As I sit in the departure lounge of O'Hare waiting for my connecting flight to Indianapolis, I can take the opportunity to start the long list of thanks for the weekend at the Spring Masonic Workshop at Delta Lodge in Kananaskis, Alberta.
First, kudos go to the organizers. When I arrived Thursday, after dinner I joined the committee stuffing conference folders and got to know them. Thanks to Bruce Zawalsky for the invitation and the great job he did as chairman this year; to Garth Cochran, the conference secretary, who works so hard behind the scenes; to Murray Pay for his great sense of humor and boundless enthusiasm; to Dan for his smooth running of the bookstore; and to all of the other members of the committee who labor mightily to pull this weekend off.
The biggest standout is the sheer sense of fun and true love of learning that permeates the conference. Make no mistake - this is not an unsophisticated group of Masons. They are not there out of a sense of duty, but out of the desire to advance the fraternity at the lodge level. This was the 43rd year for the conference, and there was a 10% increase in attendance this year over last year, including 52 men who just became Masons this year.
When you're the guy in the bookstore signing books , it's not easy to hit all of the presentations, especially when the conference runs a three-track program. There is literally something for everybody. Bruce' Zawalsky's presentation on the Kirkwall Scroll was detailed and very in depth, presenting the pro and con sides of its age and origin. Stewart Krause's workshop on change brought up several items I've not seen explored in other similar programs I've seen before. He brought up the Harley Davidson example that the company was selling expensive, unreliable motorcycles during the AMF years, that were likely to have an oil puddle under the crankcase in the showroom - yet, the company itself believed it was the customers who were to blame, who just didn't get it. An interesting lesson for Masons in lodges that fail to attract members...
I will gratefully say the response of the audience for the three times I was inflicted on them was kind and humbling, and I thank each and every one of the attendees. The hotel's kitchen provided plenty of choices for brethren to pick up vegetables to hurl at me, but none did.
It was great to be briefly reunited with fellow Knights of the North Mike Bayrak, Jelle Spijker and RJ Hayes. (Mike Bayrak's blog about the Workshop, along with photos can be seen here.) My presentation with RJ went like a well-oiled machine. He did all of the organizing, the Power Point slides and the outline, and I stood up next to him and interrupted him for an hour. Another influence of the KotN at the conference was that a copy of Laudable Pursuit went into every attendee's folder. Not at my insistence - the organizers decided to include it long before they invited me.
The brethren of Alberta don't realize just how lucky they are to be able to have this outstanding conference in their midst. They don't understand that the rest of the North American Masonic world doesn't have anything like this conference, that brings workable solutions, useful presentations and Masonic scholars from around the world on a regular basis, outside of perhaps Masonic Week in Alexandria. The difference, however, is that this workshop is not for appendant bodies, but for Blue Lodge Masonry. And it is a hallmark of the conference that the GM of Alberta declares for the weekend that there will be no honorific or exalted titles to be used for the duration of the conference. Every attendee is simply "brother." There are no ties, no jackets, no gold chains, bilious medals or grand bling anywhere. Name tags simply say each brother's name and lodge. I believe this has great merit and goes a long way to fostering real camaraderie and friendships, truly meeting on the level.
Apart from the workshops themselves, the true brotherhood and friendships happen in the hallways and the hospitality rooms. The scotch flows freely, and you are likely to find one room packed with guys watching the Simpson's Stonecutters' episode, another filled with Widow's Sons motorcycle brethren, another with three TVs monitoring the hockey playoffs, and yet more with guitar singalongs. Canada being Canada, the accents are a wild smattering of international influences - French, Scottish, Australian, Austrian, and plenty of "eh's?" 85 year old PGMs rub shoulders with 20-something Junior Stewards, all excitedly exchanging reminiscences, programming ideas, or recipes to feed 50 hungry boys on lodge night. It is without question one of the friendliest and most useful Masonic conferences I have ever attended. And every room I went to I kept running into Hugh Young (who I actually heard speak in Scotland last year). I think it was the scotch.
The location doesn't hurt either, and more than 40 brethren brought their ladies with them to enjoy the scenery, the air, the world-class spa, and the fun. If you've only vaguely remembered hearing the name of Kananaskis before in the vestiges of your memory, perhaps it's because the Delta Lodge resort and spa was the location of the G8 Summit in 2002.
Brenda Holden's All Things Beautiful Books & Gifts was a major contributor to the bookstore, and I owe her my personal thanks for her help in getting books for the conference. Brethren near her area in Invermere - do business with her. She's good people.
The conference gets bigger each year. Bruce, Garth and I were all headed for our rooms late Saturday and ran into each other, and wound up sitting quietly in the HQ suite, tossing stories and ideas back and forth, including potential names for future speakers in the coming years. Recent past speakers have included Mark Tabbert, Victor Popow, Karim-Aly Kassam, Tom Jackson, and Dick Fletcher. An added benefit is that there is a progressive group of Masons in Alberta that make certain their lodges provide quality programming and education, along with real fellowship, at every meeting. It can be argued either way that it's because of this workshop, or that the workshop is outstanding because of their dedication. Either way, a win is still a win. Negativity is NOT on the menu at this workshop.
The location is spectacular, and it's hard to go wrong with great rooms, five meals and two full days of programming for a paltry $350 or so per person. This Workshop deserves bigger support, and I encourage those in Canada and the Western US to make the trip. Moreover, I lament that there is nothing quite like it in the US on a regular basis just for Blue Lodge Masonry.
Which makes me think...
So, I'm still sitting in the departure lounge at O'Hare. Haven't had much sleep in three days, and I'm about to toss good manners and decorum to the winds and stretch out on the floor for my three hour layover. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I see tiny movement. I look over by my intended nap spot just in time to see a small, gray mouse scamper across the floor. I follow his path with my eyes, and I'm not the only one. What I can only describe as reminiscent of "The Wave" at a baseball game as a row of screaming women all hopped up one after another, yelling, "MOUSE!"