Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Destination or Theme

So, I’ve been thinking about the way things were and the way things are now. For at least a few centuries in this country, the lodge was thought of as a destination. Rarely did lodges meet in the same building and the idea was that a lodge was recognized as successful once it could afford its own lodge building. Lodges in the country were the place where all the local businessmen, farmers, lawyers, doctors, and other well-to-do men would meet and talk shop. Lodges in the city were neighborhood lodges and functioned very much like their country cousins, living in the community.

Now, many lodges in America can no longer afford the upkeep of a building as they struggle to be relevant in the modern age. The car has made traveling much faster and easier thus increasing the distance a brother can go to his home lodge. Is there a panacea to solve the loss of membership and the lack of interest within our own lodges? My thought is that we need to get away from the destination model and enter into the theme model.

The theme model already exists in many jurisdictions under the term “Affinity lodge.” Of course, I think using the term Affinity really limits what a theme lodge could be. It’s not merely providing one single common interest to mix the cement that a brother needs to stay in the house not made with hands.

Historically, lodges were a destination, a place to be and the relationships between brothers came from that geographical locale. Now, brothers join lodges that are not necessarily near their homes. They join where their friends are, an affinity lodge, or a lodge with a great presence, either on the Web or through some other public relations manner.

We don’t have a raising problem, we have a retention problem. So what do we do? Like any great song, a lodge needs a hook. It needs something that captures the attention and wonder of a man. But it’s not just about capturing his attention for the short term; he needs to stay engaged for the rest of his life. He needs a hook to keep singing the song of Freemasonry in his heart. I have been thinking about concrete, real world examples that will really help lodges.

One idea is to hold a degree or a mini school of instruction once a month, regardless of whether a lodge has candidates or not. Invite other lodges that have candidates to come down and confer the degrees as a courtesy. Let them watch what part of the degree is the main focus for your lodge. At the end of the degree, invite the brothers to give their impressions of the ritual, not just critiques of what needs to be improved but really delve deep into what the degree means. Young men, like myself, crave the ritual, and have a desire for learning. Encourage some friendly disagreement on what the symbolism means or allow a brother to voice his opinion on a Masonic subject. Lodges can be a place of different thinkers, all searching for common truth, even when we see it from a different perspective. Making the lodge a veritable School of Athens will encourage retention.

Another thought would be to create a distinct theme. In Minnesota, as I mentioned above, we have four lodges that are built around a single theme. Two examples are Sir Winston Churchill Lodge No. 351 and Saint Paul Lodge No. 3. Churchill Lodge bills itself as a British theme lodge (if there are any Scottish Masons out there, I think they use British as a term because we, in America, don’t see a distinction with being English or Scottish and being British). They wear English regalia and have lodge officers that would correspond to those in England. Saint Paul Lodge No. 3 is a Traditional Observance Lodge. It follows the rubric set out by the Masonic Restoration Foundation. These include a festive board, a chain of union, and a focused look at the performing the ritual and presenting scholarly papers. Both lodges have found success through finding a niche.

Lodges in the city should share space. This helps defray the cost of housing the lodge but also gives it the ability to share Fraternal bonds with the other lodges. We can't afford the one body, one building model anymore. Sharing the load can really help and also makes the building a place of gathering.

Finally, all lodges should be using social media and the Internet to connect with their members. Nearly every lodge brother has an email account. This means that sending an email to a lodge is easy and can get the word out quickly. And since lodges are drawing so many young people, lodges should have at a minimum, a lodge Facebook page (you can find Corinthian Lodge and Braden Lodge by clicking the hyperlinks). A Facebook page is free and can easily connect a new brother to his lodge. From there, lodges can and should create a true web presence, a website, to become the Internet front door for your lodge. My lodge, Corinthian Lodge No. 67, saw a huge increase in the number of interested men and members of the community wanting to talk with us because we had a website with a contact field. For more insights, please read Bro. Matt Gallagher’s article on using the Internet to improve your Lodge.

Lodges need to be different. We need to try new things to find our niche. Men are looking for different things from the Fraternity and lodges will need to adapt to survive and more importantly, to thrive. After the theme takes hold, your lodge will once again become a destination.

Do you have any thoughts about this article? What have you found to be successful in your lodge? Please post a comment below.


Mr. Ives said...

I completely agree with this post. If we don't find a way to differentiate lodges beyond simple geography, we will continue to have a problem retaining members.

When I went to "knock on the door" of masonry, I found two lodges in my hometown. The problem was, there was no differentiation between them. There was a social difference (factory owners vs. factory workers) 100 years ago, but that no longer exists. When someone petitions, we have a hard time figuring out why someone should join one or the other.

By differentiating between lodge types, we can better accommodate the expectations that each newly raised brother has about what masonry is. If you are looking for an informal atmosphere - maybe the Lodge A or if you are a serious philosophy nut, join Lodge B. This would help us all to have an experience that is different for each brother under the common umbrella of our ritual and tradition.

A former Grand Master used to emphasize that in the essentials we are all the same, but every lodge has its own character. It can only make our fraternity stronger.

Jack R. said...

Good post, Nick. You are right that in times when some of us can easily travel to multiple lodges w/in 10 miles of our homes, it's important to find a good fit. I agree that we have a retention problem.

I'm struggling, however (not because of your post, but in general), with our ongoing stress on fellowship and brotherhood. We obviously need both, but is it why we exist? What is fellowship if the foundation of our fellowship is lost, not taught, not practiced? Every lodge deep down has a theme, and it should be the same theme. We can mask our efforts in British ritual, cigar lodges, and tuxedos and candlelight, but it does not matter if FM is failing to deliver what it sells - a path of self-improvement. We have to stop being passive about our underlying teachings. Themes are good, but only if they deliver the goods and are not just a clever show. Rushing through a meeting and paying cursory attention to ritual and underlying Masonic philosophy is not our problem. The problem is not solved simply by dressing it up with obscure 19th century French rites and meeting in grand temple. I'd rather be in a simple country lodge where the Brothers live the life, so to speak, of a Freemason, surrounded by men who constantly challenge each other to be better.

Jack R. said...

"Rushing through a meeting and paying cursory attention to ritual and underlying Masonic philosophy is not our problem." I meant to say that it "is our ongoing problem."

M.M.M. from the North Eastern Corner said...

I agree with everyone. I think that no matter what "gimmick" a lodge comes up with to attract brothers to its doors the failure to deliver Freemasonry is what looses men. We have lost somewhere the essence of our order and if we continue to tout the glory of long dead past members, who if they lived today would have nothing to do with Freemasonry as it currently exists, and not what we can deliver to the modern man we will end up like the rest of the Fraternal Societies that no longer matter.

Jason said...

I actually commented on Brother Jack's guest post prior to reading this (sorry I am reading the blog in reverse order) but wanted to add to it a bit.

I agree that there can be a great benefit to "theme" lodges. Differentiation between lodges can certainly help with the "icing", but the "cake" needs to be there first. The issue with most lodges that I have seen, heard, or read about is that they are not practicing Masonry. Most lodges meet at a given frequency, read the minutes, pay the bills and eat ordinary food off of paper plates afterwards. We must find a way to bring Masonry back into the lodges, else we become just another civic club. I say this to drive home the belief that, as Brother Jack stated, we cannot lose the "why" for the "how". Differentiation is the "icing". But if the "cake", the universality of Masonry, is not already there...you simply end up with an empty shell. One of the great things about Masonry is that every lodge IS the same in that they all have the same foundation. We all meet on the Level, act by the Plumb and part on the Square. We meet under the universal tenets of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth! This should be present in EVERY lodge before we move onto "themes".

Just my opinion.

Your Brother,