The Birth of Arts & Sciences Lodge No. 792
Daniel D. Hrinko discusses how a few dedicated Brethren made a big difference for Masonic Education in Ohio.
Arts & Sciences Lodge No. 792 received a charter from the Grand Lodge of Ohio when it met this past October. This event was the culmination of three years of work by a dedicated group of brothers focused on a common goal: to create a lodge that was inspiring, enlightening, and explores Freemasonry as a philosophy.
We began as a monthly social club, informally discussing various Masonic topics. Our discussions included observations about what we felt was lacking in our Masonic experience. Comments often surfaced such as “I wish my lodge would do more of . . . ” or “Can’t we spend less time reading minutes and paying bills?” or “Why do the same degree work over and over without looking deeper into what it means?” We were all frustrated by the burdens of custom and habit within lodge that weighed down the activities. And when asking longtime members about these “traditions,” the most common answer was something along the lines of “We’ve always done it this way.”
We were acutely aware that our time is valuable,and that spending it in dull, lifeless and uninspiring meetings is not a good use of that time. We realized that many of those seeking light through Freemasonry may be disappointed. Resolving to do something about it, we sought like-minded brethren to explore Freemasonry as a Craft, art, and philosophy through readings and discussions.
Our talks eventually included the presentation of portions of degree work, and the exploration of various ways to improve its impact on candidates. We sought to portray the ritual in a manner that would be inspiring to candidate and spectator alike. As different aspects of ritualistic work were presented and discussed, a desire to portray this work on a regular basis emerged, and the need to become a lodge was soon evident.
We wanted to create a lodge with meetings that we would look forward to attending, and to create a place where Masonic ritual work would be presented and discussed. A special emphasis would be placed on our efforts to understand and communicate the important lessons of the degrees. We wanted to define the term “Masonic Education” in the broadest sense, providing a forum for important topics. These discussions and experiences would support our growth as both Masons and as men. We looked forward to ultimately establishing strong social and fraternal bonds.
All of this led to the adoption of our lodge’s name, reflecting the admonition of the Middle Chamber lecture to pursue the Liberal Arts & Sciences. Essential to the construction of our Lodge was a vision, which we eventually distilled into a brief statement. We when on to adopt practices from various lodge models so that we could implement our vision while conforming to the rules and expectations of the Grand Lodge of Ohio.
In the building of an edifice, the architect is the master who draws the plans, sets the schedule, organizes the materials and resources, and directs the work of the builders. When well executed, people marvel at the results and credit the architect with its success.
In Arts & Sciences Lodge, it is the responsibility of the Master, like the architect, to lead, direct, and organize. However, the designs he lays down must be consistent with the will of the Craft. Just as the architect must meet with the building owners to learn what is wanted, the function the building is to serve, and the qualities they find most desirable before beginning his drawings, the Master and leadership of this lodge must meet with the owners of the lodge, the Craft, to determine what they want this lodge is to be. The leadership of the lodge must identify the activities the membership desire, the qualities the Craft want the lodge to have before any designs, including schedules, or calendar of events can be generated. After laying out the plans for the Lodge, based upon the Craft’s wishes, the Master must receive the support of the brethren. They are, after all, the only resources with which the Master has to work to implement and execute the designs.
The implementation of this model requires skills on the part of the leadership to exercise prudence in their decision-making and to create opportunities for the Craft to step forward and contribute to the life of the lodge. The process we followed involved open discussions, debates, and the developing of consensus among the members of the lodge as to how we would go about organizing ourselves, choosing goals and directions, and implementing them. This process has been termed “a Craft Driven Lodge.”
A Craft Driven Lodge is one where the ideas, goals, and will of the Craft are openly expressed to the leadership and the leadership, desiring to serve the Craft in the best way possible, takes necessary steps to bring these desires to fruition. In many ways, this way of approaching the construction and operation of the Lodge is the opposite of the model in which the Master leads and the Craft follows, and everyone in the East has “his year” and imposes “his program” on the Lodge. Such a strong tradition of leaders leading and followers following with little room for question or debate has, in our opinion, contributed to the stagnation evident in many lodges today.
This process has been exemplified most notably in our officer selection process. Each brother is encouraged to step forward and ask that he be trained in a particular position. A mentor is assigned; when the aspiring officer is ready, he demonstrates his proficiency in lodge by filling that station on a pro tem basis. At the time of elections, each brother puts forward a list of positions in which he is proficient and willing to serve. Brothers are then free to choose who they wish to serve in the various leadership positions for the next year.
There is no expectation that a person ought to move from one position to another. The only exception to this is the election of the Junior Warden, Senior Warden and Master. The Junior Warden will be expected to move to the position of Senior Warden and, ultimately, to become the Master of the Lodge_serving two years in each position. This limited progressive line provides stability and predictability while the open and free nature of elections for the rest of the positions allows an opportunity for the brothers to grow in their capabilities and serve the lodge as their talents and resources allow.
The success of the Craft Driven Lodge depends upon the will of the Craft being expressed to the Master and officers. The Master and officers must then respond to the will of the Craft to create plans, designs and schedules. The Craft must then be willing to step forward and invest their time and effort in bringing these plans to fruition. Each year, in a sense, Arts & Sciences Lodge is reformed at its annual meeting as new ideas, directions, and expectations are set for the officers and members.
Specific activities figure prominently in our design. To build strong fraternal relationships, we gather for dinner before each meeting to enjoy socializing, introduce prospective members to our brothers, and to welcome guests.
To make better use of our time in lodge meetings, we reduce administration significantly. This is done by making use of committees that convene outside of the official meeting to review and gather information, and discuss items of concern to the lodge. They then present recommendations to the lodge as a whole in the form of written summaries and reports. All reports from committees, financial reports, and minutes from previous meetings are presented to the Craft by way of a secure section of our website, to be reviewed and evaluated prior to each meeting. Comments and questions can be addressed by e-mail and a revised copy is presented at the dinner before a meeting. Making this material available prior to the meetings eliminates the need to read the minutes in their entirety and to discuss modifications within open lodge.
We further reduce our administration time by passing an annual budget that includes authority to pay all bills contained within the budget. Therefore, each set of minutes includes financial reports of the activities from the past month, eliminating the need for individual votes on monthly expenditures.
We set aside time for discussion in every meeting to meet our needs for personal growth and learning. Stated meetings typically involve seventy-five to ninety minutes of discussion on a topic that is selected in advance and published with the summons.
This gives each brother ample opportunity to think about, read and contemplate the topic of discussion, which enables him to arrive better prepared to actively participate in the evening’s discussion.
On nights when we perform degree work, the topic of the evening always relates to the degree that was performed and twenty minutes is allowed for discussion following the presentation of the work. All discussions are guided by the Master using the Socratic method. The Master then provides a summary of that discussion at the conclusion. (Christopher Phillips’ book, Socrates Café, is quite instructive in learning to facilitate such groups.) We then publish summaries of our discussions on our website, http://www.as792.org. Topics have included “Elements of the Entered Apprentice Charge,” “The effects of Masonic Teachings and their Effects on our Roles as Fathers,” “Why was the Square Selected as a Great Light of Masonry?” and “How Long is your Cable Tow?”
My hope in presenting this information is not to encourage all lodges to become clones of ours. We formed Arts & Sciences Lodge based upon our interests and needs. Our hope is to inspire others to look at the how their lodges function, and perhaps to seek ways of supporting its evolution into a Craft Driven Lodge, where the Lodge is primarily and actively responsive to the needs and interests of its membership.