It's a good question, and I can tell you exactly what it is. It's the answer to almost every problem Lodges are having today. Masonic education is why most of our new members joined in the first place, and one of the last things they'll find in a many of our Lodges today.
Men petition our Lodges because they are seeking something. They want to belong to an organization that shares their values. They want to be more active in their community. They want to learn to be a better man by improving their character. They want to take part in the time honored traditions and ancient teachings of the Freemasons. They want to live their life to a higher and more noble standard. And the expectation when they join is that they are going to receive instruction on these things from the Freemasons.
That's certainly why I joined. I even went through the traditional way, and spent months memorizing the catechisms and the obligations--I don't learn quickly, and it was a huge challenge. I saw beautiful degree work, heard wonderful lectures, and when I was finally raised a Master Mason I considered it one of the most important accomplishments in my life--right up there with baptism, marrying my wife, and the birth of my children. And then I attended my first regularly stated meeting. There were no deep discussions of Masonic principles at that meeting. Nor at the second, or third, or fourth meeting. I finally asked, and I was told there were meetings I could attend if I wanted to learn more about Masonry. I did, so I found out where and when those meetings took place, and I went.
I learned how to carry a rod, and how to turn a corner, and what hand I should use when I open a door during a degree. I learned the proper way to open the Bible. I even learned in what order to turn on the lights beside the altar. It wasn't Masonic education, it was ritual instruction. Other than what was contained within the lectures of those three Masonic degrees, there was no additional Masonic education offered in my part of the world when I became a Mason 11 years ago. And that's exactly the way it is in many places. And that's why I've worked so hard to bring that education component back into the Lodges.
I said earlier that providing Masonic education was the answer to almost every problem Lodges are having. I can tell you without hesitation that's true. We need membership. The fact of the matter is there is no better recruiting tool than members who are enjoying themselves and learning new things. They talk about it. They get their friends to join. I've seen it over and over again.
Case in point is a brand new Chapter of the Royal Arch in Illinois I'm a member of--Admiration Chapter. This is a chapter that focuses on Masonic education. Every meeting we have a very short business meeting, and then an education component--a speaker, a discussion on a topic of interest that is announced in advance, a table lodge, a presentation, etc. You know what Admiration Chapter doesn't have problems with? Attendance and membership. We have great turnouts, and we continue to add members--and we're not recruiting new members. We don't need to recruit, because they are coming to us. That's pretty impressive considering Admiration Chapter hasn't even received a charter yet--we're still operating "under dispensation" of the Most Excellent Grand High Priest of Illinois. We've completed the necessary requirements at this point, and we'll get that charter in the next few months.
Do you want to talk about member retention? Members just stop showing up, right? Or you get a new Master Mason in your Lodge, and he comes for awhile, and you don't see him again. Just drops out of sight, and your members wonder why. Sound familiar? I can tell you the most common reason why. Your meetings are boring. It's not what the new Mason thought it was going to be, probably because he thought he'd continue to be learning things instead of talking about how the Eastern Star ladies are using our coffee and not replacing it, and if we're going to resurface the parking lot or just fill in the potholes. That's not why those men became Masons, is it?
Money is an issue, too. There's two reasons for that--most Lodges dues are too cheap. That's a separate, but related issue--before you can jack up your dues you're going to have to offer more than getting to sit in a room once or twice a month and listen to somebody read the mail. But if we could fix some of these obvious problems and we filled our buildings with Masons, we'd have more money, wouldn't we? And the more members we have in our Blue Lodges, the more Scottish Rite Masons we have, and the more York Rite Masons we have, and the more Shriners, etc!
I've been beating this drum for a long time. New members want education. The success of the Midnight Freemasons in itself is evidence of that. The success of Lodges and bodies that are beginning to focus on education again is evidence of that. If we continue to do the same things, we can continue to expect the same results.
The ritual is an important part of who we are as Freemasons--it's one of the things that make us unique. Learning ritual is not Masonic education any more than learning to drive a stick shift qualifies you as an auto mechanic. We talk a lot in Admiration Chapter about enhancing the member experience. What we mean by that is offering our members what they wanted to begin with--a place where we could learn from each other, talk about values, learn more about what Freemasonry has to teach us about how to become better men, better husbands, better fathers, better citizens.
So if you're where I was eleven years ago, seeking further light where none exists, what do you do?
Well, that's what we're going to talk about in this series.
Todd E. Creason, 33° is the Founder of the Midnight Freemasons blog and is a regular contributor. He is the award winning author of several books and novels, including the Famous American Freemasons series. He is the author of the From Labor to Refreshment blog. He is the Worshipful Master of Homer Lodge No. 199 and a Past Master of Ogden Lodge No. 754. He is a Past Sovereign Master of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. He is a Fellow at the Missouri Lodge of Research. (FMLR) and a charter member of a new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter U.D. You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org