In search of a title for this paper I could only arrive at one word to express the feelings of many who are concerned with the lack of enthusiasm and dedication to the Craft on the part of a large percentage of our Past. Masters. That word is “absence”.
The title of this paper may indicate that all Past Masters neglect their lodges as soon as they are installed as Immediate Past Masters. While this is not. true, a great number seem to feel that they are no longer obligated to be regular attenders and to offer their support to the Worshipful Master and his officers. Yet those who occupy the chairs are to some extent the members who supported the Past Master during his year in office.
In visiting lodges in Manitoba in the last few years it is very apparent that while the Past Masters in some cases attend on a regular basis and support. the Master and his officers, all too many feel they have fulfilled their obligations to the lodge and fail to attend except for very special occasions.
Let us first look at the reasons for the Past Masters not attending the regular meetings of their lodge. Do they feel that the meetings are not interesting? Do they feel that they do not benefit from the business and fellowship of the meetings?
Who then is in a better position to correct the ills of the lodge and assist in making the program more interesting and more beneficial to all in attendance? It has been stated many times that Past Masters are not to sit in lodge as a panel of judges, nor are they to dictate to the Master and the officers how the affairs of the lodge are to be run. Rather they are to offer help and assistance and to extend a word of counsel and advice where necessary for the benefit of the lodge and the welfare of the Craft in general.
It is very frustrating and depressing when we hear the well worn expressions, “Our new members are not attending lodge regularly.” Who is to blame for this absence and lack of interest? Surely our Past Masters must assume their share of the blame for this unfortunate situation. How can we expect our ,junior members to obey the monthly summons and demonstrate their loyalty to the Craft when the Past. Master who may have been responsible for a candidate seeking admission to the Craft is a casual attender who contributes very little if anything and sets a negative example for all members?
From early times much of the ritual work has been delegated to Past Masters. This includes installation of officers, conferring of degrees, along with instruction to the candidates and to the officers both elected and appointed. It is very difficult to carry out these duties if in fact a Past Master attends his lodge one or twice a year. While it is true that all officers are expected to carry out the duties assigned to their station or office, circumstances often dictate that a Past Master be called on to assist or to perform these duties. This he cannot do if he is an absentee. This situation continues to create severe problems for many lodges, particularly the smaller ones that depend greatly on the help and participation of the Past Master.
In reading the monthly summons from the various lodges one has to note that many of the committees are made up of Past Masters. One in particular, “the Board of General Purposes”, is made up of a chairman, vice chairman and all Past Masters. Surely this would indicate the importance of this committee with regard to the welfare of the lodge and its membership. All committees appear to include at least one or two Past Masters and should indicate to them that a faithful attendance at the regular meetings as well as the input from skilled expert Craftsmen are necessary for the well being of the lodges and the members.
Just recently a Past Grand Master informed us that only three or four Past Masters attended his lodge on a regular basis. Needless to say his impression of Past Masters wasn’t too pleasant. A small rural lodge that we visit several times a year has eight or nine resident Past Masters all in good health and all absent. from the monthly meetings. It is very discouraging to the rest of the members who put forth a true effort to keep the lodge active and to make the meeting interesting.
What is the future of Past Masters? Do their responsibilities and their contributions to the lodge cease at the completion of their term in the chair?
Unfortunately, in some situations this appears to be the case. The title of Past Master should never be thought of as a climax or conclusion, either for attendance, or for services rendered. One of the fascinating aspects of the fraternity is the fact that by the study of Freemasonry, the fellowship in the Craft and the brotherhood of all concerned, that each of us can always do something for the lodge and there is always more that remains to be done. The more one puts into Freemasonry the more he will get out of it. The responsibility they accept, the enthusiasm they generate and their efforts as a whole, contribute in a priceless way to the success of any lodge. Lodges need their Past Masters Just as Past Masters need their lodges.
Some of you may have read the little poetic gem, “the Bridge Builder”, which tells of the old man who walked a lone highway and came at night to a chasm vast and wide and deep. The old man, because of this vast experience, had little trouble in crossing the sullen stream, but when he was safe on the other side he turned to build a bridge to span the tide. A fellow pilgrim, you will remember, asked the old man why he stopped to build a bridge when his journey would end with the ending day and he would not again pass that way; and the old man replied, “There followed after me today a fair haired youth. This chasm which has been naught to me, might to him a pitfall be. He, too, must cross in the twilight dim; good friend, I am building this bridge for him.”
Isn’t there something for Masons, especially Past Masters, in that beautiful little poem, the author of which is unknown?
Past Masters may be likened to the old man who built the bridge at eventide for the fair-haired youth who followed along the lone highway. At least, they should play a part that would make it possible to liken them to that. old man. They should be building bridges for those who follow. Of course, they should not attempt to run the lodge, but neither should they permit themselves to become useless has-beens. Theirs the duty to set an example by ever remembering a Brother’s welfare and being ever ready to go on foot, along a lone highway, to bring cheer to the sick room; theirs the duty to welcome the opportunity to perform any task the Master may ask them to perform; theirs the duty to be ever ready to give to the Master or others who may request it, the good counsel which their experience qualifies them to give; their the duty to be fountains of knowledge upon which others may draw; theirs the duty to measure up to what younger Masons expect of those who have Passed the Chair; theirs the duty to be ever building bridges on the lone highway upon which others may be traveling; theirs the duty to provide safe highways through chasms vast and wide and deep, in which are concealed the beautiful lessons and teachings of Freemasonry; in which are to be found interpretations of the priceless symbols of Freemasonry
The Absence of the Past Masters can only be summed up in the words of the old saying, “They contribute very little and receive even less.”
By R.W.Bro. Morley J. McKay Senior Grand Warden, Grand Lodge of Manitoba, A.F. & A.M.