The Workload of a Lodge

by A.O. Aspeslet.


The general charge at our installations embodies many lessons, not the least of which deals with duty. We are reminded in no uncertain terms, that, while enjoying the benefits and appreciating the values of Freemasonry, we should never forget the duties that we owe to the Order, for there is no right without a parallel duty. To me this means that there is no right anywhere not just in Masonic privilege - without a parallel duty. Therefore let us get right down to the obligation each of us has, to contribute to the smooth functioning of our Masonic Lodge.

Let us begin with the officers, because in voluntarily accepting an office they have assumed the responsibilities that go with the title. It cannot be over emphasized that if an officer does nothing more than the duties of his office - be they ever so trivial - he is making a great contribution. The combined efforts of all the officers can, thereby, leave the Lodge unencumbered by bureaucratic confusion, and release the Brethren to pursue their real objective - namely moral instruction and social intercourse.

The allocation of duties varies from Lodge to Lodge, but the responsibilities do not. With your indulgence then I shall arbitrarily assume one pattern for delegation of responsibility. We all fit in here somewhere.

Start with the Tyler; at his installation he was charged to guard the entrance, see that the Brethren register, and that candidates are properly prepared. Now is that asking too much? Certainly not. But what happens if the Tyler fails to perform these minor duties? If he is absent there can be a great scramble for an unprepared replacement. How often have you waited while some Brother went to the sign to register, or a ceremony was interrupted because someone forgot a cabletow or slippers, and an uncomfortable delay ensued while someone corrected the error. Moreover, this deals with minimal duties. The disruption is magnified as responsibilities increase.

Let us step up to the rung to the Inner Guard. The Inner Guard is charged to admit Masons on proof, receive candidates in due form and to obey the commands of the J.W. Let us analyze these duties: firstly it is the obligation of the visitor not the Inner Guard to prove he is a Mason. That should be no problem. The form in which the candidate is received is laid down clearly in the ritual. What could be more explicit? The commands of the J.W. are carried out on the spot as directed. Is this making too much of an officer?

But again what ripples are sent through the Lodge when these small responsibilities are not attended to. His non-attendance can often mean another search for a last minute unprepared substitute. The Inner Guard’s role in the ritualistic reception of candidates is minimal to say the least, but its importance is far out of proportion to its size. After all it is the first exposure the new Brother will have to the ritual. No one expects perfection, but we do expect this officer to try.

There isn’t much to say about the Organist other than that he is directed to conduct and preside over the musical part of our ceremonies. A good Organist is hard to find and he can do much to add or detract from the ceremony. The problem arises when he never attends a practice and gradually forgets how to synchronize his music with the floor work. The result is often less than inspiring. Organists often overlook little things, like permitting a distinctive shaft of light to illuminate an otherwise darkened room. It is his duty to be attentive to these little things and to be alert.

At installation the Chaplain is enjoined to conduct the devotional portions of our ceremonies. His part in the Ritual is spelled out to the last comma, and, he is expected to offer brief prayers and blessings at the festive board when called upon. Apparently straight forward and simple functions.

But there is really more to it than that, if the Chaplain takes his office seriously. He should as all ritualists, try to make his words meaningful. For example, what contribution does to make when he parrots a prayer which he, himself, never tried to understand. If the teacher doesn’t know what he is talking about when-he quotes from Ecclesiastes, how can the student get anything out of it?

In some Lodges the Chaplain is charged with the sick report and hospital visitations… a good example of delegation of responsibilities to spread the work more evenly. Bear in mind that the Chaplain is so charged, he need not feel that he must make all the visitations himself. What it does mean is that the onus is on him to see that someone is attending to them, and that they are carried out regularly and faithfully without too much supervision from above.

Next on the list are the Stewards. The Stewards accept the obligation to attend to any ceremonies, prepare candidates in all degrees and to be responsible for the J.W. The Stewards must get together with the Director of Ceremonies so that they can anticipate what is to be done, so that they know what they are doing and so that they do it with poise and dignity. Otherwise there is no point in doing it at all. After all they are in the spotlight when they usher in the Grand Master or other dignitary. Their work will reflect on the efficiency of the Lodge.

We would hope that the Stewards would at least be familiar with their ritualistic duties. Preparing the candidate is straight forward, but how many times have you seen the ceremony interrupted while someone had to find a pointer, move an ashlar, or find an apron? Too many people have given an entire evening to see the work done properly. The stewards should not be the weak link in an otherwise strong chain. The Stewards need only do their homework before the meeting.

Now consider the Deacons. At installation they are directed to “attend the Worshipful Master and assist in the active duties of the Lodge.” The duties are not so clearly spelled out in this case. Working with the Master, they are obliged to be alert to the needs of Lodge routine … such as preparing ballots.

In our rites and ceremonies it is the Deacons who dominate much of the floor work and initiate the movements of the candidates. Therefore, it is obligatory that they attend practices to learn to synchronize their movements with the other participants, and become as fluent as their talent permits with the words they must speak. Few things tend more to mar a ceremony than sloppy floor work, where the blind are leading the blind, and guides are groping in confusion. Eloquence in the ritual is a difficult art and shortcomings here are understandable, but unprepared floor work and poorly executed signs are far less forgivable.

The Deacons are higher on the ladder. The duties that come with their offices are, therefore, broadened. In many Lodges the Deacons are given certain special committees - dealing with such things as mentor plans, boards of relief, and widows lists. Again, they are not expected to carry the burden alone. What is demanded of them is that they accept the responsibility to see that the duties are dealt with by someone, without constant supervision by the Master. If a Brother is not prepared to accept the duties that go with the office, and should not accept the appointment.

Now we come to a real challenge: the Junior Warden. He is directed at installation to assist in the governing of the Lodge, to examine visitors, and to introduce candidates. He it is who must alert the Master than an examining board is needed to identify a stranger. The part he has to play in our ceremonies is enough to send shivers down the spine of even the most accomplished speaker. These duties cannot be taken lightly. But it is the second part of his instructions … that of superintending the Craft during refreshment … that can be the most taxing. He prepares the food, arranges head tables and speakers, organizes social functions like ladies nights, etc.

This is a difficult role to fill for a Brother with no experience, and the J.W. welcomes all the help he can get. Let it be clearly understood, however, that the support and cooperation of the Brethren will be offered or withheld in direct proportion to the effort made by the J.W. himself.

The duties of the Senior Warden are somewhat less trying. Obviously he must attend to his role in the ritual to the best of his ability. Then, too, he is instructed to prepare himself to rule the Lodge, in the absence of the W.M. Above and beyond these tasks, the S.W. is the housekeeper of the Lodge. He sorts out the nuts and bolts of administration in the General/Purposes committee over which he presides. In a well run Lodge with a responsible and attentive Senior Warden the wheels of administration should turn without a squeak.

Let us now turn our attention to the office of Registrar. Here is an area where most Masters fail in their delegation of responsibility. Far too often the Registrar’s office is a reward for regular attendance. Yet at installation the Registrar is specifically instructed to assist the Secretary and to keep a record of all important events. The proper filling of this office by an enthusiastic and energetic Brother can go a long way to relieving the Secretary of much detail that clutters his minutes and occupies his time. Lodge minutes can be cut in half if the Registrar - not the Secretary conscientiously records all details of the purely social Lodge activities, the delivery of flowers to the ill … the lunch table functions, the highlights of an interesting informal address … the record of Lodge bowling, golf or curling teams … the pasting of newspaper clippings, photos, postcards and similar correspondence.

With so much cleaned off his desk the Secretary is left with recording only the more legalistic information. There is no reason why the Secretary should be the workhorse of the Lodge. At installation he is given but three charges: to issue summonses for meetings, to collect all moneys, and to record proceedings. The sending of notices is straight forward. The collection of money can be a chore because there is always someone who is delinquent, and he must send a series of reminders. The Secretary does all the work anyway and chasing after an elusive Treasurer can be a nuisance.

Recording the proceedings is the Secretary’s most obvious duty. Regrettably some Secretaries seem inspired to write an epic novel. Most of what transpires in a Lodge which they must record can be reduced to a few dates, names and statistics. The Secretary notes the names of applicants and candidates, and their progress through the Craft; he lists the financial figures, the demits and affiliations, the elections and appointments, motions passes or rejected, and dates and times - in short the bare bones business of the Lodge. The social work is passed on to the Registrar. There is no need to point out what happens when the Secretary does not do his job.

There are, however, pitfalls the Secretary must avoid. He, perhaps more than any other individual, can influence the continuity of the Lodge through a succession of different Masters. Most newly installed Masters tend to lean on him until they feel their own sea legs. Here is where the danger lurks. A secretary sometimes comes to feel that it is he who really guides the destiny of his Lodge. Some become so set in their ways that their contribution becomes, not one of assistance, but rather one of obstruction. A wise Secretary will realize that each new Master must be taught. The Secretary should have the wisdom to let the Master feel his way, unfold his own plan, and perhaps make a few harmless mistakes while he gains experience.

The example the Secretary sets is very important. Long familiarity with the job can breed a certain familiarity that can erode the dignity and discipline of the Lodge. Addressing officers by their first names whittles away at the respect due their office, informal interjections from the Secretary’s desk often disrupts the good order of business, and the failure to abide by protocol, the dress and formalities of meetings steadily diminishes the dignified atmosphere of the Lodge room. The experienced Secretary will never forget that he is under the spotlight, that his example is of paramount importance to the well functioning of Lodge affairs, and that he can influence younger members for better or for worse.

Let us now turn our attention to the Immediate Past Master. Some have the impression that once he has served his year as Master, his duties are finished. I have news for you. His chair is not a prize for past service where a Brother can quietly vegetate in a place of honor. His regular attendance is essential for it is he who is most intimately associated with the transfer of authority from himself to his successor. He is the crutch on which the new Master leans until he finds his own footing. It is his duty to be constantly alert at all meetings. It is his duty to be there.

Now consider the Director Of Ceremonies. This is an office which in my opinion is downgraded in many Lodges; if he is absent the chair in most cases is not filled, for that evening. I will say flatly that no other appointment is more important, and no other appointment can take a greater burden from the shoulders of the Master, than a qualified and responsible D. of C.

In a well run Lodge it is the Director of Ceremonies who directs the floor work, supervises the ritual and directs the minor ceremonies such as the reception of visitors. He need do nothing else in a Lodge room, nor should he, for he will have his plate full with these duties alone. Sudden illness, absence and transfers of Brethren make every night a cliff hanger for the one in charge. The Director of Ceremonies should untie the knots without running to the Master who has his own problems to unravel. He must rule his little roost with a whip hand for - make no mistake - if he demands anything less than the best effort from the participants that is exactly what he will get. Wise is the Master who fills this position after long and careful consideration.

Finally we come to the duties of the Worshipful Master. Assuming a delegation of the responsibilities thus far outlined, we find that:

- all social functions are handled by the Junior Warden,

- administrative decisions by the Senior Warden,

- health and welfare by the Brethren by the Chaplain,

- the training of the initiatives by the Deacons,

- the ceremonies by the Director of Ceremonies, and

- the paperwork by the Secretary and the Registrar.

Do I hear you say that this leaves the Master unemployed? Well that is precisely the objective of this paper, and it should be the objective of every officer in the Lodge. Many Masters assume office with bright plans for the future, but what happens? In far too many cases they never get around to them. They are too busy following up their officers, looking over the shoulders of the irresponsible, substituting for non-performance and replacing those who evade their duties. In short they are frantically patching and tying up the loose ends that others should have attended to.

Have you left your Master free to lead your Lodge to better things? Has your Master had time to unfold his plan for the Year? The Master cannot work his plan if he must devote his time and energies to picking up after others, repairing faulty workmanship and recruiting substitutes. It must be said that the Master has to supervise, but this should be simple if the officers are conscientious, and he has given them clear and concise instructions as to their duties.

I would now like to say something about the Master who enters the office without a plan for the year. This is probably worse than all the other problems I have discussed. Without a preconceived plan the Lodge can go nowhere. It is too late to plan after the installation; he will be too busy. The planning must start in his year as Junior Warden. At this time he is fairly sure that one day he will end up in the East; he should be making mental notes of his plan and committing them to paper. When he arrives in the West he should revise, add to, or delete as required. Then on the night of his installation his plan will be well and properly laid out, and ready to put into action. If the officers do their duty and the Brethren lend their support, you can be assured that your Lodge will move steadily forward and you, as an individual may advance with it.

May I give you one final word of advice to any conscientious but probably apprehensive officer as he advances steadily towards the East? The best way to prepare yourself for the duties of the next office, is to do the very best job you can in the office you are already filling.


 The Workload of a Lodge by A.O.Aspeslet - Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Alberta

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