Volume LVSpecial Inaugural Edition January 2008Number 1

New Statewide Minimum Ritualistic Standard

"This requirement not only will boost the confidence of our Masters as they accomplish these achievements, but the entire lodge benefits from the growth of the Master, because he is willing to share the degree work and the privilege of conferring the knowledge to candidates for membership."
- Stephen Gardner, R.W. Grand Master

During the January 2007 D.D.G.M. Workshop in Elizabethtown, then-R.W. Deputy Grand Master Stephen Gardner announced his intention to initiate, during the onset of his term as Grand Master, a Statewide Ritualistic Minimum Standard for brethren desiring to serve as Worshipful Master of their lodge.

The announcement followed a survey conducted in December 2006 asking all District Deputy Grand Masters to share what their lodges' requirements were for advancing through the officers' line and whether or not there were sufficient numbers of brethren capable of conferring the degrees as needed for interested candidates.

Grand Master Gardner made the announcement to District Deputy Grand Masters a year in advance so they could begin to prepare their lodges' incoming Masters and upcoming officers in the line.

"I believe this step is essential, as in some areas, we have district-wide degree teams because individual lodges do not have enough brethren able to confer degrees on candidates," Grand Master Gardner said. "This places a large burden on those brethren who have disciplined themselves to confer degrees, as they are often called upon to serve whenever there is a need. We must step up to help to share the burden of this significant work. My vision is that within five to 10 years down the road, this initiative will be an effective element in turning this predicament around."

For more than 15 percent of Pennsylvania lodges, this requirement presents a significant challenge. "Some of our brethren may be wondering, Why must I meet this requirement when the brother who served before me did not?" Grand Master Gardner said. "But the reality is, our ritualistic work is unique and significant, and we must 'Earn it Again.' Just as I challenge that 15 percent to learn the ritual, I am also challenging the other 85 percent to support the 15 percent by spending the necessary time to be effective mentors. Together, we can Protect Our Heritage for Future Generations."

Grand Master Gardner has received overwhelming support for this proficiency initiative. "Brethren have stopped me in public; I've received phone calls and emails from a large number of brethren who are genuinely excited about and supportive of the establishment of a minimum ritualistic standard," he said. "Now we need these brethren, and others, to be willing to step up to the plate, put their arm around the shoulder of those needing to learn the work, and offer to work with them to get it accomplished."

Richard Fitzsimmons, District Deputy Grand Master of District 24, took this directive to heart. He surveyed the lodges in his district and found that many did not have hard and fast requirements of Lodge Masters. He consulted with Brothers Michael J. Stafford, P.M., Principal of the 24th District School of Instruction; Robert K. Parrish, P.D.D.G.M.; and J. Robert Taylor, P.D.D.G.M.; and developed an Officer Proficiency program to begin working with the Senior Wardens, Junior Wardens and progressively through the officers' line until all are up to speed with the degree knowledge. The Officer Proficiency program offered would, if aggressively undertaken, provide the opportunity for the lodge officer to become proficient in at least one of the three degrees in 2007, a second one by 2008 and a third degree by 2009, far exceeding the current minimum requirements. Bro. Fitzsimmons took the plan back to members of his district for their input, and then implemented it.

Bro. Fitzsimmons is pleased that a number of the brethren have shown an increased sense of responsibility and commitment to the lodge by trying their best to learn the ritual. While not all of the officers of the lodges in District 24 reached the goal, the program increased awareness among the brethren of the condition of ritual proficiency within the district and the necessity to implement a remedial program as soon as possible. Bro. Rob Gornall, Senior Warden of Perry Keystone Lodge No. 392, Erie, began receiving instruction from Bro. Stafford in late February. He became certified in, and had the opportunity to confer, all three degrees in 2007, achieving what Bro. Fitzsimmons called "the ultimate outcome."

"Everyone is at varying learning levels, we found," Bro. Fitzsimmons said. "The age of the brethren learning the ritual, jobs, family and social commitments are all factors that need to be taken into consideration, as well as a proficient instructor to teach the work and the availability of his time. The task of re-establishing the standards of the past is a monumental one, but is one that must be undertaken in order to retain and maintain the way our ritualistic work is done here in Pennsylvania."

"Why this is important to me," Bro. Fitzsimmons said, "is that I can see in our district where many of our instructors are aging and not able to teach any longer, they are moving away from the community and yes, unfortunately, we're losing them to death, as well. I don't want to lose our uniqueness as Pennsylvania Masons, and not be able to continue to pass along our ritual mouth to ear - so we need to reverse what has become a norm in proficiency. Working with another brother on the ritual not only affords the opportunity to learn the work of the fraternity, but it provides the opportunity to learn more about his family, his lodge, his work, his hobbies, etc. That personal touch is so important; learning about each other is part of what Masonry is really all about."

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