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 important later.]

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.

WHAT?

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 fill.

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 endorsement!

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.

FELLOWSHIP:

 

"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 experience?

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 today.

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.

A story:

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 difference?

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 family.

The mechanisms of “caring” or love are the same – it’s all a matter of magnitude and circumstance.

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 peril).]

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 each other.

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:

1. Invite.

2. Remind!

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 information.

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 others.

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 trustworthy???

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 happened?

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 resourcefulness."

"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.
 


 

 

 

 

 

         

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