Our Worshipful Masters - Qualified and Able ?

By Don of Lodge Devotion

How often do we hear the comment in these days of higher education, “Yes, I know he is well qualified but

can he actually do the job?”   Can the same question be asked of a Worshipful Master?  I contend that before such a question is asked we must first know exactly what we expect him to do. 

Defenders of the status quo will say it is all in the ritual to obligate the Master in the Second Degree.  There is no doubt that it is a beautiful piece of prose.  While you stand in the presence of your Fellowcraft Brethren, it demands that you consider your position.  Where other ritual enunciates the moral doctrines of Freemasonry, philosophises on their importance and guards against any breach of fidelity, the Second Degree Master Elect ritual put the question directly to him: can you undertake the Mastership of the Lodge on these qualifications?  However, I suggest that perhaps with the exception of the reference his ability to undertake the management of the work and ritual capability, the second degree ritual confines itself to the important personal qualities required of a Master, not what we expect him to do. 


Masters will almost always be in the category of a “developer”, “maintainer” or “undertaker”.  The “undertakers” are the least useful to Freemasonry.  Handing in the Charter of a Lodge is the easy way out and invariably it would be better if the “undertaker” were to resign than to bring the Lodge down with him.  This sort of Master almost invariably has needed support to maintain his resolution, will lack inspiration and leadership and will probably have track record of closing other lodges.  The “maintainer” probably does not realise is that no organisation or organism can remain in a static state – input and feedback are required.  If these latter actions do not take place entropy[1] will occur.  The maintainer will be relying on the masonic capital that has been built up in the Lodge by his predecessors.  Alternatively he will allow somebody else, usually the Secretary or the Director of Ceremonies, to be the de facto Master: someone without legitimate authority – this in itself creates dysfunction within a Lodge. 


Maintainers are often Past Masters serving as Masters a second, third or more times.  They think they know it all.  They got away with a certain approach last time, and without considering the current circumstances of a Lodge, believe that the same approach will be appropriate again.  When a Lodge gets one or two “maintainers” in a row, the environment is set for the next Master to be an “undertaker”.  While all this is going on the younger Brethren in the Lodge are deprived of appropriate role models.  The reputation of the Lodge will invariably decline and even if candidates are introduced they will be unlikely to stay long.  The Second Degree Mastership requirements do not exclude “undertakers” and “maintainers”. 


A task analysis of a Master’s role is essential for tasking, training and development purposes but is it done?  Such an analysis is likely to show that a Master needs to be, in military terminology, the “commander” of the Lodge[2].  He needs to be able to set the tone of the Lodge and communicate the important aspects of Brotherly love, relief and truth.  He also must demonstrate being happy and communicating happiness to others.  He must be a “healer”.  He must both demonstrate and demand the highest of integrity and not hold any vein of pretentious thoughts.  He should see his duty as being a role model for other Brethren, particularly the younger members. 


Selection of his “team” is most important.  They need to be Brethren who share his goals and values, people with whom he can work and have the respect of the members.  In making selections he needs to take into account capability, continuity, expectations, fairness and particularly the future of the Lodge.  An approach that can be taken by a Master Elect is to see each incumbent officer in a non-progressive office privately and say: “I have yet to decide on who I will ask to be in the “Team” this year.  With the consent of the Lodge I would like to achieve………….  I see the role of your office in supporting this objective is………….. .  Do you have any thoughts on this matter?”  The response will indicate whether or not he has a suitable member for his team.[3] 


In selecting his “team” there is no place for patronage, favouritism or retribution - Brethren in “progressive offices” should not be “jumped”.  I was “jumped” twice through no fault of mine in one of the Christian Orders.  In one case somebody was appointed to an office equating to that of Senior Warden ahead of me, he not having served in any junior office, I served in them all.  It was symptomatic of the way this “lodge” was, and I think is still run.  After a couple more incidents I have gone elsewhere in the Order and should have done so sooner and others would have done that same or stopped attending.  A similar thing occurred to me in my Mother Lodge, Renown No 270 – and what a “hide”: the accelerated Brother then went on to read all his ritual for two years as Senior Warden and Master!  With this, and similar occurrences, no wonder Renown returned its Charter!  A Master should not miss-use his authority or the lodge will suffer. 


An incoming Master should appreciate that there is more to planning his year than choosing the Installation Team and selecting his officers.  Any change of arrangements will invariably have a financial impact on the lodge and possible a personal effect on the members.  It may also have a cultural change.  If the costs of membership are either directly or indirectly increased members will often choose to not attend than comment.  Changes to satisfy a whim should be forgotten quickly.  The Lodge’s budget is the Master’s responsibility, not the Treasurers’.  The Financial Year of the Lodge and its annual audit should coincide with the Masters term to facilitate his financial accountability. 


A Master needs to be able to open a Lodge with confidence as this will give confidence to members of his “team”.  The administrative phase of meeting needs to be conducted quickly and efficiently.  Nobody comes to Lodge to hear a prolonged dissertation on administrative matters.  This is best facilitated by the Master closely scrutinizing the draft notice paper before it is published.  The Master needs to make sure that he knows everything that will be raised and how it will be dealt with by the Secretary and Treasurer.  He needs to be satisfied that any scheduled Degree work is appropriate.  If the agenda needs to be changed he needs to know that with a knock of his gavel and the member’s agreement it can be changed.  He needs to be able to deal confidently with Notices of Motion, Amendments to a Motion and financial Motions.  If a potentially contentious matter or one requiring lengthy discussion is raised, again he should know he can give a knock with his gavel and refer the matter to a Committee of General Purposes – he should not be vulnerable to being “ambushed” by some wily member.  A Master must develop the ability to “read” the meeting: not everything needs to go to a vote – for minor matters he can just say “do I have your agreement on this?” and if there is no objection just give a knock.  During the reception of visitors the Master then needs to become the host for the Lodge – gracious, genuine and warm.  He needs to make the visitor feel wanted and platitudes are out of place. 


In the ritual work he needs to set the standard as any leader should do.  He should not expect anything from his officers that he cannot do himself, remembering that it is the Candidate’s ceremony, not his.  If you want a Candidate to be impressed with the Lodge the Degree needs to be a good experience.  This needs teamwork and the Master as the leader. 


In the closing phase the same cautions are offered as for the administrative phase.  It is not an opportunity for everybody to have a say or a whine – this detracts from the occasion.  The Lodge should be closed with the appropriate formality and allow everybody to retire to the “South” as soon as possible.  The Master must be able to control the closing and conclude the meeting in harmony. 


It is the Master' role in the “South” to assume the duties of the host, not the Director of Ceremonies responsibility.  Lodge factions that tend to seize a table every night should be discouraged.  The Master should ensure that he talks personally to everyone in the room if possible, moving to each table as necessary.  No discussion of the work in the Lodge room should be allowed.  It is not a place for lengthy administrative announcements and the promotion of masonic activities in other lodges.  It should not run on too long – anything after 10.30 pm is probably too long. 


I have outlined my perception of the Masters role.  It is not confined to the Lodge room.  Lodge members should decide what they want and elect someone who is likely to satisfy their expectations.  He needs to be a “developer”, not just a “maintainer” or “undertaker”.  Obdurate “maintainers” and “undertakers” need to be identified and never proposed to be obligated as the Master Elect, ideally never even appointed as a Warden.  As a “developer” a Master must identify the strengths and weaknesses of the Lodge and devise a plan for improvement.  He must get the feedback and apply the input.  He needs to be alert to the expectations of its members and respond accordingly.  He needs to be able to do all these things by encouraging members to follow him and not expecting to achieve changes simply by direction. 


There is nothing wrong with the ritual for the Master Elect in the Second Degree but it does not, of necessity, say just how things are to be done in each Lodge.  An analysis of the role of Master of a Lodge should be conducted or validated and prospective Masters instructed on how to carry out all these tasks.  Reliance on guidance from Past Masters alone is not good enough unless we want more of the same.  It would seem to be an appropriate role for a central authority.  Without this Masters will have a good chance of being qualified but not necessarily able. 

[1] Entropy.  Used in this sense as a state of disorder in a system.

[2] Commander.  Not authoritarian as some of the anti-military lobby will ignorantly imply, rather someone with total responsibility for the outcome and has full management and leadership responsibilities with commensurate authority.

[3] It would also be appropriate for every incumbent non-progressive officer bearer to approach the Master Elect and say: “I know that you have probably not finalized you plans.  If there is anything that you want me to do please let me know.  If you propose re-appointing me to my current office, please tell me if you would like me to do anything differently.”