Bob Clark glanced at the clock and noticed it was time to begin his usual preparation for lodge tonight.
He chuckled to himself that “usual” won’t entirely be usual tonight. He and his wife, Joanne, were on a cruise ship headed for an island in the Bahamas, and his Master’s station tonight would be sitting on the edge of the bed in his tiny cabin.
His laptop was sitting on top of two pillows that rested on his suitcase stood on its end. It was just the right height to show him from the waist up and hid the fact he was still wearing his swimsuit from his afternoon in the sun on the ship’s top deck. He had brought his tux coat, shirt, and bow tie with him; after all, he thought he should look “Masterly.”
Joanne was particularly perturbed that he would even consider participating in a lodge meeting while they were on vacation. But as he told her, he was the Master of the lodge, and since the pandemic in 2020, virtual lodge meetings became almost the norm, so everyone came to expect participation no matter what you were doing or where you were.
The year 2020 brought about quite a number of changes in how Freemasonry was practiced. After almost a year of not being able to meet in person, Bob’s grand lodge decided to allow lodges to operate entirely virtually, including allowing degree work.
It required new rules written, the ritual modified, and among other things, each lodge must have a technology officer (LTO).
After observing many lodges struggling with the technology, a group of tech-savvy Brothers developed the Virtual Lodge Assistantance Meeting Program, or VLAMP as they call it. Their creation is an online Masonic lodge portal with all the tools necessary to run a virtual lodge smoothly and effectively in a secure Masons controlled environment. The lodge dashboard provides a Master with a control screen to run a lodge meeting. The program creators also are building the ability to visit any lodge in the world virtually. After logging into the portal, you could select a lodge that is streaming their meeting and attend.
Bob’s lodge has been operating entirely virtual using VLAMP for three months now, and after some glitches here and there, everyone seems to be getting the hang of it.
Bob has observed some advantages and some disadvantages.
- Several brothers who live out of state enjoy being able to participate and be able to converse with those they haven’t talked with in a while. Often it is revealed a brother or his spouse may have a health issue or require some assistance. In those cases, Bob’s lodge has been able to react with help when otherwise they might not have been aware of the need.
- Of course, the major disadvantage is not being able to be physically present with the brethren. Being there to enjoy those hearty handshakes, the slap on the backs, share a meal at the same table, and all the other fraternal fellowship activities that only occur when you are in the same room.
Bob logged into VLAMP and brought up the Master’s dashboard. On this screen, down the left column are the lodge’s scheduled meetings and events. By clicking on any one of these items, all of the detailed information is available. He selected the link for tonight’s meeting, and immediately there was the agenda, along with all of the reports from the secretary, treasurer, investigation committee, LEO, and a couple of other committee reports.
In the middle column is displayed all of the officer stations. When an officer is not available for the meeting, the Master is alerted to read a message from the officer for the reason. Bob sees that the Junior Deacon is unavailable because of work duties, and has asked one of the past masters to assume the station. Bob types a quick reply, and the program automatically sends a text to the Junior Deacon, so he knows the Master has read his communication. If needed, the Master could, with just one click, video chat with him as well.
In the third column is displayed all the virtual rooms in use at the time. The first one is always the Tyler’s room. When a Brother logs in to attend a meeting, he enters the Tyler’s room. The Tyler then can make sure of his identity, and in the case of a visiting Brother, make sure that Brother is properly vouched for. The Tyler’s room opens a half-hour before the meeting and is a place where the Brothers chat with each other and enjoy some fellowship before the meeting.
If there is any other virtual lodge activity that evening, it displays below the Tyler. Bob sees that the LEO is conducting some training in one room, and a Master Craftsman is working with some Fellowcraft apprentices in another. Bob, as Master, can enter the rooms if he would like, but this evening decides he doesn’t want to interrupt.
A pop-up appears on Bob’s screen, indicating an incoming video chat call. It is one of the lodge’s past masters who lives in the Masonic retirement community. As a pilot program, the LTO placed with three willing brothers, simple, internet-connected devices, from which they could communicate with the lodge. They also can join in on the meetings and still feel they are contributing to the success of the lodge. This particular past master Bob considered his mentor, and he called before every meeting to good-naturally remind Bob he was watching him so he better not screw up.
It is five minutes before the meeting start, and the LTO’s screen appears, and he asks Bob if everything is working correctly. Bob assures him it is, and at that time, the LTO moves everyone in the Tyler’s room to the lodge room. With soft music playing, the brothers watch a slide show of masonic art.
Toward the end of the presentation, the LTO’s screen appears again and starts a countdown for the Master.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1, the live indicator glows, and Bob begins:
“The brethren will mute their microphones, and the officers turn on their webcams.”
Just after Bob’s declaration, the ship hit a huge wave. His suitcase went one way, the pillows another, and the laptop slid across the floor. He scrambled to get his laptop, and when he finally reached it and got it open, his internet connection was gone. He hurriedly began to re-connect when…
“Bob,” he heard his wife call from the kitchen, “don’t you have a lodge meeting tonight? Shouldn’t you be getting dressed?”
Bob realized he had dozed off in his recliner. The virtual meeting had all been a dream, a fantasy his mind had concocted. Although the technology, he thought, could become a reality. Who knows?