March 5, 2012
Between the time of our first Most Excellent Grand Master King Solomon and the present time, I took a Master’s Degree in Management. The work was so far back in time that when I wrote my thesis, I used a Royal manual typewriter and physically cut and pasted quotations and footnotes onto paper before retyping the whole thing. Now, at that time, the two big dogs in business and organizations were the Harvard Business School and the Wharton School of Business which were located (I think) somewhere on the plains of Jordan between Succoth and Zarthan. And, like some other things from that area, its products were destined for holy work and noted as being big and brassy, but also hollow. I did not attend there, but I have studied their traditions.
Among other things I learned, each had a model or approach for assessing organizational health. Each began with looking at what you were supposed to be doing and comparing that to what you actually were doing. Each mapped out the organization’s business objectives and compared that to its structure. Each led to an analysis of who was doing what you were supposed to be doing – and who wasn’t.
From there, each had business solutions for increasing profit. One molded the workforce into self-directing teams to meet the work with less middle managers, giving top management the flexibility to fire middle management (thereby reducing costs), and one carved away products, parts, or people who had a negative Return on Investment. Both models are still in use in various forms. The Wharton approach dismembered Trans World Airways (TWA) causing thousands to lose jobs and retirement pensions while enriching a few. The Harvard model was equally rough on “white collar” jobs in the auto industry which was, and still is, a mess. But that model went on to become something known as Total Quality Management and was quite the rage for a couple of decades in the 80s and 90s. This Total Quality movement morphed from the business world into government (where it ran into the realities of Civil Service rules and military rank issues). It is still preached there even though it has failed due to incompatible structures and objectives (with government, if you have funding to do it, you do it even if it does not work or make sense). Finally, it landed in the non-profit sector and evolved again to be used in volunteer organizations. Several generations later, its direct descendant is the Grand Lodge “Commitment to Excellence Program”. If you see a “Mission Statement” in a Lodge, you are looking at a distant relative of the Harvard tribe.
I have been thinking a great deal about what we do as Masons from an organizational perspective. The more I look at it, the more I begin to understand that Masonry can be seen in two parts which should come together into one mutually complimentary and agreeable whole: Freemasonry is the combination of the Work of Masonry and Masonic Works. Looking at it organizationally, it seems to me that the Work of Masonry is different from Masonic Works. One, I think is an internal function (that’s the Work of Masonry) and the other is an external one (that’s Masonic Works). The Work of Masonry is something we do within Lodge, and at the Lodge. For the most part, Masonic Works are performed outside the Lodge.
We spend a good deal of time and energy learning, practicing, and doing the Work of Masons. Our ritual work and degree delivery are examples, and we are getting back to being recognized as being top notch in both of them. As a Lodge, we are dedicated to doing it right and we focus a good deal on this.
Now, I've heard it said within the Lodge that, “The work of Masonry is to make Masons“; that we're in the business of making Masons. Well, yes - in part - I suppose we are because it’s impossible to become a Mason without involving the members and Ritual of the Lodge (unless the Grand Master makes you a Mason “on sight“). And we can’t survive as an organization without replenishing our membership. But, I submit to you that the way we think of our “business” as Masons should also include that which we do outside the Lodge for the benefit of ourselves and others - otherwise, what’s the point?
We have some activity there, but we do not focus on that. We do not spend much collective energy learning about what constitutes our Masonic Works. We do not spend much collective energy engaging in our Masonic Works. We do not focus our collective resources on taking steps to truly adopt any particular Masonic Work for our own.
And, I think the reason for this, the main reason why we are not involved in Masonic Works outside the Lodge, is that we are largely ignorant about them. Most of us are aware that we have a Bikes for Books Program and some of us have donated funds or our time to building them; some have delivered them; a handful have presented them. Many of us may remember a Public Schools Essay Contest. (Is it alive or is it dead? - that’s just a general question for us to chew on.) Some of us may know we have the State President of the AZ Foundation for Children in our midst, but I wonder if we know what that means, or what he and they do, or how we can help if we want to help. We do have an on-going Lodge support program for our Widows. How many of us know who works this area, or what is needed, or how we can better support it? There is even work sponsored beyond the Lodge being performed at the VA Hospital by our Masons. So, in this one paragraph, I’ve identified five different Masonic Works basically performed by us outside the Lodge.
Can anyone listening name all five that I just mentioned? Just tick them off on your fingers. Hard to remember them, isn’t it?
And there is another reason, I think, for this lack of knowledge about the external Masonic Works: I think that collectively we are avoiding the idea in the first place. Oh, I think that individually we are generous with our time and resources and I think we’d walk that mile for a Brother. But I also think, like any group or organization, we are exhibiting classic avoidance behavior. We have not bought into the outside activities. We have not, “taken ownership”, the phrase management training courses like to use.
Now, when I say ‘we’ what I mean by that is the greater active Lodge. There are, at any given time over the course of a year about 150 members at large, with 30-35 members who are active enough to come to more than one Stated Meeting or degree conferral. That’s about 20%. And that, my Brothers, is pretty much the National and State average for active members relative to total members. In fact, it’s about 5% better than National averages.
Of that 20%, there is a smaller subset of individual members (maybe 5-10) who are doing most of the Masonic Works outside the Lodge. Those same 5-10 or so total members can be counted on to do things, to create things, and to step forward - no questions asked - other than when and where and how can I help (or to ask can YOU help?). Another 5 or 10 will get involved if asked or if they have an interest and time for something that comes up.
So, with 15-20 members (or 10-12% of our total membership and maybe half of our active membership) really doing things, the scary thing is that makes us one of the more functional Lodges in local the area. Imagine that! Maybe 20 members are doing the combined Work of Masonry and Masonic Works for this Lodge as a whole. That’s our workforce and we’re one of the “better” lodges in the area.
If we count the Officers down through the Stewards, there are nine members there dedicated to the Work of Masonry. We’re getting better production from them as our “line” solidifies after a tough couple of years. Right now though, their emphasis is on getting Ritual right and learning their next job up the line. We need them to do this because that is the Work of Masonry; ritual, degree work, learning our rich historical structure; and growing as Masonic leaders. These are our middle managers.
However, organizationally, we can and should expect most of them to be active beyond the basic Work of Masonry by being involved in the Masonic Works outside of the Lodge. They should be flexing their middle management muscles, encouraging others to participate by spreading the word and dragging the rest along as best they can. But that is still a secondary objective because it is SEEN as a lesser objective for them. As an organization for several years now, we have not emphasized or managed our Masonic Works; we have not bought into the other half of Masonry.
Why is this an issue?
Well, let me illustrate by asking a question. When a prospective Mason approaches you and asks, “What does the Lodge do?”, are you as tongue tied as I am? Even within the Lodge, when a Candidate reaches Fellowcraft and has seen enough that he wonders how he will actually fit in, how do we answer his questions about what he can be doing and how he can get involved? (I’ll tell you a secret, if, like me, your arms and hands are waving around as you try to answer, you have no answer.)
One reason for not having an answer is that we don’t HAVE AN answer, or even TWO answers that we can give with assurance and enthusiasm. We have a hodge-podge of semi-supported activities and we aren’t at all certain how to answer because we aren’t at all certain what we’re doing or who’s doing it. This isn’t a slam on the Lodge or its leadership. We’re just beginning to get back on track and setting our agenda for work outside the lodge. But our leaders do have difficulties to overcome to get us there.
Organizationally, group behavior tends to remain inert except when prodded by its leaders. “Group think” dictates that it is uncomfortable to get involved; we have spent much of our lives learning to conform, to stay within bounds, to be circumspect in our actions. Committing our time, resources, and energy to do something we know little or nothing about is tough - and that includes even listening about it in the first place. And, if it's doing something outside the Lodge - Hoo Boy! - that's all touchy feely stuff many of us would rather avoid. Right?
But Brothers, that's stepping forward, that’s participating to do something for someone else, like a Brother, or a Widow, or a Candidate, or a Friend, or a Stranger. That’s the other half of Freemasonry, Masonic Works.
Organizationally, until we do it, until we focus and buy into what our Masonic Works are to be, we will be only partially functional and we will be unable to answer the questions of what we do - and we will not grow an active membership, actively doing things.
And, until we members focus, until we bring the two parts of Masonry together into one mutually complimentary and agreeable whole within ourselves, all the fine words about Masonry and Charity and Brotherly Love and Relief – and Truth - will be big and brassy, but hollow, no more than symbols and working tools left somewhere on the plains of Jordan between Succoth and Zarthan.
WB Stephen C. Harrington
The Masonic Education session above, that I wrote and delivered at the Stated Meeting, seemed to stir us some toward understanding what we do outside the Lodge - and that was the intention. In the process, though, it came across as being negative and triggered some comments supporting appendant body works of charity (e.g., Shrine, Scottish Rite, York Rite, Eastern Star, High Twelve International, etc.). Yes, they do wonderful things. Truly wonderful.
The point of the session though, was to stimulate focus on what OUR LODGE does as a LODGE and can work at as a Lodge, not what some of its generous members do with appendant organizations. Nor was it intended to isolate individual members of the lodge doing good things, or put them on the spot.
At the meeting, (as WM Jim and I had hoped from earlier discussion) we recieved some excellent looks at several activities that we as a Lodge could be supporting with greater effort. And that was the point of the exercise, to get a better look at what we do, can do, and could do better.
I volunteered to accept input from anyone who wanted to contribute info and massage what was received into an activities snapshot. We can then use the snapshot as a Lodge promotional implement. I tried to capture the highlights of what several members said about ongoing activities. I hope I can do their remarks justice, but I do encourage their input in case my feverish scribbling doesn't meet their expectations.
One interesting feedback has come from a member concerning the GL's Program called "Program of Excellence" or "Commitment to Excellence". The program dates back to 2002-04; we have received a full copy of the '04 edition. I expect it will become a topic of discussion, led from within the membership
I am hoping to recieve more general input from members near and far about what we do and can do. As a topical a guide, if your input answers the question, "What do we do or can do as a Lodge?", then you are on the right track. It can be rough, or outlined. I'll work at it until I can get at least one semi-colon in it.
So, apologies from me to the hard workers in the Lodge who may have felt slighted, and apologies for any unintended slight to our Lodge members who work so hard with our appendant bodies doing good works. Bless you!
I look forward to input. As WM Jim has said, I have nothing else to do.