"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


“The Masonic system represents a stupendous and beautiful fabric, founded on universal purity, to rule and direct our passions, to have faith and love in God, and charity toward man.”
— William Howard Taft

Sunday, July 08, 2018

"Gather 'Round the Festive Board"


Plenty of U.S. Freemasons encounter the terms 'table lodge' and 'festive board,' but it's disheartening just how few have ever experienced such an event in their own lodges. If you are just such a Brother, set aside about an hour and give a listen to the most recent X-Oriente podcast Episode No. 107: The Table Proceeding. Eric and Jason speak with my friend MW Joseph Crociata, Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Washington, D.C. And if anybody in the U.S. knows how to organize and carry off a successful Festive Board, it's Joe.

In 2004, a group of Masons under the imprimatur of the Knights of the North wrote the following in our paper Laudable Pursuit:

"In 1717, one of the reasons given for forming the Mother Grand Lodge in London was to hold the Annual Feast. Not a dinner, but a feast. The Festive Board is an event of celebration, a special occasion for brethren to meet, gather over good food in pleasant surroundings. The ceremonial toasts that were developed by our forefathers were meant to be an outpouring of emotion and brotherhood, not poorly read in a stilted table lodge ceremony. The time is now to bring the Festive Board back to our fraternity. Hold it at a restaurant in a private room away from the lodge. Invite members from other lodges, and make it a true celebration of brotherhood and conviviality. Have an ENTERTAINING guest speaker on a Masonic or other subject. Unlike a table lodge, there is no ritual, other than perhaps celebrating the ceremonial toasts."
As much as we wanted to take credit for it, we weren't espousing anything especially new, original, or radical at the time. In fact, we were trodding well-worn territory other bored or frustrated Masons had resurrected at various times before to invigorate their lodges, and that others were approaching similarly around that exact same moment (like Pete Normand's St. Alban's Lodge 1455 in Texas, or Lodge Epicurean in Australia, or the founders of the Masonic Restoration Foundation).

Twenty-five years before us, another such Brother had been John Mauk Hilliard, then an enthusiastic twenty-something New York Mason who brought the Festive Board alive with great panache back in the 1970s at Independent Royal Arch Lodge No. 2. The traditions he promoted back then continue there to this day.

Back in 1948, H. L. Haywood had written in More About Masonry,

"In the Eighteenth Century Lodges the Feast bulked so large in the lodge that in many of them the members were seated at the table when the lodges were opened and remained at it throughout the Communication, even when the degrees were conferred. The result was that Masonic fellowship was good fellowship in it, as in a warm and fruitful soil, acquaintanceship, friendship, and affection could flourish - there was no grim and silent sitting on a bench, staring across at a wall. Out of this festal spirit flowered the love which Masons had for their lodge. They brought gifts to it, and only by reading of old inventories can any present day Mason measure the extent of that love; there were gifts of chairs, tables, altars, pedestals, tapestries, draperies, silver, candle-sticks, oil paintings, libraries, Bibles, mementos, curios, regalia’s and portraits. The lodge was a home, warm, comfortable, luxurious, full of memories, and tokens, and affection, and even if a member died his, presence was never wholly absent; to such a lodge no member went grudgingly, nor had to be coaxed, nor was moved by that ghastly, cold thing called a sense of duty, but went as if drawn by a magnet, and counted the days until he could go. 
"What business has any lodge to be nothing but a machine for grinding out the work: It was not called into existence in order to have the minutes read: Even a mystic tie will snap under the strain of cheerlessness, repetition, monotony, dullness. A lodge needs a fire lighted in it, and the only way to have that warmth is to restore the lodge Feast, because when it is restored, good fellowship and brotherly love will follow, and where good fellowship is, members will fill up an empty room not only with themselves but also with their gifts."
When my own Mother lodge was struggling on the ropes with dull meetings and low turnout, we made a decision for three years to move our stated meetings out of the lodge room and into the dining room, held as a Table Lodge instead. The lodge room was reserved for degrees and special occasions, but the usually dull as dishwater business meeting became secondary to the conviviality of our dinners. The result of that change was that we were attracting more and more visitors curious about our format who wound up enjoying themselves so much that they affiliated or transferred membership to us.

Going to lodge shouldn't be something your members come to dread. Moreover, holding table lodges and festive boards isn't nuclear science — any lodge can incorporate these events into its practices. Moreover, if you attend enough of these types of events, you will find that some of the most memorable episodes of your Masonic life occur in the festive setting of breaking bread and toasting with your brethren.

Give the show a listen. Then, propose a festive board at your next stated meeting.

1 comment:

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