The Master's Book 3
Carl H. Claudy
DUTIES OF A MASTER
Numerous and diversified, a catalog might easily be a fear-inspiring document! But with determination to do, and interest in accomplishment, difficulties smooth themselves away and the multiplicity of duties becomes a pleasant experience.
The duties of a Master may be summarized as: duty to the Lodge, duty to the members (including ill, absent and charity cases) and duty to the dead.
The Master's first duty to his Lodge is to lead it to success and prosperity. This requires a combination of diplomat, financier, adviser, councillor, friend, critic — and executive!
Some Masters consider scheduling the work, getting out a monthly notice, and conducting the meetings, as "success." But these are but the skeleton; to clothe such a program with flesh the Master must provide entertainment, instruction, inspiration; his monthly notice should be of sufficient interest to attract attention and draw attendance. Successful presiding requires far more than merely answering salutes and putting motions (see Chapter 5).
Variously called "Monthly Trestleboard," "Lodge Notice," "Lodge Bulletin," etc., the Craft too often suffers under a plague of dull reading sent out monthly by Masters who then wonder why attendance is small. Certain routine matters must, of course, be in all Lodge notices, but to fill up the balance with alleged humor, pointless personal news and trite platitudes is to consign the Lodge notice to the waste basket in advance. Make them interesting, make them snappy, make them say something, and they will be read.
Careful consideration of, and attention to, Lodge finance is a duty too important to discuss with general statements; some thoughts on financial ways and means are developed in Chapter 9.
Masonic entertainment, as opposed to singing, music, vaudeville, motion pictures, lectures on non-Masonic topics, pack the Lodge room whenever fairly tried. The Master must select the entertainment which pleases his Lodge and plan accordingly, or appoint a capable chairman of an entertainment committee to do it for him. Interesting Lodge meetings do not "just happen." Success follows the age-old instruction to Masters — "first program your work; then work your program." Plans for six months ahead (with sufficient elasticity to permit changes for unexpectedly and happily necessary degree work) are wise. To know that on the first meeting in the year a contest is to be held; on the third, a debate; on the fifth, a Masonic spelling match, will cause many a member to plan to attend who otherwise would remain comfortably at home with the evening paper.
It should be emphasized that the duty of a Master is first to the members of his Lodge; the possibility of much "work" on many candidates should be a secondary consideration.
Few Lodges successfully can compete with picture shows, vaudeville theaters, concert halls or restaurants. A member can see a better program or buy a better meal than his Lodge usually provides. The Master who depends only on amateur, or second rate professional, talent for "entertainment" need not wonder why he has empty benches.
One thing and only one thing a Masonic Lodge can give its members which they can get nowhere else in the world.
That one thing is Masonry.
Give the brethren plenty of Masonry and they won't want expensive and hard-to-get secular entertainment.
No, Worshipful Sir, the author does not — Oh, most emphatically he does not! — mean dry-as-dust addresses.
Some speakers can fill a hall to suffocation, electrify an audience, make the brethren gasp with the beauty, humor, interest of their talks on Masonry. But how many such has the average Master on his staff? Too many "Masonic speeches" are mere words; few men want to be preached at in Lodge. If a speaker has history, law, symbolism, romance, humor, oddities of Masonry at command — yes. If all he has is an exhortation to practice brotherly love, better not use him.
But there is a way to sugar-coat Masonic instruction; to combine Masonry and human interest (see Chapter 7). The Master who provides such "good and wholesome instruction" need never complain of non-attendance.
A Master's paramount duty is to preserve peace and harmony, a matter on which no specific instructions can be given. The majority of Lodges are harmonious, without cliques or factions. Some are sharply divided; in these, criticism is often more fault-finding than constructive. Plain sailing usually follows a sincere effort to steer a middle course. The occupant of the East is Master of the whole Lodge, not just of the group with which his sympathies happen to lie. Ingrained in Americans is a love of justice and fair play. The Master whose rule is just and fair, whether it favors his own convictions or the opponents of his ideas, will gain respect and support even from those who do not agree with him.
No Master can afford a temper, and should not expect courtesy or consideration from his brethren if he does not show both from the East. Luckily, few men attain the East without long experience which generates appreciation of the honor, and creates a desire to rule justly, fairly, impartially, courteously. The Master's great power increases with lack of asserting. The mailed fist is no less potent that it wears a velvet glove.
Alas, at times the velvet glove must come off. For the sake of the Lodge, a Master should not permit his acts to be questioned, his rulings flouted, his authority set at naught. When necessary, authority should be used fearlessly and firmly. The Grand Lodge is behind and will support such a Master. As a matter of course, a Master will avoid conflicts if it can be done with dignity; if radicals in Lodge must be controlled, Masonic control will be gentlemanly but ironlike in firmness.
A Master's duties to his members — including candidates — are, specifically: to open on time, to plan interesting meetings, to provide dignified degree work, to preserve order and harmony, to promote brotherly love.
Brethren who know the gavel will fall at the specified hour soon get the habit of arriving on time. Those who are morally certain the Master will be late in opening are themselves late. An interested Master will arrive early enough to encourage the Tiler, perhaps to help him arrange the room; to greet by name and handshake every brother.
Similarly, a Lodge meeting should close early, except when a "large evening" of unusual entertainment value is planned. An early closing means much to many brethren who wish to go home to read or retire; those who wish to stay can have an hour of fellow ship after the final gavel falls as well as before.
Of such small details is success composed!
Masters of Lodges which pride themselves on beautiful degree work have an easy time. Many Lodges struggle with but indifferent success to attain that beauty, serenity, perfect coordination which makes a degree ideal.
But no Lodge need be without dignity in its work. Many brethren possess no sense of drama; some workers can but speak their parts like parrots. The Master who can inspire his workers with an ideal, so that they are willing to rehearse; who is willing to step out of the picture whenever he can to let some able Past Master shine in the work he can do best; who is wise enough to intrigue into minor parts some brethren from the benches; he can stage a degree which, whatever it may lack in beauty, will at least be dignified and smooth running. This he owes not only to his members, but to his candidates. Whether he is taking part, or watching his fellow officers do the work, no Master worthy the name will permit levity or talking while a degree is being put on.
No ceremony of any kind can be well done without rehearsals. The wise Master calls rehearsals for degrees and makes them so interesting his officers like them. But the responsibility is the Master's; it is not advisable to ask officers if they "want to" rehearse or "will rehearse" but to say "There will be a rehearsal" and expect officers to come. Most officers will be as proud of the results as most Masters.
How does a Master promote brotherly love? A question impossible to answer except in general terms. But much may be done by a "glad hand" committee of members or Past Masters. The enthusiastic Master who wants happy meetings, and call inspire a committee with the same feeling, will soon see a difference in the smiles of the brethren. We are simple-minded animals, we humans; it does not take much to please us ! We respond easily to suggestion, and Masons especially are usually easy to please. Give us a cordial word of greeting; see that we know by name the brother sitting next us; ask us to sit with a visitor to play host to him; suggest that we say a word to old Dr. Brown, who is so deaf he can't even hear himself talk, but who has been in that same seat since the memory of man runneth not to the contrary, and we respond as men always do respond to leadership.
One of the delightful surprises — and they are many — which the East provides, is the quick response of brethren to any attempt to make them feel at home, or secure their help to make others enjoy their evening.
Brotherly love is not a tangible commodity. We cannot touch it or weigh it, smell it or taste it. Yet it is a reality; it can be created, it can be fostered, it can be made a dynamic power. The Master who has it for his Lodge and his brethren will find that Lodge and brethren give it back to him. The Master too worried over the cares of his office to express friendliness need never wonder why his Lodge seems so cold to his efforts.
As has before been written, to have friends we must be friendly.
Problems presented by the ill, the absentees, the charity cases, are so different in city and small town Lodges that only the fundamentals, the same for all Lodges, may here be considered.
Freemasonry has a standing in the community, and the general public respects it. Respect and standing are predicated largely on the few points of contact which the profane world has with Freemasonry. One of these is the attention given to the ill.
What is too often properly called the "Sick Committee" — which should be a healthy Committee for the Sick — is frequently the reliance of a Master who thinks thus to eliminate from his busy days a duty not always pleasant. As such committees do not always function, the Master is well advised who insists on weekly reports.
At the end of the year he will be better satisfied if he has personally called on every brother reported ill. This is not always possible in a big city and a Lodge with a membership in four figures; it is possible in most Lodges. Only the Master who has devoted his spare Saturday afternoons, Sundays, and many evenings to calling on the ill knows how it redounds to the credit of his Lodge. The sometimes pitiful surprise, the invariable pleasure, and the often lasting joy given by an unexpected fraternal visit are Master's Wages, pressed down and running over. The Master who has the fraternal care of his ill heavily upon his mind and often practiced will join the ranks of Past Masters well beloved.
One tried and proved plan is to call for volunteers for the Committee for the Sick, with the assurance that no member need make more than one visit per month. If the Master has twelve committee members, and four brethren ill, to each committee member he assigns a sick brother, with instructions to call at two day intervals. If he also calls, the ill brother receives four visits in eight days. Such diversifying imposes a burden on no one, yet assures the Lodge that the ill are properly comforted.
A certain Master appointed six young and enthusiastic members as a Committee on Attendance. The Master divided the Lodge roster into six parts (this Lodge has a membership of three hundred, two hundred and forty nine of whom are resident), crossing off the regular attendants. He instructed his committee to call up, go to see, or write a letter to, every man on his list, advising of the next Lodge function, and asking assistance.
He had difficulty in seating the crowd which responded.
The Master of a large Lodge (1200), with some three hundred brethren out of town, made it his business to write four letters during the year to every absent brother. These letters were individually typed, and all personally signed (this Master was a work horse!). The response to the first letter was interesting, to the second encouraging, to the third enthusiastic and to the fourth amazing. Many brethren said they had never heard from a Master before. Half a dozen had been considering dimitting to join Lodges in their then locations, but changed their minds because of the touch with the Mother Lodge. Absent members wrote letters of greeting, of homesickness, of appreciation; one brother sent a beautiful gavel as a token of thanks for the brotherly attention. All, apparently, were highly gratified that the Master had remembered them. The Master quoted briefly from many letters in his Lodge Bulletins, that all might recall the absent. One unexpected result of this publication was the bringing together in large cities of several brethren of this Lodge, who did not know any fellow Lodge members were in the same municipality.
Every Lodge is — and should be — a law unto itself in its methods of charity and relief. Some have special charity funds; others have a Committee on Relief; others leave such cases in the hands of the Master; still others want to act in stated meetings on every case. The essential thing from the Masonic standpoint is speed. No charity call should be put off; if a Lodge has "called off" for the hot months (common practice in many Jurisdictions) it is obvious that a widow who has lost her job and needs food cannot wait for the Lodge to decide whether to spend five or ten dollars for flour and eggs! The Master may decide or call a special communication to consider the case. Whatever he does should be done as soon as possible.
Freemasonry is NOT a relief society, and no brother, or his dependents, is promised charity by the lodge. But Masons are charitable, and he belongs to a poor Lodge indeed who goes hungry or shelterless while his Lodge is in funds. Here, as in the profane world, "he gives twice who gives quickly."
It is not here presumed to give advice to Lodges; the statement which follows is merely the result of nation-wide experience. Lodges which loan money to their members usually get in difficulties. Relief as an outright appropriation rather than a loan is in the end far more satisfactory to a Lodge. A generously inclined Lodge, which might be willing to "loan" a brother a hundred dollars, may hesitate to "give" more than twenty-five. Many Grand Lodges frown decidedly on a Lodge acting as a private bank.
Whatever the attitude of Grand Lodge, the Master's position will be sound if he personally investigates relief calls, and then so guides Lodge action that the Lodge does not suffer, while the brother receives the aid he needs.
In almost every Lodge is to be found the overly sympathetic brother who sees only the immediate present. With mistaken but sincere zeal he wants to spend all Lodge funds on relief. He thinks it "wasteful" to spend Lodge money on a "big feed" or "an entertainment" when "hungry mouths need food and the widowed and the fatherless have no homes. "Such pathetic appeals not infrequently move other brethren to action which saner counsels would prevent.
A Lodge is not held together with steel bands, but by the silken ties of brotherhood, woven of interest, friendliness, good times, wholesome fraternal intercourse. A Lodge which spends all its money on charity and none on fraternal meetings will soon have no money to spend on anything. During the war battleships needed oil. Had the railroads given all their oil to the navy, the trains which had to carry the oil to sea ports could not have moved. The same principle applies here; relief must be proportioned to treasury, and a fair allocation made to all legitimate Lodge expenses.
Two important public contacts with the Fraternity are at cornerstone layings and funerals. Many a brother has never seen a cornerstone laying, but to all Lodges and to all brethren comes at times the sad duty of laying away the mortal remains of a brother of the Mystic Tie, under the Sprig of Acacia of immortal hope.
It is important to the family that the Master conduct an inspiring service; because of the many who thus see Freemasonry on public view, it is of interest to Lodge and Master that the ceremonies be dignified.
As words read from a book are never so impressive as those spoken from the heart, the Master who takes the small trouble to learn the funeral services "by heart" just as he learns the work of a degree, embraces an opportunity to help the families of his departed brethren, and impress the general public with the solemnity of Masonic ideals.
If the ceremony has not been committed to memory it will be easier performed if it is read and reread, so that in public there is no hesitation over a difficult word, no misplaced emphasis, no halting delivery.
In Lodges so fortunate as to have little or no calls for funerals, it is wise to rehearse the funeral exercises at least once, preferably early in the year; the call may come at any time. The dignity and beauty of Masonry, in one of its few points of public contact, is the better exemplified after such preparation.
It is one of the privileges of a Master Mason to be laid to rest by his brethren. To perform this last duty well is to be brotherly; to offer what small comfort may come from a noble service, nobly rendered, is to succeed in making brotherhood manifest.
Important duties of a Master, in addition to these specified, include:
To obey, enforce, defend, the Ancient Landmarks, the laws, rules, edicts of Grand Lodge and Grand Master, and the by-laws of his Lodge.
To enforce and defend the prerogatives that belong to his office; never to permit any brother to en encroach upon these, no matter what feeling of personal modesty may dictate to the contrary. The Master has a duty to those who follow him to hand down the office with its dignity and its rights, its privileges and its responsibilities, unchanged.
To preserve order in his Lodge at all times; it is disagreeable to call a brother to order, but it is unthinkable that any brother be allowed to interfere with the solemnities of a degree.
To see that his officers learn, and perform, their work in a proper manner. The Master is responsible; it is the Master's part to demand and receive enthusiastic cooperation from his officers.
To train all his officers, and familiarize even the minor ones with Lodge affairs. A weekly meeting of all officers, at lunch or some officer's home in the evening, is a splendid way of getting opportunities to "talk things over." Where this is not practical, a half hour officers' meeting before or after a Lodge meeting is a means of providing unity of effort and ideals in conduct of Lodge affairs.
To preserve the secrecy of the ballot. This, not only that the statutory mandates be observed, but to lose no chance of impressing members with the importance of this bulwark of the Fraternity. In some Jurisdictions Lodges have a by-law regarding the secrecy of the ballot, which itself makes its reading mandatory after any unfavorable ballot. For the benefit of those in whose Lodges is no such by-law, one is quoted herewith:
"No one shall inspect the ballot of any petitioner for the degrees or for membership except the Master and Wardens. No member shall make known to another the manner in which he intends to cast or has cast his ballot. No member shall question another respecting the manner in which he intends to vote or has voted, and in case a petitioner is rejected, no member or visiting brother shall inquire into or by any means whatever attempt to discover who opposed his election, under penalty, if a member, of such punishment as the Lodge shall determine; if a visitor, of his never more being admitted to the Lodge. That none present may remain ignorant of this by-law, the Master shall cause it to be read immediately after the rejection of a petitioner."