Saturday, June 26, 2010

Notes on the One Day Class or Grand Master's Class (One Side of the Discussion)

The One Day Class (ODC) whereby several the three Blue Lodge degrees, (or in other cases a group of York or Scottish Rite degrees) are offered by a number of jurisdictions.  Some form or the other has been carried out for hundreds of years.
The all-day affairs are offered in various formats.Champions of the ODC tend to be affinity lodges, military lodges, collegiate lodges, lodges made up of largely young and mid career professionals and lodges that serve a constituency of brothers that tend to be more geographically spread out.  Grand lodges interested in introducing candidates into the Craft with the best quality degree work and a large assembly of brothers often look to the One Day Classes. Whether judged by numbers or retention, the ODC has been successful overall, all told significantly more so than single degree sessions. 
However there are some vocal critics of the practice. Some opponents fail to differentiate between how the ODC degrees are awarded or conducted or whom they are offered to, instead finding that the act of single day scheduling inherently "lessens" Freemasonry. One wonders if in their criticism these Masons considered the many notable Masons who have been "made" in expeditious fashion, including many of our U.S. President Masons, Congressman, high ranking military officers and other distinguished Brothers.
It would seem that critics of the ODC judge the Mason by the time between the taking of degrees instead of the quality of the man brought in.

Perhaps resistance to One Day Classes is to some extent a class and age issue. For some who may be employed at more traditional "blue collar"  9-5 employment or those that are retired there may be a feeling that they give time instead of money and participation in activities outside of the lodge which they cannot afford.  The lodges most likely to use One Day Classes tend to be white or gray collar lodges, especially professional affinity lodges, historic lodges, military lodges, collegiate lodges, and research and scholarly lodges.  If this is the case, the time pressed young and mid-career professional, business owner and member of the managerial class may want One Day Classes but they should be careful not to mistakenly give the impression that their support for One Day Classes has to do with superior social position or a lack of appreciation of the time that others give.  

Though Masons are split with neither group being a majority and most having no opinion, proponents of the ODC tend not to be as vociferous, so here we offer excerpts of correspondence, from the other side of things on the topic of the ODC, or more properly, Grand Master's Class (GMC) particularly as offered in Affinity or Academic lodges:

...As often noted, Masonic jurisdictions continue to lose members, whether through death, non-payment of dues, or demit while the number of new Masons who stay active is relatively small. Some of this may stabilize to some degree; and to that end I have seen some well-rewarded efforts after a certain manner in neighboring jurisdictions, which is why I am inquiring about the Grand Master's class.

We have been directing a number of young men to the Masonic collegiate affinity lodges and programs in surrounding jurisdictions --New Jersey and Pennsylvania, as they use the limited, collegiate Grand Masters Classes. For some in the requisite collegiate fraternities I also have sent to the District of Columbia's  Fraternity Lodge and Magnolia Lodge and for others in the military, military friendly lodges (in D.C. and N.J.), because their schedules and one day classes, tend to actually be easier to accommodate even with travel, and the young men have a chance to meet with individuals nationally. These lodges have superb brother retention for such candidates with their Grand Masters Classes whether they are formal or informal affinity lodges or lodges simply accommodating those with the particular need. 

In all of this one thing has been regrettable for me: that of the many young men, I have not been able to direct them to similar situations in my own Grand Lodge.

As an illustration- the NJGL's Collegiate One Day Class focusing on young men who are attending a four year college that petition a lodge of choice has been remarkably successful not just in numbers or even participation but in spirit. They accept along with the students, any college professor, administrator or other staff member of college, focusing specifically on Rutgers University. This is modeled on the successful Harvard Lodge and Harvard Masonic Club on that campus as well as many like them nationally. W.B. Howard Dumhart with the assistance and support of the DDGM of the NJ's 12th Masonic District, the brethren of Union Lodge, and Philo Lodge, which opens its doors to host the One Day Class petitioners; these men experience a very fine introduction into Freemasonry. It is very encouraging to see their success.

With this approach the young men have the inspiring, invigorating experience of spending a full day with other Masons sharing their background, as well as with veteran Masons from various lodges and districts.  They are able to observe and participate in first-rate ritual and learn first-hand about genuine friendship, fellowship and brotherly love with a larger gathering. Otherwise the young men often first encounter a limited number of brothers, most or all of whom are decades older who may struggle to put on a ritual due to so many lodges having very limited numbers of active, proficient brothers.

Their education, youthful energy and idealism provides them knowledge of the historical and philosophical ideas presented in Masonry.  Crucially, they have a proficiency that we see far too seldom in reviewing the degree: reading with understanding.  It is good that this is being appreciated by having a small program that facilitates things for these candidates, in terms of the special dispensations for the size and single day scheduling.

Structurally I think, many lodges are not equipped to process this number of men who want to come into a lodge together due to the limits on men undergoing degrees at one time and the ability of lodges to put on degrees. (There are exceptions of course but this seems to be the general rule.) This creates an obvious "catch 22".

Lodges now might continue to be flexible and expeditious (as with the Grand Master's One Day Class) at a time when young men are most likely to need expeditious scheduling-- fellows in new jobs, and graduate school and /or working. It is a perfect time for these young men- without extensive family obligations, etc. to commit their energies. 

These young men however find themselves at a time when scheduling is more complicated, working for corporate employers who require extended hours during the week or attendance in law or medical schools where exams come up. (It becomes then easier to take a full weekend day with good advanced notice than multiple days with little advance notice during the week.)  In lodge culture where so much time can be wasted in agenda-less meetings, is it not better to tighten up the time?

Interest (even in the face of such waiting) among these young men continues because that the core group provides a natural basis for "recruitment" and familiarity. These candidates are usually much better informed than the average candidate. Candidates are often already familiar with the brothers and Masonic ritual (it is all public today for good or bad) and thus the candidates have contemplated their decision and are whole-heartedly committed, and they have a lodge with familiar faces to join, even if right now most of them are being separated as I mentioned, to suburban lodges in four jurisdictions.

As with the Lodges mentioned, it also helps that they have clubs to form the basis of unusually successful convivial calendar (with dinners, mixers, cocktail parties, nights out, family nights, business networking, job boards, discussion groups and internet forums.) Surely to practice Brotherhood does more than reciting words about it.

This in my humble opinion is why lodges who have taken the approach of Grand Master's Classes, particularly for this demographic have been so successful and why this or any jurisdiction does well in embracing it. 

Following is a discussion on the topic of Grand Master or One Day classes. A Mason who rails against the "GMC" or "ODC" receives responses.

[Square & Compasses]

Bro. Klaus Replies

Dear Bro.,

WOW! I'm impressed by such a rapid reply! Thanks!

I thoroughly appreciate your thoughtful reply. In many ways I think our positions are pretty close together, if they are on opposite sides of this issue.

Yours are very much the arguments I understand were presented during the (time) it took to amend the Masonic Code of Iowa to include these classes. Here I can't speak from personal experience because I had not yet joined the fraternity when these discussions occurred. I have, however, had in-depth discussions with many of the "movers and shakers" on both sides of the issue in Iowa, and feel I have at least a partial handle on the situation.

As I understand things, declining membership was only one of a number of issues involved. Like so many Grand Jurisdictions, Iowa's death rate among Brothers exceeded the initiation rate for a number of years. Over a decade or so, several changes were put in place. The first two were actually more important than the institution of ODCs. The first to occur, as I understand it, was the removal from code of the injunction against "recruitment." Indeed, many of my senior Brethren here are still suspicious of the notion that we may now discuss Masonry--with several proscriptions, of course--with non-Masons.

The days when Lodges were prominent in almost every city and village in Iowa are, sadly, long past. Moreover, the days when many residents of a given community had deep family and business roots in their places of residence have disappeared in proportion to our society's increasing mobility and our less-secure job market. In addition, and probably because of greater mobility, men are less inclined to ask the "right question" about how they may join a Lodge--there seems simply to be greater reticence about discussing such matters with mere acquaintances.

At the same time, there are indications that the present generation of men between the ages of (approximately) 18 and 30 are actually MORE potentially inclined toward Masonry than any generation since WWII veterans returned to civilian life. (I recently attended a very interesting seminar presented by M.W.B. Bob Conley, P.G.M. in Michigan, who suggests rather convincingly that the present generation of young men has more in common with men at the beginning of the twentieth century than with any generation between them.) Whatever the reason, we in Iowa are seeing a significant increase in interest among younger men. Being able to approach men openly and honestly to discuss Masonry is, in my opinion and experience, a very good thing.

The second important change to our code is the institution of the "Invitation to Petition." Because of Masonry's decline in Iowa (and this applies rather specifically to my home Lodge), there were often well-known, highly-respected, highly-qualified men in communities who had never considered joining a Lodge. In Iowa, these men can now be brought up in open Lodge and discussed prior to their petitioning for admission. Three Brothers in good standing sign the Invitation to Petition. They must have known the potential candidate for at least two years. I have attached the form in PDF format. While we certainly do not use this method indiscriminately, it has been a very valuable tool: when one can approach a friend after he has already been "approved" by the Lodge, it has proved generally to be viewed by the potential candidate--as it should be--as a great honor.

And then came the ODC. In my experience, your credit-card analogy has not proved accurate, at least in our Lodge. As I noted previously, in three years we have probably Raised about 20 new MMs in ODCs. Of these, one is now serving in the Mid-East. Several have moved out of the area. A couple of them have not been very active. One has demitted. However--and I just went through our membership list--fully 15 of these Brothers are actively involved in the activities of our Lodge, attend the majority of Communications and participate actively, serve on committees, assist enthusiastically in community service projects, and so forth. Several have also joined the Scottish Rite (more active in this area than is the York Rite) and are equally as active in the Consistory. One is presently serving as Venerable Master of our local Knights of St. Andrew chapter as well as being Junior Deacon in our Lodge.

Thus my personal experience has been that we have Raised some really good Brothers via the ODCs, and most of these neophyte Masons have involved themselves enthusiastically in our Lodge's work. Moreover, I know for a fact that at least five of these enthusiastic new Masons WOULD NOT have joined us had the ODC not been available; two of these had dropped out previously, one after the Entered Apprentice Degree, and one after the Fellowcraft.

In short, and arguing from a huge sample of a single, rather rural, small Lodge, the Iowa ODC has breathed new life into our Lodge. In a Lodge with a total membership of 83, with only about 40 within a cable tow, this is a major turn-around. Interestingly enough, it is the OLDER Brethren who seem most reinvigorated by this influx of "new blood." Our oldest active member is 91, never misses a meeting, has served several times in every chair, saw his Lodge reach the brink of extinction less than a decade ago, and now can't stop grinning about belonging to such an active and enthusiastic Lodge. His joy alone is enough to make this worthwhile. (Can you tell he's a dear friend?)

Meanwhile our in-Lodge Degrees have probably tripled in number, In 1999, two years before I did my work, our Lodge had NO degree work. The next year two candidates went through the work. This year we have already Raised five Brothers in-Lodge, and have several still on the agenda. So, far from diminishing our local work, the ODC seems to have increased it, since some of these candidates had ODC members as top-line signers. Increased in-Lodge work, of course, increases the frequency of our ODC Brothers to see--and participate in--Degree work regularly, and that was NOT available before, simply because there WAS almost no Degree work.

Yes, technically speaking, the old "sponsor system" was supposed to enroll new Brothers. Here, at least, it didn't, probably because there was no real structure. The enlightenment course HAS structure, but it is open-ended; it probably raises more questions than it answers, and leads easily, in my experience, to more extended discussions.

As you know very well, the more one explores the craft, the more excited--and committed--one becomes. So I think it's not so much having the MEC replace sponsorship, but rather the structure of the MEC. The MEC is now required by Iowa code, as is its mentoring structure; not to follow this procedure with some care is thus potentially a Masonic offense. In almost every case, the top-line signer serves as mentor. And all too often in the past, it seems to me that rote memorization of obligations was simply that: rote without reflection. The MEC forces reflection and discussion. Curiously enough, many of our newer Brothers have CHOSEN to memorize the Q & As and the obligations, and I find that vastly superior to rote.

And yes, we probably DO remove some individual attention with the ODC. In fact, some of our local and active ODC Brothers have some regrets about having taken the ODC route. HOWEVER, this is with hindsight--and they freely admit this. WITHOUT the ODC, they would never have become Master Masons at all. So, when they discuss joining the fraternity with their friends, they often recommend doing the work in-Lodge. Interestingly, they don't really feel they were "cheated," only that, knowing what they now know, they'd have stayed at home and joined here.

And since there does seem to be some correspondence between the institution of the ODC and an increase in in-Lodge work, the ODC Brothers have a greater opportunity to see and participate in work at home than was the case before. The ones with time problems--and I maintain that these can be very real, having spent a career in a job that often required 90 hours of my time per week--are eternally grateful for the ODC.

So it's a mixed bag. I do not feel, speaking only for myself, that the GL has cheated our ODC Brethren or ourselves. Like the Invitation to Petition and the ability to recruit, the ODC is a tool. It doesn't work for every job, any more than a screwdriver can drive a nail better than a hammer, but then, a hammer's pretty ineffective at driving a screw too... I don't feel, again arguing from a sample of one, that we have somehow "swindled" our ODC Brethren. Several of these new Brothers are close friends of long standing. We regularly discuss Masonry over coffee (sometimes even over a snort!).

Their experience in the INITIAL stages of Masonry is certainly different from yours or mine. Because I haven't been in their shoes, I can't say whether that's good or bad. What I DO know is that these are good Brothers, vitally interested in and involved in our craft. They are accumulating libraries of books on Masonry, and reading them. They follow to the letter the admonition to discuss Masonry with their senior Brothers. They can participate in MANY more local degrees than they could have just a few years ago. And, because they were raised with Brothers from all over the state, they are more excited about attending state-wide functions, such as the annual GL Communication, if only to renew friendships formed during the ODC.

The mentoring program is, as noted, a part of Iowa Masonic Code, and was instituted prior to our ODCs. Thus the two issues are divisible. And, with all due respect for your point of view, and while the mentoring program is, in fact, very successful, it does NOT address several concerns the ODC addresses head-on: isolation of individual Lodges, dangerously declining membership numbers, the PERCEPTION of the amount of time required to become a Mason, and introduction of a truly state-wide (and, by implication, world-wide) brotherhood. Attending the first-ever ODC in Iowa at the Des Moines Scottish Rite Temple, candidate in tow, with 400 prospective Brothers and 600 Brothers present, was an awe-inspiring experience, even for my jaded world-view. That kind of cumulative fraternity simply cannot occur is a Lodge with 15-20 Brothers present. 1,000 male voices singing the National Anthem, accompanied by a noteworthy pipe organ, beats our local Pledge of Allegiance all hollow! And the ritual was--and has continued to be--excellent. The degrees are, of course, somewhat longer, because there are appropriate pauses in ritual for the mentor and candidate to exchange signs of recognition and so forth. EACH candidate repeats the obligations, with the Book of Holy Law held by his mentor.

I paint a rosy picture. I genuinely believe the ODC has been a very good thing FOR THIS JURISDICTION, and certainly for Mount Vernon Lodge. It does NOT work for every Brother--but then, I submit, neither do in-Lodge Degrees. Who knows how many potentially excellent, committed Brothers we may have lost in the past? I think it's a tool, not a revolution... After all, most Lodges no longer have a box of cigars on the Tyler's table, or spittoons spread around the Lodge, nor do most Lodges have their own supply of wine and Scotch to use following meetings. Do we cheat those Brothers who anticipated their monthly fine cigar with such glee? (Sorry! Those analogies are also unkind!) Ed Note: Lodges would do well to return to such provision of fine wines, Scotch, cigars as well as taking the time taken to enjoy them together!

Thanks so much for the discussion! It's almost as invigorating as our area outdoor Third Degree last night, where one of our own local Brothers was Raised by the Grand Lodge. The ritual, food, and fellowship were as good as it gets!

Sincerely and fraternally,
John M. Klaus
Junior Warden, Mount Vernon Lodge No. 112
Past Grand Musician, Grand Lodge of Iowa

Brother John Noted the following in his other correspondence:

1. Inability to memorize long examinations is a genuine problem, at least in Iowa, and has been the reason some otherwise well-qualified men have "dropped out" after the First or Second Degree. As noted above, we have reclaimed several Brothers locally who fall into this category.

2. The question of time—or at least the PERCEPTION of the time required—can also be a very real one. There is certainly a perception among the "profane" that becoming a Master Mason is a long, arduous journey. Certainly this is the case, if one is truly to become a Master Mason (it takes more than a lifetime), but the opportunity for me to assure a potential Brother than he can, in fact, become a full member of our Lodge by completing a One-Day Class and completing the enlightenment course can be a potent recruitment tool. During the enlightenment course I have the opportunity—indeed, the obligation—as the new Brother's mentor to explore what it means to be a Mason, and to discuss these matters for as long as he wants to talk.

3. Far from diluting our in-Lodge Degrees, the One-Day Class seems actually to have increased this work. Now that a potential Brother can CHOOSE either the One-Day or the more personalized in-Lodge approach, many have opted for the more personal in-Lodge approach. The important thing—at least for us—has been his OPPORTUNITY to choose.

4. A palpable excitement and enthusiasm for the Fraternity has been apparent at all One-Day Classes I have attended...

5. One-Day Classes have, if anything, improved our local proficiency in conferring Degrees, perhaps because the classes have afforded many of our local Brethren the opportunity to see excellent ritual and to encourage them to a higher level of proficiency.


Some words from various jurisdictions about the GMC or ODC:

The Washington State Grand Lodge Proceedings for 2001 (pages 50-52, Grand Secretary's report from several years ago comes to mind. He said of the work:

(1) The quality of the work is uniformly good.

(2) The candidates are placed in an environment where they are assured of
success and generally free from criticism.

(3) The instruction offered candidates between degrees is generally to the point, well
delivered, and does not give the candidate any opportunity to slide off
into the distant world.

". . . The one-day conferral is a lot like going through basic training with a rather kindly SDI. And that is  why it works. Most Lodges virtually ignore candidates between Degrees. As a generality we put emphasis on the presentation of the material. That is, we focus all of our attention on the ability of the guy  conferring the Degree, giving the lecture . . . Many of them do a flawless job but the real purpose of the exercise is to communicate to  and with the candidate what Masonry is all about and how he - the candidate - fits in the Lodge. In the one-day conferral the candidate is surrounded by people, made to feel important, and humanely indoctrinated in the tenets of Masonry. . . . the rate at which one day Degree recipients proved up exceeded the rate at which Lodge conferrals proved up. I would earnestly recommend, therefore, that at least four one day conferrals be scheduled annually."

I know many individuals who have also spoken highly of the practice in the District of Columbia GL that since 1992, has held a Grand Master's Class. In most years this has consisted of conferring all 3 degrees conferred several times a year. In DC the 1-day class is done in an manner so that each and every candidate goes through almost all the ceremonies of each degree. (Each candidate is dressed the same as all candidates in traditional degrees, each is received in lodge in the same manner as in traditional degrees, each is conducted by a personal conductor for that candidate alone, each has a separate area of a table (altar) with a separate copy of the 3 Great Lights, each takes the obligations exactly the same way as at traditional degrees, and each goes through the 2nd section of the 3rd degree in exactly the same manner, with the same raising, as in traditional degrees.) Many of the members of these classes form a bond, and many have become officers of their Lodges and Grand Lodge.

A brother once asked me, “Since over the hundreds of years, the ritual has changed, lectures added, the number of degrees have changed, the rules for candidates have changed, what then remains the same.’  His reply, “The brotherhood has not changed”.  So we are doing things that assist the brotherhood that causes no change except in our routine and way of thinking.

Some want membership to include difficulties-  if they could they might introduce physical torment and exercises in mental dexterity and duress that even would surpass their own endurance but of course would have nothing to do with Masonry and Brotherhood or quality of the candidate. What these Brothers may be ignoring is that in Freemasonry it is for us to choose the best candidate and to improve that already worthy and well qualified individual by involving him in the work of lodge toward building Brotherhood. The sooner we get our well chosen brothers active in the business of the lodge the better.


slkinsey said...

I would suggest that there is another solution to many of the problems which one day classes seek to address: Return these US jurisdictions to the pre-Baltimore Convention system of Masonry. Allow Lodges to open on any one of the three degrees of Masonry, at the Master's discretion or as the Work demands, invest Entered Apprentices with the franchise of membership and all the rights and responsibilities it confers (i.e., voting as well as paying dues), and encourage Lodges to open and conduct most business on the EA degree, opening on the FC or MM degrees only for ritual and Masonic programming directly concerning material from these degrees.

In such a system, a member would be able to be "part of the Lodge" and participate in 90% of Masonic life immediately upon initiation, and he could advance through the three degrees at his own pace.

This, IMO, is consistent with the way Masonry is practiced elsewhere around the world, as well as the historic practice of Masonry which emphasized the importance of the EA degree. Historically, many men were content simply to me made Masons -- this being considered the main event -- and might not pursue advancement to the MM degree for many years (if at all, in come cases). It seems peculiar to America that, as a result of the changes following the Baltimore Convention, we seem to consider the MM degree where all the "real Masonry" happens.

In stark contrast to the one day class practice, it takes 14 months to progress from Initiating to Raising in our Lodge and, while we are in a jurisdiction that still insists on opening the Lodge only on the MM degree, we immediately lower the Lodge to the EA degree and admit all our EAs and FCs to every meeting. This has had a huge positive impact on our enthusiasm and retention among newer members.


W:. Samuel Lloyd Kinsey
Master, Mariners Lodge No. 67

Anonymous said...

Those are excellent alternatives and examples.

I still see benefits of the ODC that may not be provided in the alternatives, viz., immediately being able to visit other lodges, bringing in a large group of men together (perhaps going into different lodges) with a good number of Masons in attendance, the scheduling issue.

When we fully invest someone initially and put them into the work of the lodge, the more a mindset towards work and responsibilities will carry over. The same holds true in terms of initially coming in with a large group of Masons and brothers from various lodges; the new Mason will immediately get into the habit of developing relationships with a wide circle of brothers.

If lengthy waits between degrees works well for one lodge that answers all my questions of the suitability of the approach for a particular lodge. I am aware however of lodges in the state of New York with many applicants and Masons between degrees that are indefinitely backlogged, effectively pushing brethren and potential brethren away.

In the circumstances of affinity lodges I think the scheduling issue can hold even more true. Affinity lodges often draw members from a wide area geographically. Many lodges take care of the activities of the lodge in outside meetings. These Masons do not have that luxury. Masons who may find the scheduling of formal lodge attendance the maximum extent of their ability to meet should not be subject to lodge meetings being almost solely dedicated to rehearsal, degree work and hearing petitions.

We see the success of the ODC in many jurisdictions. That has not been an argument. The argument against the ODC seems to be people who do not want it personally (which the ODC does not threaten) or the belief that Masonry should be something different than what it is.

Some want a fraternity with hurdles and obstacles outside of selection and what happens in the interior life of the Mason and his relationship with his brothers. I cannot help but suspect that this is a reaction to failed selectivity and perhaps the lack of confidence in the individuals being brought into the Craft.

The success of the approach in your lodge should be continued as you see fit. It is best when well-established and successful approaches are available to the Mason and the lodge.

Grand Master's Class said...

"An objective evaluation of the data has to conclude that the statistics in Washington D.C. prove that since 1992, when Grand Masters Classes began:

1.The number of Raisings of new Masons in our jurisdiction each year has increased significantly
over the number before then, and this increase is steady and continuing.

2. Men Raised in Grand Masters Classes and those Raised in the traditional method remained in
Masonry (did not dimit or stop paying dues) in about equal proportions each year.

3. Men who become Brethren in Grand Masters Classes and those Raised in the traditional method
are also roughly equal in the proportion who become active Officers or are otherwise active
in their Lodges or in the Grand Lodge. If anything, Grand Masters Class men seem to be more
active in their Lodges and Grand Lodge than those in the other category.

4. The same number and percent of Lodges continue to do degree work in the traditional manner each year, and to use Grand Masters Classes each year, without any decline in traditional degree work. Most Lodges use both the Grand Masters Classes and the traditional method."