Dying A Slow Death
by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Brian J. Schimian
As time passes, things come and go in this world for many reasons. Perhaps technology makes something obsolete, maybe cultural norms change, maybe the need is eradicated and thus renders the giving unnecessary. If we as an organization would like to succeed, we need to be able to “get with the times” and morph as the needs change of the society that we are supposed to be serving. But we don’t need to worry about such things if we can not first nurture the root of this thing of ours. As with any organization, its greatest asset is the members that fill the rolls. If we can’t grow and maintain the membership of the Craft, we will continue to become obsolete and unable to meet the changing needs of the world around us.
We are in a midst of a change when it comes to the reasons why people are petitioning our lodges for membership. Those members that swelled our ranks after WWII are thinning and filling the Celestial lodge above. Those members came looking for the “Brotherhood” and “Service of Others” that they had found through Military Service to the Country. Today's petitioner is looking to garner from Masonry the “mystical” or deeper esoteric meanings of the Craft, either to help them more understand and feel closer to their God or to find a deeper meaning to their existence. The esoteric meanings, while a part of the ritual, only scratch the surface and are supposed to be continually sought after the further-mores, as we are charged to always to be seeking more “Light”… right?
I understand that part of the “Brotherhood” is having a good time and, to a point, the lighthearted hazing or joking around with those that wish to join our Craft. After all, we “paid a price” to join, so shouldn't the next guy, right? I can say without a doubt that YES they will!!! I came from the fire service, paying “dues” is more than a financial act. The jokes about the goat and everything else have their place and if you ask me, help build that bond of Brotherhood between members as they become part of sharing in the jokes and fun down the road. But like everything else, there is a time and a place for this and other things. I have seen more than once: laughing out of place talking and just disrespectful actions DURING RITUAL. Don’t get me wrong, I never expect “perfection” during degree work, but when someone needs a prompt, one person would suffice. Having five Past Masters on the side lines all giving prods does more harm than good. I have also seen lodges where the entirety of the Brothers show up five minutes before the gavel falls, the minutes are read and the lights are off and doors locked minutes after the meeting is over. If you think this isn’t driving members away, you are fooling yourself. Not to be completely cliche here, but Freemasonry is a living organism. The more you nurture it the more you will get from it, exponentially in most cases. Trust me, I can never repay what the Craft as given me, just read the article I wrote: “Everything Good In My Life I Owe To Freemasonry” and you will see the tip of the iceberg that is my life and how much I owe to the Craft.
When it comes to our ritual, we need to be proficient. By this I am not simply speaking about knowing and saying the words, I mean that we need to know and understand what we are saying and what the lessons are meant to imply. There have been great speakers in the history of this world, but a great speaker is nothing if the words they speak have no meaning or value. Simply reciting ritual just because of “tradition” is beyond worthless and it does more harm that good to the lodge and the candidate on his Journey. In other words, don’t just memorize the words, understand what you are supposed imparting.
What you put in is what you get out applies to more than just ritual though. Yes, I am talking financials, the dreaded “Raise the Dues” argument. If you look at what it cost for a person to petition and join Freemasonry a few hundred years ago and then adjust this rates for inflation and compare them to today’s costs, we are getting off way too cheap. Too many times discussion in and about the lodge boil down to impact on the lodge bank account and the members wallets. Yes, we need to be financially responsible with our funds to be able to do the most good. It would be impossible to be a successful organization without such a responsibility. But, if we adjusted our dues even a fraction of the percentage of inflation, we could do so much more for ourselves and others. I wholeheartedly believe that a part of the Brotherhood comes from having a meal together before or after a meeting. With more money coming into the lodge from dues, a better meal could be expected. How many guys come to lodge and choke down undercooked hot dogs on stale buns and over cooked green beans. It doesn’t take long for someone to stay home for dinner with the family or stop for a bite with coworkers before the meetings. Then it isn’t a large step to just not show up at all, especially when there is a wife and kids at home or a game on at the bar.
Of course, it's also true that lodges may need to combine, and this may be for many different reasons. Masonic buildings are getting older and maintenance costs are soaring and draining our accounts. The same goes for the Brethren that may not be able to pitch in and do the work themselves. Sure, nobody wants to give up their charter, but I contend that it would be better to have a moderate size group of Brothers that are active and pay a little bit more in dues than either a bunch of small groups that are essentially ineffective or a lodge with vast rolls of members that never show up and are as equally ineffective. Consolidation in membership and buildings may be the best to maintain the effective reach of the Craft and allow the most good for the most people.
Let us go back to the idea of Masonic Education for a minute. First of all, if a lodge can not spare 10 to 20 minutes a meeting for education, they are spending too much time on the minutes or treasurer’s report and their focus needs to be refined. I am not talking about a quick blurb about history or famous people or even “rod work”. I am talking about the discussion of Masonic lessons, digging into the working tools and symbols that our Craft is based upon and how they are to be interpreted and applied to our daily lives. Get beyond the lessons of the degree work and look for the philosophy and deeper meanings. That is how we learn to continue to refine and shape our ashlar and become better men. Get out of the comfort zone, discuss rounded apron’s and different ideologies that challenge the Brethren in attendance to use their minds a little and consider different reasoning.
Charity is something that we as an organization do rather well. There are hundreds of examples of our philanthropy, both within and external to the craft that lodges support. But when your lodge has a scholarship program or answers a call to help a local family or business, how many times does the treasurer just write a check and hand it to the secretary to mail off? Why not put a few officers in suits and aprons to go off and make the presentation? What a great photo opportunity and free advertisement for the good that you are doing. Local papers are always up to send someone out for fresh content. Chances are, you may even get asked for some words about Freemasonry to add some filler to their article. This makes our work meaningful, to everyone not just the lodge and the recipient. Then post those stories and pictures in the dining hall for visitors to see. You can even use social media to get our story out.
One last note… Just because you participate, should not mean that you get a trophy. Just because you show up, doesn’t make you a contributor. Anyone see where I am going here? I have heard so many stories about Brothers being raised and then sitting in the East in just 3 or 4 years. This is nothing short of a disservice to the lodge, the Brother and the Craft as a whole. Sure, once in a while a lodge may find that epic leader that “gets it” and knocks it out of the park. But that is a story few and far between. If anything these instances only stand to prove my stance that perhaps lodges need to consolidate. Why would a lodge be so hot to trot with getting freshly raised Masters into the 3 big seats? Either they are hard up for members and are just looking to fill chairs and will take anyone they can sucker… sorry, get to sit in them, or they have fallen into the “hum-drum” progression of the chairs. I am sorry, we vote on and elect our leaders. I will not vote a person into an office just because this year he is Junior Steward and the next chair is Senior Steward. In my estimation, you have to work and prove you are worthy of progressing to the next chair. If a Junior Warden puts little work into the meals or planing activities, on what grounds does he deserve to progress? Progression without purpose is one of the biggest disservices we can do for Freemasonry. If the membership sees that the J.W. can “phone it in” for a year, what will they expect from him as the Senior Warden or even Worshipful Master? Why would a new Brother want to work hard and prove themselves worthy of progressing? This all leads to a deterioration of Leadership and a Craft that will ultimately fail.
If these and other trends are allowed to continue, Freemasonry will continue to die the slow death we are currently experiencing. We need to put in an adequate financial sum if we want to provide the best possible and welcoming experience for our Brothers to keep them coming back. Let us not be frugal with our funds and allow for the better food and experiences like Festive Boards. We need to maintain our visibility in the public eye and showcase our good deeds. This goes along with making sure that our buildings are not eyesores on the community. We need to feed the minds of the younger members that are looking for that deeper meaning by ensuring time for lodge Education during our meetings. Why not host an event like a “Masonic Symposium” and have a speaker or two come in and provide a talk on something, extending invitations to all whom would like to attend. You would be amazed at how far one would travel for such an event. If you want to be the leader, prove that you deserve to be the leader through your actions, not just by showing up.
This is our Craft, the life or death of it falls no place other than on OUR shoulders.