The Need For Masonic Education

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by Raymond Hollins

From the Ceiling at the Royal Masonic School for Boys at Bushey

Ray Hollins has been a Freemason for 50 years, and was formerly both Senior Lecturer at the University of Central England and Principal Examiner in Management subjects for the Chartered Institute of Building.

Better be ignorant of a matter, than half know it”
– Publilius Syrus 1st. Century BC

The making of a Freemason does not consist entirely of his progress through the various Degrees of the Order. Receiving these various degrees is in itself only the “Passport to Knowledge”. This can be described as the key to a continuing course of Masonic education. Whilst it may be accepted that it is an innermost desire, followed by obligations that makes one a member of the Craft, yet in a truer form and better sense, a man is never a Freemason until he truthfully and loyally lives up to his obligations. He cannot do that until he understands them, and eventually, following a Masonic programme of education, he learns to know their scope and real meaning. This cannot be properly achieved by sitting in Lodge listening to ceremonies or attending a Lodge of Instruction (LOI), where the objective is primarily devoted to improve the performance of the ritualist. The ritual does not make Masons – it only makes members. Ritual is fundamental to the Craft, and its preservation in its purest form is the life’s blood of our Fraternity, but it is not to be confused with Masonic education. Freemasonry may well be divided into many phases. Its tenets, history, traditions, landmarks, customs, symbolism and its allegories – even its Constitution and its laws – just to mention a few. If these subjects are studied and mastered they can provide a most interesting course for a Brother seeking the opportunity to gain Masonic knowledge, being quite apart from his rightful ambition to become a good ritualist. An educated Freemason needs to have accomplished both!

To suggest that a satisfactory explanation of the Craft is complete with a study of the lectures of each degree is to bury one’s head in Masonic sand. A popular expression in the teaching profession proclaims that there can be no dedication without education. The search for knowledge goes on day after day. If we ask whether we need a Masonic education programme, the posture would be one of blank amazement followed by: “Well, we do have a LOI.” If we ask the same question to a few of our elderly and fairly senior brethren, whose involvement extends well beyond the Craft, the answer may be “NO” (on the mistaken belief that they have nothing to learn!) But be assured, that if any of the following circumstances apply – then the answer must be “YES”:

-Attendances have declined at meetings;
-Membership has declined due to resignations;
-Candidates are non-existent;
-Lodge programmes are uninspiring, dull and uninteresting;
-The Lodge is not considered to be a vital part of the community;
-Provincial Grand Lodge activities are sparsely attended;
-Prospects for the future survival of the Lodge is bleak.

Other factors can be added to this list. Each Lodge will be able to identify and determine where its own weaknesses lie. So we need an educational training programme – but how do we go about it? The answer, as with virtually all management problems, starts at the top – the Master. On his Installation, the Master is charged to manage his Lodge, and he is reminded of this at every meeting, at the opening of his Lodge:

“As the sun rises in the East to open and enliven the day, so the W.M is placed in the East to open the Lodge and to employ and instruct the Brethren in Freemasonry”

But does he? Every Lodge has members who, with proper encouragement and training, will be willing to take the time necessary to become a Masonic teacher, the Lodge educationalist. LOI Preceptors have proved this. However, to become such an expert requires training. There is no such thing as a born Masonic educationalist. In fact, it is time we started to train the trainers. It is regrettable that little or nothing in this regard is available and in place as part of a proper education and training policy within our Constitution. One fundamental issue is that it is not essential to any concept of Masonic education that its possessor be a good ritualist. Masonic ritual has its own reward, and many find those rewards great.

Our LOIs are full of Brethren who excel at the ritual. But what is a Masonic educational programme, how do we introduce it, and where can I find an example?An example is the training and education programme of the Masonic Province of Worcestershire, which has one prime aim – to help Masons understand, enjoy and be confident in their masonry, and by this to retain them in the Craft. Over the last ten years the Province has developed a programme with an emphasis on helping brethren understand, perform and be comfortable in the various offices and roles in which they will find themselves in their progression towards the chair.

Many brethren find ritual and the associated learning difficult and they can often be the most dedicated and committed Masons. But someone who is nervous, uncomfortable and unsure is not going to enjoy his Masonry and is certainly not going to convey any enjoyment to others. Thus seminars have been introduced entitled “Towards the Master’s Chair, “The Role and Work of the Junior Officers”, “The Director of Ceremonies” as well as training sessions for treasurers, secretaries and almoners. These programmes are well attended and very popular. A history of the Craft and the Provincial Grand Lodge of Worcestershire, entitled Freemasonry – Fact not Fiction written by Joe Grainger, is presented to every initiate, and provides the basis for an ongoing programme of training and education throughout the Province. Worcestershire is encouraging the establishment of Provincial Lodge of Instruction Festivals to be held annually, where Entered Apprentices, Fellowcrafts and Master Masons and elders in the Craft work together to present an interesting and stimulating evening of Masonic interest. The Guild of Worcestershire Preceptors has been formed consisting of all the Preceptors, present and past of all the Lodges in the Province, as a forum for the members to discuss and disseminate information on good practice within those Lodges. By its nature it focuses on the practicalities of the ceremonies, but is also charged with stimulating a culture of learning and to advance the knowledge of the history, meaning and purpose of Freemasonry.

As the possessor of an historian in Richard Goddard as Provincial Grand Master, the implementation of these objectives is driven from the highest level. With what is said to be the finest Masonic museum outside of Grand Lodge, the Province regularly arranges guided tours of the museum. The many precious artefacts, jewels and books, are always on show. Visitors are always welcome.

Worcestershire Provincial Grand Stewards Lodge No. 9142 is actively engaged with a series of presentations that are intended to stimulate discussion about the content of our ritual, and a deeper and more fully understood appreciation of Freemasonry. Worcestershire Installed Masters Lodge No. 6889 is extremely active and provides another forum for a programme of continuing Masonic education, being host over the years to a glittering array of speakers and demonstrations. A recent initiative in many Lodges in the Province is to charge a senior member of the Lodge to be what is called a Master of Novices, or the Mentor. His role is to accompany junior brethren when they have to leave the Lodge room for some ceremonies or parts of ceremonies. They talk to them and prepare them for their next ceremony and help them understand the background and meaning of Masonry. A Seminar is being prepared to deal with the role and duties of such important responsibilities. It is planned to produce a set of three booklets so that every Lodge can introduce a properly structured programme of informative training to run in parallel with the traditional LOI activities. This will provide a guide in the form of a series of informative notes about each of the three degrees. This publication will be expanded later to include a guide for every office in the Craft, thus providing the basis for an ongoing programme of training and education. In such ways Worcestershire is trying to balance both education and training. In the narrowest sense, training is the preparation for the duties brethren hold or will hold in the Lodge. Education is the broadening of the mind, the stimulation to a deeper understanding of the foundations of the temple Masonry strives to build in all men’s hearts.

 

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