PRIOR to becoming the Master of a Lodge, seated in the East of the Temple, the Freemason may begin their career in any number of offices, depending on the Masonic Obedience to which they belong. In some Orders, Lodges are small and the new Freemason may be required to perform several offices at the same time.
In my Order, my first few years were filled with floor work, secretarial work, music, and a host of different roles. I learned a lot about the needs of the individual offices as well as how they work in conjunction with others. Was it optimal? It suited me, and while some might disagree, it was what we had. I was grateful for the opportunity to serve and to learn so much so quickly.
That service was rewarded with a growing Lodge. We soon were able to fill offices with individuals, each one learning in-depth their position and place. This too had its treasures, as each member was soon able to grasp the whole essence of working together to a harmonious end. It wasn’t until I was installed as the second of the Lodge that I contemplated moving to the East and having to be “in charge.” The “second” in the Lodge sits in the West, and is typically called a Warden. The terrifying and ominous prospect of eventually taking over the care and feeding of the Lodge had also filled me with questions: What would I do differently? What plans did I have? What would be my legacy?
IT is said that Freemasonry quickens the evolution of man. What this means is that the circumstances of the Lodge change and undulate, causing the Masonic Officer to shift and change to the best of their abilities. One should note that the Lodge is not the temple or building where Freemasons meet; rather, it is the body of Freemasons that come together for the ritual purpose. It is the group, not the place. Therefore, the Lodge (a group of people) is the catalyst for the evaluation of the individuals that are part of it. At least, this is what I see that it means.
In practical terms, it means that all the planning in the world can’t prepare you for everything. As the “second,” I remember sitting across from the Master, to whom I was supposed to be supporting and helping, and feeling a sense of annoyance and frustration: Why is she doing it THIS way? Why not “that way?”
I had to learn to break down, tear apart, and dismantle. This can be overwhelming for some: if their Master would just move out of the way, the “real” work can begin. How utterly naive and how utterly appropriate (if a bit out of control…)
THE first thing that comes to one, upon arriving in the East, is the notion that perhaps you weren’t as good a Mason as you thought you were. I do not mean that you don’t know how to rule a Lodge; we know this comes with practice. Some may be born to leadership and find their path easy while others need to cut through the weeds and jungle to make their way.
The Master in the East learns how to file the paperwork and execute the ritual; they may be able to train and educate others in the Art of Freemasonry. There is always a lot of work and myriad questions to answer. However, sitting in the East causes one to reflect on their own Masonic career to this point. How did they treat their Masters before them? How did they respond to requests for help either from Officers or from their fellow Brothers? Did they treat Freemasonry with the reverence it deserves?
Many times, the answer is that we know we could have done better. Some Masters overcompensate and try to be even better, whatever that might mean. They swing too far one way, a pendulum swinging wildly out of control. They leave their Lodge perhaps more chaotic than they found it. They might also swing the opposite way, realizing that the job was a lot more complicated than they believed. They devolve to letting others run the Lodge, assume their officers know their jobs, and eventually chaos infiltrates. Luckily, both of these outcomes are rare occurrences.
Sitting in the East is a lot harder, and in some ways easier, than we believed. Masters rise to the occasion through humility, determination, grit, and compassion. They learn to let go, delegate, and follow up. Caring for your members goes a long way to success. Are they perfect? No. But, generally, they know it. And they know they can always do better.
THEN, in a woosh, they are done. Over. They now sit to the left of the Master, assisting as needed but they become the silent watcher. They become the shadow, and perhaps, to some, they think they are irrelevant. They feel the Lodge move on, move forward, with a new captain at the wheel. It is the rare Master who moves back into an officer’s role in their own Lodge.
In some Masonic jurisdictions, the Mastership may only be one year and in others, it may be as long as four or five years. In most cases, the effect is still the same – there is a loss and mourning period where the Master might not feel as relevant as he did the day before.
This position of immediate Past Master is, to me, one that relates to the apprentice, someone who is newly initiated into Freemasonry. It’s the octave above the apprentice, creating a chord of harmony, relationship, and continuity within the Lodge. There are seven regular officers in the Lodge and the Past Master completes the cycle to bring the work to the next level. They connect with experience, history, and ritual – to bring careful insights to the next generation.
IN real practical terms, the Past Master is the memory of ritual and procedure. There are certain positions within the Lodge meeting that are ideal for a Past Master to fill, certain officers that require that experience and knowledge to execute correctly and create continuity. Their knowledge helps the new Master run things smoothly and harmoniously. While “three rule the Lodge,” the Past Master is truly a “left hand” for the Master: a confidant that may provide whispers of the immediate past.
Yet, most Lodges, Districts, and Jurisdictions need so much more. They require the pillars of the columns to remain strong, vibrant, and active. The Past Master may be a stabilizing force for not only their Lodge but also may be for others in the area. They may be writers and builders, able to support Freemasonry from the depth of their experience. They may contribute to their overall Order, or to a wider set of Lodges, if they feel so inclined.
If anything, the Past Master has a wider range of service than ever before; there’s a world of Freemasonry that requires their experience, much as we need the Masters of crafts to mentor and teach new workers. Life for the Past Master is not fading, not at all. If anything, the world becomes far vaster than they could ever imagine.