Success needs Succession - Passing the Baton

From Don of Lodge Devotion

We are not told in the Craft Legend about the transition after the Master Workman left the scene. I can imagine that it would have been anything but smooth – the baton was dropped. For those of us who enjoy the harmony of the lodge, we all want a smooth transition of authority when we change our Masters. The expression “passing the baton” is most apt for the occasion of Installation. To us that baton is an emblem of power and authority.

Succession in Freemasonry

The expression “passing the baton” probably had its origin long before the first Olympic Games when a baton, a hollow cylinder containing a message, was carried by a succession of the fastest runners to complete the journey to distant lands. Success necessitated the baton being passed between runners in a fast and smooth transition. The modern Olympic relay races emulate this ancient means of communication.

It is never envisaged that the office of Master remains in the hands of one person indefinitely. Change is often generational. Potential successors are groomed for the task from the time that they take office. The election of Master is conducted in a democratic manner. The aptness of the expression “passing the baton” in lodges comes from the manner in which the transition should take place.

The person passing the baton, the incumbent Master in our case, must make his exit in a manner and at a speed that will enable his successor to receive the baton. It is not satisfactory for him to just walk away from the office. He must hand over a “team” in good shape, not leave the office in administrative disarray and with a perilous financial situation. He should not have been forced from office as he needs to hand over with a spirit of goodwill. Having passed the baton he should stand aside with grace, let the work continue, and remain loyal and supportive in the background.

The person receiving the baton has the hardest task. He has to make up lost ground and/or hold that which the previous runner gained. He has to accomplish his task in a situation not always of his choosing – the speed, the approach, and in the case of lodges, their present circumstances. Personal approval needs to be gained. If changes have to me made, the justification must be separated from the new style of leadership. Continuing loyalty is essential.

Democracies, whilst not perfect, afford the best means of achieving a smooth and seamless transition of authority. Our Masonic fraternity is such an organisation. It facilitates change without “dropping the baton”. What we do not need is the disharmony that occurs all too often when football coaches are changed and pressures that mount for change in political party leadership. Transitions like this will usually result in the baton being dropped. We need to consider these matters at the end of the football season, forthcoming Federal elections and our own Installations.