The Chaplain – A Position of Honor and Dignity

Richard H. Ryder, 2018

For several years I have had the honor of serving as Lodge Chaplain.  While not a heavy responsibility in terms of ritual and floor work, it has, nonetheless, been a very rewarding role.  Not only do I contribute to the work of the evening and have a very good seat from which to observe the work of others, but I am personally grateful for the chance to provide moments of personal reflection for lodge members as we collectively communicate with almighty God. In addition to providing opening and closing prayers during monthly meetings, prayers during degree work and before dinner, and a necrology prayer when remembering a deceased brother, it is an honor and privilege during a memorial service to comfort a departed brother’s family as they deal with their loss.

Experience has taught me the personal rewards increase the more I add my own creativity to the work I perform.  This is especially true in two areas: writing personal prayers and adding moments of reflection during necrologies.

Not everyone can write a prayer, which is why the trestle board is a must have book for all chaplains.  But, for those who enjoy writing, have a spiritual nature, and a creative mind, writing your prayers is enriching and appreciated by the brethren. Remember, however, to write inclusive, non-denominational prayers, since Masonry reflects all faiths and denominations.

Hearing the same stock prayer recited each time a lodge is opened or closed can start to sound repetitious.  For this reason, I have written a few opening and closing prayers to reflect the work of the evening.  I fold in a few of the degree lessons into each as an acknowledgement to our supreme being that we have heard his request to us through the recited cipher.  In referring to the degree lessons I help to reinforce them with the brethren.

I also write prayers that reflect the season, such as Spring and the hope it brings; the December holidays, known as festivals of light; and the end of our Masonic year when we part ways to enjoy Summer and refresh ourselves for the Masonic year ahead.

I try to be aware of local, national, or world events that resonate with our heart, mind, and soul.  After the Boston Marathon bombing I felt it necessary to acknowledge the sadness we all felt in the greater Boston area and provide my brothers with a medium for expressing their profound sadness and desire to pray on behalf of the victims.  The Newtowne school shooting tragedy was an event that moved all Americans to ponder the suffering that was inflicted and to find a way to cope. I felt the need to provide a few moments of reflection to help my brothers raise a collective request to God for healing.  When world events impact lives in war zones a general prayer for peace seems appropriate and helps us to offer our support to those who are victimized.

Throughout the Masonic year events occur that warrant prayerful recognition.  They include father and son night, the installation of officers, table lodges, past master ceremonies, 50-year award recognitions, Thanksgiving, Veterans Day, and Memorial Day.  All these events and others provide an opportunity to create prayerful acknowledgement and helps to remove routine from moments of prayer.

An often-overlooked concern for the Chaplain is the well being of lodge members, especially during periods of ill health.  When a brother is in distress and dealing with poor or declining health, a visit, a card, or a phone call can help during a difficult time and boost the brother’s spirits.  This can be difficult for some Chaplains; it is often difficult for me.  Your first inclination is to say or write something profoundly uplifting.  However, an attentive ear, an outstretched hand, or a kind word of caring and encouragement is all that is needed.

If you would like to visit an ill brother but fear you will not find the right words or are fearful you will run out of things to say, bring another brother or two.  While you are thinking of what you would like to say, another brother can speak and keep the conversation going.   Remember, it’s not so much what you say; its more about the demonstration of concern you convey by your presence.

Necrologies are often final opportunities for the brethren to recognize the life of a loved and departed brother.  As Chaplains we owe our deceased brother a memorable and meaningful acknowledgement of their devotion to and love for the Fraternity.  At a minimum a necrology should include the recitation of degree dates, dates of birth and death, and the number of days as a Mason and of life.  My lodge recently added the recitation of the hourglass – a piece of ritual the is both timeless and profound, but also a series of words and images that take on a different meaning as we age and get ever closer to the celestial lodge above.

A few years ago, I added the recitation of prose, written by someone better qualified than I, that helps to comfort the brothers he left behind.  It respectfully honors the life of our brother and can comfort the brethren.  In addition to a memorial prayer I added a second prayer while laying a white rose on the alter, signifying the purity of life sought by our lost brother and ourselves. When I cannot find a white rose at my local florist I replace it with a red rose and recite a different prayer of recognition that serves as a plea to God to comfort his family.

Of all my duties as Chaplain I hold my responsibility during the memorial service above all others.  It is during this most dignified service that we, as Masons, must be at our best, not just for our personal feeling of accomplishment, but most importantly for the comfort we seek to impart upon our departed brother’s family and friends.  The sense of loss is still raw for them.  Questions of why or feelings of anger may overwhelm them.  It is during this sensitive and emotional time that the family needs words of support, empathy, and encouragement.  Although we, as brother, may not provide the only opportunity for the family to receive words of comfort, we are nonetheless an important reminder that others truly care.  How do I know this?  Because I’ve had numerous family members thank us for our heartfelt words of love and compassion.

My work does not start at the foot of the casket; I prepare well in advance of the service so that I can focus not so much on the words, but on my compassionate delivery.  I will sometimes read out loud, in the privacy of my home, my part of the service.  This allows me to hear my delivery and to adjust it where necessary.  I try to get a sense of the tempo of my delivery, what words I want to emphasize, where I want to pause for effect.  It is important to speak clearly and loudly, but not too load; it depends on the size of the funeral parlor.  It is equally and vitally important to enunciate each word.

At times I also deliberately look into the eyes of family members with more than just a glance, so that they are fully aware that I am personally speaking to ‘them’ and not just mindlessly reciting words from the trestle board.  This is a powerful moment for me; it helps me personalize my empathy and reminds family members that we really ‘do’ miss our brother; that we really ‘do’ feel the pain they feel.  If I’ve properly prepared, I can confidently present this most important of Chaplain’s work.

No other position in Freemasonry has humbled me more than that of Chaplain.  Outside of Lodge I am just another brother, with all the faults that come with being who I am.  But, once I step into my role as Chaplain I take on a different, more reverend demeanor – and rightfully so.  I take my role very seriously and view my position and responsibility as that of inspiring compassion and reverence in others.  It is with extreme gratitude and honor that I serve my lodge as Chaplain; with God’s help I hope to bring equal honor and dignity to this position.

Visit examples of prayers mentioned in this article.

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