Freemasonry is a society. I know that this phrase is both simple and obvious but it is important to understand this concept. Masonry seeks to create a cohesive band of brothers and joins together many parts of our world. We are viewed as brothers; not based on our race, color, religion, national origin but only that we are members of this band. Freemasonry spans borders and joins brother to brother no matter where he lives. The most important part of all this is that a brother joins into the Lodge, becoming a part of the Lodge and a part of Freemasonry around the world.
A man may ask to become a part of our Fraternity for many reasons. He might know a current brother or is related to a brother. He might seek to be a part of a charitable organization. He may want to learn more about the world. He might want to be a part of a Fraternity and is looking for friends. What is common in all of these is the human connection that must exist for the activity to be effective. Yet, there seems to be an obsessive streak to do everything alone by using the term “self-improvement”.
I understand the statement that we are a self-improvement society. The fact that moral lessons are inculcated in our ritual cannot be ignored but I think the “self” of self-improvement has been given far too much emphasis. Self-improvement is not something you can do by yourself. In Freemasonry, a brother’s character is improved through the interaction with other brothers, whether it is the ritual, helping others or just getting together for coffee (or in my case, tea). We are taught to help each other out by applauding publicly a brother’s successes or quietly admonishing another brother’s missteps. Too often, however, brothers are treated as individuals only instead of being accepted and absorbed into Lodge.
The biggest problem that I see with how new brothers are treated is that we don’t explain to them our expectations as a group. Many Master Masons merely become an individual member of the Lodge. They join and become flies on the wall. We are failing them by not giving them tasks, instructions, in general, by making them included in our shared Lodge. Unfortunately, the solutions to the question of why member retention is so low center around what the new brothers want without any regard to what we want from them.
When I first joined, the sitting Worshipful Master of my Lodge asked me to take part in different Lodge activities. Although I was never required to do anything I didn’t want to do, I was strongly encouraged to take part in as many activities as I could. I was told what I was expected to do for the Lodge. How did this affect me? I became more involved in the Lodge, which, in my opinion, has made me a better brother and a better person. Now, I am at every meeting, participating as fully as I can, trying to help my Lodge and Grand Lodge grow and helping to spread what I believe is the greatest organization the world has ever seen. When someone notices my Masonic ring, I will immediately state that I am brother in Corinthian Lodge #67. I want people to know that I am not just a brother but a brother in my Lodge.
I title this post after the famous axiom of the Musketeers in Alexandre Dumas’ famous series of books as a rallying cry for our brothers. We must remember to seek each other’s guidance, to give good counsel, and to work together to build our great societal structures and improve our communities. We need our brothers to improve ourselves. My advice to new brothers is this (a phrasing original delivered by President Kennedy which I have modified), “Ask not what your Lodge can do for you; ask what you can do for your Lodge.”