Illustrious John Wm. McNaughton 33°, the immediate Past Sovereign Grand Commander of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction (AASR-NMJ) has written a new book titled Reclaiming the Soul of Freemasonry. It is available online in the Scottish Rite store or on Amazon in the Kindle version.
Brother McNaughton lays out his opinions on the current state of Freemasonry and in the forward writes:
“Today, many Masonic leaders no longer prioritize the same lofty ideals as did our forefathers. Focus has turned from the timeless principles of our craft to the ephemeral practice of arbitrarily enforcing rules and regulations. It is painful to think about what happened to the golden age of Freemasonry, when our members cared more about each other than about edicts and procedures. Today, it seems that some leaders of the fraternity are more concerned about the needs of the institution than the needs of the members. Buildings come first. Ritual comes first. Procedures come first. Everything but our obligation to each other has been given priority.”
In many ways, I believe McNaughton is spot on with this assessment. Think about the meetings of your local lodge or appendant bodies. What percentage of time is spent on topics such as the roof on the building, planning the pancake breakfast or reading the mail? What percentage of your meeting is spent on education? My bet in 99% of the cases is that education is a very small part, if any of your meeting.
AASR-NMJ commissioned a study whose purpose was to examine the issues within the fraternity and solicit input from both members and non-members. The survey itself was not included in the book, but McNaughton makes several references to what was found.
He writes that the survey makes an examination of the Millennial and Boomer generations, finding both generations share similar priorities such as wanting to be part of organization that makes a difference and the desire to be heard and respected. Common shared values included loyalty, authenticity and equality.
The conclusion is drawn that the Boomer generation should be the target market for recruiting new members into Freemasonry. That by doing so will ignite a generational interest that will in time also attract the Millennial generation to also join.
The book then explores what the survey said was the right message to attract new men to Freemasonry. Respondents essentially said they were much more interested in an organization that espoused the values they stood for and not long dead historical Masons.
The internal membership survey asked what current Scottish Rite members expect from the fraternity. Three primary areas were identified: first was that Scottish Rite members want more interaction with their leadership, more engagement with one another, and the ability to dive deeper into the craft (education). Second members stated they wanted to see more modern communication methods to enhance the member experience. Finally, the biggest challenges facing the Scottish Rite are related to interpersonal conflicts. The last point is explored in detail.
Brother McNaughton then explores the topic of ritual memorization and its relationship to leadership within the fraternity. Does the ability to memorize equate to the value a member can bring to the fraternity? Again, he explores this at some length.
The book looks at technology, member education and the Scottish Rite membership’s desire to have more of both and integrated together. Not for supplanting social gatherings or interpersonal relationships, but to further build their individual masonic knowledge.
AASR-NMJ emphasizes brothers caring for one another, which McNaughton argues is a critical step into keeping our obligation and as a key element for attracting new members into our ranks. He concludes that it is this obligation that should be emphasized and that the survey results verify this is where the organization and Freemasonry should go.
I agree with much of what Brother McNaughton has written. However, I do have concerns that the Boomer generation should be the primary target of membership growth. While I agree that many in this age group may have more free time than younger generations who are engaged in careers and/or raising children, I personally have found that these groups are also ripe for membership growth.
It was unclear to me the role member education will play in attracting new members in the new plans, but I am hopeful it will be a center piece, not only for attracting new members, but also for the existing membership. I firmly believe that masonic education is vital to both attract and retain members not only in the Blue Lodge, but also in the local Scottish Rite Valley, where it is virtually non-existent today.
I concur with McNaughton in regard to ritual memorization. Yes, I understand that ritual when done right necessitates having the parts memorized. This has been a timeless means of portraying our degrees to the candidate. But too often the ability to memorize is considered the key attribute to providing leadership within Masonry. While I am impressed with the ability of those who can memorize long passages of ritual, I often wonder if they have any idea what it means.
Overall, I think this is a well written book. I have seen comments questioning the methodology of the membership survey and as stated earlier the detailed survey results are not included in the book. But I will reserve my final opinions until I have an opportunity to see what the AASR-NMJ will be rolling out. Without a doubt, there will be many critics of what comes forth and that is OK, good civil debate is sorely needed within our fraternity, especially about our future.
Regardless I think we owe Brother McNaughton a debt of thanks for getting this process started and sharing his thoughts on how the fraternity, both the Blue Lodge and Scottish Rite should go into the future.
He cares deeply about our fraternity and so do I.
WB Gregory J. Knott is the Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge No. 970 in St. Joseph (IL) and a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL) and Naval Lodge No. 4 in Washington, DC.