The Anxiety of Presiding

- Michael R. Poll  
The Short Talk Bulletin, Vol. 99, October 2021, No. 10  

I well remember the first time that I sat in the East (it’s now over 40 years ago). I was comfortable in my knowledge of the ritual, but it felt as if everyone in the lodge was looking right at me, just waiting for some mistake.
When I was sitting in another station, I never felt as I did in the East. I spoke my part or did my duty and that was it. I also never pre-judged the Worshipful Master or sat with my eyes fixed on him ready to pounce on any possible error.
In retelling this feeling to older Past Masters, I was assured that most everyone feels as if they are under a microscope when serving in the hot seat. I was given assurance that my feelings were not warranted (but common), and that the lodge was supportive and committed to my success. But sitting up there was still a very unnerving and odd feeling.
As my year went on, I grew more comfortable in the East but I was never far from the anxiety of presiding. I felt the responsibility of the position. I was not only accountable for my actions, but I felt that my actions would reflect on every Mason who sat in that chair before me. I felt humbled. I knew that I would either preside in a manner to bring honor to the station and those before me, or I would not. I wanted to preside well.
I saw many others presiding in lodges and other Masonic bodies. It was always the same. You could see the pressure in their eyes. They were aware that what they were doing was either worthy or unworthy of the chair in which they were sitting. Yes, I have seen some who were clearly unworthy of their office. Their unworthiness was recognized by all who saw them in action. But most cared about their actions and wanted to do well.
Over the years, I have seen many presiding officers in many bodies. The most valuable ones known that they hold their office not only when sitting in their chair, but 24 hours a day. What they say and do, even far away from the body over which they preside, reflects on that body. They are the presiding officer no matter if they are actually presiding or not. In a world today where we see so much attention on personal rights, it should be made clear that rights and responsibilities go hand in hand. A presiding officer needs to understand that just because he can do something does not mean that he always should do it. How any Mason (especially one in leadership) acts outside of Masonry will often be understood by non-Masons as the nature of Freemasonry. We should try to be one who is respected inside and outside of Masonry.
If you are in line to be the Worshipful Master (or the presiding officer of any Masonic body) please keep a few things in mind. First and foremost, learn the ritual work that is needed for the office and dress accordingly. A Worshipful Master who does not know his ritual or is dressed like he just came to lodge from working outside, will project an attitude of not caring. If you don’t care, they won’t care.
Be familiar with the laws, rules, and regulations of not only the body over which you are presiding, but your Grand Lodge. You should be familiar with the history of your body and any particular customs that are important to the membership.
Even if you are shaking on the inside, you need to project an attitude of calm confidence. This sort of outward attitude can only come with practice. Do not preside unprepared. Your agenda for the year should have been made when you were early on as a Warden.
Practice, practice, practice.
Know what events are planned. Know what events can happen at any time (like degrees), and visit other lodges or bodies. Know what others do so that you can learn from good ideas, or mistakes, that you see. The bottom line is that presiding over any body of Freemasonry is significant.
You are not just filling a slot, and you should never consider the presiding officer as one who is just a figurehead. What you do and say matters. A figurehead does not matter. Be dynamic, not timid. Act with intelligent courage. You must show that you care deeply about your office and all of Masonry.
And, of course, don’t forget to smile.