Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I Propose...

I’m going to make a proposal. It's not a modest proposal so your children are safe. I've been thinking about what could really help solve the Craft’s woes in regards to membership. Unfortunately, everyone believes that the problem is that we aren't known to the outside world enough or that we’re not taking our Gentle Craft seriously enough. I would argue, however, that we don’t have a raising problem or an education problem but a retention problem.

I have been pouring over old Annual Communications returns in my Grand Jurisdiction and the numbers don’t lie. During the 1980’s and 1990’s, the number of raisings was very consistent; the only difference was the number of withdrawn and stricken brothers. That trend continues to this day. Sure, we still have a number of brothers that are passing away but that number is outstripped by the number of demits and NPD’s. Looking at how our Masonic fraternity is designed, I think I may have found one aspect that needs to be addressed.

I began my search by looking at how other Grand Jurisdictions and different rituals deal with its members. I struck onto this article by W.Bro. Alex G. Davidson. What is striking about the Swedish Rite is that it is a complete system of degrees like the Scottish Rite. A brother seeks advancement to the next set of degrees. Attending each set of degrees takes years. When a brother is voted and allowed to enter the next series of degrees, he is no longer a member of his former lodge but becomes a member of this new lodge. What really struck me was not how the degrees were arranged but how the position of Master was dealt with.

In many American Lodges, the number of members is in the hundreds, especially in city lodges. Unfortunately for most brothers raised, they will never be able to sit in the Oriental Chair. In fact, the probability is very, very low. That means that at any given time, a brother who joins a lodge will never be able to serve as a leader and will never receive the title of Past Master. And yes, we hear all the time that not everyone should lead but spare me, there are many brothers that should be leading in the East but don’t because their timing stunk.

Here’s my solution, the style of the American lodge is to be huge, so why not split lodges in half, or even better, make it easier to start a new lodge? In Minnesota, it takes 25 Masons to start a lodge. This may seem like a low number but in fact, to get 25 Masons to initially agree on a new concept is not as easy as it sounds. So here is what I propose, reduce the number of Masons required to open a lodge to the constitutional minimum. In Minnesota, that number would be 12 because 12 is the number of required officers in a lodge. Sister lodges could loan their equipment to the new lodge until they have the money to purchase their own. This change would require a change in our Code but I think it would provide more benefits than would create more liabilities.

Making it easier to start a lodge would also give our buildings more tenants to help defray the cost of property taxes and other costs associated with owning and operating a building. Sadly, we see many of our cherished temples sit empty for the majority of the month, our lights darkened, and the halls collecting dust waiting to be sold from lack of interest. Instead, each temple should have at least two lodges meeting in it during every month. And yes, I believe even regional centers should have two lodges. If the population can support at least one lodge of 50 brothers, it can support two lodges of 25. Having more lodges with smaller numbers would provide more brothers with more opportunity to serve in leadership roles.

Of course, I realize that this idea has its detractors. The number of lodges that close has leveled off thankfully but many lodges still consider the idea of consolidation and merger, on a yearly basis in some cases. It could also be argued that smaller may not always be better. A lodge that is smaller has less financial resources to weather economic downturns. Also, it may take years to get to the point of being able to buy new equipment which can really drag down a lodge’s finances as well.

I think these challenges are surmountable. Lodges could join together to buy shared regalia. Perhaps a lodge does not need to have officer aprons, just pendants. Lodges could work together on degree work for the first few years. Lodge brothers could buy their own aprons with a separate joint lodge shared apron box. Dues could be set at a correct level with an inflation percentage increase each year to cover rent and other costs. There are many ways to support a smaller lodge system.

If I haven’t convinced you that smaller lodges would lead to better Masonry by give more brothers more leadership opportunities, here’s another possible solution: require a brother to be a member for at least 5 years before being asked to join the progressive line if there is one. That way, the only way that a brother can show leadership and preparedness to take on the role of Master would be to take on a committeeman’s role or to take up some other important role in the lodge such as learning the lectures or presiding over a degree. The progressive line could be shortened to just three officers, the Master and both Wardens. That way, many brothers could be tried out in different officer positions to give them a different perspective from year to year. Or perhaps, a brother can only be elected as a Warden or Master if he has served in all the other roles in the lodge, Secretary and Treasurer excluded. That is seven positions and seven years to prepare before even being elected as a Warden. That way, no brother is thrust into a chair immediately after his raising.

One final proposal if neither of these are palpable: the role of Master and Past Master could be significantly reduced, and the Past Master distinction perhaps done away with entirely. In the Swedish Rite system, after a brother has served his year in the East, he steps down and is again invited back into the Craft. No Worshipful Brother, no Past Master. Like Cincinnatus returning to his fields, the Master again becomes a citizen of his lodge, knowing he has done a good job but without the requirement of excessive adulation.

I’m a Past Master and I’m very happy with what I did in my lodge. I set the Craft to work and boy did they ever work. Of course, it wasn’t just my instruction that got them to work; the best ideas came from the Craft. The Master is not some guru who dispenses wisdom from his mouth like a Pez Dispenser. The best Master allows the Craft to vet ideas and he gets himself behind whatever the Craft has chosen as the right course. Once I was done, I was happy to return to the rolls of the lodge. If a brother calls me “Brother” instead of “Worshipful Brother”, I don’t wince or correct them. I take the phrase, “meeting on the level” quite seriously. My having served in the East doesn’t make me any better than any other of the brothers I have met. I carry the distinction as an honor bestowed by my lodge and I’m honored to have served them but I also want to be on the level with all my brothers.

In conclusion, we can fill our lodge halls every night, give brothers something to do, and give greater group cohesion if we reduce our numbers, lengthen the time it takes to be Master, or reduce the role of the Past Master. Sadly, the only hang up that we have is that to give a brother something to do, we’ve defaulted to either throwing him into the officers’ line immediately after his raising or we tell him about the great things he can find in the Rites, OES, or Shrine. We have the resources in our own lodges, we just need to be willing to take what we have and refocus them on our brothers and the Craft in general.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Atlantic Brotherhood Summit


I would like to encourage any of you who will be in the state of Minnesota during the week of June 3, to attend a very special program. The brothers of Sir Winston Churchill Lodge No. 351 have joined with the brothers of Internet Lodge No. 9659 in a week filled with fun and activities. These events culminate in the exemplification of the Master Mason degree using the Emulation Rite and English Style Festive Board.

As most of my readers know, most American jurisdictions do not allow any other work to be done in a constituent lodge other than that work which has approval of the Grand Jurisdiction. To have the Emulation Rite to be exemplified in Minnesota is huge.

Here are details from Churchill's website:

Sat 6/4 – British Emulation Master Mason Degree and Discussion at the Minneapolis Scottish Rite Temple: For the first time in Minnesota history, witness a performance of the Emulation Work by the officers of Internet Lodge #9659. The Scottish Rite Temple is the most beautiful Masonic building in the state, and well worth exploring by a guided tour. There is no charge for this event and the Q&A session immediately following, but guests are encouraged to purchase for $12US a pair of souvenir white gloves, specially created for this occasion. Funds will go to defray the costs of bringing this unique event to the Masons of Minnesota. White gloves, dues card, aprons (provided) and appropriate dress will be required.

Sat 6/4 – British Festive Board at the Minneapolis Club: Sir Winston Churchill Lodge will host a formal dinner in this superb setting, complete with the 7 toasts, delightful good cheer and their own unique tribute to Winston Churchill and the Sceptered Isle. Seating is limited to the first 110 guests, ladies welcome. Cost - $75US/pp

If you would like to attend the degree, you must have gloves. To help defray the costs of this exciting event, Churchill Lodge is selling $12 gloves which you can preorder here. There are many other events as well for brothers. This is huge. Let's fill the Scottish Rite Temple.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Young Freemason Network

In my own perceived duty as a young Mason dedicated to getting our Craft to recognize and realize the potential of young masons, I have stumbled upon a wonderful group of Masons in Australia. In the state of South Australia, there exists a group of Freemasons founded in 2009 specifically dedicated to young freemasons called the Young Freemason Network. The group restricts membership to brothers and petitioners under the age of 40.

Here is an excerpt from YFN Chairman James Ehmann’s welcome message from their website:

The Young Freemasons Network (approx 40 and under) exists to unite our members, despite their being spread over the Metro and Country areas of SA, and provide them with a peer and social network. We believe that having contact with other members of your own or similar age will help heighten the experience and enjoyment of being a Freemason.

We have a number of social events (at least one a month) and actively encourage participation in Lodge by visiting our members lodges and supporting them, particularly as they progress through degrees or take office.

Importantly we are a fully inclusive organisation and welcome wives, children, partners and friends to attend our events as well. We promote openness about Freemasonry to all, and welcome anyone who is generally interested in Freemasonry and not a member.
What a brilliant idea. Although I love hanging out with brothers of every age, sometimes, it’s nice to hang out with brothers my age. The Jaycees are built on a similar model. The Jaycees restrict membership to members under the age of 41. The idea of Jaycee is to help young professionals find opportunities for networking and to develop their skills.

Now, I can understand why brothers may be leery about a group of Masons restricted by age. The concept of Masonry is that we meet on the level. I would argue, however, that there is a need being met by the creation of the Young Freemason Network. When a brother or petitioner joins a lodge, he either has a connection or he does not. Finding the right lodge is always a crapshoot even if you visit the brothers over a long period of time. A young mason’s network can act as a cabletow, binding a mason even closer to his lodge and to the wider Masonic community.

A group like this can encourage more brotherhood throughout the Masonic jurisdiction. Brothers are encouraged to attend their lodge functions as well as visiting other brothers’ lodge functions. The Young Freemason Network’s website states that its goals are threefold:

· Charity - raise money and provide support for worthy causes

· Social - organise events that bring together and are relevant to our members, including thier families and friends

· Lodge support - attend our members lodges for their significant ceremonial events (degrees etc) and to encourage attendance at lodge meetings.

The events that YFN hosts include lodge visits, a wine club, charity fundraisers, and get togethers for members of YFN and their significant others. I spoke with James, the YFN Chairman, and he said that without the support and encouragement of the Grand Lodge, YFN would have not lasted.

I think their goals are truly laudable and I really wish this very new group all the best. Perhaps one day, this concept will be transplanted across the Peaceful Sea and find roots on our shores. Masonry is truly finding its stride and groups like this are part of that energy.

Monday, May 9, 2011

What is the Endgame?

You know, I'm not one to look at Anti-Masonic websites. I mean, I've made my choice and I'm not changing. But there I was, treading in the zones of the Internet best left unobserved. When I started to look at the plethora of Anti-Masonic sites, I had to ask myself the question, "what do they get out of being against Freemasonry?" I mean, I know what I get out of being a Freemason; a sense of brotherhood, to meet men from all walks of life, and meet at a place dedicated to learning.

Is it financial? I see some sites charge quite a bit of money for the "secrets". Money is a great driving force for everyone. Everybody can use a little extra cash, especially now. However, Masonry has always been a small section of the population. Talk to any group of people and at least half won't know who the Masons are. (That topic is best saved for a different discussion, suffice it to say, we need to toot our own horn.)

Although the financial incentive is possible, I believe the real reason is that to be against something can be very ego boosting. Imagine, you go to your place of worship and proudly talk to the religious leader there about the dangers of Freemasonry. He may listen, he may not. It doesn't matter because you know you're right. If he's listening, you become the crusader for truth and justice. If he doesn't, then he hasn't seen the light yet. Either way, you're fighting the "good fight". He rails against the injustices that exist and the blindness of these poor men, men that need guidance before they're lost forever to Diablo.

That kind of self-aggrandizing behavior can really be harmful. The man who sees as his mission the destruction of an organization is really doing it out of a need for self-esteem with the hope of getting to self-actualization. You can never get to either of those on the pyramid if you hate. It's as simple as that.

I love Freemasonry. It's a beautiful institution dedicated to improving men. It allows me to go to a place, and separate myself from those topics that are divisive for just a couple of hours. A place of respite in an otherwise congested world of 24 hour news and fanatics of all stripes proclaiming their way is not the only way but will be used to conquer all.

I'm sure the second after I publish this post, an anti-Mason will send me an email or post a comment and that's fine. I've made my choice. I want to meet on the level with men of different backgrounds, I want to act rightly before the world, and I want to know that at the end of my life, I have brothers to care for my family. That is what being a brother means.

If you're looking for the most complete source of what Anti-Masons are saying, visit WBro. Ed does a great job of informing brothers on what's out there.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

All Shook Up...

Grand Lodge 084

Grand Lodge 083
My dad, Rick

My dad and I were fortunate enough to have time to see the Grand Lodge Officers' Installation this year. Most Worshipful Brother Tom had a wonderfully moving speech (by moving, I literally mean he walked for most of his speech.) At the end of his presentation, he invited all the guests at the end to shake his hand and receive the Grand Master's pin for this year.

Most Worshipful Brother Tom is a great believer in the Craft. He describes Masonry as a Way of Life. I completely agree. I wish the Grand Master and the other Grand Lodge officers a great year.