The Masonic Trowel

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by R.W.Bro. E.A. Clarke,
S.G.W., Grand lodge of British Columbia


Brethren: why this confusion in the temple? A passage taken out of our ritual but as usual when any statement is taken out of context, a different meaning is imparted. The confusion to which I refer causes the brethren to stray but is nothing that cannot, with determined and constructive action, be surmounted and laid aside. The many subjects discussed at this conference and other Masonic convocations over the years are varied, but I suggest to you that no subject has more often been the basic underlying theme, than attendance and/or membership. It is my belief that if we can solve the attendance problem, membership will take care of itself. In our discussions of attendance we usually miss the point completely by maligning outside distractions. Distractions they are, but are they really our problem? Are we so perfect? Have we no blame? Do we start our candidate off on the right footing? In simple language, are we so confused that we cannot see the forest for the trees? 

Let us first look at our lodges and at the same time stare at the empty seats around the room. We can discuss our attendance problem at these meetings - be they regular, emergent or lodge for instruction, but we often end up saying "how do we get to the brothers who are not here"? You have heard it time and time again, "it's like preaching to the converted". There are those who receive their M.M. degree and fade away. There are even those who take their E.A. degree and fail to be seen again. Why is this? 

About now, you may be muttering under your breath, "where does the confusion in the temple fit when we are back to the age old problem of attendance". I submit we have two concerns. Firstly, we are confused and secondly and more important, our candidate and/or our newly raised brother is confused. To address the first point, when was the last time you analyzed the different lectures, charges and obligations and then applied them to our present actions and teachings? I do not intend to try to point out our back sliding: you can draw your own conclusions. 

We learn as an E.A. that a regular attendance is required. At this point of time the new brother knows only his sponsors and the investigation committee. Out of these five brethren, how many came out to his degree, helped with his coaching and later took him to lodge until the habit was formed. How many of the other brethren of the lodge went up to him and greeted him as a welcomed new member. The seed of confusion has been planted. Now let us see if we nurture this seed. He is told that he should not write, indite, etc. etc. and what happens? In a great number of cases a written list of questions and answers including the obligation albeit the penalty is either left out or coded in some manner. How's that seed doing? He is further told that the occasions of the degrees are solemn and serious. If this is true why do we hear talking and even outright laughter at these moments of moving dignity. Digressing a little, I fear we have confused the regular and the emergent or degree meetings. How serious we get over some petty little item in the minutes or some other such trivial detail. The charge to the, brethren reads in part and I quote "and if these meetings are blended with social mirth and a mutual interchange of fraternal feelings, then Freemasonry will be shown in its true light". Surely this is meant for the regular meeting: the degrees on the other hand are the very foundation and should make an enduring impression on the candidate. Let us further germinate that seed before we go too far afield. 

We further state in the charge at initiation that no institution was ever raised on a better principle or a more solid foundation: nor were more excellent rules and useful maxims laid down than are inculcated in the several masonic lectures. What happens to these lectures? In some lodges they are delivered at each degree, others once a year for each degree and candidates from the whole year are expected to attend, and in still others, they are sadly neglected. These lectures bear repeating as it is only from continual repetition that their deep meanings start to unfold. We tell the candidate in their leisure hours "to improve themselves in Masonic knowledge, you are to converse with well informed brethren who will be always as ready to give, as you will be to receive, instruction". What better base for Masonic instruction than any one of the lectures. History teaches us much and we should have lectures on this subject. It can be most revealing and interesting but let us not forget the great lessons in the lectures that need interpretation in order that their message is fully understood. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to go through the different offices and have learned these lectures are often guilty of losing sight of the need to ensure that our lodges continue to follow proper procedures, by courteously reminding them that no degree is compete without the lectures. They are part of the ritual. 

I have given a great deal of thought and even hesitated to raise this next issue as it has confused me for-many years, but I trust with your understanding and deliberation, serious consideration can be given to its enormous importance. Can we truly call on the name of God in our obligations and at the same instance have such physical penalties pronounced? As previously stated, I approached this part of my subject with some concern then, when reading one of Bro. Harry Carr's books "The Freemason at Work", a door swung open. It was most enlightening to learn that in 1964 the United Grand Lodge of England passed such changes as would make our penalties more acceptable. The United Grand Lodge of England not being a regulatory body over ritual, such as our Grand Lodges, could only recommend to the different jurisdictions that they make the changes. I am sure all of you here have read the book in question but for those who may read these proceedings, please bear with me. The following is an extract relating to the E.A. degree "these several points I solemnly swear to observe, without evasion, equivocation, or mental reservation of any kind, and, while bearing in mind the ancient symbolic penalty of - (the symbolic penalty in the usual way), binding myself under the real penalty on the violation of any of them, of being branded a wilfully perjured individual, void of all moral worth, and totally unfit - etc". The F.C. and M.M. are instructed in a similar fashion. Now there are those that will say that their lodge practices this wording now, but I submit the wording "while bearing in mind the ancient symbolic penalty" is not included and is the real key. 

Coming to my final but equally important concern, I would like to mention our wives and most especially our new members' wives. I admit that at my request, my wife has read the charge to the brethren and some of our other charges. There is nothing secret in these writings but they explain away silly notions one hears from the outside about our beloved order. I do not know how many lodge meetings I would have missed if my wife hadn't said just after supper "aren't you going to lodge tonight?" One gets reading the newspaper or watching some sport on T.V. and all it takes is that little prod or should I call it a gentle reminder. We are not a secret society but a society with secrets, not a new cliche but do we believe it? Brethren, surely our wives are entitled to supportive understanding of our individual role as Freemasons. Have you ever showed the lodge room to your wife, if not, why not? Have you ever thought about the printing of our forms and ceremonies, book of constitutions, officers guides, proceedings of Grand Lodge, not to mention the many excellent books that have been written on Freemasonry? Visit the libraries, be they public or our own. Who set all the type? All Masons? I think not! We could go into far more detail but your own intelligence can complete the picture far better than anything I have said here. I am reminded of an actual happening in Vancouver: an elderly couple presented themselves at the Masonic hall and the husband asked if he could see the lodge rooms. The manager satisfied himself that he was a Mason (from England) and learned that he was passing through and would not be able to visit a lodge. Making a long story short, the two of them were escorted to the lodge rooms and when the door was opened the manager noticed the wife had stepped back and he asked her .'wouldn't you like to see?" Her answer was "may I?" Upon leaving the building this lady said to the manager "I often wondered where my husband used to go all dressed up and after fifty years I now know and I know why he dressed up". There were tears in her eyes and she thanked him and said she would never forget that day. 

Confusion in the temple. It is all about us. Let us cease looking for an answer outside our time honoured institution. Let us look within, for it is within the individual lodges where the problem exists, and it is within these walls that they can, together, find the answer.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014