When I was a King and a Mason -- a Master proven and skilled --
I cleared me ground for a Palace such as a King should build.
I decreed and dug down to my levels. Presently, under the silt,
I came on the wreck of a Palace such as a King had built.
There was no worth in the fashion -- there was no wit in the plan --
Hither and thither, aimless, the ruined footings ran --
Masonry, brute, mishandled, but carven on every stone:
"After me cometh a Builder. Tell him, I too have known."
Swift to my use in my trenches, where my well-planned ground-works grew,
I tumbled his quoins and his ashlars, and cut and reset them anew.
Lime I milled of his marbles; burned it, slacked it, and spread;
Taking and leaving at pleasure the gifts of the humble dead.
Yet I despised not nor gloried; yet, as we wrenched them apart,
I read in the razed foundations the heart of that builder's heart.
As he had risen and pleaded, so did I understand
The form of the dream he had followed in the face of the thing he had planned.
* * * * *
When I was a King and a Mason -- in the open noon of my pride,
They sent me a Word from the Darkness. They whispered and called me aside.
They said -- "The end is forbidden." They said -- "Thy use is fulfilled.
"Thy Palace shall stand as that other's -- the spoil of a King who shall build."
I called my men from my trenches, my quarries, my wharves, and my sheers.
All I had wrought I abandoned to the faith of the faithless years.
Only I cut on the timber -- only I carved on the stone:
"After me cometh a Builder. Tell him, I too have known!"
~ Brother Rudyard Kipling
~ Brother Rudyard Kipling
Kipling’s poem tells the story of king who, while he was preparing a site to build his palace, comes upon the ruins of one which had stood there in a past age; and while it was written 111 years ago, its message is still relevant to the Masons of today.
So often, we tend to look at our labors in Freemasonry as individual, unique. We don’t view what we do for our Lodges or for the Craft at large as part of a continuum, but rather as our own little snapshot in time, an island unto itself. As leaders, we are easily led into doing things because “we’ve always done it that way,” or dissuaded from breaking new ground because “no one came when we tried that before.” The king in Kipling’s poem was wise though. He seized upon the opportunity to utilize those things of value left behind, those stones marked with “After me cometh a builder. . .”
It is interesting to me that he didn’t build a carbon copy of what was there. He stuck to his plan, but salvaged as many of the pieces of the old palace that he could, changing and repurposing them to suit his vision for the future – cutting, resetting and even grinding some to dust.
Maybe we too need to do that. Our Lodges have gotten smaller, our attendance more sparse. If we continue down the same path, with the same reasons (excuses may be a better term) for doing the same old things in the same tired way, we will soon be no more.
Every Lodge should hold at least one open house this year – at the least, one. If you held one last year that didn’t bring too many people through the door, will you do it the same way this year? I hope not. Perhaps, you can call one of the Lodges that did well to find out what their successes were and try to build on them. After me cometh a builder. . .
Membership is the sine qua non of the Lodge. Without members, we have neither revenue, attendance nor, when you get right down to it, a reason to exist. Finding and attracting well-qualified men to our doors is a challenge that we must face head-on. We cannot save it for the next Master to attend to. It is our responsibility.
The king realized that he was not the end, but just a paragraph in the whole story. He knew that what he was doing was as important for the now as it was for the tomorrow. After me cometh a builder. . .
So what are we to do once we have attracted these men to our Lodges? If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard “These guys get their degrees then we never see them again,” or “They join the Lodge so they can get to Shrine or Scottish Rite,” I would have a bad back from dragging my enormously heavy bag of nickels around.
We have tools at our fingertips to make these new Masons want to come back to Lodge. The Mentor program, when used properly, can spark excitement in a new Mason. He can feel that he is part of something meaningful and bigger than himself as he learns about our system of government, our Grand Lodge and the great men of our past. The online Masonic education courses are designed so that new and old Masons alike can learn about our history, our law and or labors.
Also, the new Mason can earn the prestigious Master Builders award from the Grand Lodge by completing a series of tasks and projects both within his Lodge and his District, but the catch is that he can’t do it alone. The Mentor program plays a large role in his eligibility, and if your Lodge isn’t using it, you’re doing those Brothers – your future – a great disservice. After me cometh a builder . . .
We have challenges ahead of us for sure, and a lot of work on the trestleboard. Our Lodges should continue to work together, attending and supporting each other’s programs, even holding joint events. We can be greater than the sum of our parts if we are willing to learn from each other, refine or discard the things that are holding us back and boldly strive to offer new and exciting events for Masons and their families.
After us cometh a builder. Tell him we too have known.