THE SUBSTANCE OF FELLOWSHIP
By Ralph Omholt
(Seattle, Washington - USA)
To get to the point, look to Renaissance Lodge, which has quite a reputation for
an interesting thing called “fellowship;” they enjoy a lot of it! AS A MATTER OF
FACT, out of three years, Grand Lodge gave Renaissance TWO awards for
"Fraternalism." Yes, their Lodge likes to think that they have “renewed” the
element of Masonic fellowship. [Remember that word, "reputation," it will be
There’s something interesting about the topic of “fellowship.” Over the years,
something has changed in Masonry. Strangely, “fellowship” is now treated as a
phenomenon – among Masons.
So, what happened? We are all asking why the members’ seats are so typically
empty in their Lodge Rooms. Their officer lines are becoming more difficult to
In the first place, if you want some fellowship, c’mon down to some Renaissance
meetings and enjoy some of it in the Lodge Room and at their Table Lodge – okay?
Be ready to take some notes. After dinner, somebody usually has to ask them to
leave, as everybody has such a good time. Now, there’s a compliment – and an
Renaissance Lodge is an enigma. Their Lodge Room is the epitome of ‘Spartan;’
nothing fancy. Their ritual is complete, but famous for being expedient. So, the
fellowship is obviously far more a function of the Table Lodge – and after. So,
how does one account for that fellowship? Count the heads, it’s not the
quantity; it’s clearly the quality.
Is it possible that Masonic fellowship – if not the Craft - is on the brink of
extinction? Obviously, the threat is real, evidenced by so many empty chairs and
the numbers of fading Lodges – there is no denial available. Something needs to
be done; to be restored.
While it is not really certain what happened, it is worth questioning whether or
not the American culture, in particular, is experiencing a negative dividend
from a “…what’s in it for me…” attitude, which is so common in their
societies. Think about it, for a moment. How many times have we encountered an
attitude, whether spoken or implied through actions, which goes to the question,
"Why should I? Or; "What do I owe him/them?" Have those attitudes
permeated their Lodge Rooms, as well? It’s possible.
Their eldest members can’t quite describe what the magic was, when the Masonic
Lodges were normally full. The typical comment is important. “There was a
time when being a Mason really meant something.”
What was that “something?” There’s a clue in that statement; it’s heard too
often. That “something” has to go beyond the Masonic element of ‘legacy,’ there
was obviously more there – it could only have been “fellowship.”
Many of the "old timers" also speak to a fraternal loyalty when it came to money
matters. A job opening was first offered to a Brother Mason. A car for sale was
first announced in Masonic circles. Denying or cheating a Brother was out of the
question. Amazing, the contents of Anderson's Constitutions (1723) made it that
far. Imagine it being 'cool' to stand up and say the "I took care of a
Brother Mason." There's some neat fellowship. Imagine the effect of the
subsequent acknowledgement, when the statement is made, "I'll never forget
that Brother Jones saw to it that my family was fed."
Is it possible that the quality, quantity and variety of television and the
Internet have satisfied their appetite for stimulation? To a degree, that might
be possible; but we must acknowledge that we still have a need for human
interaction. That takes us back to ‘fellowship;’ that certain “something.” That
continuation of human warmth, which isn't terminated with the press of a power
switch; or clicking on the "EXIT" icon of a computer screen.
"The joy which accompanies the acts
of giving and acknowledging."
Get away from the thought that "This is a give and take world - quid pro quo
- something received for something given." Why abandon that idea?? Because
it is a SEVERELY LIMITING idea.
Imagine what goes on at a potluck. Everybody brings; everybody receives. AND;
there's usually a lot left over, which people are begged to take home! Imagine
that! All because of an attitude. Isn't that a major part of their Masonic
Most are keenly aware that their ‘discretionary time’ is almost as important as
their ‘discretionary income,’ so what fills the successful Lodges of today?
There are still many successful Lodges.
What would bring a man out to Lodge? What motive can we provide? "Education"
might fill his mind; what would fill his heart?
The issue goes to the emotional needs of men, in particular. Not just a man's
experiences, thoughts or beliefs - the thrill and passion of being a Mason.
Remember the ‘classic’ of mountain climbers? “It was there; so I climbed it.”
The greater truth is best described as, “It was there; and I knew how
great it would FEEL to climb it.” The function of motivation says that the
conviction had to precede the event. That emotional gratification speaks to a
range of rewards from personal satisfaction to public acknowledgment, applause
and even honors. The emotional payoff is the key. So is it among Masons, even
It's not difficult to find someone impassioned about being a Mason; those are
whom we find coming to Lodge. BUT, we need to get those who are also sincerely
"gratified" to be a Mason.
So, where can we start? Think to that seeming 'wall flower.' He just looks like
he wants to be left alone. We quickly rationalize that we're being 'courteous'
to leave him the hell alone!
DON'T DO THAT!!!
If he wanted to be a wall-flower, he'd have stayed home! Go over to him &
introduce yourself. Find it in yourself to care about him AND let him know that
you care about him - He's your brother! Remember the lyrics from that '60s song
- "He Ain't Heavy - He's my Brother!" He's a Mason; he IS your brother -
let him know that!
Just do it!
Let’s get back to that “stuff,” which we so affectionately term, “fellowship.”
It’s as simple as looking to your cat – seriously! If you admit that you don't
have the answer; you'll seek the solution - only then. Claiming to be
"mystified" by the problem doesn't solve it. Look to what you know works in
other arenas. What makes your cat come to you and love you. Brotherly love isn't
that much different.
Around five years ago, a member of the Grand Lodge team began describing a
‘mystery’ in the fellowship which he observed in the Filipino community; in and
out of the Lodge environment. He attempted to account for that fellowship by
describing such things as a common native language (Tagalog), a common heritage,
a common geographic origin, etc. The Filipinos, he described had a wonderful
result of that commonality - fellowship. Interestingly, he didn’t realize that
he was describing everyday America – less the fellowship. What was the
Most important in that story is that the Brother not only asked the question; he
persisted in the question. Disregarding Divine Intervention, fate, luck
and chance, the dynamics of success dictate that only powerful questions lead to
powerful answers (results). The Brother persisted.
Returning to the story, one quickly concludes that ‘fellowship’ IS more
than a cliché. Could it be that there are certain identifiable characteristics
or ‘processes’ of “fellowship,” which make it a dynamic ‘happening?’
Of course! But, exactly, what is contained in successful “fellowship?” (Check
with your cat.)
First, let’s be clear that their general association of "fellowship” is sharing
and caring in numbers. That's their typical focus. Romance and bloodlines are
unimportant, here. Masonry is an association; you first have to assemble with a
willingness (if not an intent or design) to experience a good time; and enhance
the experience of others. True fellowship is not merely assembling in a common
space; something needs to happen there. Personal agendas or ‘power trips’ are
not appropriate. This is about sharing and caring – and giving.
There’s also the very important aspect that one feels ‘special,’ to be included
in such a gathering. Remember your initiation? You ARE special! So is your
The mechanisms of “caring” or love are the same – it’s all a matter of magnitude
So, what’s true in that “fellowship” picture (remember your cat.)
1. You communicate to the other person(s) that you care.
2. You communicate to the other person(s) WHY you care.
3. You demonstrate to the other person(s) that you care.
4. The affection has to be unconditional. (Expectations don’t belong.)
5. The affection has to be trustworthy.
Now, do you remember your cat?? Do you remember the feeling that your cat
gives to you? For an unsolicited treat, or a scratching of the cat's ears, you
got loved to death! Fellowship is about the experience of “feelings,” not just
thoughts and beliefs.
[Gentlemen, ask your ladies about the statements, immediately above (at your own
So, when one shares the joviality of the Renaissance Lodge Room – or the Table
Lodge - one witnesses and experiences “gifts” of humor, toasts of respect,
compliments and sometimes physical gifts. In some form, the dynamics listed
above are ALL present.
Let’s drop back to some Scripture – “It is more blessed to give than to
receive.” Remember that one? Well, it goes deeper, because the ‘giving’
produces an emotional result sometimes related as ‘fun’ or even joyous.
(Remember that treat you gave your cat? How did that “feel?”)
So, the fellowship which we address in the Masonic community can be the “gift”
of attendance, interaction, listening without passing judgment, protecting and
honoring the other person’s dignity, support, advice, an idea, a compliment, a
joke, a sincere question – or even a tangible present. Or, perhaps,
‘all-of-the-above.’ Fellowship is that close-in charity, which we give to
So, what can the individual bring to that “fellowship?” Particularly today, just
your presence is truly a “gift.” Bring a good attitude and a sense of humor;
perhaps a joke or an interesting story. Bring your anticipation of - or creation
of - a good time. Overcome any reservations or ‘risks’ as to whether or not
you’ll have a good time – or learn (possibly receive) something of value.
Equally important - bring another Brother, or a friend. Extend an invitation,
secure a committment; then be so caring as to remind that other person.
Treasures shouldn’t be kept as secrets.
COMMUNICATION is vitally important:
Remember how human nature works - we forget! Here's another great solution -
make up business cards with the event times on them. If you don't have the
skills, find someone who does. Making business cards is easy and cheap - take
the time to do it! Remember that E-mail address and/or link to the Web page.
Remember to get their information! RESULTS are required; they
don't happen by themselves!
Fellowship is an action item; not just an option. “So,” you ask, “what
can I do?” Following is a short ‘list:’
A. Be aware of what is going on – the immediate event is destined to be the
primary source of conversation and interaction. If boredom should somehow
prevail, you may be able to stimulate conversation, entertainment or
B. Make it a point to interact; to get to know others – and allow them to get to
know you. Share information with others; name, family, job, travels, interests,
hobbies – even problems (and solutions.)
C. Be alert and considerate as to the needs and wants of others. Your input may
be required. The infamous wall-flower may need to be drawn out. Possibly, he/she
may need to be left alone.
D. Acknowledge, recognize, applaud, congratulate, reward and facilitate
E. Find, share or create humor – and fun!
Wonderful things are possible!
But, there is a caveat…. Remember the aspect that the caring has to be
Think of the enthusiasm which you experienced when you signed your Lodge
By-laws. For most of us, that was a great feeling; we were certified as being
‘special.’ Did something change? What happened to those Brothers which we no
longer see come to Lodge? Think for a moment.
We commonly call their non-officers "sideliners." Aren't those the losers on
sports teams? What happened to "member," or "visitor?" These are people - whom
we know or SHOULD know.
Masonic statistics demonstrate that 50% to 85% of the new Master Masons give up
within their first year. Put those statistics into the percentage of members who
attend their Lodge - don't count visitors. Five percent? Fifteen percent? What
In all likelihood, they ultimately became Masonic “JAMs” (Just Another
Member). From that time forward, they no longer felt ‘special,’ nor did
they probably feel ‘included.’ They quit, demitted, or just resigned themselves
to pay dues & maybe attend Lodge functions occasionally. Some “shopped”
Freemasonry, attempting to find that niche, where they could trust in being or
feeling ‘special.’ According to current statistics, some made it; most didn’t.
In a sentence: They probably felt abandoned.
American Freemasonry is famous for giving away millions of dollars away to
public charity – every day! But, what do we give to each other? Try
“fellowship,” the dynamic version. Think about it; it’s even “free!”
But, yes, there is the usual - and valid - question of “WHY” to
fellowship. To borrow a line concerning sex, from a Barbara Streisand movie –
[The Mirror Has Two Faces]
“Because it just ______ feels good!”
At least as a beginning, take two simple steps:
First, get in touch with this thought, “I go there, because I feel so good
when I leave!”
Second, visualize full Lodge Rooms; what feelings go with that vision?
HINT - "Pride" is also a feeling.
Oh, do you remember the comment about the term, "reputation?" Here's why that's
important. The "reputation" means that anyone can have a thing called
"confidence" in having a good time. That is vitally important for a regular
event - such as Lodge night. That requires the element of courage to attend, to
participate and to properly facilitate the elements of fellowship. Attending
'fellowship' events requires the courage to attend - with a "go for it!"
attitude. Sometimes it's also a matter of inviting/challenging others to do the
same. This is another example of reaping what one sows.
For sport, imagine this as a Mentor's briefing to
a new member:
"From this point on, I'd like you to be a
super-brave, sword-bearing dragon-slayer - a Crusader. When you walk through a
Lodge door, go up to the nearest person whose attention you can get, put on a
smile, look them in the eye, shake their hand and say hello - even if you don't
know them. Wear your name badge, hand them a business card - preferably Masonic.
Ask for their card. Tease them if they don't have one. Get their contact
information; make sure they have yours.
"If they don't invite you to the back for coffee,
ask them where it is. If formal 'greeters' are not at the door, demand to know
if any greeters are going to be assigned to the door - volunteer, yourself.
Conspire and instigate success."
"Next, seek out those that you know, greet them
the same way, tell them that it's great to see them at the meeting/event and ask
how their life is going. LISTEN to them, find something positive to say. Look
them in the eye."
"Be an actor; be loud and boisterous. Give
everyone a reason to talk about you. It's far better to be talked about, than
forgotten. Make sure that everyone knows that you have good and admirable
intentions. They may cite you for being 'different,' they won't criticize you
for being wrong."
"If you spot a grumpy old man or a wall-flower,
don't let them get away with their solitude; they didn't come out to a meeting
to be alone. Be your Brother's keeper. Grab somebody else & go keep the Brother
company. Formulate a set of questions; let him at least THINK that you care.
Give him the chance to tell you to leave him alone."
"Don't form "expectations; be a one way,
hell-bent-for-death crusader. Be the way you'd like the other person to be; see
what you can inspire. You can't 'make' a person be a certain way; you can
INSPIRE them to be a certain way - make that a good role. Be a 'fellowship'
model for others to emulate."
"Go after a reputation as a 'giver.' Find things
to give away, your time, your attention, a joke, a piece of news. Tangible
things are usually welcome. That could be an article that you downloaded, an
interesting and appropriate book that you no longer want, a piece of Masonic
Jewelry, that you picked up at a garage sale. Use your imagination and
"Volunteer to help. Don't be afraid to ask for
small roles, whether painting the dining room, or doing degree work. Get
involved - and make it fun for others. Remember that 'appropriate' belongs in a
Lodge or Lodge room; P-C ends at the parking lot."
"Above all, stick to the Golden Rule - with this
difference - if you can discover that a person wants to be treated in a certain
way - accommodate that desire. Some people like spunk - to be dealt with, via
endearing innuendos and insults. Others want to be uniquely treated with formal
respect; titles and all. As best you can, sort them out. The one rule which
haunts mankind is that people will forget what you say and do; they will NEVER
forget how you make them feel. Watch what all that returns to you!"
"OPENLY express gratitude. If it's a terrible
evening, thank the Master for the great coffee; that sort of thing."
"Then, after ten years of that, if you don't like
what's going on, you can quit."
Please start by attending the Lodge or Chapter of your choice.