On a weekend late in February of 2016, I traveled to Oklahoma for a special Masonic event. It was the Spring Festive Board (untyled) for Lodge Veritas No 556, Grand Lodge of Oklahoma.
(Turn up the volume full for Bro. Flynn’s presentation)
We met at The Greens Country Club in Oklahoma City in full Masonic dress. There we started off the evening with cigars and the adult beverage of choice on the deck outside. As the sun slowly faded behind the horizon and the moon readied to take over, we gathered around a table with a mini fire pit and let the brotherly love flow. Some notable attendees were PGM Richard Massad and 33rd Bob Davis.
There Was Camaraderie
What seemed like all too soon, we adjourned to the dining room for toasts, prayer, singing and great food.
Lodge Veritas No 556 Masonic Toast
Lodge Veritas No 556 Masonic Toast
Lodge Veritas No 556 Singing
There Was A Great Gastronomic Experience
The special guest speaker was Masonic artist Ryan Flynn who made an enlightening presentation on art in Freemasonry from the Middle Ages to the present. Flynn showed us how to look for hidden meanings and symbolism and where they were in some of the great works in history.
Masonic Artist Ryan Flynn’s Presentation
Masonic Artist Ryan Flynn’s Presentation
Masonic Artist Ryan Flynn’s Presentation
Masonic Artist Ryan Flynn’s Presentation
There Was Masonic Education And Shared Knowledge
After closing the Festive Board we retired once again to the place from which we had started, the deck outside with the fire pit in the table. This time, it was dark. But that did not dampen the Masonic spirit in the slightest. Stories flowed back and forth and for some, new friendships were cemented for time immemorial.
There Was More Camaraderie
This experience was a lesson in how the practice of Freemasonry needs to be complimented. It is how our Masonic ancestors often gathered in taverns many moons ago. It makes the business of the Lodge the opening of the Masonic heart, the inspiring of the Masonic spirit and the sharing of esoteric knowledge to widen the Masonic mind all in a festive, celebratory setting. More Lodges should hold events like this. It is great for Lodge morale and Masonic bonding.
The peak of 20th Century Mainstream Freemasonry membership is generally conceded by Masonic scholars to be 1946-1960. After that things went steadily downhill and we are not just talking about membership.
It has been a long time hypothesis of mine that the Vietnam War was the principle culprit of the 60s and 70s decline of Freemasonry. The feel good, drop out culture had a lot to do with dissuading anybody from joining anything. Freemasonry wasn’t the only one to suffer. Other Fraternal Societies, churches, ethnic clubs, sewing circles, literary guilds, agricultural Societies – you name it, they all withered and dried up. Some went belly up and others just struggled along at half speed.
If the hypothesis holds true then FREEMASONRY SKIPPED A WHOLE GENERATION. The history of Freemasonry shows that about every 20 years or so the Old Guard would be replaced by the New Guard. You could in that time period see a total transformation of leadership with the corresponding vitality that youth brings.
But when the Masonic leaders of 1940-1960 were not replaced because membership lagged significantly, what happened is that the Forties to Sixties leaders did double duty; they stayed on for another tour through the Sixties and Seventies. Thus Mainstream Freemasonry had the same leadership from 1940-1980 (of course there was a trickle of new blood replacements).
This had some really bad effects on Freemasonry. The older leadership was less ambitious. Craft Lodge members withdrew into a comfort zone of inactivity. They became Isolationist Freemasons. Degrees were seldom performed. Masonic education was something that was felt to be unneeded. If you were 80 years old and you didn’t know it now, then you never would.
Just like my Grandfather who perpetually failed to understand why things cost so much more when he was 80 then when he was 20, Craft Lodges couldn’t understand the need for raising dues, so they froze them. For many years, retired seniors living on fixed incomes and who were a Lodge’s voting majority artificially held down the cost of maintaining Masonic membership. In the process they strangled the finances of a Lodge. Masonic programs, lavish social events and well attended ceremonies had to be cut or eliminated. Masonic buildings suffered in decay as funds to repair and maintain them were lacking.
Most of the officer’s chairs were occupied by Past Masters. Masonic Communications most often consisted of a business meeting followed by a collation of baloney sandwiches and coffee with the consistency of molasses. The sad part to all this is that Lodges met without practicing Freemasonry.
Such a picture is a bit of an exaggeration. There were many fine Lodges that did great work, just not enough of them. The inability to provide a great Masonic experience made it difficult to attract new members.
Somewhere along the line Grand Lodges woke up and realized that something had to be done. Unfortunately sometimes the cure can be worse than the disease. Grand Lodge responses of jurisdictional mandates, relaxed standards, Institutionalized charity and One Day Classes brought in some quantity without the quality. Now we had a flock of Masons in name only – MINOs. And some MINOs assumed positions of Masonic leadership.
When the Information Age hit and every household started to get a PC, the Masonic response was archaic and self-defeating. Instead of embracing the new technology they dismissed it or banned it. When they finally admitted that they were wrong, instead of employing outside professionals it became in house amateur time.
Some in the Craft were muttering enough is enough. Along came an Australian Mason in named Kent Henderson and the Masonic reform movement was born in 1992.
Oh, I’m sure there were some noteworthy earlier contributors but Henderson wasn’t just a talker he was a doer. In 1993 he, with 34 others, formed Lodge Epicurean based on the European Concept. When Henderson wrote his paper explaining the European Concept – BACK TO THE FUTURE: A prescription For Masonic Renewal – he spread the word to the United States and beyond.
The Creation of Lodge Epicurean
In early 1992, a group of mostly young (but Masonically experienced) freemasons living in Victorian provincial city of Geelong, lamenting the state of the Craft, decided to do something about it in a practical way. They determined to form a new lodge which would be quite different in a great many ways to others working under the Victorian Constitution. Lodge Epicurean, as they named it, would be a top quality lodge, with the highest standards. Anything not consistent with such high standards would be discarded.
It was decided to form the lodge on Two Great Pillars, which are as follows:
A high quality lodge must be paid for — therefore dues need to commensurate with this. Based on the successful European formula, it was decided on dues at about the average weekly wage.
A lodge has two main challenges: getting members, and keeping them.
(a) GETTING MEMBERS. Only an existing member can propose a candidate. We suspected that the reason why members did not repeatedly propose candidates, if ever, was because they either consciously or sub-consciously did not think their friends would be interested. There are probably a variety of reasons for this, but one is probably fear that in the event that their friends do not like the lodge, their friendship might be affected. Members these days are rarely proud of the standards of their lodges. However, if a lodge has very high standards, members do not hesitate to ask their friends to join. This is the secret of gaining new members, and lots of them.
(b) KEEPING THEM. A high quality lodge will greatly assist in holding new members in the longer term, but this is still not enough. There are other social organizations that offer quality. Freemasonry has one great thing more to offer, available nowhere else — freemasonry! But what is it? It is not a charitable organization like Rotary or Lions (though some would make it out to be), although charity is an important part of its teachings. Masonry is first and foremost an education society, one which TEACHES moral and ethics – a way of life. Secondly, Masonry is a universal brotherhood, with all that implies. Thus, what a lodge must do is teach. Exposure to the three degrees is but the beginning. What a lodge must understand is the overriding reason why a brother will sit in a Masonic lodge in the medium to long term is because he knows exactly why he is sitting there. The answer to keeping them, therefore, is to give them quality, and to concurrently educate them in Masonry.
The word was picked up in Texas where a European Concept Lodge was formed in College Station, St. Albans Lodge No. 1455, founded in 1992 by Pete Normand and elsewhere about the U.S the most notable being in Indiana. In a popular Internet Indiana Masonic Forum much discussion led Jeff Naylor, Chris Hodapp and Nathan Brindle, among others, to form the Traditional Observance (TO) Lodge, Lodge Vitruvian and to publish the American version of BACK TO THE FUTURE, LAUDABLE PURSUIT with due homage to Past Grand Master Dwight Smith.
Lodge Vitruvian operates under what has come to be known as “The European Concept” as popularized by Lodge Epicurean, among others, in Australia.
The European Concept is known for its dedication to a number of primary tenets:
Dignity and high standards are to be maintained by the Lodge in all its undertakings.
Nothing short of excellence in ritualistic work is acceptable.
Candidates shall be advanced only after having undertaken an intensive program of Masonic education and proving themselves proficient in open Lodge.
The Lodge enjoys the fellowship of the Festive Board at a local restaurant following all Regular and Emergent Meetings of the Lodge.
Members are expected to dress properly to attend to the duties of the Lodge.
While many Masons may have heard about European Concept lodges, which are themselves a relatively new concept in American Freemasonry, few have heard of the Traditional Observance lodge. Traditional Observance lodge s are similar to European Concept lodges in that they also incorporate higher dues, festive boards, a strict dress code and higher standards of ritual, but differ in that they choose to follow a close observance of the traditional initiatic elements of Continental European and South American Freemasonry.
This observance is characterized by a solemn approach to holding stated communications and conferring degrees, the use of the Chamber of Reflection as part of the initiation ceremony, forming the Chain of Union after the meetings, longer time between degrees and the requirement for candidates to present a paper before the lodge on the lessons of each degree prior to advancement. Traditional Observance lodges are also more likely to use the term Agape rather than Festive Board to describe the meal which follows the meetings. Agape is the ancient Greek word for “love,” and in Freemasonry the term signifies a meal eaten in common by a congregation of Masons in token of Brotherly Love.
TO Lodges, while they continue to grow, have never really caught on to the point that they can be found neither in every state nor in abundance anywhere.
All this serves as background information for what follows. In Part 2 to this article we will explore alternatives to the TO concept that can be adapted to existing Lodges.
When we eat with our Brothers, we digest more than the meal. – Bryce’s Law
Serving a meal either prior to or immediately following a Lodge meeting has been an inherent part of our Masonic culture for many years. Brothers attend such meals more for the camaraderie it offers than anything else. Although there are no definitive figures on the subject, many Masons assume the meal has a direct bearing on meeting attendance. I tend to believe this. Further, the cheaper the meal, the less likely people are willing to attend.
I recently went out on the Internet to ask the Brethren about this subject and received considerable responses for which I thank all of you for your input. Just about everyone seemed to confirm the correlation between meals and attendance. But I noticed substantial differences in how meals were treated in North America versus the United Kingdom. The North Americans seem to treat the meal much more casually than their counterparts in the UK where it is not unusual to have a catered “Festive Boards” AFTER the meeting and at a higher price than most North American Brothers would pay.
In North America, most meals are prepared under the supervision of the Junior Warden, a task that is seldom relished. But if the Junior Warden executes his job with a little imagination and effort, he can have a profound effect on Lodge attendance. I’ve met some Junior Wardens who simply do not care, and you would be lucky to get punch and cookies from them. However, I have met others who love their job and offer cuisine the Brethren greatly appreciate. So much so, they frequently return to Lodge for more.
In most Lodges in North America, a simple donation is requested to offset the cost of the meal, anywhere from $1 to $8 is common. In the UK, on the other hand, the meals can get as high as $25-$40, an outrageous fee by most North American standards. But then again, it is not uncommon for our UK Brothers to use professional caterers for their festive boards.
In North America, the nutritional value of the meals is questionable, since most Lodges rely on pasta dishes and a lot of starches that “sticks to the ribs.” If you are on a diet, you will probably want to avoid a Masonic meal. And because most Junior Wardens operate on a tight budget (some use the adjective “shoestring”), the fare is often basic. Here are some prime examples of typical meals served at North American Lodge meetings:
Bratwurst and sauerkraut
Chicken, fried, baked or barbecued
Chicken and dumplings or noodles
Chili con Carne
Chili dogs (aka Coneys)
Hamburgers and Cheeseburgers
Hamburger Helper (believe it or not)
Macaroni and cheese
Mashed potatoes and gravy
Pulled pork sandwiches
Red beans and rice with sausage
Roast beef, open faced sandwiches
Soup and Salad, including Clam Chowder
Spaghetti (meatballs or sausages optional)
Stew, beef or rabbit
Tacos, hard or soft shell
(You do not see much in the way of fruits and vegetables do you?)
This is not to suggest North American Masons are incapable of preparing some fine meals, but they are served infrequently and reserved for special occasions such as a visit by the Grand Master, or a special year-end meal. Although you won’t find lobster tails or chateaubriand on the menu, here are the more common examples of special fare served:
Deep Fried Turkey (popular in the Southern United States)
Field Rations (to honor the military) – cooked in a “boil-a-bag” format
Local delicacies – such as “Perogies” or “Vereneke.”
Pork Chops, grilled
Spamfest – a competition to prepare meals from Spam.
Wild Game Dinner – where hunters bring deer, rabbit, quail, etc.
Some of these are a bit avant-garde as meals, but they inevitably draw a lot of Brothers to Lodge meetings.
Although our UK Brethren typically enjoy catered affairs, they also have thier own fare they enjoy, including:
Bangers and mash
Cheese – usually Cheddar, Brie, Stilton
Cheese and biscuits
Dessert – Usually some sort of Swiss roll and custard or fruit salad
Shepherds/Cottage Pie and vegetable.
Steak and kidney pudding/pie
Vegetables – usually potatoes, carrots, beans, parsnips
As one UK Brother explained to me, “The idea of UGLE members cooking meals for themselves is unheard of to my knowledge. Usually a chef or cook is used and paid waitresses (a few may utilize the stewards) serve the meals. Members pay the going rate for a three course meal (say about $26 – $40 – a lot more in London) excluding alcohol. They regard the fellowship (and cost) of dining as a very important part of their Masonry. The idea of having poorly catered meals would be unacceptable. Under the UGLE, you are not allowed to use lodge funds to subsidize meals. All dining must be self-financed.”
Like it or not, Masonic meals are an important part of a Lodge meeting. And think about it, do we attend Lodge simply to listen to a meeting or do we come for the warmth and camaraderie of our Brothers? A meal greatly facilitates brotherhood.
For those Junior Wardens who cannot think of a cost-effective meal to serve at a Lodge meeting, I’ve just given you a couple dozen ideas for you to consider.
Keep the Faith.
Freemasonry From the Edge
by W:.Tim Bryce, PM, MPS firstname.lastname@example.org
Palm Harbor, Florida, USA
“A Foot Soldier for Freemasonry” Originally published in 2008.
NOTE: The opinions expressed in this essay are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of any Grand Masonic jurisdiction or any other Masonic related body. As with all of my Masonic articles herein, please feel free to reuse them in Masonic publications or re-post them on Masonic web sites (except Florida). When doing so, please add the following:
Article reprinted with permission of the author and www.FreemasonInformation.com
Please forward me a copy of the publication when it is produced.