Friday, December 30, 2011

Being the Bad Guy Right Before 2012 – Traditional Observance Lodges

Last post of 2011; not that I had a great plenty of them for reasons that don’t need to be repeated. I have to state again that I am starting to enjoy Freemasonry again; I am enjoying reading article after article. I enjoy learning/researching about things long gone and current events. I enjoy serving my lodge.

Now to the subject at hand, in 2008 I was a true believer of the Traditional Observance (T.O.) Lodge or European Concept Lodge, in which the men would dress appropriately, emphasis on education, research, and ritual and of course no more fish fries. Now in Texas this would fly in a couple of places (College Station for one), but they aren't allowed to be called Traditional Observance as the Grand Lodge does not recognize the practice, also some of the TO “ritual enhancement” are not part of our blue lodge degrees which are strictly controlled.

That local hurdle aside, there are lodges in the major metropolitan areas that are European Concept like, formal dress, emphasis on education and good meals. They generally meet once a quarter or once a month at most may have 20-25 members most of whom are active, sounds great doesn’t it?

Sorry, they are nothing more than Past Masters clubs, Past Masters that have taken over a charter of a dying lodge, invited their other Past Master buddies to join. They rarely rotate any of the chairs, never put on degrees and seem to be at times a glorified supper club. If a poor fool stumbles in off the street they are directed to a regular blue lodge, and if someone like myself comes around, I am directed to come back after I sit in the east.

Now as you are reading this and you are a Mason, you might be thinking “Still, that really isn’t a real T.O. lodge”. But, I disagree.

Most TO Lodges that are under dispensation are generally nothing but District Deputy Grand Masters, Past Grand Masters and Past Masters. If you go to any of them that maintain a website it’s pretty clear to see that out of the thirty members 90-95% are Past Somethings save a couple of members that are most likely Masonic legacy’s in some form or fashion. Now to a certain extent you really need these DDGMs, PMs, etc. because they have the experience and to some extent the political clout to start a brand new lodge or transform an existing one, but for them to be the majority of their membership doesn’t seem to be doing much for younger Masons.
A conversation I had with a member of a TO lodge in a jurisdiction that allows TO lodges that I was passing through had a conversation that pretty much went the following way:

Me: “So why have you started a TO Lodge?”

Good Brother: “Because we want to provide a more enriched Masonic experience and a full ritualistic experience”

Me: “How many men have been initiated, passed and raised here?”

Good Brother: “We passed one on the request of his brother (meaning relative), who is a member but none here.”

Me: “Do you plan on initiating your own? Has anyone petitioned?”

Good Brother: “No”

At this point I realized that TO Lodges may come across like the old sayings of the south in the 50s and 60s “You are welcome to visit, just don’t plan on staying”.

So how is this promoting to keep younger Masons involved in Freemasonry? Is it to motivate them to get in the line-up at their regular lodge, get in the East, sit for a year as a Past Master In-Training, so they can join a Traditional Observance Lodge? Are TO and European Concept Lodges nothing more than degree teams and supper clubs?

I am not asking these questions to be a jerk, after all my travels I just don’t know what these lodges are doing to keep younger Masons involved, younger Past Masters involved, absolutely, but a regular brother?

Before anyone claims sour grapes, realize that I am asking these questions and challenging this for the good of our beloved fraternity, not to be a dissident, spoiled sport, or jerk. Anyone who knows me personally knows that, I am asking because I think that are some huge holes in the execution this concept, and they need to be addressed, challenging it will in the end will only *hopefully* make it stronger.

I look forward to your slings and arrows. ;)

-Bro Vick


Charles Tirrell said...

Dear Brother Vick,

Thank you for this post! I am a recent founding member of a "European Concept Lodge" here in Connecticut and I truly appreciate seeing a brother offer pointed, constructive criticism about the TO/EC movement. Without posts like this, we would be unable to properly guide our endeavors.

Our lodge, Quinta Essentia Lodge U.D., grew out of a "supper club", although we preferred to focus on the philosophical discussion and fellowship of the evening rather than the dinner portion. The brothers who got envolved came from a wide range of Masonic experiences. We had a mixture of non-PMs, PMs, DDs, PDDs and even a Grand Master. However, from the beginning we moved to remove all distinctions and how many letters before a brothers name didn't matter.

Later on, we asked the Grand Master to issue us dispensation to meet as a lodge, which was granted. As a lodge, we specifically outlined that no introductions will be made in lodge with the exception of the Grand Master if he is present or his personal representative. During a lodge meeting, the only honorific we use is "Brother", no W:., R:.W:. or M:.W:.B:. We truly believe that we are all brothers and meet upon the level.

The members of QE are also dedicated to the idea that the primary purpose of a lodge is to make Masons (not affiliate Masons). The work that we're putting into our lodge is aimed at delivering a better experience to a new brother. At this point, we have had our dispensation for 3/4 of a year and because we are still under dispensation and not fully chartered, have not initiated a brother of our own yet. This is because we don't want to have a brother join a lodge that isn't fully chartered yet and which may not become fully chartered. This would be a bad experience for the new brother. However, we recently did a courtesy degree for another lodge and once fully chartered expect to initiate new brothers into the lodge. Once initiated, they will be a brother, whose voice is equal to any past DD or GM.

//Continue Message

Charles Tirrell said...

//Message Continued

One issue that we have had to contend with is some of the particulars of our Grand Lodge Rules and Regs concerning what we can and can not do as a lodge under dispensation. As a lodge U.D., we are not allowed to perform certain business, which includes affiliating new brothers. We have had many brothers ask us to affiliate, but we had to tell them to wait until we are fully chartered. Some brothers have been unreasonably upset by this. This delay was in no way our choice and is a matter of our status as a lodge under dispensation. We would very much enjoy having many of these new brothers and asked them to come to our meetings with the understanding that once we are fully chartered, they can apply for affiliation. I would recommend checking your Grand Lodge Rules and Regs to see if these is likewise the case in your Grand Jurisdiction. It's possible that a brother you asked to join the lodge was unable to comply and perhaps framed his response incorrectly.

Although I have no doubt that there are certain TO/EC lodges that are being restrictive with members, it is not the case with all of them. Some TO/EC are working very hard to build a new Masonic environment where the reality of the Masonic experience meets the expectations of the candidates, where they receive a high quality experience and are viewed as equals.

Just to reiterate, Quinta Essentia Lodge U.D...

* Has brothers from a wide range of Masonic Experience.
* Treat all brothers equally regardless of their Masonic Experience.
* Expect to begin initiating new brothers once we are fully chartered.
* Is looking forward to having regular brothers with new ideas and energy for the fraternity affiliate once we are able.
* Understands that the purpose of a Masonic lodge is to make new masons.

I plan to present your blog post to the brothers of our lodge to inform them of the possible issues that we need to contend with and to guard against. Your concern and viewpoint is very important and I encourage to continue asking the tough questions, so we can correct ourselves, if we have strayed onto the wrong path.


Brother Charles

FD2L said...

Brother Charles,

Thank you for the feedback and education regarding your EC Lodge. I went to your website and out of the 14 men that started your lodge ( three of them don't have the R.W. or M.W. in front of their name which leads me to conclude that ~78% of your lodge is made out of past somethings, and sort of solidifies my point in that EC can become a Past Master club.

While I don't know (and you didn't address it here) what your newly formed lodge's bi-laws are, but according to the Masonic Restoration Foundation TO lodges are not to exceed 30 members, normally a lodge that is UD has about thirty members, so that usually rules out any new members, Past Master or not.

Let me write again that TO lodges and EC lodges currently are not permitted in this state as much. PGM's have generally given charters of dead lodges to men to start their own lodge to avoid the UD rules that you are having to deal with now. It seems common practice here to do that as opposed to trying to get a charter from scratch. When rural lodges are dying off as they have been, it's much easier to do.

I do wish you luck in you work, and am glad that you took my questions not as being an instigator or a trouble maker, but as a way for us all to "gut check" this entire movement. My experiences to date unfortunately have not been very positive, but I hope that may change in the future.

Thank you again, I hope your newly formed lodge does well and doesn't fall into what I described above.

-Bro Vick

Randy Clark said...

I read with some interest the original post and conversation about European concept/ TO lodges. I am privileged to be a member of Caliburn Lodge # 785 (Grand Lodge of Ohio, located in Cincinnati). I have no experience of any other TO/European concept lodge so my experience is anecdotal at best. And I can see why you comment here as you do and understand your criticisms. And the spirit in which you make them.

Let me say, however, that Caliburn would be a counter-example to your criticisms. I can't speak to the composition of our founding membership, but after reading your post I pulled up our lodge's membership directory. As of the end of 2011, Caliburn had 52 members (excluding honorary members). Of these 52, 2 are RWB's (and in the interest of full disclosure I am one of them) and 11 are WB's. Since I know most of these Brethren well, I can say with some authority that 4 of the 11 were Past Master's in another lodge. So about 12 percent of our membership past something’s prior to joining our lodge.

I suspect, however, that we are the exception and not the rule. As you observe for Texas, Ohio does not allow TO or European concept lodges strictly speaking. A couple in our state are given some leeway in how they operate and coupled with dispensations are able to operate as they desire (mostly).

I realize, too, that if you apply strict definitions of TO lodges to Caliburn we don’t make the grade. We are more of a hybrid lodge, which I suspect is going to be the case in most of the Grand Lodges in the U.S.

I would add one argument for why it isn’t all bad to have some past’s in the core membership. In Ohio, only current DDGM’s, Grand Lodge Officers, and PDDGM’s and PGM’s, the Master and Wardens of each lodge have voice and vote in Grand Lodge sessions. So having some RWB’s in your membership gives you someone who can propose legislation, knows the hierarchy and culture of Grand Lodge, etc. Although it was all defeated, I was privileged to sign and submit legislation to Grand Lodge that would have made such lodges easier and legal. And my relationships with people probably helped get it to the floor where there was at least a discussion that I hope is not over.

But I agree entirely with your main point – we do not need yet another body in the Craft (and certainly not another lodge) that is a good old boys club of past something’s.

If you ever make your way to Ohio when Caliburn is meeting, let me know and I would be happy to have you as a guest. It might restore your faith that something besides the status quo is worth the fight!!!

Randy Clark