“…and to improve myself in Freemasonry.”
Adapted by Brian C. Coffey from “Continuous Improvement” by Tim Bryce
Reprinted and modified with the author’s permission.
I start with this truth: the responsibility for improving yourself in Freemasonry rests with you, not your Brethren. Your Lodge may offer Education but more than anything you are responsible for your development, not anyone else. You must take the initiative. Often, your Lodge will assist you in your development, but you must show your willingness to learn and improve.
Regardless of your “age” as a Mason, your perceptions of the Craft will change over time. This is because as you mature, your needs change and perceptions change; what was vital 10 years ago is now routine and you have moved to other areas where you need self-improvement. Improvement is a normal part of growth. You must either evolve and adapt, or be left behind.
There are numerous sources available to you for ongoing Masonic development:
1. Personal Observations – There is probably no better instructor than your own power of observation as you will be able to watch others succeed and fail in their positions in the Lodge and other Masonic Appendant and Concordant Bodies, their work habits and ethics, as well as their interactions with others. This requires an attention to detail, the ability to detect changes, and an inquisitive mind that constantly asks “Why?”
When studying people, consider their strengths and weaknesses, what motivates them, their character, and their formulas for success or failure, e.g., what worked and what didn’t? Never hesitate to ask questions, particularly as a new Mason.
2. Masonic Journals and Magazines – Just about every Masonic body has some form of publication, either printed or in some electronic format, to report news and discuss trends. These are invaluable in order to stay abreast of what is going on in your organization.
There is also considerable information made freely available to you over the Internet, such as the Grand Lodge web sites, along with pertinent blogs, discussion groups, and podcasts. Use discernment to determine if the information is accurate, if you have questions ask a well-informed Brother for help.
The important point here is that you should develop a habit of staying current. It also helps to associate with Masons from outside your Jurisdiction to gain different perspectives, understanding that the rules of your Jurisdiction are your Law.
3. Lodge Education – Your Lodge should have Masonic Education sessions at each Regular Lodge Meeting. The Worshipful Master is charged to “set the Craft at Labor under good and wholesome direction or cause the same to be done.” If your Lodge is not conducting Education, work with your Worshipful Master to institute it; teach it yourself if necessary. You will grow by the research and study to present topics to others.
4. Participation in Research Lodges and Masonic Study Clubs – Most Jurisdictions have Research Lodges that delve deeper into the philosophical, esoteric areas of Freemasonry. If there is no Masonic Study Club in your area, start one. Such groups typically offer its members monthly/quarterly meetings to listen to guest speakers, workshops and seminars, and access to a library of research papers. More importantly, it provides a venue for its members to network and compare notes pertaining to their Masonic journey. Participation in such groups is a great way to support your continuing education.
5. Visit – Travel to other Lodges in your area, visit Lodges in other Jurisdictions. Meet your Brothers that you do not know; your life will be enriched. Find those things in other Lodges that you can use to enhance your own. The Craft grows stronger, as a whole, through the free flow of ideas and the exchange of practices.
6. Leadership Training – The Georgia Masonic Leadership Conference is an excellent instructor-led workshop held annually under the auspices of the Masonic Education and Leadership Development (MELD) Committee of the Grand Lodge. It is open to Senior and Junior Wardens and Senior Deacons to help them prepare for the possibility of leading their Lodge as Worshipful Master.
7. Certification Programs – The Masonic Education and Leadership Development Committee has six self-study Certification courses: Georgia Masonic Code; Georgia Masonic History; Masonic Etiquette; Georgia Masonic Manual; Symbolism of the Three Degrees; Masonic Rules of Order. They also offer Instructor led Certification courses: Masters and Wardens Workshop; Deacons and Stewards Workshop; Masonic Investigation; Masonic Mentor.
These programs train you and authenticate your level of knowledge in a subject area. As a new Mason, you should pursue these programs. Not only will you personally benefit from it, but it could greatly benefit your Lodge and Brethren as well.
8. Mentors – In the Grand Lodge of Georgia, we are required to assign mentors to Masons chaperone them on their journey through the Degrees and beyond. According to the Georgia Masonic Mentor Manual, a Mentor is “’a wise and faithful adviser, friend or teacher.’ In the old operative Lodges of Scotland, the officer entrusted with the task of instructing the new apprentices bore the title of Intender. It was his duty to intend, increase and intensify the knowledge of the new Craftsman. The Mentor, in our present system, will seek to expand and intensify the Masonic instruction imparted by the ritual, adding many other points which will enlarge the new brother’s understanding of Freemasonry and its relationship to life in this twentieth century.” I know that this program has not been properly executed in many of our Lodges, or for us as we began our Masonic journey’s, but the Grand Lodge feels strongly enough about it to include it in our Masonic Code.
A mentor has three primary duties to perform:
Role Model – a mentor has attributes the subordinate wants to aspire to attain.
Teacher – a mentor has to be able to teach, not just academic or technical lessons but also those pertaining to Masonic life; e.g., etiquette, ethics, history, organization, etc.
Guidance Counselor – to guide the new Mason on their journey through their Masonic life.
Very importantly, both the mentor and the new Mason must realize the mentor will not have all of the answers, but should be able to point the Brother in the right direction to get the answers they need. The mentor also has to know when their work is complete and they can move more to the role of Brother than Mentor, but in Freemasonry Mentorship should be for life.
9. Other Vehicles – there are a variety of other ways for perpetuating development in your Lodge:
Member education or roundtable discussions – held on a regularly scheduled basis to discuss pertinent subjects. In other words, your own in-house study group. The only problems here are: scheduling (we are all very busy), and getting people to participate (many of whom will not attend outside of Regular Lodge meetings.) But if you can develop such a forum, it can become invaluable as a learning aid.
Private Blog or Discussion Group – to use as a clearinghouse to discuss your journey and learn from the journeys of others.
Again I remind you, your improvement is up to YOU, not your Lodge. In most cases, your Lodge will encourage and support you in your self-improvement, but they cannot spoon-feed you. YOU must show the initiative. To quote my Senior Warden, Brother Jerry Wood, “The process isn’t just about YOU changing YOURSELF. If you have a real and genuine interest in Freemasonry, you will inevitably change your Lodge, your mentor(s), and your Brethren for the better, too. Learning is reciprocal; it’s a two-way street. When we set out to learn, invariably, we also teach through the process.”
The Author, Tim Bryce, is a writer and management consultant who writes commentaries about the times we live in be it in the corporate world, the Masonic world, or our personal lives. His writings are well known on the Internet and are humorous, educational, and at times controversial. You won’t always agree with him, but Tim will definitely get you thinking. For more of Tim’s columns, see timbryce.com