These thoughts and suggestions are for the Brethren who are interested in getting it right. Many of you will have experienced bad behaviours, poor manners and failure to set you and your partner at ease.
For too long we have been observers to the good, the bad and the ugly in Masonic etiquette. If you do not feel that this is correct, then I believe you really need to read this missive. If you appreciate the need here are a series of suggestions for being better. We should all learn as we go along and avoid falling into bad practice by having a point of reference I have outlined here.
Always greet each other with an initiate’s handshake. Be pleasant and warm. Never gossip and recall you are to shield a brother’s secrets in your heart. This means you owning these and treating them as yours.
Give precedence to others regardless of rank. You are the servant of all, each one of you.
Visitor to Lodge rooms
Invitation to visit or attend
Send a letter/card or invite a guest face to face never assume your guest knows anything of the time, date or dress code. Always ensure the brother knows, where, when, what and how to get there. Usually a summons sent to him or a note with the detail should always be given. A summons may be handed over on the night. (he may like the keepsake or evidence to his wife where he has been).
Give an out-line of what to expect on the night! Check diet needs and if there is a need arrange this with the caterer.
All members and guest must be greeted at the door usually by a JW or deputy, arranged prior to the event. A formal ‘Lodge Receptor’ may be appointed for this. On formal evenings with the Ladies this is essential and must be done in a welcoming maner ton overcome apprehensions and confusions.
Please say, hello, how do you do, or other suitable words. Never let the visitor speak first. You may ask: – Who are you with this evening? Do you have any guest? Make mental note and direct to facilities like toilets, rest rooms, cloakrooms, and bars, etc. Treat all people as equals. Pay no undue regard for titles or rank. Being overly nice belittles you and does not create a favourable impression. You may offer a handshake and be prepared to be ignored. Remember you are the one in charge and have dignity.
Wear a badge with your name on if it helps.
If you are approached by a visitor, as the Receptor is absent or busy step up to the mark and behave as you are now the Receptor of the Lodge. Never, tell a visitor to wait or point to another. If you are a guest yourself take on the role and introduce yourself and help the Lodge out by being an example.
Leave pen or pencil at the signing book. Can be inked in later.
Signposting to where to go is extremely important. Direct people to where they want to go and ensure they understand. Take them to locations in the rooms if need and tell them to return to you should they require further information.
Festive Board – Harmony
Ensure your own guest and visitors are seated in the temple and the festive board. If there are no table allocations make the places where you may sit together in company. Introduce all the people you know. Offer wine but expect the person may be driving. Make sure he does not run out of liquid refreshment.
In the dining room or temple, seat the visitor where he wants to sit and do not insist on the SW or NE for rank sake. Remember we are all equal and the MM is premier the EA is essentially still a guest of honour. All others are to be treated as Master Masons.
If someone has a problem, listen to it! Check understanding. Identify what has gone wrong, try to resolve it then. It not possible, take ownership, find help or ensure it does not happen again. Never walk away from an issue.
During the meal ensure you talk to your guest, involve him with your friends. Expect to be thanked for the invitation. If invited to attend his lodge you have a yard stick to measure them by now (so does he).
Anticipate their needs and ensure you pass the salt, help them with service and top up that glass.
Dress correctly as you would in your own lodge. Be clean, tidy and well-groomed as you represent your lodge. Shoes please clean them. Never comment on other people’s dress as it may be all they have or do not realise they are showing you how poor they are. Take care of elderly or infirm brethren as they may have special needs.
A young man may wear a strange looking dark suit or a shirt with a logo or design. Leave them to it. If it is generally acceptable it is not up to you to comment in any way. You were young once and they must make their own way in life as well as Freemasonry. Better they come than not. The same applies to visible tattoo’s, piercing and any other decoration. These are up to the individual not the Lodge or any individual member.
If asked to respond to a toast, fill an Office of the Lodge, or help a Lodge you visit, decline gracefully or show enthusiasm in accepting. You have a choice. The Lodge may be hard pressed for help so if you can, do help.
Visitors should always correspond thanking their host. This may be verbally or by mail or electronic mail with complements for the evening, within the following week.
Responding to a visitor’s toast
Things to avoid. Never tell lies as it embarrasses the host. So never comment that a bad meal was wonderful or the ceremony exceptional. In exaggeration you will only highlight the problems and make yourself look foolish. Say nothing if it is not worth commenting on.
You can highlight pieces that were good and if one of the courses at the meal was enjoyable, if you were treated to the meal and did not have to pay. But never mention failure, they will be all too aware of this.
What you can say is how much you appreciated the invitation, if you would visit again, complement your host and the WM on there friendship and greeting and the opportunity to meet new friends.
Under no circumstances should Senior Brethren receive or expect preferential treatment. The standards they have must be of the highest order at Lodge or Social meetings. Any salute, gavel offering, and acknowledgement of rank is for the Temple only. Without the Temple, all of us are Master Masons. We would do well also to remember that we all wear the White Apron of the initiate.
Humility is a sure indication of nobility!
Further points on masonic dining
At any dining associated with Freemasonry it is essential to remember your expected to project the highest standards of behaviour, temperance, respect and courtesy to others. Your masonic guest and none-masonic guest will look to you for example. You should always engage in conversation, avoid politics and religion and encourage all to engage with the table conversation.
Always introduce your guest and yourself to others that maybe sitting with you at a table. If you are the host own any issues or problems and put it right. Never allow anyone to be offended or discouraged. Learn how to be a good host, calm disagreements, introduce topics for conversation and complement good points and suggestions.
Never, stand and remove yourself and your guest, leaving others alone on the table. Always excuse yourself and explain were you are going and if appropriate invite them to join you. Nothing is more isolating than to be abandoned at a table.
Remember if you are sharing a table with others you are sharing all on the table including your wine and anything else you have purchased for the table. Always offer to share and spread the happiness.
Are you at variance with a Brother?
My first advice is to get over yourself. Don’t look foolish, hot headed, arrogant or un-masonic. You must know that bearing false witness against a Brother is a very serious matter. You will also know the rules about retiring and settling your differences. You should go home if this cannot be affected and you should both go home if you are affecting others.
However, you must be Masonic otherwise ask yourself, are you a Freemason? The Peace and Harmony of the Temple and the festive board must not be disturbed by your presence. So, sit there, ignore each other and behave yourselves. Never make a show of walking out as you offend your brothers, your Lodge and the promises you made as an initiate. Never make a scene or spectacle of yourself. Disagree and get on with your obligation. Let Peace and Harmony prevail.
You should work to harmony and be prepared to admit you are wrong and big enough to apologise. You are better than the issues between you.
General points of behaviour
- Smile and show you are happy at all functions and meetings.
- Greet everyone you can with a handshake and a few sincere words.
- Be courteous and easy of manner to everyone.
- Share your Freemasonry with others setting good example.
- Speak the ‘gracious word’ to others building confidence by complementing them and saying thank you for the little things. Such as “Thank you for coming”, that usually adequate.
- Advise your guest of the ceremonial of any evening such as clapping and standing.
- Don’t over-eat or over-drink.
- Avoid religion and politics in conversation.
- Don’t stack plates leave that to the waiter. Doing so only hinders a professional service waiter.
- Don’t raise voices at table, if the music is too loud, tell the Host.
- Any lone guest at table should be Included as your guest.
- Don’t abandon anyone at table as this can be discriminatory and offensive.
- Remember the courteous order of president is: – The Ladies, the non-masonic guest, the guest, the Entered Apprentice, the Master Mason, and then you and all others.
- It is your responsibility to make everyone happy. Neglect no one and ensure you are of; Good report!
- Always ensure at Masonic meetings you get the order or precedence correct.
- If ladies are present use the form Ladies, Gentlemen and Brethren.
- If there are non-Masons are present ensure you identify the precedence’s of Knights, Judges, Civil Officers and Mayors. For example these days gentry and ranking guest may be included as: – Distinguished Guests, Ladies, Gentlemen and Brethren.
- Never say, “upstanding brethren”. It is and should be unnecessary. If it is felt necessary, you must your train members to stand up when a toast is announced, not to “upstanding brethren”.
- The Queen should only be toasted with the left hand!
- No toast or “Remembering Absent Brethren”, should be made before toasting the Queen.
- “Remembering Absent Brethren” is a memorial not a toast! Wine should not be taken.
Special considerations for the Ladies
Evenings or days with the Ladies need special consideration. The place must be clean, including rest rooms, and all quarters that the ladies may visit. Ensure there are mirrors in rest rooms and cloakrooms. They appreciate as much information as possible. There is nothing worse for a Lady than poorly lit closed rooms. Remember we need the ladies or partners to allow and encourage our Freemasonry. This is often over-looked, and a heavy price paid for neglect.
- Always make it clear what the invitation is. Formal, informal, location and the meal to be served.
- Be clear about dress code.
- Who, where, when, and what are important on the invitation? Never invite by word of mouth. Make it clear and avoid confusion or doubt.
- Ensure the rooms are well lit. Leave doors open and allow the ladies to look in to where they are going. There is nothing worse than going through a closed door into the unknown.
- If possible don’t draw curtains until all are present. Let Ladies see in on arrival.
- Ensure there is seating available for all.
- Make introductions to the ladies and if necessary, make an announcement identifying the Host (and partner), the Director of Ceremonies and any dignitaries. This allows the ladies some knowledge of the evening guest.
- Always toast the guest and the ladies.
This is an attempt to make us all better brethren. We are no more or less than our brethren in Freemasonry. Our apron is nothing more than a symbol of what we might be, not what we are.
Read over these points again and ask yourself if you meet this as a minimum standard?
Apply, practice and learn each time more and more.
Be best not better.