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December 2022: Moving
Prospects Through the Degrees

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    Moving Prospects Through the Degrees

    After years and decades of declining membership, many of California’s Masonic lodges are suddenly faced with a new—though quite welcome—problem: a glut of candidates waiting to receive the degrees. Solving that conundrum in a way that brings members closer together, and without sacrificing the specialness of the degree experience for candidates, is perhaps the biggest single issue facing California lodges in 2023.

    Good thing is, that doesn’t take rethinking the wheel, says Jairo Gomez, an assistant grand lecturer and member of Morning Star No. 19 in Stockton. Rather, it means going back to basics—in this case, the most fundamental part of Freemasonry. “Ritual is what separates us from any other fraternal or social organization,” he says. “So let’s make sure it’s impactful.”

    Turning Prospects Into Members

    What’s behind the recent uptick in applications? A few things. In many cases, candidates who approached lodges before the pandemic are still working their way through the queue and beginning to have their degree dates scheduled. Others, awaiting second or third degrees, are similarly getting back on track. But the largest share comes from an online awareness campaign run by the Grand Lodge over the summer. The results there have been impressive. Between June and November, that campaign directed nearly 2,000 prospective Masons to local lodges throughout the state. During that time, nearly 85 percent of all California lodges received at least one prospect referral—and usually more than that. (According to last month’s Question of the Month in the Leader, 73 percent of lodges had at least one online prospect  from the campaign now progressing toward an application.)

    When it comes to reversing a 50-year membership drain, numbers like that are a blessing. But for lodge officers trying to draw up a degree calendar, they can also pose a real challenge. More prospects means more degrees—and more rehearsals, practices, and planning. But for lodges that are still working out the kinks from the pandemic hiatus, getting back into ritual work is a daunting task.

    According to Gomez, one factor above all others separates good ritual from bad ritual: preparation. “I’ve seen people with no skill at oratory produce quality ritual and I’ve seen great orators completely flop,” Gomez says. “The difference is always the amount of preparation they’ve dedicated.”

    That, Gomez says, isn’t just a matter of logging enough hours practicing degree lectures. It’s also about dedicating time and care toward making a friend a future brother. “It’s a powerful gift,” he says. “So treat it as such.”

    Research shows that the biggest differentiator between Masons who value their membership in the fraternity and stay engaged with their lodge and those who don’t is whether they feel they’ve had a meaningful experience at lodge. The ritual plays an enormous role in that—and as such, it’s not just a tool for making Masons. It’s also the tool that keeps the lodge together. “Take advantage of ritual practice to reinforce relationships,” Gomez says. Ritual practice doesn’t have to just be about rote memorization. In fact, it shouldn’t be mere memory work. Instead, dwell for a time on the meaning behind what you’re doing and saying. Ritual work is largely an oral tradition passed down from member to member and requires the sort of interpersonal education Gomez advocates for. “Practicing together is itself an educational tool,” Gomez says. “Take advantage and learn symbiotically.”

    Getting to Great Ritual

    Taking the ritual experience seriously is a key part of maintaining a successful lodge. Here are a few tips for getting back into the ritual groove. Hint: they may be obvious, but they’re no less true.

    Practice, Practice

    The first piece of advice is obvious: You've got to get your reps in. "Getting back to ritual, it's like we're trying to cold-start an engine," explains Jordan Yelinek, the assistant grand secretary for the Grand Lodge and a member of Prometheus No. 851. "Sometimes you've got to try it a couple of times before the engine turns over. But you've got to give it some gas."

    • Practice by yourself. Take time out of your day to practice the recitations. Stuck in traffic on your way to or from work? Recite the degree aloud. Have to mow the lawn? The noise of the lawnmower will drown out your recitations so your neighbors don’t hear you! You get the picture.
    • Practice as a line. Make time for your officer line to work as a team going through the entire flow of a degree ceremony. Floorwork is something that is best practiced with your fellow officers and in the lodge setting. This is where the rubber meets the road and you can combine your well-practiced recitations with coordinated movement.
    • Take it in bite-sized pieces. Take this tip from Grand Lecturer Ricky Lawler: “Don’t try to tackle a complicated section of ritual in one go. Break it down into manageable chunks. Get each of those squared away, then move on to the next bit. 

    But First, Start Planning

    If simply being out of practice is your lodge’s biggest problem, that's a good thing. Because even getting to a place where you can focus on the performance itself takes some serious planning.

    • See the big picture. Begin by surveying your lodge's degree needs for the upcoming year. How many applicants are ready to take their Entered Apprentice degree? How many are waiting for the second and third degrees? Don't try to do them all at once—and don’t rush to put everyone through the degrees as fast as you can. "Give yourself a roadmap," Yelinek says. "And then you can backfill that calendar with rehearsals and practice dates." (For what it's worth, on average, California lodges perform about six degrees per year.)
    • Be strategic. The Entered Apprentice and Fellow Craft degrees share many similarities. Take advantage of the practice you do for one and schedule your EA and FC degrees close to one another. That way, you'll stay sharp and not need to worry about building up to the more challenging third degree until later. 
    • Stick to the plan. Once you've built out a calendar to handle all the degrees you need to perform, stick to it. Don't worry about a new candidate who wants to get their Entered Apprentice degree done ASAP. They'll be scheduled for next year. And that's not a bad thing—it gives them time to get to know your members and integrate themselves into your lodge culture.
    • Look for help. We know that life gets in the way. Sometimes it can be hard to find a fill-in if someone is away or can't make a degree. That's why it's a good idea to turn to your fellow officers—either at Officer School of Instruction events or at the Leadership Retreats (it's not too late to sign up!), or through your district inspector. In fact, lodges that co-host degrees often find it to be a fun and memorable time.
    • Look at your bench. Are there Entered Apprentices in your lodge who might relish the opportunity to deliver the charge at the end of another candidates' EA degree? Other members who might like to play a part? Think of the degrees as a way to bring more members into the fold in a meaningful way—and to give the regular crew a little bit of a break. That's a win-win.

    December Officers' Checklist

    Stay up to date with lodge business. Here’s your December checklist: 

    Executive Committee

    Senior Warden, along with Executive Committee

    • Urge presumptive master, wardens, and senior deacon to perform their Master Mason’s proficiency soon, if not already completed.
    • Prepare 2023 budget to present to the lodge in January.
    • Budget for, and prepare to attend, 2023 Leadership Retreats.
    • Ensure that all committee assignments have been determined. After installation as master, confirm audit, charity, and membership retention committee appointments.
    • Review all candidates’ progress toward advancement.


    • Continue sending out dues notices and collecting member dues.
    • Begin preparing secretary’s annual report to present to the lodge in February.
    • Review the list of suspended members sent to you by Grand Lodge and determine if your lodge wants to participate in the 2023 Restoration Campaign.
    • Budget for, and prepare to attend, 2023 Leadership Retreats.


    • Begin preparing treasurer’s annual report to present to the lodge in February.
    • Budget for, and prepare to attend, 2023 Leadership Retreats.
    • Ensure that the lodge financial records are up to date and bank accounts are reconciled.
    • Verify your lodge dues and per capita in iMember and, if you haven’t yet, enroll your lodge in the Dues Invoicing Service. Lodges enrolled in this program saw more members pay their dues compared to lodges that did not participate. All lodges that participated last year will be enrolled again this year. Lodges enrolled in the program will be emailed about dues beginning in November and through December. To opt into or out of the program, contact Member Services.

    Questions? Contact Member Services at or (415) 776-7000.

    For Your Trestleboard

    Use this content to spread the word about resources provided by the California Masonic Foundation, the Masonic Homes of California, and more.

    Masonic Health Services:

    Services at MCYAF Across the Lifespan

    The Pavilion at the Masonic Homes

    Masonic Homes of California Resources

    Masonic Value Network

    Masonic Philanthropy:

    Masonic Youth Order Resources Library

    California Masonic Foundation Cornerstone Society

    Question of the Month

    Last month, we asked whether your lodge has any social events planned for 2023. Of those who responded:

    • Family event (BBQ, lodge dinner, etc.) -  26%
    • Community event (fundraiser, volunteering opportunity, etc.) - 21%
    • Lodge outing (sports game, trip, restaurant, etc.) - 17%
    • Public event (participate in town parade, etc.) - 15%
    • Prospects night - 12%
    • Other - 9% (Super Bowl Party, Guest Speaker, Blood Drive, Veterans / Law Enforcement / First Responders Appreciation Event, Grand Masters Reception, Halloween, Travelers Session Open Mic night open to the public, Trip to Alaska)

    Here's your next survey question