The following article comes from the book Alberta Workshop which is a compilation of the theme speeches of the first 25 years of the Masonic Spring Workshop held each April in the Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta. Bro. Tom Jackson (Pennsylvania) called this the best workshop available to rank and file Masons anywhere.
"MASONRY OR MASONS" — THAT IS THE QUESTION
Bro. Lowry F. Forgay
If Masonry is to continue to be a united body of men dedicated to its high principles founded on the V.S.L., we must decide now where the weakness, if any, lies and do something about it.
Personally I believe Masonry is fine! Masons need to be worked on.
FIRSTLY, WHAT IS A MASON?
He is a man free by birth who joins of his own free will and accord, with a belief in the Most High, eager to learn more of a better way of life, willing to accept it, and above all live it and share it.
SECONDLY, WHAT IS MASONRY?
Joseph Newton in his book The Builders says that one of the old charges claims, “Masonry is an ancient and honourable institution.” There is no doubt is ancient for it has subsisted from time immemorial; and we must acknowledge it to be honourable as by natural tendency it conduces to make honourable those who are obedient to its precepts.
Also as we know it; it is a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.
Another author says Masonry is FRIENDSHIP, LOVE and INTEGRITY.
FRIENDSHIP, which rises superior to the fictitious distinctions of society, the prejudices of religion, and the pecuniary conditions of Life.
LOVE, which knows no limit, no inequality, and no decay.
INTEGRITY, which binds men to the eternal law of duty.
A. Masonry then is the activity of united men, who employing symbolic forms borrowed principally from the masons’ trade and from architecture, work for the welfare of mankind, striving morally to enable themselves and others to bring about a universal league of mankind, which they aspire to exhibit even now on a small scale.
B. At the outset let us get one thing clear, there is a common notion that masonry is a secret society. This is based on the secret rites used in its initiations, and the signs and grips by which members recognize each other, yet we know that the one great secret of masonry is that it has NO secret.
Its principles are published abroad in its writings, its purposes and laws are known, and so are the times and places of its meetings.
We are all members of a great historic fellowship of the seekers and finders of God. IT IS OLD BECAUSE IT IS TRUE; had it been false it would have perished long ago.
WHEN ALL MEN PRACTISE ITS SIMPLE PRECEPTS THE INNOCENT SECRETS OF MASONRY WILL BE LAID BARE, ITS MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, AND ITS LABOUR DONE.
Hitler, in one of his writings made comment that he wanted to, among other things, rid the world of Freemasons.
C. I have tried to illustrate what masonry stands for.
Those of us who claim to be, and are masons; how do WE stand?
D. I hope I have laid a bit of a foundation on WHAT IS A MASON and WHAT IS MASONRY.
E. If we are honest we well accept this Masonry as truth, and it we are honest as men we now must accept our littleness and inadequacy in carrying out the principles of the Order.
Here then, I feel, is the problem today with our lodge.
We hear brethren say, “I don’t know what is wrong with masonry, it’s not the same as it used to be.” Sound familiar? Brethren, I assure you masonry is the very same. Maybe Masons are not the same.
In this highly progressive, sophisticated, competitive society we follow the worldly pleasures of life and are not easily “turned on” by things that require us to stand up and be counted for our sincere belief in the Most High.
1. Masonry as I see it is fine, but what about us? Let’s look at our own Lodges. Do you place more emphasis on QUANTITY than QUALITY? Are we not impressed by the numbers we get out? Do we not strive for 100% attendance? Where is the effort for 100% quality of work, friendship and brotherly love?
We strive for gimmicks and entertainment to attract members but I think we are off the beam when we begin to get itchy and restless for masonry to adopt the methods of the thousands of organizations, causes, projects, clubs and drives.
It needs a steady eye to keep masonry on course. God help Masonry if it surrenders to expediency, and God help us if we permit our craft to be absorbed by the organizational mind and techniques; if we permit Freemasonry to become anything other than Freemasonry.
The QUALITY of WORK, DESIRE, LOVE and RESPECT come first and then QUANTITY will look after itself.
2. Lodges by and large all too often belittle the ritual and try to cut it to a shorter form. I suspect this has pros and cons, but I feel that if we took our ritual, worked on it, delivered it, and communicated it with sincerity and pride, it would become so inspiring and interesting that the meaning would remain and men would clamour for more. Work well done in a long lecture is a thrill to any mason and one never hears of the ritual being too long when well done, only when we stumble over it.
I suggest that trying to shorten the work to please a few is not the answer and I for one am not advocating a revised standard version of the work.
3. We do not have enough active plans for progress for the current year.
Masonry all too often is talked of only one night per month. I suggest that the Masters and officers should get together prior to installations and plan a year of masonic vision and progress.
LET THERE BE LIGHT !
A light of concern for:
a. prompt meetings, b. more member participation, c. interesting, informative programs, d. well planned degrees, e. and making the candidate feel at ease and like one of the members.
Fireside chats by officers and the Worshipful Master after each meeting to look ahead to the next month to see what can be planned to improve on the previous month.
4. There is no real preparation of officers for the coming year’s duties. Did you know that there are schools for officers held here at the Workshop each year and it should be a lodge responsibility to see that the appropriate brethren attend.
Too often brethren are installed into an office and although they may have observed various officers at work for years, it’s much different when they occupy the office. When your turn does come there is concern, doubts, dismay at what the duties really are and thus a lack of real interest and enthusiasm.
I am sure a regular officers fireside chat each month could prepare all officers and the master for the next meeting, and a feeling of confidence would sweep the lodge. Do you agree?
A well prepared mason is confident, inspiring, positive mason. Every incoming officer should be told, prior to installation, exactly what his duties are. I feel we too often downgrade an office at get a “Yes, I accept”, or “I’ll give it a whirl”. You have heard it said, “Oh charlie, you can handle it easily, you are not alone, we are all here to help you, you’ll do alright”. “There is not much to that office, it is not really all that important” etc. etc.
Is this not typical pre-installation talk in the soliciting of new manpower for the lodge officers?
5. HARMONY AND GOOD HUMOUR are a must in Lodge. All too often we are too withdrawn and formal. Masonry is a happy time for it speaks of good things, good friends, good deeds, and good fun. Why do we not generate these things more at each meeting?
James Whitcomb Riley said, ““whatever the weather may be” says he, Whatever the weather may be, It’s the songs ye sing an’ the smiles ye wear That’s makin’ the sun shine everywhere.””
What can be done to make lodges more friendly, informal, and fun filled with good clean humour? I suggest that off-colour stories and jokes are taboo.
6. I feel too many masons are not honest with themselves or each other. We congratulate brethren on a well conducted piece of work when it wasn’t. We say kind things in public about a brother and then stab him in the back at other times. We are not honest enough or concerned enough to go to a brother who has a job to do, that we may have previously done, and offer our help, outline the pitfalls, and supply confidence through encouragement. We are too ready to be critical and never to see the good. Many masons look for an excuse to not attend lodge or church for that matter but ‘A horse can’t pull while kicking’!
Too many masons in the world are not loyal to their obligation; they degrade the order by dirty stories, loud talk, loose morals, over-indulgence in alcohol and a rejection of God in their lives.
Masons must be honest and tackle these areas to help build up a brother who has problems. They must keep him on the right track, be more willing to counsel and talk of masonry, and show how to apply it to life. Do you agree?
Too many masons who criticize and complain are not helping solve the problem, they are part of it. A good lodge must dig into its membership constantly for help, and solutions, and get beyond officer involvement to total membership involvement.
7. Many masons lack real conviction to our obligations. We must let men know we are masons by what we say and do. George Washington, when asked why he joined the Craft, said because the men in community he most respected and admired were masons.
Far too many men conduct themselves in a manner unfitting for a mason.
I feel if we were to stand before the Great Architect, as we have done at the altar, we must be able to say we have lived by these standards or what is the purpose of it all?
Is masonry not the taking of a good life and making it better?
I ask you to make a list on your own of in your groups of ‘What constitutes a good Mason’.
May I try to offer a suggestion as a start? Where were you first made a mason? That is the answer.
To truly wear the badge of a mason we must be willing to live masonry to the best of our ability.
8. SINCERITY is a must — do we really have enough of it? Is it important? Feelings and love must be our working tools in applying masonry and conveying it. Sincerity may be found mentioned in the charge,
“I recommend to you the practise of every domestic public virtue. Let prudence direct you, temperance chasten you, fortitude support you, and justice be the guide of all your actions.
Duty, honour and gratitude now bind you to your trust, let no motive therefore ever make you swerve from your duty.”
If we are sincere we accept this, it is a must. We can only do our best at any task, but above all we must be sincere.
9. Now, looking at getting the best members for our lodge, maybe we should have an election campaign for officers so we get real eager sincere men wanting the job. We would, I suppose, get either a real active election or none at all. What do you think?
Does your lodge really have the best men in office? Discuss this one.
If not, why not? Have you ever heard it said “I know brother John shouldn’t be the Senior Warden or Junior Deacon, he just can’t handle the job. He doesn’t know the work, verbal or floor. But who is going to tell him he is not suited?” Where is our HONESTY, our SINCERITY, and our CONCERN?
10. In this area now I want you to discuss only the place of the Past Masters. How can we keep them active and interested?
11. Now a point to tie in with a point covered before. Have you found many masons distant and unfriendly towards fellows they know to be masons? How about here at Banff? How about in your work-a-day world? Have you found it this way? Why is it?
Masons should be treating all mankind honestly, with love and concern, but more especially, a brother mason.
Are all masons you know always helpful to you or do you all too often wonder where their masonry is?
Could masonry really be practised more out of lodge than it is?
Do enough come to the Craft by attraction or is it mostly by solicitation as if joining a service club?
12. I feel each office of a Lodge should be built up as a real mountain of challenge as to its duties and we must all see that our lodges get the best men in officer.
All this comes back to my feelings that there should be no black ball if we do our part and are honest because a poor candidate should never get to the ballot stage.
13. Lack of Lodge attendance which concerns us all, is due to no definite plan of education, insufficient fellowship and not enough member participation.
Let’s try to discuss how to improve our meetings. Some areas are:
1. Start on time 2. Don’t run late 3. Snappy floor work 4. Not draggy
Try our these points and the ones you can add. You will be amazed at the results and attendance will climb.
14. FINALLY, THE REAL HOPE FOR MASONRY TODAY IS MASONS.
Look hard at yourself... do you like what you see and hear? If not I suggest that you discard that which is not masonic, enforce the good and build well for tomorrow’s brother.
Masonry is fine, its right, its good, and if it is an order that takes good men and make better, let us really get with it.
Masons could truly change the world if we really and truly appreciated that we were all accepted, poor and penniless, as equal and join with our brothers by building and not by knocking.
Let us be loyal to the Craft and true to ourselves. I have not read many articles about things wrong with masonry but article after article on how men could improve.
We must have a vision, be positive and not give up, but stand up. The late Martin Luther King said the greatest detriment to his cause was the ‘respectable neutral’.
You can’t be a lapel mason, a ring mason, or an apron mason. You must be a dedicated person, a heart made man. In masonry one writer said; “Go as far as you can see, and when you get there you will see farther.”
“All experience is an arch wherethro’ gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades forever and forever when I move.”
Let us Freemasons raise our eyes from the roadway so that we may see and enjoy the beauty that lies between us and the horizon.
Yes, MASONRY or MASONS that is the question. Masonry has the answers to a troubled world but you and I must communicate it.
Freemasonry has more to offer to the twentieth century than the twentieth century has to offer to Freemasonry.
What do you think? Is it Masonry really or is it Masons?
This is a great time and challenge.
Now may the Most High be thanked who has matched us with this hour.
SO MOTE IT BE.