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by Bro J. R. Martin, MPS
While some US grand lodges have instituted training or memorization requirements for officers, others have not and many requirements are waived on certain circumstances. All of the training requirements, whether memory work or workshop classes given or suggested by the grand lodge should be unquestionably a requirement for appointment or advancement as an officer of the lodge. However, there are few other excuses for extra requirements of training within the lodge. This is because any local requirements run the risk of being rites of passage with little value to the lodge or to the officer.
Grand lodge suggestions are almost uniformly based on best practices and experience as well as the collective knowledge gathered from hundreds of local lodges and from other grand lodges throughout the country. Local requirements, written or unwritten, may have the value of having withstood the test of time, but we are talking about renewing a lodge that is having trouble. Often that trouble is in the form of the "tried and true" old ways that are running off good masons and aspiring lodge officers.
Certainly, if there is a grand lodge qualification that is not a requirement but can be seen to add to the knowledge and experience of the officer, this should be added. For example, most, if not all, US grand lodges have a master mason's proficiency following the raising of a new mason. However, this proficiency may not be required for continued membership or even to qualify as a lodge officer. Such proficiency should be considered as a local requirement for officers because it has the two qualities that make it useful: One, it is a proficiency that is approved and encouraged by the grand lodge, and, two, it is helpful to determine if the new officer will be willing and able to memorize the requirements that lay ahead of him in running the lodge meetings and work.
On the other hand, a local, unapproved requirement for memorization of a charge or lecture by the senior deacon before he can be an "approved" candidate for election to junior warden, is likely to be more distructive than helpful. Examples of such local requirements haunt failing lodges all over the U.S. They can be almost uniformly recognized by the fact that they have no direct relationship to the needs of the officer for his advancement or the needs of the lodge for performance of a work function and they are not approved by the grand lodge. Often grand lodges issue edicts forbidding such local requirements. There edicts are ignored by a local lodge to its peril. It will most often by seen as a floundering lodge in need of help without any idea of the problems it has created for itself.
Also, if your requirement is working, you will see the result in the increase of membership and of applicants for officer positions. Members will come to a happy, active lodge where the officers are young or young-at-heart and confident that the requirements for office are rational and helpful.
Lodges where the same past masters appear over and over again in the role of worshipful master are often the lodges where the loss of membership and enthusiasm go hand in hand. This can be avoided by promoting officers through two or more chairs when a chair becomes vacant. The wisdom of recycling a past master with experience to replace a lost officer in the line is faulty logic. Supposing that a man must experience all of the chairs before becoming a worshipful master is like saying that initiative of a new officer should be discouraged because he does not understand how it was always done. Such assumptions are often disastrous to a lodge.
There are often grand lodge requirements such as the popular one that a mason must serve as either a junior or senior warden prior to becoming master. These conditions must not be ignored, but making a junior deacon wait an extra year to be junior warden when the senior deacon moves out of town has the effect of loosing new officers through discouragement and the problem of not bringing fresh, new ideas to the running of the lodge because the lodge remains top-heavy with leaders who get set in the "old ways". "Old ways" and experience are not necessarily bad, but if the lodge is failing, look to the old ways for a sign why this is happening. And look to new officers promoted quickly through the line to rejuvenate the lodge.
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Last modified: March 22, 2014