Monday, April 5, 2010

If I had a Hammer.....

"While foundations were being laid, skilled craftsmen worked in quarries and produced blocks of stone that would be used in the building process. It would not be unusual for as many as fifty advanced skilled apprentices to work in a quarry along with 250 labourers. They would be supervised by a master quarryman. A master mason would have provided the master quarryman with templates for the shapes required from the cut quarry stone. Each stone would be marked to show where it would go once the building started."

As a start to my new approach to Masonry I became involved with the education of new Brothers. Traditionally in our Lodge the Master delegates this task to an experienced Brother. In light of my new outlook, I decided to step up and become a part of the process. After all, I was the one who would declare these men as "suitably proficient". How could I do that unless I know first hand that they are so? I also felt that in order for me to be able to give direction to mentors, I needed to have been one myself.

In my research of Freemasonry I drifted toward the history of stonemasons who worked on the ancient cathedrals. The work was delegated to a Master Mason and he oversaw the many tasks of the building. The very starting point of this whole process however began in the quarry itself. It was the Master Quarryman who directed the selection of the stones which would be fitted for the builder's use according to the plans given him. It impressed me that the building of these grand edifices started not with the Master Mason, but with the quarryman who formed the ashlars for the building. With that, I set out to lay aside my duties as Master Mason for awhile and work at becoming a quarryman - shaping the stones which become ashlars for our Masonic edifice.

In New York, Brethren journeying through the degrees must learn a catechism - a series of questions and answers - which must be memorized. They must then "prove their proficiency" in the work by reciting this catechism in front of the Lodge or a committee appointed by the Master. In my Lodge, this process usually occurred outside of the Lodge proper, so that most Brethren had no idea how proficient new Brothers actually were. This was often true of the Master as well - he just took the word of the examining Brothers that proficiency was achieved. To me, that was a mistake. As Master, I virtually "signed off" on a Brother's qualification to be advanced. Therefore, they were a direct reflection of me. So, if a Brother gets to the end of the line and is completely devoid of any understanding of key concepts and symbols, he is a bad piece to be fitted into the "building". By extension, too many of these improperly formed stones will eventually compromise the integrity of the building and it might eventually collapse. Taking it a step further, as the Master Mason in charge of the building, it is my fault for allowing these stones to be used. This had to change.

"Suitable Proficiency" is a huge grey area in New York. The Master, and he alone, determines what "suitable" means. So last year I got knee-deep in running classes. I began by changing the philosophy that regurgitation of the catechism was enough. It was important that a Brother understand why he is answering a question way he does and why the questions has been asked of him. The first class of two in the Fall of 2008 were given the option to take their proficiency in open Lodge - a first for Lodge #252. Both succeeded in doing so. The Spring class of 2009 saw weekly sessions with a walk-about the Lodge. Unfettered by cable tow or hoodwink we walked through each degree so that they had a clear visual of their experience. Our last class - Winter of 2010 - went beyond. The weekly classes did all of that, plus we began to explore the symbols of the lectures - the point within a circle, the cardinal virtues, the Sts. John (to name a few). This class, in my opinion, was the best educated so far. The best part is that they are hungry for more, and have me scrambling to keep up with them.

It was truly rewarding to see these stones selected for the quarry and shaped for the edifice. There was a real sense of accomplishment - for them and for me. So now I will no longer see myself as just a Master Mason placing designs of the trestleboard. I also help to select and shape to stones which will become part of the building.

I am a Quarryman.

1 comment:

  1. Keep the focus Brother Steve.

    Our Buildings need what you have in sight.

    Bro. Coach N