Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Through the Gate

I remember vividly my first experiences with Masonic ritual. I recall donning strange clothing and waiting patiently in a small room before I would knock for the first time on the doors of Freemasonry.

I wore the traditional hoodwink and relied on the faithful guidance of men I would later come to know as brothers...and good friends. I walked in darkness aimlessly it seemed. I kneeled at an altar. And from there I beheld the Light from the darkness.

In time, I returned to this scene...twice actually. I participated in a series of ritual degrees that Presidents and even Kings have taken part in before me. I felt honored. I felt the excitement that mystery brings with it. And I felt the weight of centuries old tradition stirring in my neophyte blood. When I walked the steps of Hiram it was as though the All Seeing Eye of providence was indeed looking down on me...me alone, a Freemason.

I was 'Raised' a Master Mason having completed the three degrees of blue lodge Masonry individually. I am proud to say that the man who raised me, Brother Tim Couch KCCH, remains a friend who I still learn from and who embodies the teachings of Freemasonry as well as any man ever could. Tim has been there for me whenever I needed him. And he has offered me counsel and instruction whenever I asked or whenever I just needed it. As Tim says...he 'kept the Light burning.'

Becoming a Freemason is one of the best things that I have ever done. I have made many friends, a world of brothers, and I have finally found a place for my philosophical mind and my spiritual heart.

The Light is the Center in Masonry and in this world. And certainly there are many avenues and approaches to it. But times have changed for Freemasonry. A critical and growing concern among lodges is falling membership; loss of interest; and lack of respect for morals and age old traditions. Across the country, many lodges and districts are looking to swell the ranks through various forms of accelerated degree programs such as Missouri's 'Chance to Advance' program.

Options such as Chance to Advance, or C2A, allow men to complete two (and in some areas of the country, all three) degrees in one day. The setting is instructional and typically there are scores of candidates watching on the sidelines as a single candidate takes their place in the degrees, with explanations to follow. It is a rapid admission into an Order that once called for months, if not years, of proficiency and learning before advancement could be made.

There are many things that can be said about the C2A. There are pros and cons of course. It is perhaps a modern answer to modern problems of time, membership losses, and recruiting. I posed questions concerning the C2A and similar programs on the AIOTR Facebook Group Page for discussion. I received some excellent input from the Brothers...

Brother Tim Couch KCCH, the Brother who Raised me into the Craft, had this to say about it:

"IMHO the C2A is a working tool. Like any useful tool it is good for the purpose for which it was designed. And, like any tool the quality of the result lies more in the hands of the craftsman than in the tool.

The one day class is excellent for Masonic education, brotherly fellowship, and expediency. In some cases it is the first and best opportunity for candidates and Master Masons to witness proficient ritual. It allows candidates to observe Master Masons as a broader group than their home Lodge. However, it is not right for everyone. Some men need to physically experience the degrees in order to make the connection to the secrets within.

We need to do a better job of explaining both, the abbreviated degree track and the traditional route to the candidate. He needs to thoroughly understand what is available to him and be free to choose without influence or prejudice. Masonry teaches that each man is free to find his own way. So to say, "This way is better," is to restrict that freedom. Records show that the retention rate is about the same regardless of which degree track the candidate takes so the problem is not in the one day class concept.

The problem, as I see it, is with our lack of follow up. We bring them in for a full day of intensive Masonic education and then we say, "If you have any questions feel free to ask." They don't ask; we go about our business. We run them through the three degrees in Lodge without any real education or even explanation of what is happening. Some men will soldier on and discover what Masonry has to offer them, but others will simply shrug and look elsewhere for the fulfilment they seek. It's not a matter of how we bring them to Light. It's a matter of keeping the Light burning.

Education, communication, contact. It's a commitment but if we're not willing to make that commitment we shouldn't sign their petitions."

I wholeheartedly agree with Brother Couch. I have communicated with him in addition to his post on the discussion board and he added, "I agree that Masonry in its current form is proffered too easily. It cheapens the institution that we love. However, we also have to be pragmatic. An institution that withers and dies because it holds strictly to its ideals at the cost of membership is just as dead as one that becomes so diluted as to become useless. It's a fine line."

Well. I couldnt say that any better. Besides being a fine line...its a very good point as well. Thus it falls upon modern Freemasons to be both pragmatic in their approach to new members and responsible to their new fellow brothers.

It must be added that some lodges, my own included, are a bit overtaxed on their Masonic work load. C2A allows the lodge officers and the new candidates a way to lessen the burdens on their individual schedules. Considering the times we live in...this is indeed the C2A as a 'working' tool.

The greatest issue at stake is, I believe, that we usher in men who are sincere candidates into our Order. And, most importantly, that these men do not find our Order diminished in favor of expediency or pragmatic necessities. How then can we insure that our Craft continues to gain new and excited members who learn the same traditions, values and moral philosophies of Freemasonry? I think that we must do as Brother Tim Couch said...we must 'Keep the Light Burning.'

We Master Masons must be responsible to our Order, to those who knocked on the Masonic doors before us, and to those who seek admittance to our ancient and established traditions. It is up to each of us to see that our lodges provide the instruction that our faithful foundations demand. Brother Michael J Cockroft of Minerva Lodge #98 in Miamisburg, Ohio suggests assigning specific committees to the task of provoking thoughtful discourse and Masonic resource in lodge. I agree that this kind of direct Masonic education is a necessity at this time whether one passes through the Gate via the C2A or otherwise. Furthermore, I think that we must each take up the shepherds crook and guide our brothers into the future of our magnificent Fraternity.

Brothers. We must lead and teach by example. We must continually strive to be the 'better men' we hope to become.

However a man begins his Masonic journey we must remind him all the while that he has brothers to aid him along the way. I am reminded of a ritual myself, when in darkness I was guided by those steadfast hands of my Masonic stewards. I made my way to the Light...with help.

3 comments:

CTz J.W, #671 said...

Greetings

C2A or in Ohio the 1 day class. A lot of the older brothers mumble and grumble negatives about the one day class. But keeping in mind that our most recent Past Master was from a one day class. So the one day class is as good as the sponsor not the candidate makes it. As for me I will only, if ever send one of my candidates to the 1 day call if him or them deserve the same as I do my self. But are not physically capable of making it though the degrees.

My final though: It's about practicing the craft not dues. Guard your West Gate.

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Lightheaded1 said...

Excellent post Brother Free. And, from what I've seen this morning it is being forwarded throughout the Masonic virtUniverse. It's always a great pleasure to read your missives. Thank you for keeping the Light burning.
Fraternally yours,
LightHeaded1

Freestyle said...

Thanks to you Brother, I have a great example of Freemasonic Light to follow. ;)


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