Are the Traditional Observance (TO) lodges as relevant for the revival of the Canadian Masonry as they are in the USA… or is the situation different here in the Great White North?
Why even ask this question?
Canadian jurisdictions have happily jumped on the bandwagon of the new trend in North American Masonry – that of creating so-called Traditional Observant lodges, also known as European concept lodges, Observant lodges etc. Make no mistake, there is nothing wrong with the traditional observant lodges, I wrote enthusiastically about the first one in Ontario, and I am a member (almost founding member) of the second one and I am happy in them because they remind me in many regards of the high quality, solemn Masonry that I used to experience in my European mother lodge.
However, based on my limited experience, even in a small rural community in the middle of the Prairies, (population around 600) everybody came to the lodge dressed properly in dark suit and tie, even bow tie and tuxedo, so that part was OK. The festive board was relatively nicely done, served and enjoyed. It’s true it was mainly old guys, except the WM, who was driving more than an hour from the big city to preside the meetings – no one else was willing to do it…
On the other hand, that kind of degradation of Masonry and of regular meetings that one could witness in the USA, especially in the rural USA: jeans, T-shirt, overall… a total disrespect toward the Craft, total disrespect toward the solemnity of a regular meeting, total disrespect toward the festive and ‘sacred’ space that we are aiming to create inside the lodge while performing the ritual and conferring degrees… that kind of horror is rare in Canada, at least based on my experience and based on what kind of information I have through others.
But. (Because there always has to be a “but”…)
I was told repeatedly it is not the individual Mason’s or any Master’s job to criticize other lodges’ ritual, quality of work etc. Of course, everybody does it – just “confidentially” gossiping in backrooms and around the (Masonic Hall’s) kitchen counters. After all, we are known as the polite and nice nation, we don’t like to offend anybody, we would rather let those lodges die… Wait a minute! Actually, our problem is that we are afraid to let weak lodges die.
We all have seen lodges that don’t really do well: not enough members that know the ritual and the lectures, officers not showing up for the meetings, lack of enthusiasm and lack of perspective. Yet, we pretend that everything is all right, we never dare to talk openly about the issues.
In my lodge, we had recently a guest speaker and the brother had an interesting question to the members present: what do you get for your dues from the lodge? Can you, as a member define the “product” that the lodge provides? If there is no answer, that’s a sad situation.
And this kind of agony is perpetuated instead of immediately closing a few (many?) lodges and let Masons decide where they want to go: whether they want to affiliate with better lodges or want to take a break and contemplate why they are in the Craft if they don’t do anything useful, if they don’t participate. Or invite them to more effective lodges, where they can have a profound and meaningful education. And I refer not only to Masonic education but all kind of education since many Masons lack not only the basic Masonic education (like the ritual, floorwork, P&E) but also more general, philosophical, spiritual and literary education due to how the school systems work nowadays. Our rituals and our degrees are full of literary, philosophical and spiritual, including religious, references, but our schools don’t provide the tools anymore to decipher them. It should our duty, the lodge’s duty to help them.
Observant lodges, on the other hand, can provide a model toward which other lodges can try to move or aspire or to just take elements for the betterment of their own experience.
So, let’s give them a chance to see and experience different types of Masonry and after that let them decide what is best for them. It could be that is better for the Craft and for themselves if they take an honest demit.
We all have heard many times the same sad conclusion: we have too many members and very few Masons.
So, I wouldn’t cry about closing lodges that don’t provide any kind of deeper, meaningful Masonic experience – let them go dark now! Those members that are or might become Masons, will follow those Masons that they respect and from whom they can learn. A total restructuring of lodges, ways of doing Masonry, ways of conducting work, education and Masonic experience in lodges, would benefit in long term all the lodges, the Grand Lodge in Ontario and the cause of Freemasonry in general.