Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Change…It Does a Body Good

Since participating in the "Table Talk" on Masonic Central, I have been thinking long and hard about an idea that slipped out during recording. The idea of whether the Fraternity needs to focus heavily on the past. I mentioned that we need to focus less on Ben Franklin and George Washington and more about the future. Oddly enough, last week, Brother Ed King posted an article called “The Old Webmaster and much needed change.” Let’s just say I was shocked.

In the article, he states that a young Junior Warden (not to be egotistical but me, maybe?) wants to change the way in which the Lodge is run, such as raising dues, making men wait longer for degrees, and focusing on making the ritual great. The Old Webmaster states that maybe there is something wrong at home. What, what, what, what?! Attempting to change how the Lodge is run, but it is the individual brother's problems at home?!

There is no lying that Freemasonry is in trouble; our numbers are declining and we have tried different programs to bring brothers into the Fraternity. Grand Lodges are attempting to bring us back to glory with some succeeding well while some are failing miserably. Yet, the problem has nothing to do with the Lodge, but an individual brother and his problems at home?

I would like to focus on what we, as Freemasons, must do in these trying times. During the Golden Age of Fraternity, our numbers swelled, we built Lodges and massive buildings and charities galore. It is no accident that the tallest building in Chicago from 1890 to 1895 was a Masonic building. After World War II, membership in civic organizations boomed as they had during the Golden Age. These were times of great building.

During these crests in membership, we built huge institutions and great projects. Then, the Fraternity would hit a trough and it was by maintenance that we stayed together just as any great structure but lately, there has been little preservation paid to these great buildings, both as institutions and as actual physical presences. We have entered a rut, but the dream is not lost.

Even in talking of gloom and doom, there are flickers of hope. In my Grand Lodge, we are seeing a resurgence of Masonic interest. My Grand Lodge has donated $65 million dollars to the University of Minnesota for the Masonic Cancer Center, the largest gift ever for the University. Grand Lodges, such as my own, are discovering the power of the Internet yet we continue to hear that the old ways are the best ways.

We do need to make changes, nevertheless. Many Lodges are still dying throughout the country and their buildings are being sold off without a second thought. Many Lodges continue upon old worn-out programs without understanding the expectations of new brothers. Instead of covering our eyes and saying that everything is okay, we need the facts brought to light. Freemasonry is an ancient organization yet it has been so successful because it is able to morph and change with the times while maintaining its basic components. When the Masonic Lodges began to meet, they met in taverns. Afterward, in the United States, the rise of the temperance movement made what was once a normal part of Lodge life, alcohol, completely banned in many Grand Lodge jurisdictions. Even today, these temperance laws are still on the books in some Grand Lodge constitutions.

It is time to get our heads out of the sand and assume that Freemasonry will weather the newest storm as it has before. Unlike what happened during other low periods, the maintenance to our great creations has not been kept up; if we aren’t careful, we are doomed to fail.

The brothers of my Lodge and I developed some suggestions we want to see in Lodge. These suggestions to maintain and continue the greatness of our Fraternity are:

1. More Masonic Education
2. Strong Ritual
3. Meals before Lodge
4. Mentoring of New Brothers

I have only listed four proposals that my brothers and I thought of but we have many more. Honestly though, the desire to change things does not mean problems at home or that it is a substitute for something missing in life, brothers seek change to make the Fraternity their own, to make Freemasonry better and to maintain what we have already built. Masonry is a progressive science and if we are to survive, we must adapt. If we don't invite young brothers into the fold, they will be "Waiting on the World to Change".


Howard Roark said...

I really liked what you had to say in this post. It shows that you are doing some very critical thinking about the situation.

Let me ask you a question. Why will a man pay $90 a month for Karate lessons but whines if you raise his lodge dues to $90 a year?

It's a value proposition. He obviously values Karate lessons far more than Freemasonry. Why?

The answer to this simple question is the answer to the membership problem.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, Br. Ed King has has brought out this "argument" before. Nothing like a bit of homebrew psychology to make problems vanish.

IMO, your post here is very timely and astute. Keep it up.

Dean said...

I am glad my Masonic Central program sparked your thoughts. You have some great stuff there. I really don't agree with Ed King on that post either. I was thinking the same as you. Change is a constant... We do not need to change who we are or do a 180 turn or anything, but yes we need to address our value proposition to new members. Many of the things we talk about were done 100 years ago in masonry and have stopped. Look back in your grand lodge archives and just look at some of the things we did in the past. In fact it could be argued that we want to return to the masonry of old, from the relaxed version we now have. Who is changing anything? We are just suggesting returning to our roots. And adding a few modern things like communicating via e-mail and subtle things like that.

David said...

Isn't there room for variety in Freemasonry? Can't there be a Lodge with dues of, perhaps, as much as $250 but with great meals and, perhaps, recreational facilities in the same district, even, as a Lodge dedicated to donuts after meetings and keeping dues at $50?

Is there room for a Lodge that takes the ritual extraordinarily seriously and makes a point of pride in attempting to always improve it along side a Lodge that performs the ritual well, but believes the heart of the Lodge is in some other activity to which their brothers are particularly dedicated?

Can we disagree about what our ideal Lodge would be like without disagreeing about what Freemasonry is meant to be?

Robert G. Davis said...

Excellent post! And good comments. I agree with all of your protocols. The key to success in Masonry is knowing one's product, knowing who is duly and truly prepared, understanding the purpose of initiation and the conditions upon which transformation occurs; and being consciously aware of the nature of male association and bonding.

I never worry much about what state, national or global statistics might be showing insofar as trends in overall member numbers are concerned. I'm concerned about my lodge, its egregore, and the quality I get from my experience.

Show me a lodge that is focused on delivering meaningful ritual in which the allegories are understood, consistently presenting and sharing knowledge in Masonry, and offering a quality social venue every time it meets, and I'll show you a lodge that is growing year in and year out.

It's all about the lodge. The renaissance occurs one lodge at a time.

burntloafer said...

Nick, I am pretty sure I had read that old chestnut a few years ago. I can't place it by memory, but I will search my computer tonight to see if I still have it.

You know for a fact that I value traditions. Having said that, if there is no change there will be no growth.

But Br. Davis states it very well, above.

Nice blog, again, Nick.

The Palmetto Mason said...

That is a good article, Millennial, but we all need to remember that "change for the sake of change" is not necessarily good for the body. Freemasonry is a slow moving entity - I like to think of it as a super tanker that is hard to turn - and the long term consequences of proposed changes need to be thought about long and hard.

The effects of changes made today may not be visible for many, many years. If changes are made in haste and then have negative consequences that are not seen until until many years later, then it may be hard to get the super tanker back on course in a timely manner.

Susan said...

Have you been to St. Paul Lodge No. 3? They are very sincere about ritual, fellowship, and mentoring of new Masons. You might find some like-minded brothers there. One of its members helped start the Masonic Restoration Foundation.

Tom Accuosti said...

There is no lying that Freemasonry is in trouble; our numbers are declining and we have tried different programs to bring brothers into the Fraternity.

MF - is a decline in numbers your definition of "trouble"? That's easy to fix - let's just open the doors and allow anyone to join.

No, wait - some people don't like that idea, either.

I don't agree that the fraternity is in trouble. I don't agree that it is imperative to maintain a lot of historic money pits. I do agree that there are issues facing the fraternity that are not all a result of a brother's home life :-\

Before somebody can assume there is trouble, they should define their priorities, and then ask themselves if those priorities agree with what the rest of the fraternity seems to want.

Howard Roark said...

"The 21st century Free-Mason is a person that tempers Reason with Common Sense. He is Spiritual but his mind remains open and unclouded by dogma. With stoic-like resolve he faces the challenges of life.. His sword is raised to defend the weak from the powerful, and to preserve Human Rights, Equality, and Justice. The Trowel in his hand is used to build communities based on mutual respect and tolerance. He discovers the sublime Truth of reality in Nature and through it discovers his own Virtue." - Bro. Jeff Peace, GOUSA

Stewvan said...

Brother, I think your are spot on with your observations.
The very fact that you are seeing scandel after scandel, proves the fraternity has lost its focus.
Sure there are individual lodges who have managed to stay the course, but I fear they may e the exception rather than the rule anymore.
Memebership, however, is not necessarily where the problem lies. it is more a problem of quality. I think that the lodges in this country have focussed so heavily on keeping up their roles, that their West gates have all but been abolished. I think lodges should triple their dues, screen agressively and create a leaner, meaner masonry that is about masonic education and the path to enlightenment.
Stand tall inyour quest you are new enough to see the falacies. Don't get quagmired with the brothers, who will argue for the sake of arguement. Effect real change.
The new generation of masons, with the help of the older and wiser "grey backs" will restore the fraternity to relevance and tolerance.
I applaud your efforts, and commend your courage.