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BEST PRACTICE: Engaging new members through ritual

HOW-TO: Preparing for outstanding ritual

COMING SOON: Masonic Center for Youth and Families

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Question of the month




BEST PRACTICE: Engaging new members through ritual

Like most lodges, Fresno Lodge No. 247 knows the importance of involving new members and keeping them interested. About a year ago, they started a program to make ritual available and accessible to new Master Masons. It’s a winning tactic.

Gary Campbell, chaplain and head candidates coach, reports.

Background: One of Masonry’s greatest tragedies is the number of new members who simply drift away. Our lodge needed a way to make new members active participants. We realized that ritual was a fun way to do just that. After all, taking a small part in the third degree was what got me hooked on Masonry 20 years ago.

Rounding the bases
We started a program where every new Master Mason participates in the next third degree rituals. The first lodge assignment he receives is the first base part in the third degree. At the next degrees, he advances to second, then third.

  • The three bases are a very easy way to bring a new member into the ritual. Each builds on the one before it. They interact. They’re important, but they’re fairly easy, without too many lines. It’s like giving a young actor the part of Rosencrantz or Guildenstern in “Hamlet.” Not too many lines, but a fun and memorable part.
  • The meeting following a new Master Mason’s raising, we do a walkthrough of the degree and explain all of the things that happened, and talk about why. We assign a coach to help him learn the bases. Working up through the parts gives a new Mason a real way to participate in his lodge.
  • Usually, about six or seven members attend each walkthrough with the new Master Mason. Most are candidate coaches.


  • It takes some planning and effort to get buy-in from the lodge. I had been doing the third base for five years before it occurred to me to offer it to new members. Like me, many brothers have a long history with certain parts. Some are reluctant to put that ritual in the hands of a new Master Mason.
  • Not every new member will feel comfortable performing ritual. Of our eight newest Master Masons, two did not participate in the ritual program. One had a language barrier and was very nervous speaking in public. The other was still in high school and couldn’t attend the evening coaching sessions. We need to find other ways to engage them.

The benefits

  • The new members love the program. The six that have participated are very active in the lodge, and have a great appreciation for the ritual. Two of them are actually DeMolays and 32nd degree Scottish Rite in addition to being Masons – so “active” is an understatement.
  • The program is a great way for new members to bond. They spend time together at the walkthrough nights and going through the coaching experience. Since the bases play off of each other, they’re ready to step in and help if someone forgets a line. It’s an important fellowship experience.
  • It’s a lot of fun for those of us who coach. We’re sharing our passion for ritual, and we’re also making room for new Masons to participate in it and feel passionate about it.

When you think about it, our primary responsibility as Masons is to keep and protect this ritual that has been entrusted to our care. Putting on the degrees of Masonry and making men Masons is the reason we exist.

Contact: Gary Campbell,



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HOW-TO: Prepare for outstanding ritual

Performing ritual is an exhilarating experience, and with good reason: You’re bringing the audience into a centuries-old drama, and creating a powerful first impression for degree candidates.

But before the performance comes preparation. Here are tips.

Memorize, memorize, memorize
The key to memorization is repetition.

  • Repetition requires time commitment. Put aside the time – and plenty of it.
  • 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 more meaningful and memorable.
  • Use your position in the lodge room as a visual cue for lines. Repeat your movements and positioning, not just your 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.
  • Look for opportunities in your daily routine, such as a long commute, to recite ritual.

Work as a team
Group practice is crucial.

  • If you’re part of a ritual team, set a rehearsal schedule and stick to it.
  • If you’re a degree candidate, work with other candidates. You’ll forge an even stronger bond in the process.
  • If you’re taking a part in degree ritual for the first time, find a coach. Even if you’re a long-time member of your lodge, it’s an opportunity for fellowship and to improve your ritual performance.
  • Know more than just your own part. If the brother 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.

Make 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.

Polish your performance
Here are the judging criteria for the 2010 ritual competition. How do you measure up?

  • Protocols: Were your positions and movements accurate? Did you move and speak at the correct time?
  • Words: Did you omit any words or sentences? Did you accidentally add any?
  • Presentation: Did your pronunciation and inflection convey the correct meaning of the ritual? How effective and compelling was your presence and overall presentation?

Some of Masonry’s lessons are more obviously part of the ritual than others. Even the arrangement of the lodge room and the movements, or floorwork, contain symbols and lessons. The bottom line? The more you perform and observe ritual, the more you’ll appreciate and gain from its lessons.


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


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Doing more for our children, our members, our communities
Masonic Center for Youth and Families opens late 2010

Anyone who knows a child struggling with behavioral or learning problems knows how confusing and difficult it is to understand the cause and get professional help, especially due to the critical shortage of assessment and treatment planning services in California.

As an expansion of the Masonic Homes of California’s commitment to serve children with and without Masonic affiliation, the Masonic Center for Youth and Families was created to serve youth age 4 to 17 and their families in a needed, meaningful, and more innovative way. We are taking leadership in a difficult, complex, and fragmented area of psychological services by providing single-point-of-service care with an industry-leading professional team. The Center will provide critical services in a comprehensive, integrated manner that is unavailable anywhere else in the country.

Filling the critical services gap with child-first philosophy
At the Masonic Center for Youth and Families, a multi-disciplinary team of experts will assess the complete child from all angles – from cognitive, personality, and neuropsychological tests to conversations with the child’s teachers, coaches, and ministers. From this, the team will develop a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses the child’s and the family’s needs. Most importantly, with the help of a compassionate clinician and the Center’s child-first philosophy, youth will have the opportunity to learn more about themselves and be able to realize their potential.

The Center will be located in San Francisco, but designed to serve Masonic and non-Masonic families throughout the state. Masonic families will always be granted priority. We will help Masonic families pay for travel costs as necessary and appropriate for the initial on-site assessment and meetings with the treatment team to discuss findings and recommendations for treatment. The team will identify appropriate resources in the family’s home community to implement the treatment plan and maintain ongoing contact with the family.

Services available late 2010

Details about accessing services at the Masonic Center for Youth and Families will be provided in the coming months. If you have questions at this time, visit or contact


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By Your Side

Cancer is a lifelong battle for the person affected, and his or her entire family. There are more than 1 million Californians already fighting. This year, more than 120,000 more will be told they have cancer.

By Your Side, the Grand Master's Project for 2010-2011, is dedicated to these individuals and their families.

Building on a partnership with the Association of California Nurse Leaders, By Your Side will provide support where it's most needed: educational resources for hundreds of California nurses to become certified nurse oncologists, a critical need in the state.

With more of these specialists in every hospital, clinic, and medical care center, the project will help provide comfort and hope for thousands of patients and their loved ones.

To contribute, contact the Office of Philanthropy at 415/292-9117 or


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Question of the month

Last month we asked how many Masonic education discussions your lodge hosts per year. Of the 104 that responded:

39% - one to five
11% - five to 10
25% - more than 10
25% - none/didn't know


Twenty-four percent said their lodge’s Masonic education program was started in the last year

Here’s your next question.





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