Masonic Customs: Then and Now
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A discussion of relevance regarding Masonic Customs in the 21st Century

presented at the
59th Annual Midwest Conference on Masonic Education, Omaha, Nebraska,
April 26, 2008

by
R:.W:.B:. Tim Couch, DDGL 34th Masonic District of Missouri


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The theme of this conference, Relevance of Masonry in the 21st Century, begs the question “Are our Masonic Customs relevant?” Ritual, decorum, manners; are these things relevant in today’s society? Will these things be relevant into the 21st Century?

What is relevance?

First off, what do we mean by relevant? Most any standard dictionary will tell you that anything that has a bearing on or connection with the subject at issue is relevant to that issue. But if we dig a little deeper we find that something is relevant if it possesses social applicability. So, do the customs of Freemasonry have social applicability? Are they applicable in today’s society? I offer my story as one example of the social applicability of our Masonic Customs.

Brethren, I stand before you today because of Masonic customs. Or, to be more precise I am able to stand before you today because of our customs. Fear of public speaking is recognized as one of the most common phobias, possibly affecting 75% of all people. The Book of Lists consistently lists fear of public speaking as one of our greatest fears, often even greater than that of death.

As a young student whenever I could not avoid doing an oral report I was a mess. When my turn finally came I would force myself up from my desk and trudge to the front of the classroom. Turning to face the class felt like turning to face a firing squad. I would read my report as quickly as I could, and then scurry back to my seat, all without ever looking up. I was literally terrified of speaking in public.

During my first year of college I enrolled in a public speaking class because my advisor thought it would be good for me. To this day that class stands as the only '“F'” on my permanent transcript.

For the next twenty years I avoided any situation that might place me in a position of having to speak in a public forum. I was an adult. I didn’t have to. Then I became a Mason.

Masonic customs? "I can do that."

After my 1st Degree I was told about these things called “Proficiencies,” and then they said “here'’s how we'’re going to help you memorize them.” And I said, “I can do that.”

After I had memorized each Proficiency I was encouraged to demonstrate what I had worked so hard to learn by standing up in Open Lodge and reciting it. And, I was told we'’re going to be there to help you do it. And I said, “I can do that.”

Then I was asked to be the Senior Deacon of the Lodge. I watched and I listened and I learned, and before long I was standing at every meeting and reciting the duties of the Senior Deacon. It felt good and I was proud to be able to do that.

Then I was told that, traditionally, a part of the Senior Deacon’'s duties was to deliver the Stairway Lecture. I’'m a traditional kind of guy so I said, “I can do that.”

Today, in the Lodges that I frequent, they have taken to adding a portion in the Closing ritual when they ask, “Has Brother Couch anything to offer?”

Now, you guys may not see it but I consider myself to be a more competent, confident and capable man than I used to be, and I credit a great deal of that to our Masonic Customs. What Freemasonry in general and our customs in particular has done for me, and for countless others, is to make it possible for us to step out of our comfort zone in an environment of support and encouragement. And by doing so it enables us to become more the man we want to be.

So, are our customs relevant in today’s society? Do they have social applicability? I don’t think there has ever been a time when they were more relevant than they are today.

Funny thing about relevance, though. It’'s part of the big picture, the grand scheme, and oftentimes we don’t recognize something as being relevant to us as an individual until we have gained the perspective of looking back on it across time.

For instance, way back when I first became a Mason had the Brethren come to me and said, “If you do this it will help you to overcome your fear of public speaking.” I would have said, “No thanks, I have no need to speak in public.”

Or if they had said, “We used to be required to memorize this stuff, but it'’s no longer a requirement so it'’s up to you.” I probably would have said, “Thanks, but I'’ll pass.”

But instead, they said, “This is the way it was done by generations past. We strongly encourage you to do it this way, and this is how we can help you to do it.” And then I said, “I can do that.”

That'’s one beauty of Masonry. It gives us the tools we need, sometimes without our even knowing we need them, to become more than we are. Our customs are working tools just like the many other tools we have in Masonry for teaching, learning, and understanding ourselves and our fellowman.

Okay, let’s take a look at some these potentially life altering Masonic Customs.

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