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BEST PRACTICE: Performing outstanding ritual

HOW-TO: Learn all the levels of ritual

An unexpected benefit of memorization

Think your ritual team is the best?

Leadership training opportunities in ‘09

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BEST PRACTICE: Performing outstanding ritual

Jack McEnterfer, inspector at large, has run the ritual school at Bellflower Lodge No. 320 since 1995. He reports on the school’s tremendous popularity, its tried-and-true approaches for teaching ritual, and the importance of performing outstanding ritual. Here’s a summary:

Background: Since 1985, the ritual school has met every Tuesday morning from 8 a.m. until noon at Bellflower Lodge, which provides the space at no charge. The school’s roster has more than 50 members from different area lodges, and at least 25 to 35 members attend every week. In fact, the school has better attendance than most lodge meetings. There are no dues and no restrictions except that you have to be a Master Mason, and you have to love ritual.

The weekly routine

  • Warming up: Between 8 and 9 a.m., we just drink coffee and socialize. Before we begin practice, we do a group rendition of our traditional song, “Old Hogan’s Goat.” Thirty guys singing off-key is quite entertaining, and it gets everyone in the mood for a fun day.
  • Group work: At the start of each meeting, we decide what we want to practice. We take requests: If a member has something coming up – a degree, a funeral service – we’ll work on that. We try to involve as many people as we can, so if someone needs help on a piece that’s just one part, like a lecture or charge, two of us will work on that in the lobby while the rest practice a group ritual.
  • Staying current: The primary goal is to get members up to speed on current ritual in California. There are always adjustments being made. When I’m not sure about something, I’ll ask the Ritual Committee or the grand lecturer. Over the years, a lot of officers’ coaches and about 15 inspectors have come to the school.

 

Nit-picking and polishing

It’s tough to practice ritual by yourself. At the school, we have members that know this stuff inside and out, so there’s always someone knowledgeable to bounce your part off of. We really nit-pick, too: floorwork, verbage, word emphasis, and delivery.

  • The key to memorization is repetition. You don’t need a photographic memory, you just need to be motivated to put in the work. When you see a great degree or hear a really impressive lecture, that inspires you to emulate it. All regular attendees at the school have had that experience.
  • To make your part interesting, you have to know what you’re saying. Many of the words in ritual come from old English, so their meanings and pronunciations aren’t clear. There’s probably one word per paragraph that you need to look up in a dictionary. Once you do, the whole picture comes together.
  • We critique where members pause and which words they emphasize, because that changes a line’s meaning. Impressive ritual is sharp, crisp, confident, and delivered by someone who knows the meaning behind it.

Degree ritual is extremely important, because that’s the first thing that a candidate experiences. If the first degree comes off amateurish, the candidate may not come back. If it’s clean and impressive, then hopefully he’ll return and do his second degree. It costs money and time to go through the degree process, and today, there are a lot of things competing for both. We’ve really got to step up to the plate and perform high quality ritual.

 

Contact: Mcenterfer@aol.com

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HOW-TO: Learn all the levels of ritual

This how-to list is compiled with tips from some of the best. Members of the 2008 winning ritual team from Irvine Valley Lodge No. 671 along with Grand Lecturer Paul Hennig weigh in with time-tested techniques for learning ritual, whether it’s for the 2009 Ritual Competition or your lodge’s next degree ceremony.

Memorization

  • Everyone has a different style of learning, so find the method that best suits yours: visual, aural, verbal, physical, social, or solitary.
  • Use original – not borrowed – mnemonic devices for remembering difficult words or transitions. If they’re your own, they’ll be much more meaningful and, therefore, memorable.
  • Use your position in the lodge room as a visual cue for lines.
  • If you’re memorizing a long piece, learn the last paragraph first, and work backwards. When you recite the finished piece, the last paragraph will be the one that you’ve recited the most, so it will be strongest.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Find opportunities in your daily routine to recite ritual.

*“Often on long car trips, my wife looks over and sees me talking to myself. She knows I’m working on ritual,” relays Paul Hennig, grand lecturer. “I’ve known guys that know exactly how long it takes to drive from point A to point B because that’s the length of the piece they’re working on. If they finish before they reach point B, they know they’ve forgotten something.”

Teamwork

  • Group practice is crucial. Designate one member of the ritual team to organize practice times and keep the team focused, excited, and committed.
  • Know more than just your own part. If the member that you’re playing up against forgets his line, you’ll be able to carry on or even prompt him.
  • Learn to trust your team. Once you do, you’ll be able to rely on their movements to cue you and they’ll rely on yours, even in the heat of the moment.

*“In the third round of the 2008 Ritual Competition, I was playing a small part, so I could watch the guys. I would’ve put them up against any lodge, anywhere, anytime in the world,” reports John Lowe, member of the Irvine Valley Lodge ritual team that took first place last year. “Everybody was moving instinctively, trusting and knowing when everybody else was moving, too.”

Making it meaningful

  • Take time to understand the text. If you aren’t sure of the meaning (or pronunciation) of a word, look it up.
  • Experiment with emphasizing different words in a sentence. Try out different places for pauses, and incorporate facial expressions and gestures. Decide which combinations best convey the ritual’s message.
  • Think about the meaning of your floor work, as well as your words. Masonic scholar Harold Stein referred to floor work as “symbols in space.” Movements in ritual were thoughtfully conceived to establish relationships between you and other members. Whether consciously or not, they will have an impact on the observer.
  • With repeated practice and observance of ritual over the years, appreciate how its significance deepens.

*“Our ritual is so obscure and so deep that there’s no way we could perceive and assimilate all of it the first or second time,” says Hennig. “But over the length of your Masonic career, each time you come back to it, you’re going to hear something new.”

Have something to add? Please e-mail additional suggestions to communications@freemason.org with How-To: Learn all the levels of ritual in the subject line.

 

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An unexpected benefit of memorization

“It was May 19, 2006. I was doing a surgical case, and just had a complete meltdown,” recalls Terry Mendelson. Later, Mendelson discovered that he had experienced a rare and debilitating brain infection, which robbed him of much of his short-term and working memory.

“Almost overnight, I lost the ability to remember three objects at a time,” Mendelson says. “There were huge holes in my memory.”

Mendelson was lucky to be alive, but he lost the ability to practice orthopedic surgery, and the charitable organization he’d dedicated much of his time to running had been shut down. He knew about Masonry through friends in the fraternity, and was drawn to its Child ID program and other charitable activities. In August 2006, just three months after his brain infection, he decided to join. Through the memorization of degrees and proficiencies, he began to rebuild his memory.

The first degree proficiency took four months to memorize. “I’d learn something, it’d disappear, I’d learn it again,” Mendelson says. The second degree proficiency took about six months. He is now working on his third degree proficiency.

In the two and a half years since his illness, Mendelson has made remarkable strides, now scoring average or above on cognitive tests that were once impossible. An active member of Hollywood Lodge No. 355 in Tarzana, he has even helped new candidates learn their first degree ritual. He attributes much of his recovery to degree work.

“I went to a brain rehabilitation outpatient program, and they gave me a bunch of mental exercises. The ritual work met pretty much all of the requirements,” Mendelson says.

Learning ritual requires short-term as well as long-term memory, draws upon multiple senses by requiring recitation out loud, and even exercises the brain in ways similar to learning a new language, thanks to the use of cipher. In fact, memorization exercises such as degree work are beneficial for anyone to increase brain activity and health.

“Having survived this, I’m very fortunate that my residual deficits are as little as they are,” Mendelson says. “Memorizing the degrees has definitely helped my brain recover.”

 

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Think your ritual team is the best?

This year, the Ritual Committee will judge teams throughout the state on ritual work spanning the three degrees: the marshal’s first degree interrogation, the perambulation for all three degrees, and the charge for all three degrees.

The Ritual Committee will travel throughout California to choose winning lodges at district, divisional, and state levels. Last year, Irvine Valley Lodge No. 671 was the statewide winner.

Lodges must assemble ritual teams and turn in registration forms to district inspectors by March 18. Download the Ritual Competition registration form and guidelines by logging into the Member Center and selecting FORMS, or via freemason.org by selecting Member Center/Member Resources.

 

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Leadership training opportunities in '09

 

Secretaries' Retreats
Attend the workshop designed to strengthen your collective knowledge of the administrative operations of the lodge and enhance communication with each other.

2009 Workshop Schedule
Southern Retreat
February 20-22, Irvine

Northern Retreat
March 20-22, San Ramon

 

Wardens' Retreats
Work with fellow elected leaders to develop your leadership skills and plan how you’ll implement your lodge goals.

2009 Workshop Schedule
Junior Wardens
April 3-5, San Ramon
April 24-26, Ontario

Senior Wardens
May 15-17, San Ramon
May 29-31, Ontario

 

Lodge Management Certification Program
Gain the tools and training you need to effectively manage your lodge. Each course is presented in an intensive one-day workshop. Three of the courses are also available online*.

Courses

  • Program Planning
  • Lodge Finance*
  • Hall Association Management*
  • Membership Development*
  • Lodge Administration

2009 Locations and Dates

  • June 6: Pasadena area
  • June 13: San Diego area
  • June 20: Fresno/Visalia area
  • June 27: Sacramento area
  • July 11: San Francisco area
  • July 18: Chico area

 

To download registration forms for these programs or sign up for the Lodge Management Certification Program online courses*, visit freemason.org and select Leadership Development from the Member Center pull-down menu.

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