Lemons to Haggis: A Hybrid Burns’ Night Supper

A Lesson In Leadership from Joshua Lodge No. 890

On the morning of January 12, 2022, I received a text message from a Brother apologizing that he wouldn’t attend the meeting because his mother contracted COVID-19 and he was worried about the increasing number of cases in the city. Joshua Lodge No. 890 had its first communication of 2022 scheduled for that evening! I immediately conferred with the Wardens, Bros. Yatri Trivedi and Eldad Neumeier. They, too, had concerns about meeting amid spiking cases. We weighed the pros and cons and decided to switch to a Zoom meeting. While I am generally opposed to changing anything at the last minute, I had just recovered from the omicron variant myself and fully shared these concerns.

Throughout our deliberations, Bro. Eldad made the case for turning lemons into lemonade. This would be an opportunity, he said, to personally reach out to Brothers to communicate the last-minute change, to show that we are working diligently with their best interests in mind and to hold a meeting with greater attendance than we would have in-person. The decision turned out to be the right one – Brothers were thrilled that we switched to a virtual format, and we hosted a productive Zoom meeting attended by several guests.

I asked that we also decide on the status of the next meeting which was scheduled to be a Burns’ Night Supper. After all, it would not show competent leadership to switch to a virtual meeting out of concern and then hold a dinner two short weeks later! The overwhelming response was that we hold an in-person meeting if we could do so safely. R∴W∴ Daniel Eckman suggested passing an iPad around to give Brothers an opportunity to celebrate with us virtually – the idea for a hybrid Burns’ Night Supper was born.

Photo: R∴W∴ Daniel Eckman presents the haggis

I, again, conferred with the Wardens. We traded countless ideas, ranging from hand-delivering meals to postponing the event to March out of concern it would jeopardize the upcoming Entered Apprentice in a month. We paused to ask ourselves, “Why do we even hold an annual Burn’s Night Supper?” We do it to celebrate the life and works of world-renowned Scottish poet Bro. Robert Burns who was born on January 25. Would we celebrate a Thanksgiving feast in April? We turned our focus towards holding the event as scheduled on January 26 and brainstormed on ways to do it safely. This was another opportunity to turn lemons to lemonade. The Wardens and I got to work and were reminded along the way that we very much enjoyed our joint approach to confronting challenges.

First, we crafted a nonjudgmental environment. I thanked the anonymous Brother for texting me his concerns and encouraged everyone to do the same. He could’ve easily said, “Sorry, bro. Something came up”, but he openly expressed something that many had been quietly pondering. We understand that everyone has different needs and must make the choices that are right for them.

Next, Bro. Yatri released an anonymous poll to again gauge interest for in-person versus virtual with the understanding that some attendees might have changed their minds over the course of the week.

Photo: W Asly Raymond comes bearing haggis

Then, we implemented an on-site testing requirement and even provided the testing kits. Attendees would agree to be tested and would only be admitted with a negative test. This turned out to be the biggest hassle. It was unreasonable to expect guests to obtain a same-day negative test in the middle of the week. It was also unreasonable to incorporate the costs of the tests into the ticket price. We received a small sliver of hope when the United States Postal Service announced that each U.S. residence would be eligible to order four free at-home COVID-19 tests. These did not turn up in time and we ultimately ended up purchasing and donating kits for the event. It was not cheap at $24 per pair, but it was well worth it.

Finally, R∴W∴ Daniel sourced the haggis and prepared cranachan from scratch, some of us donated bottles of Scotch to keep prices sensible, it was a beautifully awkward sight to see devices floating around so that our virtual guests could enjoy the festivities, and a great time was had by all!

Photo: Bro. Craig Wortherspoon, W Greg Merritt and Bro. Charles Washington

I share this story as a brief lesson in leadership. I often encourage talented, young Brothers “to not just do, but to think”: Why am I doing this? Why is it important? Could it be improved? Will people benefit from this? Can more people benefit? At Joshua Lodge No. 890, we put a great deal of thought and effort into prioritizing the safety of our members while working to securely deliver a pleasant tradition that we all love and enjoy. As Masons, we are all builders. When we are not just mindlessly implementing a set of rules but are actively engaged and putting the needs of our members first, we can in fact build on truly remarkable and inventive solutions to modern problems.

W∴ Asly Raymond
Editor, Craftsmen Online
Joshua Lodge No. 890