iChats in the Virtual Parking Lot: Videoconference Gatherings for Lodges
“Everyone knows the best degree is the one that takes place in the parking lot after lodge,” says James Morgan, master of Big Bear Lodge No. 617. “Talking, sharing, and learning from each other—that’s what Freemasonry is about, right?”
With that in mind, it’s no wonder Big Bear Lodge has been so successful during the shelter-in-place order. Even while apart, members of the lodge have tapped into the essence of those impromptu, unofficial-style gatherings and figured out how to recreate that feeling online. Both in terms of keeping members feeling connected to the lodge—and, even more crucially, for keeping prospects in the loop—they’ve hit on a formula that translates well online.
In April, Morgan and his officers initiated what has become a weekly videoconference gathering. They’re clearly not the only ones taking to Zoom, as lodges up and down the state have waded into these digital waters for various kinds of meetups. What sets Big Bear Lodge apart is the format and the guest list for its meetings.
The video discussions are Socratic in nature—questions are posed by a moderator, and attendees offer their answers as a way to draw out ideas. Among the recent topics are, “Has being a Mason made you a better man?” And, “What will it look like when we are finally allowed to reopen?” Lodge members also invite prospects, both from their own lodge and, increasingly, from other nearby lodges who are interested in learning more about the fraternity and getting to know the Masons they hope to become bonded to.
The format closely aligns with the sort of frank, candid parking-lot conversation that lodge leaders had hoped to recreate. “For candidates to hear Masons talk about the fraternity from their perspective is way more powerful than any discussion you could have over coffee in the lodge,” says Garrett Bergthold, a tiler for the lodge and its de-facto marketing guru.
In many ways, there’s nothing new about these types of chats. In fact, many lodges included discussion groups as part of their monthly meetings. Since the pandemic, however, there seems to be a greater interest in such virtual parking-lot chats. Four weeks into their weekly Zoom gatherings and Big Bear Lodge has attracted the attention of several nearby lodges. The latest discussion saw more than 30 brothers from seven different lodges attend—from as close as Rim of the World Lodge No. 711 in Twin Peaks to as far as Havre Lodge No. 55 in Montana, where a former Big Bear member had recently moved.
This is the technology at its best and simplest: a tool for bringing people together, regardless of distance.
The Good, Bad, and the Ugly: Tips for Keeping Your Gatherings Secure
Not everything about virtual meetings is perfect—namely, security. In recent months, we’ve seen an increase in the number of virtual meetings hacked from the outside, causing disruption and unease. Though cause for concern, your lodge can take some simple steps to limit the likelihood of any informal gatherings being disrupted by uninvited guests.
- Utilize the “waiting room” feature of programs like Zoom. Fashioning theirs as a “Tiler’s Room,” Big Bear Lodge uses this feature to put participants in a separate virtual room where they wait to be admitted by the host.
- Don’t share the link to the gathering on social media. Instead, invite attendees through the platform’s own invitation system. And be sure to ask your attendees not the share the link either.
- Lock the meeting once all participants have joined. The host will be notified if someone is trying to enter the meeting, giving him a chance to screen the individual before admitting him.
- Don’t treat these gatherings as tiled meetings. No matter how many security measures you put in place, these virtual meetings—like the parking lot conversations they imitate—are informal. Stated meetings are not permitted online.
Online Resources from Grand Lodge
Distressed Worthy Brother Relief Fund
Get information about accessing services and funds if you’ve experienced hardship as a result of the outbreak, or if you or your lodge would like to donate to the effort.
Online Masonic Speakers Series
Join one of these informative and entirely free lectures from a range of experts on various topics related to Freemasonry. See the entire list and register today.
2020 Online Masonic Leadership Course
Designed for officers, open to all: At this twice-weekly course, beginning in June, participants will discuss ways to inspire your lodge, what a return to in-person meetings will look like, and help direct the future of the fraternity through its 2050 Vision Statement.
Upcoming Per Capita Due Dates
- June 30, 2020 – All remissions and other membership data need to be entered into iMember (this is the same as in previous years)
- August 1, 2020 – Preliminary per capita bill sent to all lodges based on June 30, 2020 data
- September 13, 2020 – All suspensions for non-payment of dues need to be entered into iMember
- September 14, 2020 – Final per capita bill sent to all lodges
- October 9, 2020 – Per capita payment due (this is the same as in previous years)