We are now in an interesting period where a majority of lodges have now re-opened, in the presence of ongoing COVID-19 infections across the United States. The purpose of this post is to talk about some of the dynamics we’re seeing in lodges and how we can be good brothers to one another in the face of a very messy and unprecedented situation. The situation is messy because:
- Total virus infections in the USA, reported by the CDC week ending June 19th, are up nationally, so we are not out of the woods.
- We have a situation of extreme polarization, both social & political, which affects our communities and membership.
- Lodge masters will find themselves at the end of their terms, not having had a regular Masonic year, possibly with a line behind them that may not be ready.
- Absence for months has put many candidates in limbo, and many normal Grand Lodge processes (visits, awards, etc) in limbo as well.
Now is the moment where we are transitioning as a craft in the US en masse out of crisis mode into “what are we going to do now?” Let’s not pretend. People are not of one mind about these problems. Heading back into lodge, the most important thing is the same as it ever was: unity around the core principles.
But that’s too easy, too high level. How will we need to restrain our passions in coming months?
Health Measures and Coronavirus
In the past few months I’ve heard some say that masks and public health measures (gloves, hand sanitizer, banning handshakes) are foolish & unnecessary, while others have felt that is dangerously irresponsible not to adopt them. Be aware that both perspectives will be present in most lodges. It occurs to me that the most important perspective will be that of the CDC, and our respective local health authorities. It is entirely appropriate for Masonry to stay in step with the guidance of local authorities.
I urge brothers to be respectful of elderly members, and not to forget that some faces will be missing due to family concerns over coronavirus. The more proactive a lodge is about protecting its members, the sooner we will resume regular lodge activity.
This will require patience with changes to protocols, and an uncertain amount of time before “things will be normal”. This will be personally frustrating to many of us, as in some jurisdictions we won’t even be able to shake a brother’s hand.
Social Action & Polarization
In June of 2020, the tearing down of statues and the black lives matter protests will be an animating issue for most brothers, one way or another. Previously on this blog, I’ve made my thoughts on the matter clear, but here are the key points for your consideration.
- While we have an injunction against talking about politics in lodge, discussions of our principles, which include equality of men, brotherhood, charity, and so forth — can never be seen as politics.
- Masonic principles are as relevant and needed now as ever
- There is a way that Masons can speak about these issues in the language of our principles, and it does not require that we speak with the partisan language of Democrat, Republic, left, right, and so forth.
- We must never shrink from speaking about our principles, they are who we are
We can never allow our principles to be seen as politics, because if we do…masons have nothing important left to discuss.
Leadership & Transition
I do not know what will happen, I only know my jurisdiction. There are masters who have spent years preparing themselves for the east only to have missed a part of the experience of brotherhood they sought with a long absence. There are others, I imagine, who will feel relieved to pass the duty on. Some progressive lines are in great shape, and others less so.
Gradually coming back from chaos & adaption is a key time to show flexibility & understanding. As Chris Hodapp has said, all Freemasonry is local (or should be). There is 100% certainty that different jurisdictions will go different paths, and have drastically different constraints. In my view, Grand Lodge policies which provide maneuvering room for individual blue lodges are the wise course.
So: should the current Master stay another year? Or should everything be frozen a year? Maybe something else? The answer, brothers, will be yes. All of that. In different places. Be sensitive to what works locally.
What about the Candidates?
My mother lodge has several candidates who haven’t progressed due to time away & quarantine. The lodge also has a pipeline that isn’t moving. Many lodges even if permitted to continue degree work may not have the ability to push through all of the candidates as normal. And this in turn means that it’s time for more Masonic creativity in terms of how this will be dealt with.
It is a similar situation to leadership and transition. So, should candidates be told to wait? One day conferrals? Resume degree work at double pace? The answer will be yes. All of that. In different places. Be sensitive to what works locally. In normal times, I’d count myself among the voices that doesn’t look favorably on one-day conferrals. But these are not normal times. Our leadership is going to need flexibility to use the tools at their disposal to bring about the best possible outcomes.
The need for flexibility and forbearance will be very high in the coming months. None of these situations make much sense, and there are no magic easy answers.
Each of the current crop of Grand Masters & Worshipful Masters is facing a once in a generational challenge, and they need our support & flexibility.