Eight Steps To Excellence: The Observant Lodge

Discussion in 'Masonic Education' started by Brother JC, Dec 16, 2013.

  1. Brother JC

    Brother JC Moderating Staff Staff Member

    Eight Steps to Excellence:
    The Observant Lodge
    W:. B :. Andrew Hammer, PM
    Alexandria-Washington Lodge No 22

    The growing popularity of the idea of ‘observant’ Masonry has found brethren in all corners
    of the Craft asking the question of what exactly an observant Lodge is, and how they might
    go about increasing Masonic observance in their own Lodges. This document offers eight
    basic measures which, if observed, should result in the development of an observant Lodge.
    Each of these steps is either entirely consistent with Anderson’s Constitutions of the Free-
    Masons [the foundational document of the Premier Grand Lodge, published in 1723 and
    hereafter simply referred to as the Book of Constitutions], or historical Masonic practice in
    North America, or both. Nothing proposed in them is alien to our Grand Lodges or their
    respective histories. The success or failure of these steps is entirely up to the brethren of
    each Lodge.

    First, however, it might be helpful to offer an answer to the primary question: what exactly
    does one mean by ‘observant’?

    Simply put, observant Masonry means observing the intent of the founders of speculative
    Masonry. That intent was not to build a mere social club or service organisation. While the
    Craft—like any other human organisation—has always been burdened by men in its ranks
    who subverted the purposes of the fraternity to a more mundane or profane enterprise, that
    was never the intent of the institution.

    That intent was to build an institution that calls men to their highest level of social being, in a
    state of dignity and decorum, which could serve as a place for serious, mindful discourse on
    the lessons and meaning of life, and search for the better development of oneself. That intent
    means building a space where such an experience can be created, and carrying ourselves in
    a manner that is consistent with our highest ideals and noblest behaviours.

    Observant Masons believe that by observing what the history of our Craft tells us in regard
    to that intent, we will find the optimal Masonic experience. We say observant, and speak
    of observance, because we seek to observe the blueprints of that intent to the best of our
    knowledge and ability. Even more simply, we want to do things right, and we don’t want to
    settle for less. We want to pursue excellence in all aspects of our Masonic labour.

    The eight steps offered here have proven to be successful in greatly increasing the experience
    of Freemasonry for brethren new and old alike. They serve as a quality control system for the
    operation of any Lodge, and when followed, result in a group of men who, regardless of the
    number of members in their Lodge, or the external nature of their temple, can find a sense
    of accomplishment and pride in what they have done, and who they have become. That too,
    is consistent with the intent of our founders.

    1 - Guarding the West Gate

    This point is first among these, because we are nothing more or less than who we let in
    to our fraternity. Not every man should be a Mason, and not every man who should be a
    Mason belongs in just any Lodge. The brethren have a right and responsibility to determine
    the standards for their own Lodge, and to ask incisive questions of those men who knock on
    their door. Lodges should take time to first get to know the men who knock at their doors,
    and not simply sign any petition just because a man has an interest. Brothers who sign a
    petition for a man need to know who they are signing for, and more important, need to be
    willing to serve as his mentor. This is a fundamental point of responsibility for all brethren.
    Do not ask a brother in your Lodge to do the job of mentoring for you. If you are not willing
    to give that petitioner your time, how can you ask your Lodge to give theirs?

    2 - Being Proficient in Masonic Ritual and Law

    Proficiency is an essential function of any observant Lodge, because we must know both
    what we are doing, and why, if we seek to uphold the highest standards of our respective
    Grand Lodges. It does no good to claim the mantle of excellence if your Lodge is not wellversed
    in the ritual and the Masonic law of your jurisdiction. Masonry is a thing of order,
    not anarchy. If you wish to keep that order, as well as harmony between your Lodge and the
    Grand Lodge, you must learn and follow the rules that each brother has obligated himself to
    observe. An observant Lodge is not a renegade Lodge. It seeks to be an exemplary one.

    3 - A Commitment to Advance Brethren Through the Degrees by Mutual and Genuine Effort

    Progress in the degrees requires a mutual commitment of time and effort from candidate
    and mentor alike. Some form of proficiency, be it the catechisms, or papers delivered before
    the Lodge, should be required before allowing any brother to advance. Otherwise the
    brother learns that his advancement has no measurable value, other than his mere presence.
    Certainly not every man can do memory work, and not every man is a writer. But if he is not
    willing to even attempt to do either, then perhaps he should simply not be a Mason to begin
    with. The same goes for the mentor, who, though he may be experienced, must not take the
    easy way out when it comes to the knowledge he has pledged to impart to his apprentice.

    4 - The Selection and Advancement of Officers Should be by Merit Alone

    This step, while admittedly difficult for some, is firmly grounded in the Book of Constitutions,
    without question. Masonry has never intended the adoption of a progressive line. A
    progressive line should only function when the next man down has the full faith and trust of
    his fellows that he will rule and govern his Lodge properly, because he has properly learned
    the requirements of his office. Of course, human nature is what it is, and mistakes can always
    happen, but they can be mitigated if such a standard is put in place, because no one advances
    until and unless they are ready to do so. The only way to justify a progressive line is if every
    officer is carrying his weight to the extent of his office, while at the same time preparing
    himself diligently to advance to the next one. Lodges ignore this step at their own risk.

    5 - Dressing Your Best for Lodge

    How one appears before the Lodge is a sign of how much you value both the brethren and
    the Craft. In most lodges in the world, a dark suit and tie is the minimum required to gain
    admittance. It’s what the brethren expect from each other in an observant Lodge, and it
    certainly adds to the notion that a Masonic meeting is not just another night out, but a
    special event, worthy of being considered as special as each of us should believe Masonry
    to be. Additionally, dignity expressed outwardly through dress, serves as a superstructure,
    helping to enhance that dignity that can only be created from within.

    6 - A Lodge Must Offer Quality Assemblies and Be Willing to Pay For Them

    The dues of a Lodge should be set at a level which allows the Lodge to not only support and
    sustain itself, but enjoy a quality of experience which tells the brethren that their assemblies
    are opportunities to rise above the ordinary. Good meals, served at proper festive boards,
    are essential. The festive board conveys the sense of conviviality that helps build true
    brotherhood, and it is historically established in the Craft as not merely a simple dinner, but
    quite honestly the second half of a Lodge meeting. An observant Lodge cannot forego it.
    A Lodge must decide that Masonry is a thing of value, and properly determine that value in
    such a way that it allows the Lodge to work and assemble in a manner that clearly establishes
    that value. Our dining and social events should reflect the worth we place on ourselves.
    Excess is not the objective; quality is. The problem is that so many of us have forgotten what
    quality is to the extent that we consider any expenditure on ourselves to be pretentious. But
    if Masons are to be men of inner distinction, then we are fully justified in treating ourselves
    to the best we can afford in life. We cannot expect less from the Craft or ourselves.

    7 - The Return of a Sense of Awe to Our Ceremonies

    We should bring back those things that once were found in our lodges, and which helped
    create a very unique, contemplative atmosphere for both the candidate and the Lodge.
    Among these are the use of music, the manipulation of light and darkness, the Chamber
    of Reflection, and the closing charge which forms what is known as the Chain of Union.
    Consider that the candidate preparation room is not and was never meant to be a mere
    dressing room. Consider that the notion of a ‘sacred band of brothers’ might allude to a
    physical manifestation of that sacredness. Consider that music has always been a part
    of our ceremonies, and that the Book of Constitutions ends with a collection of songs.
    All these things are part of who we are; they are not innovations from later jurisdictions or
    borrowings from European Masonry. Even the use of incense is ritually alluded to in early
    exposures of the Craft. The idea is to stimulate and manage the sensory experience of the
    brethren, in the endeavour to create the sense of uniqueness one expects from a Masonic
    experience. Here again, there is nothing strange about employing the senses in a Masonic
    meeting. Our rituals teach the importance of each of those senses extensively; to not employ
    them in our meetings is the greater neglect and error. To refuse the restoration of awe to
    our rituals is to refuse to acknowledge our own heritage and history, and to deny the proper
    place and application of the pillar of Beauty to the Lodge.

    8 - Masonic Education at Every Meeting

    The very origin of Freemasonry itself is in education. Whether it be the practical education
    in stone-cutting found in the operative craft of masonry, or the search for inner knowledge
    and science presented to us by the speculative Craft, the foundation of the art is inexorably
    based in teaching and learning. Without it, there is simply no Freemasonry taking place
    in a Lodge. Therefore, every meeting of the Lodge should offer some amount of Masonic
    education, be it through the degrees, or through presentations on the various lessons of the
    Craft. Even a ten-minute talk focused on the symbolic meaning of a single working tool is
    far better than a meeting where nothing but donations, dinners, and dues are on the agenda.
    An observant Lodge values the educational function of Freemasonry in its full bloom; the
    observant Mason holds the fraternity accountable to its promise to him to bestow light,
    and he means to receive it from the Craft in every sense: spiritual, literal, and intellectual.
    Numerous monitors and manuals from our Grand Lodges, spanning over at least the last two
    centuries, make plain the injunction to all Masons to seek knowledge. That same injunction
    extends by natural progression to each Lodge, and as a result, a Lodge without Masonic
    education cannot be an observant Lodge, and is arguably not any kind of Lodge at all. The
    search for more light is at the heart of Masonry. Observance is impossible without it.

    © 2011 - Andrew Hammer
    This document may be freely distributed, with proper attribution.
    Observing the Craft: The Pursuit of Excellence in Masonic Labour and Observance
    is available from observingthecraft.com, and amazon.com
    rgarner, AndreAshlar and Morris like this.
  2. JJones

    JJones Moderator Staff Member

    Wonderful! Thanks for sharing this, I'll be bookmarking it. :)
  3. Malik179

    Malik179 Registered User

    Excellent Reading, I've added it to my subscriptions

    Sent From My Freemasonry Pro App
  4. Blake Bowden

    Blake Bowden Administrator Staff Member

    Great post! Sharing...
  5. JohnnyFlotsam

    JohnnyFlotsam Premium Member

    Excellent stuff!
    Any Lodge that earnestly pursued these guidelines would never worry about "membership" again, because they would be actually delivering the promise that Freemasonry has always made.
  6. spacemanvman

    spacemanvman Registered User

    Some great information there thanks

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  7. Bro. Andrew

    Bro. Andrew Registered User


    There are a few more documents available for download from observingthecraft.com. Just look over on the right side of the page. Of course, I don't suggest that every Lodge seek to do these things. The quest is not to impose some kind of uniform standard on everyone else in Masonry; it is to allow Lodges to have the freedom to pursue such things if they desire.

    There are many ways to enjoy this fraternity. Most Lodges may never consider such an approach. But there must be room enough for those of us who want to do it in this way, if for no other reason but to allow Masons to reach for the very best in themselves in every aspect of who they are.

    Some people focus upon the issue of clothing that I and others have raised. Of course it is the internal and not the external that is most important when it comes to knowing a true brother. The Epistle of James in the New Testament raises the same issue, but yet, a statement and a question remain:

    1. Masonry, unlike one's faith, is not open to everyone. We expect, even demand certain things from men, and we are much less forgiving than the Almighty. Our standards are not better than those of God, but they are better than those of most men.

    2. Would any of you who are Christians, even knowing what is said in James, show up at church wearing in anything other than your Sunday best?

    Maybe you would, and if you do, well then James has you covered. But at least you can easily understand what I mean when I propose the idea of dressing one's best for an institution that is supposed to be dignified if not sacred. Brethren in one Lodge may not see the need, but certainly there is no reason to criticise those in another Lodge who do.

    My Lodge has never turned a visiting brother away for how he was dressed. And trust me, we have seen some variations. But we do expect that our members, or those who know us and our custom, will wear a dark suit and tie to our meetings.

    In my book, I put it like this:

    A Lodge can be filled with men dressed to the nines, but if those men cannot perform their ritual with skill and decorum, and instead allow for casual comments and conversation to go on during their meeting, others will ask what exactly is it these men think they are doing.

    On the other hand, another Lodge can be filled with men in overalls, but if they execute their ritual to perfection, in an atmosphere of reverent comportment, the only question anyone will likely ask is why they did not have time to dress for the occasion.

    Let this not be misunderstood. Obviously, what this book is calling for is the fullest realisation of both quality in ritual and dress. But even a well-dressed man can still behave like a cad.
    rgarner and jwhoff like this.
  8. Traveling Man

    Traveling Man Premium Member

    Excellent information, thank you.
  9. JohnnyFlotsam

    JohnnyFlotsam Premium Member

    Exactly. It is how the man chooses to dress for Lodge, not what he is actually wearing, that matters. As you say, if the man has not chosen to wear his "Sunday best", whatever that may be, he is not demonstrating the "reverant comportment" that Masonic labor demands.

    No matter how many Masons may wish to convince themselves that there is something noble in adopting a low-brow, casual attitude for their Lodge, it simply is not true. Mind you, there's nothing wrong with low-brow pursuits. I spend more time shooting or watching cars race around a dirt oval than I do in Lodge. I comport myself differently in each venue because they are not the same thing.

    Freemasonry is not a social club. It is not "just" a fraternity. If we fail to pursue our labor with the zeal and "reverant comportment" that it deserves we are cheating ourselves, and our Brothers.
    harveym and jwhoff like this.
  10. Brother JC

    Brother JC Moderating Staff Staff Member

    A pleasure to have you share your thoughts with us, Brother Andrew. I hope you're getting caught up with your post-holiday communications.
  11. Garrettsdaddy

    Garrettsdaddy Rev. Scott Kerschner PM Premium Member

    Wow what an amazing well written and much needed direction for all lodges. I sometimes feel lodges get into a rut and fail to really educate new brothers. We are all responsible for the education and teaching of brothers. I love the way this article outlines a way to make any lodge the best it can be. We as brothers regardless of what Grand Lodge we hail under need to help each other.
  12. Bro. Kenneth Brown

    Bro. Kenneth Brown Premium Member

    Great post

    Sent From My Freemasonry Pro App
  13. Hotep357

    Hotep357 Registered User

    I'm definitely sharing with my lodge brethren

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