by James T. Feezell, PM
Deputy Grand Master
I've often thought we Freemasons have given short shrift to our Stewards. Historically, a Steward was an officer of authority and great responsibility, think the British Lord High Steward, or Tolkien's Stewards of Gondor. Somewhere along the way, Stewards took a low path from right hand of the monarch to sommeliers and inflight wait staff. The lodge Steward, nowadays, often appears relegated to the role of mere Masonic gopher, shuttling candidates within the lodge, and food and refreshment without. In those lodges with real, installed Stewards, and not just Stewards du jour for a particular conferral, or an empty chair with the collar and jewel draped over the back, the office is more often simply a first dues-paying step on that path to pillar officer, Wardens and Master, where the "real" glamour and power are found, where "the magic happens". I think it's an unfortunate evolution of the office and its importance; Stewardship may be our greatest responsibility to the Craft and responsible Stewardship our greatest contribution.
It appears to me now may be the time to focus on Stewardship, in the sense of responsible planning and management of our Craft, particularly Freemasonry in the District of Columbia. Collectively, we've enjoyed a helluva decade. Since 2003, we've basked in the media spotlight of Messrs. Brown's and Hanks's explorations of our myriad plots and conspiracies (mostly imagined), as well as Nick Cage's of our vast, hidden holdings of precious gems and metals (sadly, also imagined). In 2011, we celebrated our 200th anniversary, with the attendant fanfare, celebrations, and congratulatory commemorative medallions and breast jewels. In 2012, we raised our Bic lighters and called the band back for an encore to celebrate the first year of our third century. In the past decade, we've commissioned art exhibits, hosted international conferences, founded Grand Lodges across the globe, chartered our annual constituent lodge and minted our annual Honorary Past Senior Grand Warden or Grand Emeritus, twinned ourselves nigh unto exhaustion, and even planted our Grand Lodge banner on distant soils. All pretty impressive for four thousand and some members of our modest planned city of 68 square miles.
Still, we are Free Masons, emulating the operative designers, planners, and builders who founded the Craft, not the bed sheet-clad, perennial revelers of the Faber chapter of Delta Tau Chi. It appears to me it may be time to nudge our brother in the South to set down his column already, roll up our sleeves, and set our collective attention to the business of laying a solid and sustainable foundation for the coming century. A survey of our lodges, constituent, as well as Grand, and their accounts, suggests to me we may be well served by some candid assessment of the State of the Jurisdiction.
The organization that supports and embodies our ancient and gentle Craft may want for some repointing. For cautionary examples of extended hiatus of Stewardship in our Craft, we need not look so far as the "recent unpleasantness" across the Atlantic. Some of the "aggressive" measures our sister jurisdictions have implemented at the corner of Waning Membership and Waxing Overhead ought suffice.
It appears to me the Grand Lodge, the Masters, Wardens, Past Masters, and Past Grand Masters of the jurisdiction, would do well to begin a frank discussion about where we are today, including ritually, operationally, and financially, and how that compares not only to the vision of the Founders of our Grand Lodge, but also our potential as a model of excellence, both in our community and in the Masonic fraternity. Are we, collectively, building and improving, or coasting and depleting? How to close the gaps between our current state and our aspirational? What actions would the responsible Steward undertake?
Reveling in the vineyards makes for a pleasant respite, but it is the quarries and the temple where the great works are built and the great builders are cultivated. Let's undertake the assessment and labor that need be done to place our lodges and our jurisdiction on a firm footing for our tercentennial. If you have ideas, suggestions, or comments, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Grand Master's and my door, phone, and inbox are always open to ideas for the good of Masonry, as well as offers to help labor in their implementation.