Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Market Based Freemasonry and the Propagation of Lodges: Part 1

"Freemasonry is dying."
-That brother you chat with after lodge

How often do you hear that phrase? If you've been in Freemasonry for even a short time, I guarantee you've heard this. For whatever reason, a society built on traditions always seems to obsess with traditions, to the detriment of all other things. Freemasonry is no different.

I've been thinking about the various Masonic projects I've worked on, all those things that have increased or decreased my satisfaction in the Craft, and the one thing I always come back to is the thrill of the try. I love planning these things. I love seeing them happen, even when they don't work. And this brought me to something even more general, what I like most is making a market of ideas and events to bolster our underlying mission, to bring good men together of divergent backgrounds into a chain of union. We are, at our best, market based.

A friend and brother have been looking at ways of bringing market based solutions to improve Freemasonry. Here is our list.

1) Allow lodges to die quickly and easily. 

This is the hardest principle for our older members to accept. It makes sense, in a way. When you exert years of energy into a project, the mere thought that it could be discarded is a almost distasteful. But that's the problem. 

We have all been to a zombie lodge. Oftentimes, they continue to run into a wall. When new energy shows up, they gobble it up and that new brain goes away, either by leaving, or worse, becoming a part of it. A lodge like this should die. This lodge drags down Masonry by lessening the experience. And it's not just localized. Masonry, being a node based interconnected system, depends on the other nodes to pass information. If one node becomes slow, or weaker, more energy is applied with far worse results.

2)  Allow lodges to be born easily, with few restrictions.

On the flip side, we need to encourage new lodges. Lots of them. A market based system based on protectionism just increases inefficiency. Inefficiency is not a good thing. Progress is slowed. Innovation (the good kind) is stunted. We lose eager brothers behind red tape. 

Here are some examples I've seen in various Codes. Don't worry, I'll unpackage all of these.

a) New lodge must get permission from existing lodges.

b) New lodges cannot be within a set distance of another lodge.

c) Number of Master Masons signing exceeds, and in some cases, far exceeds the quorum requirements of existing lodges.

d) Restrictions on who can be the signer if the petition for dispensation, i.e. no elected officer in another lodge.

e) Subjective ritual standards that require near perfection of work by lodges UD inconsistent with existing chartered lodges.

f) Required to work in only Masonic buildings and with all paraphernalia at dispensation.

Before I get started, the funny thing is oftentimes, the fee itself to petition for a dispensation to form a lodge is almost a pittance, indicating to me that this economic protectionism in American Freemasonry was never originally intended.

a) New lodge must get permission from existing lodges and b) new lodges cannot be within a set distance of another lodge.

This boggles my mind. Why on earth would you give the organization most in need of competition rights over their competitor? If there is a subset of brothers so set on starting a lodge in the vicinity of another lodge, the likelihood is that there is either a) plenty of room for the both of them or b) a defect in the existing lodge. 

I get that. In how we are designed organizationally, we are a franchisee/franchisor arrangement. Restricting where a lodge can form creates huge sections of area that become unserviced by a Masonic lodge. That's economically wasteful. If a market exists and there is interest, we should be there. Instead, we'll have brothers driving 30 minutes, 40 minutes, only to sit bored. Time is value and lack of availability will immediately butt into that.

c) Number of Master Masons signing exceeds, and in some cases, far exceeds the quorum requirements of existing lodges and d) restrictions on who can be the signer if the petition for dispensation, i.e. no elected officer in another lodge.

These restrictions are often aimed at who can sign the petition for dispensation. And as you can see, these can get ridiculous fairly quickly. We already have a ritualistic/legal/traditional number of Master Masons necessary to form a lodge. It's seven. Seven. So, when you see 12.... 15.... 25!, even 50!, ask yourself, why?

The only reason I can think of is that, just like most protectionist laws, it starts with good intentions. Maybe the Grand Lodge brothers were worried about quality or sustainability. But now, these two become something far worse. Try starting a lodge that needs 25 Master Masons who are not elected officers. As someone who did, it's near impossible. If you can find one active Mason, he will, more likely than not, be one of those five things.

Even worse is that you also try to grab brothers who are MINOs, Members in Name Only. Getting across the finish line requires just getting names on a sheet of paper. That's no way to build excitement while the lodge project is under dispensation. And worse, it's a fiction as well as to encourage potential bad faith attempts to start a lodge.

e) Subjective ritual standards that require near perfection of work by lodges UD inconsistent with existing chartered lodges.

I am a ritualist and I absolutely believe we should demand high quality work. But, since this is a franchise relationship, the base standards should be the same across all locations. Basing the base performance of a new lodge at the desired standard while allowing other lodges to essentially skate is patently unfair and a barrier to growth.

To fix this, the standards should be clearly defined. It should be an objective standard or at least one reduced to the ability to open and close the lodge.

f) Required to be in Lodge buildings with paraphernalia

Hold on while I hold my head.

"Hi, I'm a new lodge. I have a building agreement in place with a Masonic building with all the paraphernalia in place."

Really? We have hundreds of buildings that can be rented so why do we need to be trapped in a Masonic™ building? Private rooms should suffice. More protectionism to prevent flexibility.

We can do better in that regard. We can make lodges vibrant by accepting the market.

Stay tuned for part 2 where I lay out the ideal market based lodge creation which I call the Flexible Lodge

Comments? Leave a comment below.


Historical Light said...

Nailed it!

Jeff Day said...

Having been part of starting up a new Masonic organization (albeit, a Royal Arch Chapter) I can relate to and agree with all of your conclusions here. There's so much of a burden in meeting these qualifications that it exhausts the new officers, leaving little or no energy or manpower for the work that actually needs to get done; the reason the group was seeking a charter in the first place.

It especially feels horrible to have to rally up a half dozen or a dozen extra people, who you know won't end up being involved in the day-to-day operations of the group, just because the petition requires them. I was the one doing most of the phone calling, in my case... and it's like... why am I wasting energy bringing these elderly retired brethren into this endeavor, when what we need to be focusing on is initiating new candidates! (Whom we have plenty of in waiting...) The two requirements seem contradictory. Knowing ritual work perfectly is certainly great to help us initiate candidates (though, not the only way.... since there are festivals organized around the state to put on the degrees which the established groups often rely on anyway...) But if we need a large amount of existing members, then there isn't an urgent need for candidates or ritual work.. one or the other requirement should suffice... (or neither)

Thank you for articulating this so well.

Mike B. said...

I can assure you this article probably has agreement from thousands of Masons who want to form a new lodge and let crappy ones die.

Anonymous said...

Nice - I will share your thoughts! Well said!

Anonymous said...

One of the beautiful parts of Freemasonry is that of Lodge consensus which requires the unanimous consent of the Lodge to elect new members and that every Master Mason has the right to talk about anything on the floor of the Lodge during Stated Meetings. I do not agree with any part of this article because true Freemasons would never traduce other Masons in this manner so I doubt that it was written by Masons. Any Lodge can be turned to the better by the application of Masonic Virtues and consistent hard work.