Meandering Around the Grange Way of Life with Walter Boomsma
During the earliest stages of the first
degree, the Assistant Steward explains who has approached the gate. “Men and
women seeking employment, who desire to assist in our work.” It might be
interesting that he does not suggest the alarm comes from “Men and women who
wish to join our order.” I suspect this distinction was not accidental when the
ritual was first being written.
In a true sense, the earliest Granges didn’t conduct membership drives, they sought people who desired “to assist in our work.” It is significant that “work” and “labor” are words that appear frequently in our ritual. In the opening of the Grange, “The hour of labor has arrived and the work of another day demands our attention…” During the closing of the Grange, the Master inquires of the Overseer, “Are the labors of the day complete?” When the overseer declares “They are…” the Master continues, “As is there is no more work for us today, the steward will see that the implements are properly secured for the night.” Those implements are symbolic of the work. There might be a pattern here.
Returning to the first degree, note the Steward isn’t fully satisfied with the Assistant Steward’s answer that these strangers are seeking employment and desire to assist in our work. He further asks, “Are they unconstrained and willing?” and “Have they been tried and found worthy?” These questions are asked and answered quickly and it’s easy to miss the point. There are some standards and expectations of those who wish to be called “Granger.” Without much detail regarding what those expectations are, the Steward explains “None but those worthy and well-qualified can enter here…”
For those who have been members for some
time, the degree lessons can be an important reminder that while the Grange is
a great fraternity, the work is supposed to come first. Read slowly and
deliberately the Overseer’s explanation to the candidates.
“Friends, the Grange is a great fraternity, and the lessons of its ritual are expressed by the use of symbols drawn from the field, the farm, and the farm home. The first four degrees of our Order are based upon the seasons of the year, each conveying its appropriate lesson. You are about to enter the mysteries of the First Degree, symbolic of springtime on the farm, when all Nature is bursting into newness of life. The wild flowers are making the woods and the hills glorious with their beauty; orchards are in bloom, and the air is redolent with their perfume; plowing the fields has begun and soon the sower will go forth to sow.”
“Additional laborers and maids are needed for work in field and household, and we accept you as willing workers, now in waiting for the tasks to which you will be assigned: For in our fraternity there is work for all, and the idler has no place among Patrons of Husbandry.” (Bold print for emphasis.)
Valley Grange is not, I suspect, the only Grange that has a significant number of “Grange Friends” – people who for various reasons have not become members but are willing workers when it comes to specific programs and efforts. They are people who are seeking employment and desire to assist us in our work. They will commit to the work but are unwilling to commit to membership. The reasons are many but we might well summarize that they are willing but not “unrestrained.” We admire and respect them for their honesty.
If we’re going to be equally honest, being a Granger is not so easy. It requires commitments that can be difficult to keep, particularly in today’s busy and fast-paced society. It might be fair to say that you can do the work without being a member but you cannot be a member without doing the work. For a time in my life, I was affiliated with an organization that included attendance requirements and a monthly report of community service hours. from every member. Most members did not find this a hardship–the requirements were the reasons we joined.
Let us not forget that the Grange Way of Life has some significant rewards. As the Chaplain explains to the first degree candidates, “Happy is the man that getteth understanding; for the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold.”
I encourage you to borrow a manual and review the lessons of the first degree so that you “getteth understanding.” The Overseer asks what wages the candidates expect and the Assistant Steward reinforces the Chaplain’s words by replying, “Wisdom not silver, Knowledge, rather than fine gold.” Candidates should be hearing the call to work and wisdom long before they experience the first degree. This is not an organization where you pay your dues and attend an occasional meeting. “There is work for all, and the idler has no place among the Patrons of Husbandry.”
Any degree or ritual quotations are from the forty-sixth edition of the 2013 Subordinate Grange Manual or the most recent edition of the Pomona Grange Manual. The views and opinions expressed in “Exploring Traditions” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official doctrine and policy of the Grange. Information about the book “Exploring Traditions—Celebrating the Grange Way of Life” can be found at Abbot Village Press, on Amazon, or by contacting the author (walterboomsmaonlinecom) .