The year 1929 saw membership in the Grand Lodge of New York rise to a peak of nearly 350,000 in over 1000 lodges. The stock market crash in the fall and the depression years which followed resulted in an ever increasing decline in total membership through limits, unaffiliations and deaths, with the number of petitioners at a very low level.
In studying the situation it became apparent that a large number of petitioners had received the three degrees of Masonry, but had absorbed little of its great teachings and idealism. They became "pin wearers," who paid their dues annually but seldom if ever attended a Lodge function. When the depression came, and it was deemed desirable to reduce expenses, one of the first to be dropped was the Masonic membership.
In 1932 Grand Lodge distributed to its lodges a plan of education called "the Lodge System of Masonic Education." The program consisted of four sets of five talks to be given to candidates.
The first set given following the election of a petitioner consisted of the following topics: Short History of Freemasonry; Landmarks; Tenets; Qualifications; Organization in a Lodge. The second set following the fast degree covered: Meaning of the term Entered Apprentice; Interpretation of the ritual of the First Degree; Symbols of the First Degree; Place of the obligations in Masonic Law; Brief history of Masonry in the State of New York. The third set following the Second Degree covered the following topics: Meaning of the term Fellowcraft; Interpretation of the Ritual of the Second Degree; Symbols and allegories of the Second Degree; Office of Grand Master; Teachings of Masonry. The fourth set followed the third degree, with the following subjects: Interpretation of the ritual of the Third Degree; Symbols, emblems and allegories of the Third Degree; Legend of Hiram Abif; Duties, privileges and rights of a Master Mason; Structure and Function of Grand Lodge.
The Ruling Master of his Lodge appointed me as chairman of an education committee which proceeded to put the plan into practice. In 1940 when I was Master, I learned that my Lodge was the only one of the 31 lodges in the two Districts of Monroe County to carry on the program.
At my suggestion the Ruling Masters proceeded to organize a Bureau of Masonic Education of Monroe County with a representative from each of the lodges to implement the program on a county-wide basis. Since it was not practical to hold a session before initiation, because candidates were elected at many different times, the sessions were reduced to three. The school which is designated the School of Instruction has continued its sessions to the present day. The program is covered twice each year, in the spring and in the fall. The director of the school selects the subjects for each session, and selects the speakers with the assistance of the Executive Secretary of the school who also arranges for the locale of the session, sends out the notices and takes care of publicity and also takes the attendance. A brother who attends a session on each of the degrees, not necessarily consecutive is awarded a Certificate of Merit by the Bureau which is presented in his own Lodge. The Lodge System of Masonic Education has been adopted by a number of other Grand Jurisdictions.
As in many Grand Jurisdictions, the Grand Lecturer of the Grand Lodge of New York visits each area in the state annually to hold District Conventions. At the Convention, a portion of the ritual is exemplified by selected lodges, and every error is corrected. In 1948 Grand Lecturer Henry Meacham came to the area with a recommendation that between District Conventions similar sessions be held to further strengthen the ritualistic work. As a result, the Bureau organized a second school, the School of Ritual. The School conducts three sessions in the winter and spring, covering the three degrees, and a session in the fall following the District Convention.
The Director of the School is a special Assistant Grand Lecturer appointed to serve as instructor. The School is conducted on the same plan as the District Convention with lodges selected to exemplify the work, and all errors corrected. The Director selects the portion of the work to be exemplified, and the regular Assistant Grand Lecturer of the two districts of Monroe select the lodges and places of meetings, take care of publicity and record the attendance. The latter also make the arrangements for the District Convention and record the attendance.
The Lodge in each District which registers the largest attendance at the District Convention is awarded a banner presented at the close of the convention which it displays in the lodge room until the next convention. The School of Ritual awards a similar banner to the Lodge with the largest total attendance for the four sessions. This banner is also presented at the close of the Convention. The School of Ritual has been functioning to the present day.
The two schools cover education for new members, and instruction in ritual. One more field needed coverage, training for Lodge officers. In 1953 the School of Lodge Administration was organized by the Bureau as its third school. Intended primarily for Lodge officers, it is open to Master Masons generally. It is not operated as a lecture course, but as a discussion group. The Director selects the topics to be publicized for the session following. At the meeting he presents a topic with perhaps a few preliminary remarks, which are followed by discussion. The atmosphere is permissive. Any brother may bring up a problem or question relating to Masonry, even if it is not on the agenda, and it is given consideration. The subjects presented cover a wide field. The following are a few examples: Suggestions for presiding; Prerogatives, duties and limitations of the office of Worshipful Master; Masonic law covering the relation of the Lodge to the candidate and to the member; The Lodge and Grand Lodge; Masonic programs; Masonic etiquette; Reception of the Grand Master; Reception of visitors; The annual communication; The annual election, etc. The school holds three sessions a year. The executive secretary of the school arranges for the meetings, takes care of the publicity and records the attendance.
The educational program conducted by the Bureau of Masonic Education of Monroe County has been commended by a number of past and present Grand Lodge officers.
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