When I was a kid, I would get up really early on the weekends to watch the cartoons that were on television on Saturday mornings. Between cartoons, I would watch the commercials that the network would play. There were commercials for dolls and action figures, various other toys, but the commercials I remember most were the advertisements selling breakfast cereals.
These commercials could span from Tony the Tiger telling me that I should want Frosted Flakes to Bruce Jenner telling me how Wheaties made it possible for him to win the gold at the Olympics. (Yes I'm that old). Each one of these commercials had a few things in common; 1, the product in the commercial tasted awesome and 2, each one of theses boxes of cereal had a prize laying at the bottom.
The prizes they showed in the commercial looked amazing! I could picture myself having a great time playing with these toys just like the kids in the commercial I was watching. I would fantasize about the fun I would have as long as I could convince my mother I needed and would eat this cereal. This was not an easy task. My father worked hard but Mom only had a limited amount she could spend on groceries. She tried to stretch every penny.
If I was lucky enough, I could convince my Mom that I really liked this particular product and she would pick it up for me at the grocery store. When I got home, I would rip open the box and dump the entire contents of the box into a mixing bowl until I heard the clink of the prize falling into the bowl. Giddy with excitement I ran outside to play with this amazing new toy (after trying to fit all of that cereal back into the box and set it in the cupboard stuffed with the other opened boxes of cereal I hadn't eaten yet).
Once I began to play with the toy, I realized the toy in the bottom of the box that I begged my mom to buy was a plastic piece of junk! The prize in the box was nothing like the toy I had seen on the television commercial. The toy was either flimsy and broke right away or it just didn't work. I felt cheated, and the only people that made out well were the owners of the cereal company.
Every year, Freemason membership numbers continue to shrink. Grand Lodges continue to wring their hands and try to come up with new ways to package the fraternity like a product, and peak mens curiosity enough to entice them to join our fraternity in order to swell our ranks. A Grand Lodge or appendant body will approach an advertising agency, and television commercials are created; these days, even a social media campaign is created.
These commercials offer friendship, networking which promises to help advance your career, a chance to “Make A Difference” and fulfill a need to give back to their community by participating in charity (or whatever the advertising agencies polling unit tells them what young men of a certain age group want). The agency then puts together a presentation to the Masonic body, and if the Grand Lodge Officers like what they see they purchase ad time which is targeted to a certain age group of young men, Freemasonry crosses its fingers and waits for the young men to come to us and ask for a petition.
After seeing the commercial, a young man gets excited. Maybe this group sounds like just the thing he has been looking for to complete his life or he remembers Freemasonry from a Dan Brown movie he had watched. He visits an open house at a Masonic Temple near him. Looking around this magnificent building from another era, he gets excited and fills out a petition. His Masonic career slowly starts to go forward. He cannot wait until he is told to report for his degree work.
After receiving a summons from his lodge to begin his Masonic journey he begins the degree work. For several months, the young brother spends his free time memorizing the proficiency he is told he needs to know in order to finally advance toward the goal he is seeking: to be a Master Mason, to learn all of the secrets he has been promised and start his journey of self enlightenment that the commercials and his new brethren have promised him. Finally, that magical day arrives and he has been raised. He can now sit in lodge, join other Masonic groups and finally wear that Masonic ring he had already purchased.
Now it's meeting night. The first stated meeting he can attend and participate in because he is now a full fledged Mason. The newly obligated Brother slowly puts on his best suit, making sure his tie is straight. He admires himself in the mirror thinking how he looks like a Freemason already. The excitement continues to build inside him. He gets to the lodge early so he can get a seat right up front. “I want to be able to get a good view of everything.” he thinks. Meeting time comes and the room isn't even half full. Counting he realizes there are only seven other Masons in the audience. “Must be a slow night,” he tells himself.
This brother sits on the edge of his seat waiting to be blown away with all of the secrets he was promised. He sits through the half hour of the Secretary reading minutes of last month's meeting and the minutes from all of the called meetings for his degree work. He chuckles to himself because he was there for all of that. He really didn't need to hear about it.
Once the minutes are read he listens to motions be made to give money to several Masonic youth groups for their Grand sessions. He votes to give them the money to seem like he knows what is going on even though he has no clue what he is voting for.
The manager of the temple stands before the group and informs the Brethren present that the old lawn mower the temple has owned for forty years is broken and the mechanic states it can no longer be repaired and a new mower needs to be purchased. Several men stand up to argue about the cost of buying a new lawn mower for their temple. The argument seems to last forever he thinks. Finally a committee is formed to approach a member of the lodge who never attends but owns a hardware store to see if he will provide a new mower free of charge or at a deep discount. Then the meeting ends and everyone dashes out of the building like it's on fire.
The young man just sits there in his seat, dumbfounded. He still doesn't understand how this is going to make him a better man. “Maybe it was just an off night.” He decides. After attending for several months, he becomes disillusioned with his lodge and with Freemasonry, and he ceases to attend. At the end of the year, he ignores the dues notices which the lodge sends him and allows his membership to be suspended for non payment. Sadly, nobody even noticed he wasn't there.
Just like the child who expects the toy at the bottom of the cereal box to be the greatest thing in his young life, he becomes disillusioned with this new toy and casts it aside as something cheap and not worthy of his time. Just a piece of junk. Like the owner of the cereal company the only one who benefits is his Grand Lodge who received his fees.
Brethren, those of us who decided to continue to pursue Freemasonry knows what this young man received wasn't junk. Freemasonry, when practiced correctly, is a beautiful and life changing experience. We have learned to “package” our fraternity to entice new members to join; what we need to learn now is what is called “service after the sale”. Masonically we can call it providing Brotherly love, relief and truth.
Brotherly love: Instead of just promising to be a positive force in a man's life, let’s actually be that positive force! Instead of an evening of minutes, treasurer's reports and bickering, maybe we can provide the feeling of Brotherhood and education. Make sure to include this new Brother in upcoming lodge events, invite him and his family to dinner or a cookout. Or even a “Brothers-only night” for an adult beverage and conversation. Even something as simple as inviting him to eat at your table in the lodge dining hall. Positive social interaction with a new member will make him feel wanted, and he will want to become a valuable lodge member.
Relief: Remember that part of the obligation that says “I will help, aid and assist all poor and distressed Master Masons, their widows and orphans”? Maybe we should try doing that. Instead of sending a sympathetic card to a brother who we have heard is sick and offer to pray for him at the next meeting, get several Brothers together and visit him. Take a bag of groceries with you. If he needs help getting to a doctor's appointment, give him a ride. Be there for a Brother who is laying on that darkened square and offer to take his hand and raise him to his feet.
Truth: When young men are asked why they joined Masonry, most will answer Masonic education. We tell them their pursuit is truly laudable but we never fulfill their request. Sadly, education is one of the most basic, easiest requests we can fulfill. Many lodges don't want to prolong the length of a stated meeting with education (or suffer the wagging finger of the Past Masters who want to vote on business then go home), so education is dropped to the wayside. Or worse yet, a Brother will stand up and read a piece he printed from the Internet about the Masonic membership of George Washington. With little substance, the “education box” can now be checked off on a Grand Lodge form so that the lodge can apply for a special award.
In order to receive the maximum benefit of education, pick a non meeting night and have a group of Brethren gather together to have an education night. This could be a group who decides to have a book club (yes, like Oprah) where a mutually chosen book is discussed. The discussion can be as deep or as shallow as the group wishes. Another idea would be for the Brethren to take turns writing research papers and discussing them in the group. The possibilities are endless!
I would even suggest education need not be limited to Masonic subjects. Invite a tailor to discuss the benefit of owning a custom suit, or an expert on manners. Young men have a lot of questions, and sometimes they have difficulty finding answers to their questions. Be their source of light which will help them become a better man. The best part is that informal education nights can be conducted anywhere, including locations where you can enjoy fellowship over an adult beverage.
Brethren, these are just a few ideas in which we can provide “service after the sale”. I'm sure you and the members of your lodge can come up with dozens more. Not only will Masonry not be a cheap prize at the bottom of a cereal box, but we will elevate it to the ultimate treasure that keeps on giving.