The 3-Legged Stool

My grandfather had a few head of milking cows on his farm. I can recall going out to the barn with him on occasion and watching him milk them by hand. He had this milking stool he would pull up alongside the cow, put the milk can under the cow, sit down on the stool and begin to milk the cow. This stool was a “3-legged stool.”

Have you seen a 3-legged stool? Do you know what I am referring to? Here is a bit of additional information about this stool - probably much more than you want to know.

A three-legged stool is a wonder of physics. It is more stable than a four-legged stool and can sit stably on an uneven surface, as the ends of the three legs are always in the same geometric plane. Hence, the probable reason it became so popular among dairy farmers. Most stools have legs that are angled slightly outward. This creates friction in three opposing directions which adds to the stability. A well-designed three legged stool also positions each of the legs equidistant from each of the other two legs, creating a perfect triangle. That is, each of the three angles is 60 degrees. The stool will become increasingly less stable if one leg is pulled closer to another, as it changes the weight distribution and the inherent balance and tension amongst the legs that created the stability.

What else do we know about this stool? The obvious answer is how stable is this stool when one or more of the legs is longer or shorter than the other? It is not stable at all. The stool becomes unreliable to sit on, unsafe and therefore unusable.

Let’s now completely switch our attention to the Lodge. Instead of addressing the possible faults of the Lodge, let’s look at the characteristics of a good Lodge. Take a moment and reflect on the Lodges with which you are familiar. I’m certain that everyone can point out a Lodge that they consider a “good Lodge” or a “successful Lodge.” Now, think about why you feel the Lodge is good and successful. Do you have those characteristics in your mind?

In my opinion, a Lodge that appears to be working successfully has three main characteristics: it has good visibility within the community; it has programs for members; and it seems to do well with ritualistic work. Metaphorically speaking, again in my opinion, it can be said that the Masonic Lodge is supported by a “Three- Legged Stool.” Each leg of the stool represents one of the three essential elements needed for a successful Lodge.

I will even go so far as to say that if a Lodge, at their Stated Meetings, is not talking or doing something pertaining to each of these three legs, then it really is no longer functioning as a Lodge. The Lodge is either dead or it is dying a slow death.

It is not the intent of this talk to go into great detail with examples of things that might fall into each category (or leg of the stool). Lodges might even consider scheduling meetings in which to brainstorm or come up with subjects relative to their specific environment for each category.

Some quick examples come to mind though. How about: A Night With The Clergy; Wives & Widows Night; Father Son/Daughter Program; Recognition of Local Fire, Police & First Responders; Recognition of School Team/Scholastic Achievement, etc.; Lodge Visitation To A Church; Lodge Anniversary/ Charter Night; Commonly Mispronounced Words In The Ritual; or, A Ritual Jeopardy Game. The possibilities are endless. All that it takes is some willingness and enthusiasm to build the legs of your Lodge Stool.

Did you notice the “seat” of the 3-legged stool? Obviously, the seat of the stool is important in making the stool functional. As important as the seat is to the stool, so is communication to each of the essential Lodge elements. The best laid plans, programs and events of a Lodge are doomed to fail without effective communication.

Each Lodge should have a Communication Plan for their major events. What needs to be communicated? To whom will it be communicated? How will it be communicated? When will it be communicated? Who will communicate it?

Essentially, the Lodge will need to know how to effectively communicate to their members and to communicate externally using the media. This has been the model of the Lodge for many, many years. To test the validity of my metaphor with the 3-legged stool, take a look back in the years around the Second World War, the 1940s. Prior to that, Lodges were well -known throughout the community. The Masonic Fraternity was well-known throughout the United States.

Lodges provided for their members, their widows and orphans. Men made financial sacrifices to become members. But, during the war years and thereafter, many Lodges focused only on the ritualistic aspect. They neglected the other two legs of the stool. What happens to the 3-legged stool when one leg becomes longer than the other two? The stool collapses. When the Lodge focuses on degree work only, that essential element becomes longer than the other two and the Lodge will essentially collapse or die. I would submit that as exactly what we are seeing in large part throughout the Fraternity today.

To implement an effective 3-legged stool whereby a Lodge may be deemed “successful,” that is to say they have no shortage of candidates; they are known in their community; and, they have meaningful programs for their members, may take some work. But, once a well balanced Lodge is in place, it should become easier to keep it balanced. What is needed to create the culture of the Lodge, the stable 3-legged stool, are leaders who are energetic and enthusiastic. Leaders who are inspired to lead, setting goals and objectives for the Lodge, daring to make a difference. I wish you all success as you build your “3-Legged Stool.”

C. Michael Watson, Grand Secretary

Grand Lodge of Ohio F.&A.M.

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