Grand Lodge of California Unveils Masonic Formation
The Grand Lodge of California, with assistance from the Masonic Restoration Foundation, has been hard at work developing an integrated program to facilitate a new approach to Freemasonry throughout its jurisdiction. Because the history of Masonic Education in California, and most North American jurisdictions, has generally been episodic, incomplete and often inaccurate, a large part of California’s solution includes integration of the following:
• public, prospect and applicant information • candidate education and ritual instruction • membership retention, education and development • leadership training • greater cooperation with academia • development of new Masonic Formation Committees for lodges • development of high quality educational events at lodge and state-wide levels • and training and certification to ensure that only qualified Masons will lead and coordinate the implementation and establishment of the new program at all levels
The new approach is called Masonic Formation, and refers to the notion that becoming a Mason is a broad, life-long experience. While Masonic Education refers to academic and historical learning, Masonic Formation refers to the overall intellectual and moral development of the Freemason. Research conducted by the Masonic Restoration Foundation and information available to the Grand Lodge has indicated that this is the kind of experience that the average man joining the Fraternity today is seeking. Because California Masons have responded so positively to fundraising calls for the new program the Grand Lodge projects that more than half a million dollars will be raised towards its development and implementation over the next three years at the current rate of support.
The project was conceived in 2005, under then Grand Master David R. Doan, as a means of facilitating the accomplishment of California’s newly developed Strategic Plan. The Grand Lodge plan was adopted at the Annual Communication in October of 2005 and included eight Strategic Initiatives, five of which, mainly relating to candidate education and membership development, could be actualized by the integrated Masonic Formation program. The program was designed to take effect through three separate phases of implementation beginning in 2005 and moving through to 2008.
The first phase of the new program consisted of workshops held throughout California in the Summer of 2005 to introduce the concept of Masonic Formation through the overview and discussion of newly written candidate education materials. The workshops opened a dialogue aimed at identifying barriers to meaningful education of candidates and members and invited broad participation from all levels of California Masonry toward development of the new program.
The second phase of the program, now coming to a close, has focused on developing new written materials, establishing standards for Masonic Formation Committees for lodges, and determining the content and frequency of certification Workshops that Master Masons would be required to pass through prior to serving on the committees. This phase also included the development of a new Masonic Formation Mentorship Manual, that would serve as the basis for future certification training.
The third phase of the Masonic Formation initiative will focus on the actual implementation of the training workshops for Master Masons desiring to serve on Masonic Formation Committees in their lodges. Lodges will not be required to have such committees, but will be encouraged to do so through a number of incentive programs that may include access to special grants and various educational opportunities for their candidates and members and resulting rewards. The Grand Lodge plans to have the first groups of trained Master Masons certified to serve on Masonic Formation Committees deployed by the beginning of 2007. It is the hope of the Grand Lodge that with its new vision and enough well-trained educators available throughout the jurisdiction, a new kind of Masonic culture of learning and growth, previously unattainable by most lodges, may begin to emerge and with time transform California Masonry into the organization of the highest social value that it was always meant to be.
The Grand Master of Masons in California, Most Worshipful Frederick L. Sorsabal, along with the other Grand Officers, has made a firm commitment to the successful development and implementation of the new program. The Grand Secretary, Very Worshipful John L. Cooper III, and Worshipful Dennis V. Chornenky, President of the Masonic Restoration Foundation, have organized and coordinated the program.
In designing this new program V. W. Bro. Cooper worked from the perspective that Masonic Education, Candidate Education and Ritual Instruction have historically been erroneously perceived as totally unrelated in California and not enough emphasis has been placed on the importance of applying the teachings of Freemasonry in daily life.
In seeking to correct some of these problems, and as the foundational materials for the first phase of the Masonic Formation initiative, the Grand Lodge released new, first-class candidate educational materials in 2005. Three Masonic Formation booklets, one for each Craft degree, are now available online for any lodge or individual to make use of. (http://www.freemason.org/members_education.php)
W. Bro. Chornenky, responsible for editing and expanding the booklets, defines Masonic Formation as the “process of fitting the rough ashlar of our imperfect being into the perfect ashlar fit for the divine temple. … a constant transformation through the use of Masonic symbols, rituals, and teachings on a journey of return to the center of our being.” He designed the latest edition of the booklets “to introduce new Entered Apprentices, and possibly members of the public who may be interested, to the vast body of knowledge associated with the study of Freemasonry in a concise, meaningful, and understandable way.” The booklets are also meant to provide direction and resources for further study and serve as a reference point in every California Mason’s continued development. An excerpt of interest from the introduction of the Entered Apprentice booklet is as follows:
In studying Freemasonry every Mason discovers that there are many aspects to the organization. They can be divided into three main categories—philosophical, historical, and organizational. The philosophical aspect of Freemasonry introduces the student to the profound subjects of initiation, symbolism and tradition, and their potential to impact his life for the better. The historical aspect teaches the student how the traditions and teachings that make up Masonry came to be, their central role in the spiritual search of mankind and the way Masonry has affected the world since its emergence. The organizational aspect helps the student understand how the organization is governed and perpetuated, and provides many opportunities for the development of leadership skills and personal responsibility.
While studying Masonic symbolism, history and organization can be interesting and exciting, the goal is to be able to translate the lessons and experiences that one gains from Masonry into one’s daily actions. Freemasonry, if approached with humility, an open heart and an open mind will make one a gentleman, a better family man, and a better citizen.
In taking this kind of approach the Grand Lodge of California seeks to make each new Entered Apprentice quickly aware of the fact that there are many aspects to the Fraternity, each with its own challenges and rewards, but that it is learning to apply the lessons of Freemasonry in our daily lives and making the Craft relevant in our society today that is the ultimate goal.
With most Grand Lodges in the United States experiencing common problems in areas of candidate education, membership retention and leadership training California’s experience with its new initiative in the coming years could serve as an example to be followed.
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