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Orations Piloted in Dorset

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Clive Deacon Reports on the Success of Trial Orations and the Responses from Brethren

For some time the Pro Grand Master had been considering how the experience of Freemasonry may be deepened and intensified for Brethren. He recognised that there was no formal method within the Lodge for communicating or raising awareness of the richness and depth of our traditions, with the result that the art of reading symbolism and allegory seemed to have been forgotten.

The then Provincial Grand Master for Dorset, Harry Barnes, had been assisting the Pro Grand Master with a project designed to further education and awareness amongst the membership of the Craft, and Michael Baigent, editor of Freemasonry Today, had written a number of short talks for presenting on appropriate nights when time permitted, explaining masonry as a journey through the different degrees. I had been recommended for running a pilot in Dorset, and my initial meeting with Michael proved extremely informative, after which Secretaries of those Lodges that were the most likely to have space for an Oration in their Autumn programme were contacted. 
Ten presentations were delivered in eight of the forty-nine Lodges in the Province of Dorset, as well as one in a Lodge of Instruction, during the autumn of 2005. 
If a project such as the Oration scheme was to be successful, it required support from the top, and without such support, the undertaking would be doomed to failure. I was fortunate in receiving unstinting encouragement throughout the pilot from my Provincial Grand Master. An initial review after three months indicated that care in selecting an Oration to suit the particular Lodge/occasion proved beneficial to members. 
The first in the series of Michael’s Orations was found to be the most suitable for introducing the scheme, and it proved a success to present more than one Oration at the same meeting. During the festive board Brethren completed a single-page, six-question ‘tick-box’ evaluation form giving their views on the Oration, and inviting comment, and visiting Brethren who had heard the Oration on a previous occasion remarked on being able to obtain new information from a repeat hearing. 

Review of Progress

Eighteen months into the pilot the Provincial Grand Master for Dorset convened a panel comprising a representative cross-section of Brethren to review progress and report to the Pro Grand Master. Michael reviewed some of the more-challenging aspects in the Orations and also wrote a formal introduction to supplement that being delivered at the start of a presentation. 
To give the Orations status, Lodges were encouraged to print the presentation as an Agenda item ‘To receive an Oration entitled . . .’ 
A particularly successful Lodge programme developed during the pilot was to receive an Oration in each of the three degrees, with full Lodge closings. 
It was also found that perambulating the Lodge increased the ‘presence’ of the Oration, and delivering the First Degree Orations in the North-East, the Second Degree in the South-East and the Third Degree in the West further enhanced the presentation - the exact place to stand would be determined by the layout and seating in the Lodge. 
The pilot in Dorset proved an outstanding success, and culminated with a joint presentation to the Pro Grand Master and representatives from Provinces. I feel privileged to have participated in the Orations scheme, and credit must be given to the Past Provincial Grand Master for Dorset, Harry Barnes, for his encouragement and support throughout. 

Orator and Mentor

There is no doubt that in raising awareness of the symbolism and allegory in our workings, and revealing meaning behind the symbols, the Orations complement the work of the Lodge Mentor. 
As a guide and coach, a mentor will lift the veil of allegory and disclose the significance of symbols so that a new mason can better enjoy and understand his Masonry. 
Richard Merritt, Deputy Provincial Grand Master in Charge of Dorset, and the Provincial Grand Master Designate, has prioritised ‘Retention’ as a key issue, and sees the Orations and the Mentoring scheme playing a crucial role in improving understanding and encouraging Brethren to take an active approach to their learning. 

Responses from Lodge Brethren

Close to two hundred anonymous evaluation forms were analysed confirming that 94% of respondents considered the Orations to be worthwhile. The responses revealed:
  • 90% of respondents agreed with the ideas put forward in the Oration with two Lodges declaring 100% agreement and no Lodge indicating less than 80% support
  • 85% of Brethren supported the Oration scheme and considered it important to the work of a Lodge
  • there was unanimous support from a Lodge of Instruction for presenting Orations as part of their programme
  • whilst there was divided opinion as to whether an Oration should be presented as part of a ceremony or only at meetings dedicated to the Oration scheme, there was general agreement that the importance of the Oration would be lessened if presented during a Ceremony of Raising
  • language used in the Third Degree Orations was more complex for Brethren to comprehend, and, interestingly, it was older Brethren who felt that younger Brethren would feel challenged
  • there was less support for an Oration being presented during the same meeting as a Masonic lecture
From the experience gained during the initial stage of the pilot and these encouraging responses it was established that:
  • the most appropriate time to deliver an Oration during a ceremony was after the candidate had restored his personal comforts and was seated in the Lodge
  • the greater the time spent in introducing the background to the Orations and explaining their purpose, the greater the support for the scheme
  • whilst Brethren were happy to receive more than one Oration during the same meeting, they were critical if a meeting was considered to be too lengthy or if they found the Oration too challenging
  • the manner in which the Oration was presented had a major affect on how it was perceived, and use of voice emphasis, rhythm, tone, pitch, volume, speed, influenced empathy and understanding
The pilot developed throughout the Province, and by December of the following year some thirty-five presentations of Orations had been made, of which three were delivered to neighbouring Provinces to support their launch of the scheme. Over six hundred Brethren had completed evaluation sheets and these provided valuable information for the Provincial Grand Master to advise the Pro Grand Master on the benefits of the Oration scheme. Results continued to prove encouraging:
  • the ratio of Brethren who considered the Orations to be worthwhile remained constant at 94%
  • 89% of the Brethren agreed with the ideas put forward in the Orations
  • 84% of the Brethren had not thought the language of the Oration to be difficult
  • 84% of the Brethren thought the Orations to be important to the work of the Lodge
  • 68% of the Brethren (generally younger) considered the Orations had generated further questions