Today on Emeth, I’m proud to host a discussion topic led by Worshipful Brother Ken Lane of Esoterika Lodge in Seattle. Ken and I, along with some other Brothers have from time to time discussed a process whereby Grand Lodges could assist Lodges that were struggling, before they got so bad that the Grand Lodge had to step in.
The post below is from WB Ken, he and I look forward to the discussion it generates here.
Finding the G in Grand Lodge
Brothers, we are in need of overhauling a Grand Lodge system that was set up post World War II. It has been described to me that Grand Lodge is a blunt instrument - meaning they are ignoring and by inaction, most of what is transpiring (poor ritual, low membership retention, lodge finances being spent on members), or they are in full force, a blunt response after there is a clear violation of the Washington Masonic Code. Then there are suspensions of Brothers and Charters.
Would McDonalds allow one of their stores to be run down, have people get sick from their food and continue to operate? No! It hurts all the McDonalds franchises. So, why do we allow this to occur?
How do we reform and encourage Mason to do, and be their best? Why do we continue a practice where we knowingly wait until there is a calamity before stepping in?
Most of our problems are evident.
I'd like to instead propose that the "G", the gray middle ground, is an area we desperately need to develop and cultivate. We need guidance and standards so that our work does not diminish. Why does a newly Chartered Lodge have to have demonstrate that they must perform the work proficiently on all three Degrees, yet, once a Lodge receives a Charter, there is no standard for proficiency and excellence?
Why are we not discussing what it means, including the responsibilities of maintaining a Charter in a Lodge? We are told a lot of words in the Installation of Officers, but there is no follow through that I am aware of or have witnessed to ensure actual quality is being delivered. I have witnessed the blunt instrument, but not the in between Gray area. In every job I've worked in, if my personal production or quality dropped, it is discussed and a formal "PIP" - Personal Improvement Plan written and for overall improvement. It allows the Gray area, before it gets bad, and the blunt instrument arrives, time for improvement. Likewise, it provides opportunity for open, honest, Brotherly discussions to occur.
I'd propose that the Deputy on his Official visit should provide a 21st century detailed report to the Grand Lodge along with the Worshipful Master regarding the overall health and quality of the Lodge. A rating system, scores, and areas of improvement could be documented and followed - progress to goal. The Deputy is the Grand Master's eyes, but when they report today of concerns, we don't have a healthy system to improve underperformance.
How would Freemasonry look if we set high standards, and expected them from our Brothers? Would we attract and retain more quality men?
Unfortunately the majority of Grand lodges today are more concern about receiving the dues and who has the more shiny jewel hanging by their neck.
But still the problem is not the Grand lodge. The problem lies at the heart of each individual lodge. If each lodge do a good job of educating their members about what Freemasonry really is (not just reciting by memory the rituals), then the problem will fade away because those with good caracters will later occupy those chairs. Grand lodges are just reflecting that problem.
The first indication of a failing lodge is poor ritual. If the members of that lodge can’t be bothered to practice the ritual and learn it, then what else are they neglecting? What does that tell you about the quality of their character? Their integrity? And the past masters of that lodge, how are they allowing men to be elected to positions they are not able to fulfill? Is it a simple case of “better them than me”?
I am a firm supporter of the autonomy of the lodge, but the whole point of grand lodge is to establish standards that those lodges must follow. If the grand lodge is not doing that, then they are just as complicit in the problem as the men.
What is the point of a district meeting if those reports given by the district deputies is simply sugar coating the truth? Listening to those reports about some lodges you’d think everything is just dandy, and all the lodges are happy and the men in them are outstanding examples of freemasonry. Having sat in those lodges, I can tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, there are lodges in our jurisdiction that are those shining examples of excellence, but the bad, quite frankly, outnumber the good at least from what I’ve seen.
Lodges that can’t be bothered to perform the proper ritual either need to get their act together, or close. I’ve heard comments like “it would be a shame if we lost our presence in an area”. Well, is a lodge in an area that is failing a good representative of the craft? Is it doing more harm than good?
It is just frustrating at least to me, to go visit a lodge and see pillared officers with open ciphers in their stations, and even more frustrating to see men sitting on the sidelines who can do a better job, but refuse to. And finally, those men sitting at home on lodge night, they are just as much to blame as the men in lodge driving that lodge into the ground. How can you call yourself a mason when you let things get that bad by apathy?
There are so many underlying problems that we’ve discussed on this forum, but WB Ken was right, there needs to be a more open and honest appraisal of the situation and support from grand lodge to rectify it.
Last year, I visited a lodge in Ohio. They did an "exemplary 2nd degree". They didn't have a candidate, so they just used a brother and did the degree. I found this odd, so I inquired of the Senior Warden, why? It was explained that in order to stay in good standing with Grand Lodge of Ohio, each lodge must perform all 3 degrees each year. They must report who participated, if it was a live degree or an "exemplary degree". This is a simple thing we can and should adopt here in Washington. Even if we don't have a candidate, we should remain proficient.
1 of my lodges here hasn't conferred a degree since 2019. 4 years of no degree work. I think, regardless of our Grand Lodge adopting such a rule, ill propose it as a standing resolution in our lodge.
I agree with Brother Glenn that lodge autonomy is important, but if a jurisdiction is going to have a have Grand Lodge, then it needs to be run like a business. If any corporation changed its leadership every year, it wouldn’t be in business very long. The selection of Deputies needs to be scrutinized too. A Deputy should be a Mason with high standards that has proven himself among the brethren. To be “judged” by a Brother who lacked in his own ritual or leadership is clearly a flaw in any business model. I like the idea of being required to perform all three degrees every year. Perhaps lodges should be encouraged to submit 5 & 10 year plans. Becoming proficient in any endeavor doesn’t happen by magic. If a lodge isn’t proficient in ritual the only way to change it is to have a plan to change it. It also creates a pathway to bring back to lodge those brothers that were excellent in their rituals to re-teach it.
To the question of attracting and retaining more quality men; we will attract and retain more quality men if we set higher standards.
In our first degree ritual we acknowledge what all men come to Masonry for, we all come to learn. Would have to say that if we aren’t fulfilling our own promises to our newer Masons to help them learn then we will not retain them, and they most likely won’t recommend the fraternity to men that they are acquainted with.
Higher standards are going to inspire. All of our work is written to inspire and should be learned in a manner that can be delivered inspirationally. We all came to Freemasonry to learn, some are inspired by history, some by philosophy, but if we’re not engaging our Brothers by delivering good work we won’t inspire Brothers to seek more knowledge, to learn.
I’ve never heard a man say that they wanted to join Masonry to learn to cook for thirty, pay bills, or fix buildings, but I have seen and heard Brothers walk away from emotionally delivered, near letter perfect Degree lectures in awe saying, “that is what I want to do”. I’ve never asked if it was the delivery of the lecture or the message of the lecture, it doesn’t matter. The inspiration is what is important and that inspiration will inspire learning.
I have to say on a personal note, raising the standard of my own Masonic work has challenged me. I recently did the Preparatory Lecture, and while it definitely wasn’t the longest thing I’ve ever learned, the idea of delivering the lecture to a standard that I feel we should strive for compromised my confidence. I found a new fear, “do I know this well enough to express the seriousness of the questions? Do I know it well enough to explain what we do and set the tone for what this man is about to experience? This is supposed to be one of life’s fondest memories. He needs to trust and be ready and willing to proceed.” My nerves compromised my delivery, but I know in my heart, the standard of my work is important to myself and the craft. I came here to learn, and to raise standards I’m going to have to learn at a higher level, not just to recite, but to understand and hopefully inspire.
I’m not sure of how to address Grand Lodge and District Deputy involvement in regards to health and quality of Lodges but I do really like that idea of detailed reporting.
This topic is critical and thank you and WB Lane for bringing it forward.
For two reasons, I am persistently skeptical of the oft-repeated notion that "a Lodge (or Grand Lodge) should be run like a business."
First, we are not a business, we are a fraternity. Brotherhood is not a product.
Second, men have been repeating this notion for decades. Is there any evidence it is working? I see plenty that it is not.
Myself, I believe something more is needed: Brothers who actively care for one another, and actively care for our Tradition.
Yes, this means learning the work. Yes, this means showing up a bit early and staying late, when needed. Yes, this means expecting work from our candidates, not making the Craft as easy as possible. And yes, this means expecting something more from ourselves. What that "more" means, of course, will vary from man to man.
There are a lot of good ideas here, and really good comments. Any of them could improve the situation. I think we all know what needs to be done, the question is, "Do we, collectively, have the will?" Also, maybe, "Do we believe we can ACHIEVE the changes that need to be made?" It's easy to say "yes" to both questions, but we have been faced with these problems for decades, and many of these great ideas have been floated in the past, yet the problem persists. Maybe another good question is , "Why do these problems persist? Why would brethren choose NOT to know their ritual?" My experience is that when people do something a certain way, it's because they get what they want that way. Remember EVERY brother has access to a monitor, and most Lodges have a brother who is skilled at all of our ritual, the tools are in place right now, and yet they are not exploited in many cases, why? Sometimes I think questions are more important than answers.......
There is a lot to consider with this post.
While I agree the Grand Lodges should assist Lodges that are struggling, what should that assistance look like? When should the Grand Lodge intervene? How should they get involved?
Is this only a financial proposition, or not financial at all? If the Grand Lodge were to bail out the Lodge, without resolving the root causes, wouldn't this just be a temporary correction to a much more systemic problem?
There is a lot of wisdom contained within the thoughtful and concise comments left in response to this post.
When a lodge gets to the point they are struggling so obviously that it gets the attention of the Grand Lodge, it may be too late.
When Lodges are nearing collapse, it is typically not due to a short term, circumstantial "rough patch". It is usually due to years of normalized deviance where the incremental departure from what was once good about the lodge happens in minute steps as apathy or the "what's good enough" sentiment creeps in over time.
This means the Grand Lodge would need to expend great effort drive to the root cause of the issues and the Lodge would want that sort of help.
WB Ken talks about instituting a PIP. This is a great idea, especially when the PIP is implemented early in the lodges turning away from the best. Maintaining the right focus will alert Grand Lodge to coming trouble, often before the lodge itself becomes aware of it. This is when the probability of redemption is the greatest.
I see three ways Grand Lodge can assist:
First, is a check and adjust strategy as mentioned above. Grand Lodge intervention early and often is the best way to make those minor corrections before they become a crisis. I believe it is far better that maintain a healthy culture than it is to restore one that has become unhealthy. This will require a more frequent appraisal of each lodge within the jurisdiction. This appraisal MUST be methodical, repeatable and critical.
There is no room for "Northwest Nice" (passive aggression or a "go along to get along" mentality) in this process.
After all, the closing charge does not allow for that when we are enjoined to remind Brother (or Lodge) in the most friendly manner of his (or their) faults and endeavor to aid his (and their) reformation.
When the standards are observed to have slipped even the slightest amount, immediate action must be taken.
Second is to wait until the lodge is in crisis and make huge efforts to snatch the lodge from the clutches of failure.
The mindset of this method being focused on Lodge autonomy. Letting the Lodge do Masonry as they see fit.
What does this change look like?
It will likely be big and drastic moves at the 11th hour.
Brothers, I think when a troubled Lodge does receive external help from without its ranks, this is what that help currently looks like.
Third, if all else fails this approach would be to pull the charter and help the lodge to complete its journey to destruction. this way being the least desirable, but sometimes necessary to preserve and protect Masonry.
Of these. the only one that makes sense to me is the first one of frequent, checking and adjusting. This way requires much more hands on from the Deputies to the Grand Master. It may even require more than one deputy per district. Of course we will have to change our current view that the deputy is not only the Grand Master's eyes and ears. They will need to get involved and resolve grievances, administer corrective actions, and take an active role in reformation.