John Grogan stood at the back of the lodge room and began to think about his lodge’s history. More than 200 years ago his Masonic brothers, wanting a permanent home, constructed the building that has been carefully preserved and is still a sense of pride for the brothers of the lodge. The furniture, the altar, the symbols and everything required for a lodge to operate is original and still used today.
The old lodge room is looked upon, by the brothers, as a place of escape from the busyness of the world. A space for contemplation and renewal of spirit; as well as a refuge of friendship and brotherhood. John always likes to get to lodge early, allowing some time alone for his thoughts.
He needed to be early tonight. It is the lodge’s inspection, and it is his responsibility to preside. John is not the current master of the lodge, but because the brother he has been mentoring, Jack Stephens, was receiving the Fellowcraft Degree, John was responsible and required to be in the east for the degree.
Several years ago, the inspection process radically changed. It had once been a night where the lodge officers demonstrated their ritual proficiency in a particular degree. The district deputy would critique their performance and offer suggestions for improvement. A lodge and its officers would spend a tremendous amount of time preparing for the night. They wanted their performance on that night to be as flawless as possible, to impress the district deputy and the visiting brethren.
Also, it wasn’t accomplishing much other than disrupting a lodge’s planning. Lodges would spend a great deal of time practicing for the conferral of one degree. The focus on one degree caused the majority of lodge masters to concentrate on the execution of their “inspection degree” and nothing else. The purpose of making and educating masons became secondary so that the master and the lodge would look good on this one night, when in fact in some cases, the lodge was barely making it.
Finally, someone determined if anything should be inspected, it should be the lodge’s progress in educating each candidate in Masonry. It also should be the lodge’s effectiveness in developing and maintaining strategies which produced purposeful actions; designed to not only improve each brother but to advance the fraternity and contribute the community where the lodge resides.
So, a uniform system of education was implemented by the grand lodge, headed by district education officers trained to instruct and support lodge education officers. The system’s focus was on the individual brother and his education in masonry and its application to improve his life.
Tonight, there would be tremendous pressure on Jack Stephens, the candidate. Before proceeding with the degree, Jack would be asked several questions in open lodge by the DEO, designed to demonstrate Jack’s understanding of the lessons in the EA degree, as well as, how he intended to use them to implement his life plan. How well Jack responded would be an indication of the effectiveness of the lodge’s education program, and if John, Jack’s mentor, is effective as well.
Lodge mentors were selected very carefully and trained as masonic coaches. They studied and received instruction in lodge history, lodge management, coaching, personal and organizational leadership development.
Jack was also required to present in the lodge, before the inspection, his thoughts on the meaning of the proceeding degree. In Jack’s case, this was the EA degree. The DEO was present in the lodge to hear Jack’s presentation, and that was the final step before Jack could receive the degree tonight.
John was startled from his thoughts when he heard a familiar voice. “Hey old man, how’s Brother John tonight?” John turned as saw his good friend and Jack’s uncle, Ted Stephens standing there.
“Time will tell, won’t it,” said John, referring to what was to happen in about an hour. “The more important question is how’s Jack doing? He’s the guy on the hot seat tonight.”
“Oh, Jack’s fine. He’s less nervous than the both of us,” Ted replied.
“The educational process you are leading him through has done wonders for him. I first saw him gain clarity on who he is and what he believes. That new-found clarity inspired him to embrace Masonry for what it is, a roadmap for personal improvement and living your life. He now has become a very confident young man, totally different from the shy, introverted boy I watched grow up,” Ted explained.
“He now wants to be in front of people, especially when he can talk about Masonry. When the DEO questions him tonight, he may have trouble shutting him up.”
“Don’t worry, said John, the DEO has already talked with Jack about this evening, and Jack is well aware of the time allotted for his responses.”
“Does the DEO tell Jack what questions he will ask?” asked Ted.
“No, only that they will be about the DEO’s thoughts after reading and Jack’s paper written about his experience in the EA degree. He will ask Jack to expand on some things the DEO found interesting and would be helpful for the other lodge brothers to hear.”
“By the way Ted, where is Jack? Didn’t he come with you?”
“He did but said he wanted some time alone to gather his thoughts. I think he said he was going to take a walk around the block.”
As John and Ted talked, other brothers began arriving for the evening and gathered in the lodge’s dining hall. Attendance at the event was required for every member of the lodge unless excused by the master. Guests included the Grand Master and grand lodge officers, the grand lodge director of education, the lodge’s assigned district deputy and the district education officer.
The district education officer duties are extremely vital, and therefore, those chosen for the position must meet a strict set of guidelines after which they receive extensive training under the direction of the grand lodge director of education. DEOs receive training in educational instruction, leadership and team coaching, lodge strategic plan facilitation and individual development. They are responsible for all training in their district.
“I think I’ll go find Jack,” Ted said to John. As Ted turned toward the door, in walked Jack engaged in conversation with the Grand Master. Jack seemed to have the Grand Master’s attention and Jack, as always, was quite animated using both his hands to emphasize what he was saying.
Ted turned back to John and said, “you think we should go rescue the Grand Master from Jack?”
“Nah,” replied John, “the Lodge Director of Ritual is just about to ring the bell that signals the Brothers it is time to enter the lodge. Besides, I’m sure the Grand Master is quite impressed with Jack with his knowledge and insight about the craft in his short time as a Brother. Jack has certainly impressed me.”
After the first toll of the bell, the room went dead silent. The Director of Ritual struck the meeting bell six more times for a total of seven, indicating that the lodge was about to open in the Entered Apprentice degree. The Brothers quietly arranged themselves into two lines for the entrance.
The Brothers entered the lodge room in total silence, each to his thoughts and preparing themselves for the experience of Masonry. After the Brothers were seated, John Grogan and the officers entered and assumed their respective stations, followed by the guests including the Grand Master. The Grand Master, rather than taking a seat, was escorted directly to the altar.
The Grand Master then asked the Worshipful Master to call the entire lodge to their feet, and the Grand Master then opened the lodge with one simple sentence. “By my authority, I now declare this lodge open for examination in the Entered Apprentice degree and for bringing further light to a Brother by the exemplification of the Fellowcraft degree.”
This type of opening is always used during a lodge inspection. When the Grand Master is not present, the District Deputy, as a representative of the Grand Master, has the authority to open lodge in this manner. The focus of the evening is on the Brother receiving the degree, and so using an abbreviated ritual opening allows more time for the candidate to demonstrate his progress in Masonry. Besides, every officer of the lodge has been proven proficient in ritual by attending and passing the requirements of the grand lodge ritual school, so there is no need to test them again.
John Grogan rapped the gavel and addressed the Senior Deacon, “Brother Senior Deacon, please escort Brother Jack Stephens west of the altar.”
The Senior Deacon escorted Jack to the altar, and John left the east and joined Jack. John then began the examination by proffering the questions from the ritual, and Jack responded in a manner that indicated he had prepared well. At the conclusion of this section of the examination, John returned to the east.
The District Education Officer then approached the altar and addressed Jack. “Brother Stephens,” he began, “you indicated that you came here from a lodge in Jerusalem, what does that mean?”
Jack was prepared to answer this question. Not because he was instructed it would be asked, but because he had asked John the same question when they began working on the EA catechism. Jack earlier recalled they spent almost an hour as John explained St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, considered the patron saints of Masonry.
“the reference comes from two saints that are considered patrons of Masonry, St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist.
St. John the Baptist was devoted to living a righteous life and upholding his character, and deviation from living this way to him was unacceptable. His refusal to change cost him life, as King Herod had him imprisoned and then killed. Masons revere him for displaying the qualities of heroism, fidelity, and integrity.
St. John the Evangelist preached that God was the source of wisdom and the creator of life, and life was the light of man. St. John devoted his message, more than any other New Testament writer, to the idea of brotherly love and fellowship. St. John believed these qualities, along with truth, were links that connected man to God. St. John the Evangelist is revered by Masons because of his unwavering message of light, brotherly love, and truth.
The reference to a lodge of the Holy Saints John of Jerusalem, to me, means a gathering of Brothers for whom the principles and ideals expressed by the Saint Johns, is foremost in their minds. It is an ethereal lodge that protects the foundations of Freemasonry, its history, and its ideals.”
As Jack concluded, John couldn’t help but feel the rush of pride welling up. He sensed at his first mentoring session with Jack that Jack was intent on soaking up everything he could learn about Masonry. John just pointed him in the right direction. John quickly learned by Jack’s questions that he was going to have to do some study to keep up with Jack. But John knew, after quite of few years of mentoring Brother Masons, that part of the value of being a mentor was that you learned quite a lot yourself.
John could tell that the DEO was impressed and maybe at a loss for words because he didn’t continue his questioning right away. It was then, in that moment of complete silence in the lodge room, that Walter Bradman, a Past Master and the eldest living member of the lodge at 96, slowly rose and began to applaud. Traditionally, during an inspection and while the DEO is conducting the examination, the Brethren are to remain silent. So, when Brother Bradman began to applaud, the other Brothers hesitated until the DEO began to applaud as well, and then the entire lodge room was on its feet expressing their approval of Brother Stephens’ response to the DEO’s question.
After the applause died down and the brothers in their seats, the DEO continued. “Brother Stephens, would you explain to your Brothers what impressions the Entered Apprentice degree left with you.
Jack didn’t hesitate, he just began:
“If you were to ask me to pick one word that described my experience in the EA degree, it would be awakening. From the time alone before I entered the lodge room until I heard the EA charge, the degree was a series of awakenings. It impressed upon me the necessity of beginning a new direction in my life. One that requires me to define what I believe, and to become those beliefs by continual reflection, constant education and daily practice.
Upon receiving my apron, I recognized that in living my life there is a responsibility placed on me to do so in a manner to preserve the reputation of our fraternity. Living in any other manner, will harm Masonry, dishonor my God, disrespect my neighbor and ultimately, by not practicing the tenets of Masonry, I will discredit myself.
Also, I awoke to the need for a plan that would assist me in becoming a better man. My lodge has provided a framework from which to build this plan. It has also provided support by assigning a knowledgeable mentor and creating a culture that allows me to learn every time I attend lodge. The time spent at my lodge is always an opportunity to learn and not just a meeting. I come to lodge not to meet with my Brothers, but to learn what they know.”
“Well done Brother Stephens,” the DEO began, “I, along with the rest of the Brethren, appreciate you sharing your thoughts and for reminding each of us that the EA degree is an awakening. An awakening that points out many things necessary for each of us to build a solid foundation for life. You were challenged to think about the basic Masonic tenets of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth as key duties in your life as a Mason. You recognized that as an Entered Apprentice you must learn and to continue to learn. I will suggest to you that continual learning will be one of the keys to improvement in Masonry and your life. As we proceed tonight with the Fellowcraft degree, we will reveal more Masonic light. Remember, that light will only be useful to you if you continue to evaluate, reflect and apply the lessons this further light brings.”
The DEO then turned and faced the East. “Worshipful Master, Brother Stephens has adequately demonstrated his understanding of the duties required of an Entered Apprentice, and you may now proceed with the Fellowcraft Degree.”
The FC degree proceeded with John in the East, and Brothers selected by John to fill the various stations. All non-officer lodge brothers are required to become proficient in degree work by assuming a part of their choosing in each of the degrees. Every Brother studies all the degrees as part of the lodge education program and during their study asked to select a particular part of each degree that has special meaning for them. Each brother then prepares a paper for presentation in the lodge and also practices with the degree teams to be ready for assuming their role when asked.
At the conclusion of the degree, the DEO assumed the East and called on the Grand Master for any remarks he may have. After being escorted to the East, the Grand Master seated the standing brethren and said this:
“My Brothers, tonight you have witnessed an excellent example of what we do – taking good men and making them better. We do this by first creating an atmosphere of learning. A place that allows us to be transparent with our brothers about our deficiencies and share our hope for eliminating these deficiencies through personal improvement using Masonry’s tools. A culture that allows each of us to contribute our talents in a manner that adds value to each Brother without even the hint of superiority or in a demeaning way. We share knowledge, that is our profession. I congratulate all you for making this a wonderful evening of Brotherly Love and Masonic light.”
The Grand Master then closed lodge with these words:
“My Brothers, we are about to close our lodge, and each of us return to our individual lives. As we do, we all need to remember the lessons that Masonry has provided and carry those lessons with us. We each have an obligation, wherever we are, to ensure our conduct is that of a Mason. This, as we are taught, is to distinguish us from the rest of the community.
Remember my Brothers, when we leave, we are not alone. The Brotherly Love, affection and the support of our Brothers that has been present in Lodge, go with us.
Also remember, because we are Masons, we should extend our principles to our neighbors, our community, and the world. Doing so shows others we are men of good character and demonstrates to them the value of our ancient institution.
Finally, my Brothers, together we should resolve to advance Freemasonry, promote peace and live our lives with reverence to our creator. So Mote It Be.
I now declare this lodge of Fellow Crafts closed. Good night, my brothers.”
After John dropped Jack at his apartment, he began to think about the evening he just experienced. It was not so many years ago that his lodge’s inspection, like all the other lodges’, would have been a very different evening. The Brotherhood was the same but the focus of the evening was entirely different.
The change to the current system had not been easy and not without some sacrifice. It took some determined grand lodge officers over a period of several years to impress upon the lodges that their lodge’s success would be dependent upon providing a meaningful lodge experience. This experience would require planning, education, training and most importantly, a willingness for every lodge member to do some hard work over several years.
The grand lodge didn’t define what “a meaningful lodge experience” is, but rather provided a framework on which a local lodge could determine for themselves what that experience would be. The grand lodge, however, did specify some minimum requirements that must be a part of the experience. First, a system of education for all candidates that used the grand lodge education program materials and thus provided a method for each man to improve his knowledge of Masonry and his life. Next, an officer training program for developing leadership and management skills, and finally, each lodge was encouraged to form study groups on topics that were of interest to the brethren of the lodge.
John felt a sense of accomplishment and was proud he was contributing to Jack’s life and to improving Masonry. He couldn’t wait to meet with Jack and hear what he thought about the degree.
To be continued…