Since I became involved in Masonry, I have heard countless brothers state “There is nothing new in Freemasonry.” Even our Most Excellent King Solomon did once bemoan “Is there anything of which one may say ‘See this! It is new!’ Already it has existed for ages which were before us. That which has been is that which will be again, and that which has been done is that which will be done again, and there is nothing new under the sun!” You can hear his frustration, and you can almost picture him throwing his head back, arm over his head in agony.
The concept of brotherly love is not new, as it was first written on the hearts of men. Our teachings of morality are not new, they trace back even to the time of man’s creation. Even our working tools, the very implements of Masonry, are not new; they existed even before King Solomon’s time. In this instance, at least, we have intentionally disconnected from the modern world, which uses jackhammers, lasers, and computers, instead of chisels, squares, and trestle boards. For right or wrong, we have chosen to lock ourselves out of the progress made in operative masonry.
There is an old joke that says “How many Freemasons does it take to change a light bulb? CHANGE??? Who said anything about change?”
Of course, like all things in Masonry, this resistance to the new isn’t actually new.
In the March 19th, 1892 issue of The Freemason, it was written: “We ought to be afraid of anything said to be new – for a new thing is untried. The old principles of morality taught in Masonry are tried and safe.” To better understand the fear expressed, you need to know a bit about that world’s view on Freemasonry, and more specifically the Catholic Church’s view. Pope Leo the 13th was attempting to introduce new concepts into Catholicism, while continuing to fight against Freemasonry. In a statement titled “Inimica Vis”, or quite literally “On Freemasonry”, he states “In the presence of such audacious evils, it is not sufficient merely to be aware of the wiles of this vile sect: we must also wage war against it…” He goes on to say “For those who seek salvation there can be no middle ground between laborious struggle and destruction.” Is it any wonder, in view of this, that we were so vocal about maintaining the traditions which have carried us through the ages?
Going back even farther, to the August 17th, 1878 issue of The Freemason’s Chronicle: “There is nothing new. The earth is not new – it is as old as creation. Man is not new – he is as old as Adam. God is not new, but the same yesterday, today, and forever. History repeats itself, men repeat themselves, and thus there is nothing new under the sun. Freemasonry certainly is not new. The law of brotherhood has been written on the hearts of the elect at least ever since King Solomon’s time. All of this is true, and yet…”
AND YET. Two tiny words with such a powerful statement.
We know that at least as far back as 1878, there was written discussion about there being nothing new in Masonry. Even this discussion we’re having, about there being nothing new in Masonry, is not new to modern day Masons, but a repeat of discussions that have been going on since the time of King Solomon.
The Freemason’s Chronicle goes on to say “And yet everything is new. Every child born into the world is a new creation. It is in many respects unlike all of its progenitors. Every soul is a new soul. It leads a new life on this earth, and death will only introduce it to a new life in the world to come. Every day is new, every year is new, all time is in succession new, and eternity will be the sublimest novelty of all.”
To that, I would add something perhaps more directly relevant to our modern craft, and something that most of us forget as time goes on. To the new Entered Apprentice Mason, all of this is new. Every word of the ritual work, all of our teachings, is still novel to these new brothers. To them, every degree is a new adventure, each lodge meeting forms new connections, and the thought of a conference where they can discuss Masonry with hundreds of brothers from across the state excites their imaginations!
How we present ourselves and our fraternity will be what creates in them either a passion for the craft, or a lack of regard for it. If our newest brothers think we are bored with the art of Masonry, we have lost them before they’ve even had a chance to learn.
Chris Hodapp says it better than any Mason I’ve ever met. “The most important lodge meeting in a Mason’s career is the fourth one – the next meeting after his Master Mason degree. That’s the meeting he’ll measure the entire fraternity by, and the meeting he determines whether his lodge lives by the precepts they taught him in his degrees. Lodges are closing every day because they don’t understand why no one wants suspicious meat sandwiches and generic pop, or furniture from the Coolidge administration that stinks and should be cleaned and then burned, with two hour meetings that consist of reading the minutes to tell them nothing happened last month either, followed by guys stabbing each other in the back as they argue in the parking lot. No one has to come back to next month’s meeting. If CSI reruns are more interesting than lodge then shame on us.”
We tell our newly made Entered Apprentices that they have been placed in the Northeast corner to receive the foundation of their Masonic edifice, but what we fail to tell them is that THEY are the foundation upon which we are building the future of speculative Masonry.
Any architect worth his salt will tell you that the entire weight of a building rests upon its foundation, and no matter how well designed the building is, a bad foundation will lead to the destruction of the entire structure.
Early religious writers understood this, and incorporated the foundation allegory into their writings. Matthew tells a parable of two builders, one who wisely built his house on a solid rock foundation, the other who foolishly built his on sand. When the calamities and ills of life afflicted each builder, only he with the solid foundation was able to withstand the devastation.
In Freemasonry, as in so many other things, our foundation is built upon future generations. Every new man who is brought to light is a small part of the foundation upon which the Great Architect will erect his structure. Are we building on rock? Or on sand? Are we selecting the best and the brightest men to build our foundation on? Or are we accepting anyone with a pulse, a checkbook, and a shifting interest?
Perhaps more importantly, are we providing them the tools they need to improve themselves so that they may be better fitted for the builders use? Are we investing time in our Entered Apprentices to encourage a love of our craft, and a desire for more knowledge? Or are we simply handing them the minimum they will need to get by, and leaving them to their own devices?
Our candidates are the greatest investment we will ever find; every hour we spend with them will return, as interest payments, countless hours of service to the craft. If you had access to an investment that guaranteed a 400 or 500% return for life, wouldn’t you want to put every dollar you had into it? Why don’t we look at our candidates the same way?
We are poised on the brink of a Masonic explosion, even if most of us don’t understand it, or even realize it. Public interest in our fraternity is growing every day. Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol is “a six hundred and fifty page love letter to the fraternity,” and the upcoming movie promises to be the same. Countless television shows and documentaries are cashing in on “exposing” us, and almost all of them end with the same message: these are a great group of guys, and if you’re interested in learning more about them you should consider joining. Barely a week goes by that we aren’t featured on The History Channel, and the public is seeing us less through the eyes of crackpot conspiracy theorists, and more through the lens of researched facts and history.
At the same time, men of all generations are once again searching for social organizations for both internal growth and fellowship. The Baby Boomers are beginning to retire, and are searching for something fulfilling to spend their newfound free time on. Generation X has started to settle down in their lives, and is looking to form a connection to their grandparents, and see a fraternity such as ours as being the perfect way to do this. Millennials, having spent a large part of their lives in virtual worlds forming virtual connections, are feeling the pull to form a real and lasting bond.
While each of these generations is searching for us in a different way, they are all searching, eagerly, and we need to be prepared to fulfill what they are searching for. The days of pushing large groups of men through one day degrees, followed by a day and a half Scottish Rite reunion combined with the Shrine Ceremonial are over. Today’s Mason is looking for an individual experience, and is willing to invest the time it takes to receive it.
We haven’t held such a prime position to see a large amount of Masonic growth since World War 2, and I doubt we’ll be in this situation again in any of our lifetimes.
If I were to create the perfect recipe for growth in our institution, I would start with a base of men who were highly motivated to join a social organization. I would then mix in a heavy pinch of community awareness; enough to peak curiosity, but not so much that all of our mysteries were well known and advertised. Finally, I would add in a sufficient number of knowledgeable and caring Freemasons to mentor these men as they come in.
The good news is that those pieces which are outside of our control have all lined up for us: the community knows about us, and wants to be involved. Even better is that the only piece that wasn’t handed to us on a silver platter is within our control: we need our existing Masons to care enough to do more than just the minimum for the candidates. How exciting is that?
We stand at a crossroads, and what we do now will echo down through history. We can choose to continue business as usual; regardless of what we do, we’re going to see substantial growth. However, if we do this, in another forty to fifty years we’ll be struggling with a declining membership again, and praying for another period of growth. On the other hand, we can choose to go a different route, working one on one with our candidates, teaching them everything we’ve learned, and using them to inspire future candidates. It will mean more labor on our part, and since each candidate will require more individual time, it will mean less time to bring in a large number of candidates.
Of course, I’m not telling you anything new, because, as we’ve discussed, there is nothing new in Masonry. Men much smarter than me realized everything I’m telling you a few years ago, and started creating traditional observance lodges. The fact that it takes their candidates months, if not a year or more, to advance through the degrees shows that they’ve already realized the importance of quality over quantity, and are willing to invest in it.
I would urge each of you to remember the importance of every new candidate, and challenge you to find new ways to reach them, because who knows? They may be the one to discover the next new thing in Freemasonry.