stewards. When FC or MM work is to be done, those not having yet attained that rank are asked to leave and the lodge moves up to the necessary degree and then will return to the 1st for closing if there are lower ranked members outside. They will go to another part of the building and practice their work with a volunteer MM as teacher. This is an excellent way to get the new EA involved in the work of the Lodge. The ACGL is made up of mainly American & Canadian military and expats living in Germany, as well as any other nationality who wants to speak English. My current lodge's (Solomon #822, Stuttgart) secretary is German, and has been secretary for many years. Opening in the 3rd degree appears to be an aberration only found in the USA. James R. Walker, PM of Wallace Houghston Lodge No. 1393 in El Paso, Texas, has a great idea:

As Texas does not yet allow buisness meetings to be held in any Lodge other than Master Masons Lodge, we at Wallace Houghston Lodge #1393 in El Paso, strongly encourage EA & FC Masons to attend the meeting held the day before the Stated Meeting (Officers Meeting) as all business to be conducted will be discussed there. This gives them a chance to see how the Lodge business is conducted, and learn the Lodge operation. Turn out has been very good, and they are always asked for input at the end of the meeting. This encourages the to be involved, and as they are adults, have the right to be heard, if they are to be good members.

Bro Beldon Dominello of Washington Lodge #70 in Windsor, Connecticut has an exemplary lodge:

In our lodge, a concerted effort is made by all of the top three officers (but especially the WM) to call every brother on the rolls at least twice during their year in the chair, just to say hello and ask how they are doing.

This has an added advantage, as one PM knows. This Brother runs our blood drive. Every two months, there's a blood drive in our town, and we host every alternate one. We feed each of the donors as well as the staff a full breakfast (I'm told there are arguments among the Red Cross volunteers as to who gets to work at the blood drive when its at our lodge). Obviously, we need a fair number of Brothers to make food, clean up, prep, etc. The Brother who coordinates this found that he has an easier time getting help if he has already spoken to the Brothers beforehand just asking how things are going. Too often we fall into the pattern of only calling when we need something (remember your parents?), and having an open line of communication makes getting help easier. And-- I think it goes without saying-- involvement in Lodge activities is a great way to keep participation in the Lodge as a whole going.

Once again, if you have a lodge that is going fine without these changes, GREAT! We want to hear from you and, perhaps to include your ideas in our next revision. Please contact the website editor by clicking HERE.