By Don of Lodge Devotion
Burning at the stake was the fate of heretics. The fire was symbolic of the inferno in hell. I thought of this when I read recently a comment from one of our overseas correspondents about starting a new lodge. He said that it was easier than changing an old one because of the entrenched views of older members, presumably referring in the main to Past Masters. I hope that he does not suffer the fate of a heretic as he seems to be a good bloke. I might be torched if I continue along this line but I am prepared to take my chance as a few things need to be said for the good of Freemasonry in general.
I support masonic education initiatives. We have lodges of instruction to improve the “floor work” and ritual in lodges. Courses are conducted for new Masters. There is a lodge of research which seeks a better understanding of our origins, history and the meaning of what we believe in and do. However, I am not aware of any instruction for Past Masters yet they comprise probably the most influential group in a lodge. (I can feel the temperature rising – what’s he on about: we know it all!)
There is good research to show that students only remember about 10% of what they hear and so much instruction on courses is simply people talking at students. It is also known that a student will quickly loose interest (or never go to a course) if much of what they do or may receive in instruction is already known. That is why many courses require prospective students sit a pre-course test and are then only instructed in what they do not know. The other approach is coaching - coaching on the job has proved one of the best means of instruction and of course this is one of the tasks most appropriate for a Past Master. Does anyone tell them how to do it – the rights and the wrongs?
We have some good Past Masters but there too many exceptions. They need to be able to look forwards, not backwards. It is not helpful to have Past Masters who see the lodge simply as a “stage” for their rhetoric. I recall to my embarrassment attempting to deliver ritual without knowing it by heart. I know that early after being in the Chair of Master I have spoken and made it look as if I was trying to take over the lodge room from the Master. I have tried, but not always successfully, to deal with the business of the lodge without boring the hell out of members and visitors – I had to remain alert and recognise when to shut up and sit down. Lodge meetings should not go too long.
In respect to ritual, I had to appreciate that it is not “the be all and the end all” of the purpose of the lodge. However, I have always known that we need Past Masters who have a very complete knowledge of the ritual and sufficient familiarity with the “charges” to prompt effectively. I appreciate that I must control any temptation to “prompt” and make audible comments across the lodge room as this will be potentially embarrassing and disruptive – having a ritual book open while someone is delivering a “charge” can be very off-putting too. Directors of Ceremonies do not need any “help” from people like me on the sidelines.
There was a time when a lodge had an experienced, selected Past Master appointed as Inspector of Working who kept an independent, objective eye on these things. With the wisdom of our masonic masters they are no longer appointed.
Past Masters have the potential to ruin a lodge and undo the efforts of a competent Master. They often make very poor coaches. Coaching is an art but it can be taught to somebody with the right attitude. Any Past Master who has never proposed a son, grandson or nephew ideally, or close relative or friend, and have his candidate or candidates stay active in Craft Freemasonry, is probably a doubtful prospect. Coaching is about enjoying bringing the best out of someone else, making them feel comfortable and happy and not your own aggrandisement. It involves a bit of nurturing, which mothers do so well, but it is more like the family role of a father, favourite and trusted uncle, or grandfather.
When we consider the reason for the decline in the number of active freemasons today, we should look at the role and capability of Past Masters and do something about it. To hell with the risk of the inferno!