12th March 2011
How we ran a White Table event
Our purpose in running a white table event was threefold: to attract and interest possible candidates; to let our ladies see the sort of thing we get up on lodge nights; to bring some positive publicity concerning the lodge and masonry to the attention of many people who might influence future candidates.
The event also had the effect of involving nearly all members and bringing about even greater closeness and lodge spirit. The success of the event made all members very proud, even those few who could not actually attend.
We anticipated that we could handle no more than 110 people dining although in fact the limitation turned out to be more the number of seats in the temple. In the end, 109 people expressed their intention to attend. However, a number of factors caused this number to be reduced to a more manageable 96 on the day. We decided to invite both ladies and men non-masonic guests. In the event, a number of masonic guests also attended, in many cases bringing their ladies with them. Some brother masons from other lodges attended together with candidates for their own lodges. We also invited a select number of distinguished brethren and their ladies.
We printed invitation cards for brethren to hand out to possible attendees and prepared a colour brochure on the lodge and on masonry for male non-masonic guests. We also prepared a pack for each guest which consisted of a welcome page, a list of famous freemasons, a pictorial quiz which the list would help with and a translation of one of the poems we used, Bro. Burns’ John Anderson, my Jo.
We collected – hiring or borrowing – the necessary kit and rehearsed with it at least twice, primarily to ensure that we could set it in place quickly when needed. We used a laptop pc, a pc projector, a large screen, a music stand used as a podium and a table for the pc operator and slide checker. We also ensured we knew exactly how the various lights in the temple were controlled and wrote down how we wanted the lights at every point.
Although most of the words were to be read, we still rehearsed. Reading out loud to an audience is not as easy as it seems and it was very important to manage the transitions from one talk to the next. Even then, some of the speakers were not as audible as we would have liked. Speakers must practise by reading their bit aloud. They are bound to find passages that they need to change to fit their own style and they must realise that projection of the voice is different from normal conversational speech.
Formal lodge meeting
Although a white table meeting can be held on a date quite different from the regular lodge meeting date, we decided to hold a brief lodge meeting just before the white table. This, we felt, increased the mystique and enabled guests to feel they were genuinely entering a temple set out for a lodge meeting – as indeed they were with the exception that the tracing boards were face inwards.
(The timing we give here fitted our needs but other timings could be used.) TheBrethren were asked to enter the temple by 3.10 pm. Brethren clothed inside the temple so that their regalia was not on display before the white table – purely for dramatic reasons. The brethren signed in at the Secretary’s table instead of the usual Tyler’s table outside the door of the lodge.
All brethren were told that latecomers could not be admitted to the formal lodge meeting as time was precious. In the event, three brethren turned up late and were not admitted. The Master drove the meeting along at a brisk pace and closed the meeting at 4.00 pm. This was on time according to our plans.
Meanwhile, all non-masonic guests arrived and were entertained to tea and cakes. They were asked to sign against their names on a pre-printed list of guests. The seating plan was explained to everyone and guests introduced to each other.
Procession out and in
At the end of the formal lodge meeting, brethren stayed in their seats while the Master and his Wardens processed out. Guests then were invited to enter the temple and take their pre-assigned seats, next to their hosts. The Master with his lady accompanied by his Wardens and their ladies processed in much as the normal way of lodge meetings. From this moment on, brethren were told that there should be no salutes, nor any peculiarly Masonic words or signs. If a Brother felt his hand and arm going into a salute as a reflex action, he was to turn the movement into the Sign of Reverence!
The temple was very full and to cope with this, we had a seating plan showing where everyone was to sit. Thus, in the formal lodge meeting, there were some unusual seating arrangements as the plan was designed for running the white table!
We had, as usual, what we call ‘the blue corner’ which accommodated Grand Officers and their ladies together with two ladies who were Grand Officers in women’s freemasonry. On the Master’s left we sat the IPM as usual with his lady but also the Master’s lady, the father of the lodge and his lady and an “Eastern prompter” – a brother delegated responsibility for prompting and generally looking after things at that end.
The Secretary and Treasurer sat as normal but with their ladies beside them and the Wardens, Deacons and Inner Guard also had their ladies beside them. As during the white table we erected a large projector screen in front of the Senior Warden’s pedestal, we had pre-arranged seats to which to move the Senior Warden, Junior Deacon and Inner Guard with their ladies.
(See the plan)
Stage directions and properties
The lectern was in the SW and brethren speaking from the lectern were urged to start moving towards it immediately they were introduced to keep things moving along. We tried to mix in a number of different ‘events’ to keep the interest alive – ritual from memory, talks illustrated by slides, humour, a mock procession of a very distinguished brother and some poems during one of which guests joined in the chorus.
The PC and projector were set up on a table in the centre of the lodge and this, together with the screen, necessitated a short break. In the event, this was no more than four or five minutes and guests were highly entertained by the brethren’s attempt to avoid smashing one of the chandeliers with the screen.
Speakers were told not check their slides but continue with their talk willy-nilly. The slide operator was accompanied by a slide checker who ensured that the slide showing at any time was the correct one. The organist was asked to prepare special music for various events and particularly to cover the setting up of the screen and table.
The ‘script’ was then followed, the process being managed by the Master, the Chaplain and the Secretary (although it could as well have been any other two brethren.) With two exceptions, nothing in the script is ritual. The exceptions are the excerpt from the Charge to the Initiate and the Long Closing. Both of these were carried from memory. The rest was read. As most was not ritual, Brethren were asked to feel free to make changes to their parts to make them easier to read or to suit their own style.(View the script)
At the end the Master processed out accompanied by his lady, the Wardens and their ladies, the very distinguished guest, Grand Officers and their ladies. All guests were then asked to leave the temple enticed by free drinks set up outside. In the event, the white table took just over the hour which surprised us as we thought it would take longer. By the time we got everyone outside so that the dining room could be set up, it was 5.30 pm. Dinner was actually brought forward from the planned time and we dined at 6.45 pm.
Brethren were reminded that there should be no fire! It is remarkable how habits form, triggered by customs and practices.
Brethren and guests were seated again according to a table plan. The DC called the room to order and the Master and his lady entered, accompanied by the very distinguished guest, to usual handclaps. The Master gavelled; Grace was given and dinner served. The menu was chosen to be acceptable to ladies. Special place cards had been designed and printed for the Festive Board.
The Master took wine between courses with his Wardens and their Ladies and “with you all, requesting you to remain seated.”
While coffee was served, the brethren and guests were entertained by a trio (Soprano, tenor and pianist) from Charles Court Opera, in ‘Arias of fun’, for 20 minutes.
Toasts were restricted to Her Majesty the Queen, The Grand Master, The Provincial Grand Master, The Master (no speech but a response from the Master), The visitors (a short speech with a short response from a guest.)
We organised a raffle which made a satisfactory amount for charity. We chose to ask one or two brethren, the caterer and some ladies to bake a cake each. We raffled six splendid cakes.
The evening finished at 9.45 pm.