The National Grange was formed in 1867, two years after the wrenching Civil War that took more lives than any war since. Mired in mistrust of neighbor, impoverished by outdated farming practices throughout the south, the Grange served as a platform for improving farming practices and farmers economics while building trust.
The Great Falls Grange became a subordinate Grange in 1920, and then opened its Grange building on May 4, 1929, after local fundraising and taking out a loan. This occurred right at the time that the stock market collapsed, ushering in the Great Depression, causing pricing to become highly volatile. Farmers in our community sought the Grange membership as a way to anchor our community in authentic values and mutual trust. We look to this coming Sunday, May 4, Great Falls Day, to explore the story of our local Grange as symbol of old-fashioned country neighborliness - from 1 to 5 pm (at the Grange, 9818 Georgetown Pike).
According to the National Grange website, “For generations, people have credited their involvement in the Grange with personal growth, character development, leadership skills and confidence. The Grange structure allows everyone an equal voice, and nurtures skills and values through a structured program…” (www.nationalgrange.org)
Trust is cultivated like a fine garden. Members of the Grange pass through seven degrees of belonging or levels of initiation into fellowship. The meaning of their seven degrees has as much relevance to us today as it had for local farmers searching for economic stability close to a century ago.
Each local Grange initiates its members through the first four degrees, which celebrates the essential virtue inherent in the passage of each season.
The first degree honors spring. Remember the onset of this past spring? We were having snowstorms as the daffodils peeked their heads above the ground? Did you ever wonder whether spring would actually come? Did you have a tinge of fear that it might not? The first virtue is Faith. Having faith that the unseen is there and will manifest. What was planted years ago or months ago or weeks ago will cultivate under the soil and spring forth at its appointed time. The one with faith can be a beacon for others through uncertain times.
The second degree honors summer. Remember last summer - The heat, the dry spell, the stinkbugs? The noble farmer works with Hope. Caring for his crop. Hoping that his efforts will lead to solid results, in spite of all that can go wrong. Keeping an attitude of hope inspires the farmer to maintain the best practices, even when things look particularly hard or discouraging. Remaining steady in one’s efforts, regardless of how things seem, hoping for the best, is a market of a person of character.
The third degree honors autumn. The farmer is guided to harvest with Charity (a.k.a. Love). As the farmer harvest his crop, he is guided to work from a spirit of love and acceptance in his heart. By not judging, he will harvest all the fruits of his labor.
The fourth degree honors winter. The farmer can rely on his storage crops to make it through the winter. The fields are brown and barren. The farmer is guided to maintain a spirit of Fidelity. This is an important guidance. When things look empty and dark, it does not mean that all is lost. It merely signifies that things are happening out of site. Being loyal as the fields rest and things look barren is the mark of a person of character.
Only when the Granger has mastered the first four degrees can he or she participate in the fifth degree at the State level and sixth and seventh degrees at the National level. The virtue of Hope (Pomona) is symbolized by a basket of fruit in the fifth degree. The virtue of Charity, symbolized by a bouquet of flower, is the sixth degree, conferred at the National Level. The virtue of Faith is the seventh and highest degree, symbolized by a bunch of wheat, which does not bend with the moving light but grows straight up to the heavens. This is a message of stewardship. Growing as straight as the wheat, not being swayed by fads, or contaminated by flashy promises, the farmer, uniquely deserving of being steward of the earth, is called to secure for us a future that is sustainable.
Come explore the Grange history on Great Falls Day this Sunday.