By Walter Boomsma
Merriam-Webster provides a simple definition of “ritual” as a formal ceremony or series of acts that is always performed in the same way. Ritual creates consistency and people value consistency. Consistency diminishes uncertainty and leads to trust. Trust in turn leads to influence.
Even if we haven’t committed Grange Ritual to memory, all but the newest members know what “The hour of labor has arrived and the work of another day demands our attention…” means and at least in general, what will happen next. In ceremonies soon taking place around the state, “Since God placed man on earth, agriculture has existed…” will signal the beginning of officer installation ceremonies.
I suspect one of the reasons our founders developed extensive ritual was to create consistency. During the rapid explosion of the Grange, it certainly became important to achieve some level of consistency. They were so successful that to this day, many people’s impression of the Grange reflects it’s beginnings. That is not a bad thing, certainly. Of course, there is the obvious downside that consistency means we stop paying attention and things become automatic.
There once was a long term member who had served as chaplain for many years. When she spoke, it was a rapid-fire monotone that, quite frankly, my brain could not keep up with. Conversely, I will always remember certain portions of the degrees I was taught because they were given by another long term member who seemed to genuinely enjoy sharing the lessons. (Let’s not forget that the degrees are lessons and we are teaching!) To this day, I can see and hear him in a large part because he was a teacher and not just a reciter. In the truest form of the word, what we call “the ritual” is about consistency and communication. Remembering the words is one thing; understanding the words is something else. What we say should be a reflection of what we do.
During officer installations, the master is invited to “open with an original address” but “should close with the following…” That’s when we hear those familiar words “Since God placed man on earth…” Then, after reminding us of the importance of agriculture, the installing master shares some thoughts that I’ve often wished were part of every meeting. “The Order of the Patrons of Husbandry is the only association whose teachings accompany its members in their daily pursuits.” If you have the good fortune to attend or participate in an officer installation, let those words be a trigger and pay attention! The value of the Grange is not limited to meetings, ritual, and being at the Grange Hall. The value of the Grange can be found in our “daily pursuits.”
There are many reasons the Grange was so successful in its early history—one is found in the fact that the “lessons of the Grange” were truly a way of life and it was a way of life that had appeal and value. Being a Granger was relevant not only at the hall but also in the field and community.
During a recent interview, I was asked about the relevance of the Grange today given some of the changes in farming and agriculture. The interviewer seemed to be suggesting that those changes would, in fact, be a significant opportunity for the Grange. Several community/subordinate Granges in Maine are demonstrating that truth because their very existence and program are lightening and elevating the labor of their farmer members. Other community/subordinate Granges have recognized that our existence and program is not at all limited to farmers.
I often describe the Grange as “steeped in tradition, but relevant for today” in a large part because the teachings of the Grange are no less needed now than 150 years ago. “Honesty is inculcated, education nurtured, temperance supported, brotherly love cultivated, and charity made an essential characteristic.” Just looking at that one sentence—do individuals and society in general have a need for those teachings? Are the values of the Grange any less important and relevant today?
If you remain unconvinced, fast forward to the master’s challenge at the close of installation. “And now, Patrons, carry with you a feeling of compassion for those who strive to make the world a better place. Let us work hand in hand for the good of our neighbors. Let us remember that those with trials and tribulations need our help most of all.”
Any degree or ritual quotations are from the forty-sixth edition of the 2013 Subordinate 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.